Uni Watch, obsessing lately over football footwear, is struck by the following thought: If 1970s punt-returning star Billy “White Shoes” Johnson were playing today, he’d need a new nickname, because virtually all NFL teams now wear white shoes.
Black spikes were the norm for decades, primarily because it was the only color most manufacturers offered. The first prominent white-shod player, interestingly enough, was not Johnson but Joe Namath, who favored white Ponys. But Broadway Joe was noted more for his arm than for his feet, so it was the fleet-footed Johnson who became the white-shoe standard-bearer.
By the late ’70s, other players were experimenting with nonblack spikes, including Joe Greene and L.C. Greenwood of the Steelers, who wore gold. With shoe colors proliferating, the NFL brought footwear under the league’s uniform guidelines in the early ’80s, decreeing that each team choose either white or black (with exceptions made for kickers and punters, who often opt for black soccer cleats, regardless of what their teammates wear). NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy says the tide turned heavily from black to white around 1984, when teams realized that white shoes could be accented with team colors, which McCarthy says “is fine by us as long as the predominant color is still white.”
These days, the lone black-shod holdouts are the Buccaneers, who switched from white to black when their unis were redesigned in 1997. “We think it gives us a tougher, more menacing look,” says team spokesman Reggie Roberts. So if black is tough and menacing, then all those teams wearing white are . . . ? “We’re not interested in what other teams wear,” says Roberts, refusing to take the bait. “We just think black is a good look for us.”
McCarthy, the NFL rep, notes that whichever color a team chooses, players must wear shoes manufactured by Adidas, Nike, or Reebok, which have official licensing deals with the league. Those who insist on wearing other brands have to tape over their shoes’ logos, so as not to jeopardize the NFL’s sponsorship arrangements. All of which tells Uni Watch that the only color that really matters here is green.