The Minnesota Vikings had returned from a road trip, and their long-time equipment manager Dennis Ryan was bustling as usual in the back of the locker room preparing the team’s gear for the next practices and game.
He pored over a clipboard, check-marking the piece of paper listing players and numbers to log the arrival of each white jersey used by the Vikings the day before.
“To make sure that we got ’em back,” Ryan explained.
No, the charter airline didn’t lose the luggage. This, rather, has become a weekly ritual for Ryan and his peers around the NFL. Post-game uniform trading among players has become quite the league trend.
“Most of the time, it’s guys that you know really well. It’s already kind of understood: ‘If I don’t have your jersey, I want it,’” Washington Redskins left tackle Trent Williams said. “And most times, they want yours. And so you just swap.”
Whether a childhood friend, a college teammate or a challenging opponent, there’s a simple guiding principle behind the exchanges: respect. The first uniform Williams snagged among the dozen-plus he’s collected was Denver outside linebacker Von Miller’s after a game against the Broncos two years ago. Some are framed at home. Others hang in his cubicle at the team facility.
That’s where New York Jets cornerback Dexter McDougle has been keeping a jersey from Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Nolan Carroll, his former teammate and mentor at Maryland.
“I’m just collecting guys who mean something to me or impacted my life,” McDougle said, adding: “I’ll probably get them framed or something, one day when I have a man cave.”
Tennessee Titans wide receiver Harry Douglas boasted more than 30 opponent uniforms procured over eight NFL seasons for his, uh, wardrobe. Third-year Vikings defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd is on track for an even higher total, a hobby he’s so enamored with he thanked a reporter recently for asking him about it.
“I spend so much time away from my family and friends that I’ve got to have something to look back and say, ‘Yeah, this is why and this is what it’s been,’“ Floyd said. “It’s more of a remembrance thing for me.”
Former Florida Gators are Floyd’s priority, in honor of the alma mater, but Vikings star Adrian Peterson is also on his to-do list. One’s own teammate ought to be the low-hanging fruit of this pastime, but Peterson is predictably a man in demand.
“It seems like every game someone is asking me for it,” the NFL’s rushing leader said. “Previous years, of course every now and then, but it seems like even more so this year people have been asking.”
Floyd makes a preseason list of his trade targets and presents it to Ryan, as a planning courtesy for the equipment staff. The collection is not on display yet, just folded safely out of sight at home. That’s to keep his family and friends, Floyd said, from greedily asking for giveaways.
These collections come at a cost.
Each player is issued one home and one road jersey per season, but they’re on the hook for replacements that run, according to Ryan, around $225 each. Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway, playing perhaps the final season of his career, decided ahead of time to buy all 16 so he could have plenty of keepsakes. Granted, these guys make a lot of money, but a jersey for the collection clearly trumps the cash in these cases.
“At least I’m putting it in something that I’m keeping forever,” Floyd said.
Ryan tracks his inventory and sends replacement tallies to the team’s finance department for billing. The team has a bunch of blank jerseys on hand from manufacturer Nike, and each week Ryan visits a local seamstress the Vikings work with to get the names and numbers put on. Usually there are a few per week, maybe five at the most.
Even a couple can cause a headache for the equipment staff, though.
“I was talking to a colleague on another team earlier in the season. He was out in the middle of the field watching it all go on and telling me how angry he gets just watching this,” Ryan said. “I said, ‘You should do what I do.’ He said, ‘What’s that?’ I said, ‘Don’t watch.’ Just wait to check it off on Monday, and your blood pressure will be much lower.”
Most of the Vikings players, like Floyd, give Ryan advance warning of their pending trades. But sometimes this is an impromptu act.
“I’ve had a number of guys come in on Monday apologizing,” Ryan said. “I know the pressure they’re under as well with some college teammate or somebody they grew up with and they want to make the switch.”
Jersey swapping is common in soccer and rugby. Some date the tradition back to 1931, when France beat visiting England in soccer and the winning players were so happy they wanted a keepsake to remember the night. The ritual took off at the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland, according to FIFA, and has become routine practice since.
Like almost any trend in the world, it’s fueled from attention originated on social media.
“Now you see every time someone jersey swaps,” Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “Just like you see every time a quarterback handshakes with the other quarterback.”