PHOTOGRAPHY MATTHEW BROOKES
STYLIST TOM VAN DORPE
GRIDIRON GLADIATORS UPGRADE THEIR BATTLE GEAR IN HIGH-TECH NIKE FASHION
Style has always been a part of war. From Mongolian battle masks and Samurai D-maru to British red coats and U.S. Marine fatigues, beautiful, elaborate combat fashions span the continents and centuries. Now the NFL has enlisted Nike to assume dress duty for all its teams with their state-of-the-art Elite 51 Uniform and high-tech baselayer. Brutality and beauty march side by side once more. “There’s always an element of style that gives the athlete a certain sense of confidence, knowing he looks good on the field,” says Todd Van Horne, global creative director for Nike Football. “The new uniforms definitely take into consideration that these athletes are going into battle on the field every day—whether in practice, training, or during a game. “The sport has changed,” Horne continues. “It’s faster and more explosive than ever before, therefore the uniforms and products we create need to be one step ahead. This is just the beginning.” No one understands this better than the league’s top warriors. Here, some of them reflect on their experiences on and off the field.
ALEX SMITH, Quarterback, San Francisco 49ers
What do you do in the off-season? I’m easy, I just like to get back to a normal life. I have an 11-month-old, so I get back to being a husband and a dad, and become better at it—you get away from it so much during the season. How has the game changed since you started playing it? Youth football is now a big industry. There are private quarterback coaches for, like, eight-year-olds. That wasn’t really big when I was growing up. I learned from my dad, I learned from my older brother, and then I had my high school coaches and moved on. A lot of these kids are much further along than I ever was at that age. As for the NFL, everybody talks about how these guys are bigger and faster and stronger—but they’re getting smarter too, they’re smart football players. It’s tough to get over on them, they’re instinctive—you don’t fool these guys twice. It’s tough. That’s what I guess I’m amazed by. Everybody’s a true professional, they work hard at their craft, they take it seriously. These guys are good. How do you get pumped up for a game? I don’t get pumped up before games. Before games, I try to mellow out and relax. As a quarterback you try to stay even-keeled through the ups and downs of games, so I really just try to get to a good place.
JASON WITTEN, Tight End, Dallas Cowboys
Did you play a different position in high school or college? I played linebacker in high school, and then I actually got recruited to be a defensive end in college. I was upset with my college coach when he moved me over to tight end. Changing positions in the NCAA is a tough transition. But it was going to get me on the field quickest, so I was all about it. Obviously it was the best thing that ever happened to me. After getting signed by the Cowboys, what was your first splurge? I bought an Escalade. That was my dream car. But the other thing that I bought that was cool was a Pac-Man arcade game. I grew up playing it, so I bought one of those. What do you look for when you need that extra push, that last bit of drive? Honestly, I think I’m pretty tough mentally, and in those situations I’m able to take a breath and say, Alright, this is it. I think for me, more than anything, since I was this high, six years old, this is what I wanted to do. And when you’re in those moments, you think, Man, this is what you trained for, this is what you worked for, to be in these moments. And I’m not going to let being winded or injured or tired or anything like that get in the way of this quarter or this drive and me being the guy who makes the catch to help our team win.
RAY RICE, Running Back, Baltimore Ravens
Who represents masculinity to you? My high school coach, Lou Dirienzo, represents to me what it means to be a man. I identify a true man as one who takes care of his family. Coach treated everyone fairly—from the best to the worst on the team—and he took care of us. My dad was killed when I was younger, so I had to look for role models, and football was my release from the streets. But football wasn’t going to be enough, so Coach pushed me to get my education and helped me realize the importance of understanding that I might not always have football to fall back on. What do you look for when you need that extra push, that last bit of drive? I have always had one goal: when I grew up, I wanted to be able to retire my mom. She was a single parent, but no matter how hard it was, she never made any excuses. Times got rough, and no one complained. She always provided for us. I’m at a point now where I can give back to her. My goal is to retire her whenever she wants to do it. She works with special-needs kids and loves her work, so I think it’ll be a while before she decides to do so. I feel like it’s my job to give her the choice to decide whether she works or not, and I’m just glad she has the option now. That’s what gives me the extra push, because she did it for our family. What would you be doing if you weren’t playing football? I’d be a high school coach, because you are able to mentor an immature young boy coming in and watch him leave as a man. I put it all together under my high school coach. He dealt with every kind of kid—rich, poor, talented, not talented. But every kid grew up with his help. I’d really like to do that for high school kids too. What’s been your proudest moment on or off the field? My proudest moment on the field was in the playoffs, scoring an 83-yard touchdown to defeat the Patriots. I had to make my name on that play. My proudest moment off the field was when I received the key to my hometown of New Rochelle, New York. There are so many things I want to do for them.
VICTOR CRUZ, New York Giants, Wide Receiver
How has the game changed since you started playing it? I think it’s gotten faster and I think it’s gotten bigger, especially in positions that you wouldn’t think could. Like Kam Chancellor plays safety [for the Seattle Seahawks], and he’s like 235 pounds—he’s huge. And I think it’s gotten a little bit more dynamic. It’s good, man. I think the sport is evolving every year. Who’s your personal hero? Who represents masculinity to you? My dad. My dad was the guy who taught me sports, taught me how to play the game. And he’s the guy who I looked up to when I was young and who taught me how to just be a man. So it’s definitely my pops. What would you be doing if you weren’t playing football? I think I’d be teaching somewhere in my hometown [Paterson, New Jersey], reaching out to kids and helping the community as much as I can. Is there a song that hypes you up for training or a game? Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “Who Gon Stop Me.” Basically that whole album is just great, but that song in particular gets me in the mind-set where I can go to work.
Grooming Lisa Aharon using Oribe (Kate Ryan Inc) Photo assistant Brad Liber Digital capture Dtouch NY Stylist assistant Erin Sullivan Location Steiner studios Equipment rental ROOT [PRODUCE] Special thanks Matthew Kneller (Nike) and Kristen Caruso (Black Frame)