Hands and Feet
Without hand protection, receivers wouldn't be able to catch the ball, and without foot protection, the players would constantly be subject to injury. This is why gloves and shoes, or cleats, are so important.

Many receivers wear gloves that either have a sticky rubber palm, called tact gloves, or are covered with a sticky substance like rosin or a sticky spray. Linemen also wear gloves -- they don't have to catch the ball, but they do have to use their hands to fight off opposing linemen. The gloves worn by linemen usually have thick padding in them to better protect their fingers and hands, which can sometimes get caught up in another player's face mask or be stepped on in a pile of players. Players are not permitted to put any type of gel or "stick 'ems" on their gloves.

Shoes have become a huge part of professional sports, for two main reasons:

  • There is now a big commercial aspect to the shoes the players wear. Not only do many teams (like the Panthers) have a team-wide contract with a sports company (like Nike or Reebok), but many players also have individual contracts with a shoe company.

  • More importantly (from the team's standpoint), shoes can have a big effect on injuries -- especially injuries to the knees.
If a player wears the wrong shoe and it sticks to the turf, he gets knee injuries. An NFL team plays both on Astroturf and on natural grass, and the surface on game day can be dry, damp, wet or icy. Conditions can even change in the middle of a game. Each surface and condition requires a different shoe, and it's the equipment manager's job to anticipate the needs of the team and get the correct shoe on every foot.

Although the boxes look the same, there are different shoes here, sorted by style and "bottom."

Boxes and boxes of shoes in a multitude of styles and sizes line the walls of a team's equipment room. Players with shoe contracts can also fill out a form and have their shoes flown in via overnight delivery, and many order a new suite of shoes every week. Amazingly, an NFL team can burn through 2,500 pairs of shoes in a single season! (Most teams donate used shoes to local high schools.)

If the team is playing on Astroturf, there are three general shoe styles that are used depending on the weather. The goal is to wear the least amount of "bottom" possible: In dry conditions, very light bottoms are used. In damp conditions, a little more bottom (a thicker sole) is more appropriate. And in wet conditions the team switches to "Destroyers," shoes that have a lot of bottom (very thick soles).

These shoes would be appropriate for dry weather conditions.

Damp conditions require a thicker sole.

Destroyers are the best shoes for wet, rainy conditions.

An Astroturf field is essentially an asphalt parking lot covered over with thin padding and carpeting. It is very unforgiving and has been known to put many players out with knee and ankle injuries. Players prefer natural grass fields -- the type of field a team has will often factor into a player's choice between teams. On natural grass fields, players can use molded-bottom shoes like these:

Football shoes are similar to golf shoes -- the cleats, or spikes, are hard plastic pieces that screw into the bottom of the soles.

Although molded bottoms tend to be more comfortable (and players are more likely to wear them in practice), they are not adjustable to changing conditions, so Miles prefers that the players wear seven-stud cleats on grass fields.

Seven-stud cleats

Cleats come in four sizes:

  • 1/2 inch (at the start of the season on dry fields)
  • 3/8 inch (for normal field conditions once fields have been used in several games)
  • 3/4 inch (for wet or soft fields)
  • 1 inch (for extreme cases -- think Lambeau Field and the "Frozen Tundra" game)

Teams take dozens of these trunks with them on each road game.

Miles has a database of every field and its surface conditions, and this database is updated through the season. For example, Green Bay and San Francisco have very soft fields (due to excess moisture).

If it rains in the middle of a game, Miles and staff have a big job. If the team is playing on grass, they have to replace all of the cleats on 53 pairs of shoes down on the field. This is fairly easy using electric stud drivers. On Astroturf, the job is more difficult because the players have to change shoes. Many players tape their shoes and most wear orthopedics to custom-fit them, so the process involves untaping the shoes, pulling out the orthopedics, putting the orthopedics in the shoes the player is switching to and then retaping. With 53 players, this process is repeated 106 times! -- not a fun job in the rain or snow.