The Cleveland Browns played their first regular-season match of 2015 on Sunday, losing 31-10 to the New York Jets. The results may have been familiar, but at least the team’s look was different. While some teams tweaked or added alternate uniforms in the offseason, Cleveland is the only team to overhaul its primary kit in the offseason this year. Like the Browns themselves, the changes were mostly bad. Is the new design ugly enough, though, to rank the Browns’ duds among the worst in the league?
No, it’s not. In fact, the Browns’ redesign is more weird than ugly. The most obvious revision was the placement of “CLEVELAND” on the chest. I’m willing to bet that nobody in the team’s front office checked with the denizens of the Forest City to see whether they would want their hometown associated even more closely with the squad that placed 4th in the AFC North last year. No, they just pasted those block letters on there so that every time Josh McCown overthrew his receiver, fans would be reminded that he’s doing it for CLEVELAND.
I hate the city name on the chest, but I don’t have a good aesthetic justification for that disdain. My objections are based more in tradition, which isn’t a very good reason, but it’s all I’ve got. The “CLEVELAND” seems more fitting to a high school team, or a baseball team, so on a subconscious level it makes the Brownies seem puny. It just doesn’t look like the NFL.
The real textual disaster in Cleveland’s 2015 look, though, is the “BROWNS” lettering on the leg. A football player’s legs are the most dynamic parts of his body; you don’t put reading material down there. The prime directive of a football pant design is to convey and enhance the impression of velocity. Once the ball is snapped and the players launch into full speed, the word “BROWNS” becomes illegible, and it just looks like clumps of color muddying up the otherwise clean lines of the leg.
Not every tweak was bad. The extra-long wraparound shoulder stripes are neat details that evoke the structure of the pads underneath the clothes. And the Browns were wise enough to keep their plain helmet design, a true classic—although the team did switch to a brighter, more saturated shade of orange, which looks swell. Football is the game of autumn, so Cleveland’s look is always in season.
Not everyone is blessed with such a naturally enticing color scheme. While the Vikings make no apologies for their purpleness, all that violet makes it tough for Minnesota to field an attractive design. The club does itself no favors with the bizarre mix of typography it employs for player numbers: The tens digit has angry spikes, while the digit in the ones place is rendered in a traditional block style. So the first number says, “I’m gonna cut you up!” and the second number says, “Ignore that other guy, he’s crazy.”
But the Vikings, like the Browns, steer clear of the worst-dressed label thanks to their all-time-great helmets. Sure, they’re not historically accurate—real Viking helmets were not adorned with horns. That’s okay. Football headwear illustrations are like a Roger Goodell disciplinary hearing: The facts don’t matter. These cartoon horns are elegantly drawn and, for what it’s worth, cute. There’s nothing wrong with a well-placed touch of whimsy on the NFL field.
My disdain for the Denver Broncos’ uniforms is well documented in this space, so I’ll try not to belabor the matter. All I need is this one photograph from Denver’s Week 1 victory over Baltimore to illustrate the sloppy, ill-considered quality of the team’s design. As Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders extends for the ball, he becomes an image of gridiron athleticism, except that his uniform fights him the whole way. In theory, the jersey side panel is supposed to flow into the curvy line on the pants, but it never quite lines up (this photo is about as close as it ever comes, actually). And the pants stripe contorts into a weird claw just above the knee, creating a visual flow that works against the natural lines of the player’s muscles. Instead of accentuating his grace, Denver’s uniform slices Sanders’ lower body in half, as if he’s enduring an especially lame Mortal Kombat fatality.
Denver’s kit, however, cannot in good conscience be called the NFL’s worst—not as long as this Tampa Bay train wreck is taking the field every Sunday. Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston’s trousers are emblematic of the “Uh, whatever” philosophy at work on Tampa Bay’s outfits. The stunted, angular half-stripe on the side is just a jagged chunk of color that floats in visual space, a problem that the Bucs’ designers half-heartedly addressed by slapping a flag logo in there. You might think that two half-ideas would add up to one idea, but the math doesn’t work out that way.
Let’s not kid ourselves, though. The pants are rough—and so are those “This way to the armpits!” slices of orange—but Tampa Bay’s uniforms are the worst because of those numbers, the single dumbest aesthetic choice in the whole league. Surely, in 2015, there must be a better way to make your athletes look cool than by ensconcing them in the readout from a knockoff Casio alarm clock. The homeliest of these dire digits is the seven, which looks more like a question mark asking the world, “Why am I allowed to exist?”
That said, it doesn’t help that the Buccaneers’ modern uniforms adorn a rather feckless bunch. Maybe if Seattle were equally ineffectual, I would be put off by that that team’s gaudy style, with its shoulder teardrops and faux-carbon-fiber detailing. But under the guidance of head coach Pete Carroll, the Seahawks are an energetic bunch who are almost always fun to watch. And they win a lot. Victory looks good on anyone. On the other hand, those Denver pants.
I was on the radio earlier this week alongside Chicago broadcaster and Fansided writer Mark Carman. After Carman had finished rehashing the Bears’ dispiriting second-half collapse against the Packers in their Week 1 matchup, I asked him what Chicago fans were realistically expecting from new head coach John Fox, a guy who couldn’t win a Super Bowl with Peyton Manning and would now try to accomplish the feat with the beaten-down husk of Jay Cutler. (It wasn’t a particularly fair way to frame the question—or Fox’s coaching career—but I didn’t ask in the interest of fairness.) Carman gazed at me with heavy-lidded resignation and said that Chicago fans are just glad to have anybody other than Marc Trestman on the sidelines.
Trestman, you may remember, was the bespectacled skipper who steered the Bears to a 13-19 record during his two-year stint with the team. He was hired by Chicago in 2013 instead of Bruce Arians, who was a leading candidate for the job at the time. Arians ended up in Arizona, where he has revived the team’s fortunes, winning the AP Coach Of The Year award after the 2014 season. In an alternate universe, Arians is the Bears’ head coach, and the city has hope. Alas, Chicagoans have the misfortune of living in our reality, where John Fox is in charge, and the city simply has relief. In psychological terms, then, this game looms larger than Bears-Packers did. Last week, Fox was merely stepping into a heated rivalry. This week, he faces off against the specter of what might have been. The Block & Tackle prediction: Arizona 31, Chicago 19.
Block & Tackle’s official Official Of The Week is John Hussey. Referees are more recognizable than most of the players on the field. The refs don’t wear helmets, and the TV cameras frame them with a straight-on shot for all of their penalty announcements—which, given the often pivotal nature of those proclamations, is key face time at a high-tension moment. Over time, the visages of these stern middle-aged men become etched in our collective consciousness, as visages of stern middle-aged men are wont to do. So when a referee is added to the league’s roster, it’s like the NFL is adding a new cast member to its show.
Yet the new guys don’t get any fanfare. Nobody singles them out for a moment of applause. Don Pardo doesn’t announce their name during the opening credits (in part because he’s dead, but still). It’s like the moment early in a Game Of Thrones season when yet another maester shows up: You say, “Who the hell is this guy?” and then forget about it because everyone on screen is treating him like he’s important, so he must be.
John Hussey is your freshly minted football maester for 2015. After spending 13 NFL seasons as a line judge, Hussey finally ascended to the vaunted referee position for Sunday’s dreadful Tennessee-Tampa Bay game. He handled his first regular-season assignment in the captain’s chair with aplomb. His debut penalty call came quickly, on the first play from scrimmage:
Aside from some microphone-switch jitters (“Is it on? Oh, God, is it on?”), Hussey showed solid form. Just look at that strong point toward the Tampa Bay side of the field. There’s no doubt which team was responsible for the flag: It was those guys. And what a great penalty to kick off a refereeing career—unnecessary roughness! “I, and I alone, shall determine the appropriate level of roughness,” Hussey declared, in so many words. It was such a stirring assertion of pigskin justice that even the player being penalized was compelled to express his approval:
Hussey is new blood, though, so the teams were still determined to test his manhood. Near the end of the second quarter, as Hussey recited the rulebook entry on false-start entries committed late in a half, the teams ignored him and decided to just get on with the game already, so that it might be over sooner.
At first, Hussey sped up his instructions to the clock operator in a rush to beat the imminent snap. Then he caught himself. “You’re John fucking Hussey,” he said to himself, “and you’re not going to let these no-good, false-starting scoundrels have their way with you.” Hussey turned to the hulking players nearby and shouted, “Hold on, HOLD ON!” The enormous men obeyed the word of Hussey.
Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston was confused by the whole kerfuffle, but he was confused by a lot of things that day. Congratulations to John Hussey, Block & Tackle’s official Official Of The Week.
One of the oddest bits of intrigue during the offseason was the ongoing mystery of exactly how many fingers New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul lost in the surgical aftermath of a July 4 fireworks accident. For circuitous contract reasons that are too boring to discuss here, Pierre-Paul concealed his mangled right hand from the Giants and the media for weeks, leaving us all to speculate—was he down just a single digit, or would he be giving the “hang loose” sign for life? On Thursday night, the New York Daily News published the first somewhat clear photos of post-op Pierre-Paul. If you had “index finger gone, neighboring digits maimed, rest of hand largely intact” in your office pool, congratulations. You can collect your winnings from Peg at the front desk.
Perhaps the most peculiar part of this saga is that Pierre-Paul’s long-term career prospects were never much in doubt. Among the major American sports, football is unique in that players at certain positions don’t even need functional hands to perform at an elite level. It’s not uncommon to see injured defensive players take the field with their hands entombed in a club-like cast, and during their rough-and-tumble glory days, the Raiders purportedly used to brandish casts as makeshift weapons.
Indeed, in an interview for the Daily News story, Pierre-Paul’s teammate Robert Ayers characterized 10 intact fingers as more of “a bonus” than a necessity. (You know, like separate shampoo and conditioner in a hotel bathroom. You can get by without them, but they’re nice to have.) Ayers continued, “His heart is what’s going to get him through this, not his hand—or lack of hand, or whatever you want to call it.” Luckily, Pierre-Paul is not missing any heart-fingers, as far as we know. The Block & Tackle prediction: Atlanta 25, New York 18.
Here are Block & Tackle’s final score predictions for the rest of the Week 2 slate. All Block & Tackle predictions are guaranteed to be correct. If there is a discrepancy between a prediction and an actual football game, the football game is wrong.
Denver Broncos vs. Kansas City Chiefs (last night, 8:25 p.m., CBS): Kansas City 21, Denver 17. Sure, this prediction may look bad now, but Andy Reid still has some tricks up his sleeve. Wait—no, those are Trix.
San Francisco 49ers vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): Pittsburgh 35, San Francisco 21.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. New Orleans Saints (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): New Orleans 23, Tampa Bay 9.
Detroit Lions vs. Minnesota Vikings (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): Minnesota 24, Detroit 21. The Minnesota Vikings lost a contact lens, have you seen it?
St. Louis Rams vs. Washington (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): St. Louis 20, Washington 12.
Houston Texans vs. Carolina Panthers (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Houston 23, Carolina 22. Since the beginning of the 2010 season, the Texans are 11-5 against teams named after cats and 3-8 against teams named after birds.
New England Patriots vs. Buffalo Bills (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): New England 21, Buffalo 16. New England Patriots punter Ryan Allen is still blessed. He’ll keep you posted.
San Diego Chargers vs. Cincinnati Bengals (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Cincinnati 31, San Diego 20.
Tennessee Titans vs. Cleveland Browns (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Cleveland 24, Tennessee 17. Cleveland Browns boosters complain more, with less justification, than any other fanbase when Block & Tackle picks against them. Meanwhile, fans of the Tennessee Titans do not exist.
Miami Dolphins vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (Sunday, 4:05 p.m., CBS): Miami 28, Jacksonville 6. The NFL’s least exciting intra-state rivalry comes to CBS.
Baltimore Ravens vs. Oakland Raiders (Sunday, 4:05 p.m., CBS): Baltimore 27, Oakland 14.
Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles (Sunday, 4:25 p.m., Fox): Dallas 26, Philadelphia 24. Fox has deemed this “America’s Game Of The Week,” also known as “America’s Game In Which The Dallas Cowboys Are Participating Of The Week.”
Seattle Seahawks vs. Green Bay Packers (Sunday, 8:30 p.m., NBC): Seattle 18, Green Bay 17.
New York Jets vs. Indianapolis Colts (Monday, 8:30 p.m., ESPN): New York 4, Indianapolis 2.
Block & Tackle prediction record last week: 16-0
Erroneous football games played: 6