I suppose it's
because I come from a long line of clorox wielding women (my grandmother always
said a good wife hangs her best wash closest to the road) that I watch football
with a slightly different eye. I mean there they are, Sunday after Sunday, 45
players, squeaky clean, lined up for the national anthem. By halftime they look
as if they've wintered over at Valley Forge.
The blood. The
mud. Atlanta's red clay, Cleveland's mildew, the red paint from the map of New
Jersey on the Meadowlands' 50-yard line. One game when John Madden was doing an
organic-fluids trip down a nosetackle's body—"You got your blood, your
grass stain, a bunch of mud...."—it occurred to me that they probably just
pitch these uniforms after the game and start each week anew. Or do they? I
mean, could someone be performing a weekly washday miracle even detergent
companies haven't thought of? Just who does the laundry for the NFL?
I called the NFL.
A woman pondered the question and told me, "I think the players take it
home and do it themselves."
players?" said Los Angeles Rams equipment manager and laundry chief Don
Hewitt when I told him what the NFL lady had said. "The players couldn't
even, they couldn't even...." He stopped and threw his arms in the air.
At the Rams' busy
laundry near Anaheim Stadium, Hewitt was inspecting a drip-drying coach's
uniform, which, next to the players' stuff, looked as if it belonged on a Ken
doll. Behind him Joe Slaughter, the Rams' part-time laundry folder, was working
through a stack of 800 towels. Next to him was a 30-gallon drum filled with
nice fluffy jockstraps, which had been thoughtfully dried with several sheets
of fabric softener. Across town, another SWAT team was dealing with the Rams'
The players don't
do their own laundry. It's done, rather, by a fraternity of football-laundry
specialists that include a Coral Gables, Fla., bon vivant, an old yellow dog
who was on death row and a nice young couple in Berea, Ohio. The laundry falls
into two categories. Sweats, socks and jocks are usually done by the team's
equipment staff, which greets the challenge with a wide variety of attitudes.
Hewitt sees to it that the Rams get extra springtime freshness in their jocks.
Down in Miami, Dolphins equipment manager Bob Monica is somewhat less
enthusiastic. "I throw the stuff in, put in some detergent and pull it
out," says Monica. "I could give a———what it looks like. It smells
The laundry that
really counts, however, the high-profile stuff, the game-day laundry, is where
the contract specialists come in. Not that the players are all that fussy about
their clothes. "I can think of maybe a couple of guys over the years who
cared about how they looked," says Hewitt.
So who really
does care whether a football team lines up perfectly scrubbed? "Television
cares," says laundry magnate Dick Lancaster, who makes sure the Dolphins
look as if they're headed for a Miami Vice casting call when they take the
field. "With big-screen, color TV," says Lancaster, "a guy like
myself puts himself on the line taking in this laundry. As a business decision,
it's a risk."
What could be
risky about the Dolphins' laundry? "Well, I'll explain it if you'll hang
on," continues Lancaster. "I've got to pour myself a scotch and soda.
I've just got a minute. I have to pick up my date for some fundraiser for
somebody named Dulahhh, er, Duklakis, I think."
I tell him my
laundry questions can wait until tomorrow. "Tomorrow's no good," he
says. "I've got 4,000 pounds of sheets coming into the plant in the
morning, and I've got to shoot over to the islands for a tuna tournament in the
afternoon—me and my Formula boat. God, I love it. A Formula boat can get you to
Bimini for lunch."