I played my first and only season of organized football after high school, as a 17-year-old junior college student on a local club team.
Back then in the early ‘80s, a few NFL players were wearing gloves and wristbands adorned with a triangle logo, making a really cool fashion statement. I brought a pair of the gloves, leather-like and slick with no sense of feel as the ball arrived. If anything, the gloves made catching a little more difficult.
But I looked good.
Nowadays, gloves are as common as cleats and mouthguards. These gloves not only add sartorial splendor to uniforms, they help receivers make spectacular grabs like the one-handed doozy last year by the New York Giants Odell Beckham Jr.
Beckham graces the cover of EA Sports’ Madden 2016, looking like a hoops star doing a finger roll. Except he’s hauling in a football – not laying up a basketball – with with his outstretched left hand. It would be another insane reception if we saw it in real life.
Maybe he’ll replicate it in two weeks on Sunday Night Football against Dallas, the team he victimized in November for perhaps the greatest catch ever.
I’ve never given much thought to the benefits of modern gloves, which have “tackified” fingers and palm areas for a surer, more-secure grip when catching the ball. But considering how the NFL’s uniform code is roughly 4,000 words (with nearly 400 devoted to shoes alone), I’m shocked to discover Roger Goodell and the Masters of Minutia have left gloves largely unregulated.
“No one looks at those gloves,” John Madden told the Los Angeles Times in a story Sunday. “I saw them when I was at a meeting in Indy. They passed them around and somebody made the comment that, ‘Pretty soon, these gloves are going to be able to catch a ball without a hand in them.’”
That would be spectacular. Defensive players wouldn’t be surprised. They’d claim it’s a natural progression in the game’s evolutionary restrictions on bumping receivers, hitting quarterbacks and patrolling the middle.
Too bad for DBs, but fans and the NFL are turned on by aerial displays. We never grow tired of wactching plays like Odell’s one-hander, David Tyree’s “Helmet Catch” in Super Bowl 42 and Mario Manningham’s sideline snare in Super Bowl 46. (What is it with the Giants? Do they have extra special gloves?)
The league has gone to great lengths in bolstering the passing game because that’s where most of the action occurs. Not that anyone wants to see Arena Leagues scores in the NFL, but 14-10 games aren’t great for ratings.
Given those choices, most fans would have no problem if players wore gloves with webbed fingers.
That might be a bit much for officials, already wondering whether the accessory has gone too far. Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, chairman of the NFL’s competition committee, told the Los Angeles Times that new regulations have been considered and further discussion will take place in the future.
“I think it’s time to go back and look at the gloves and see if, with what’s going on here with sports science in the past 10 years, if there isn’t too much of an advantage being gained,” he said.
Defining “too much” is the tricky part, though there’s no question they create an advantage. Gloves don’t make the grab but they aid in the act.
Dwight Clark didn’t wear no stinkin’ gloves when he went up for “The Catch” against Dallas. Some observers – including one of Clark’s former teammates – think modern handwear has skewed the game.
“Those gloves that they’re using today – there’s no way Odell Beckham would’ve made that catch without those gloves,” Hall of Fame wideout Jerry Rice told USA Today in January. “Back in my day we used to use those scuba diving gloves. Gloves just give you a different feel for the ball. I had 1,549 receptions and 22,895 yards. If I had the gloves they have today I think everything would’ve doubled.”
(He might want to reconsider and reconfigure his numbers, considering he has admitted using stickum, a substance that was banned four years before he entered the league.)
Webbing between the fingers would be overboard, but there should be no rush to regulate receivers’ mitts. Advancements in equipment have been part of the game since it began.
Better cleats help prevent slipping. Better jerseys help prevent being held. Better pads and helmets help prevent injury.
And better gloves help prevent incompletions.
Defensive players can gripe about our obsession with offense and how rules have titled toward that side of the ball. The rest of us can sit back and enjoy the exciting catches by Beckham and his fellow gloved receiving mates.
It’s a good look.