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Misconception No. 4: Quarterback Phil Simms can't last the season.
Simms turns 38 on Nov. 3. Quarterbacks these days seem to have the life span of a mayfly, and Simms could go down at any time. But he has been energized by this team, and he can't believe his good fortune. "You know what's great?" he says. "For the first time in years, my feet don't hurt. You know what it's like to be able to run without pain?"
In his 14th season Simms knows enough not to get too caught up in early-season optimism. But he also knows it's a wide-open race this year. "The notions we had about this league a couple of months ago are all out the window," he says. "This league is there to be had. Everyone knows the Cowboys are lurking, but for now, we're right there."
ARBITERS OF FASHION
Rest easy, fans. Your NFL is working tirelessly to protect you from forbidden headbands and logos, and the dread flapping towel. The league sends an observer to every single game, and one of his duties is to scan the field with binoculars to uncover violations of the NFL's uniform code.
Sounds silly, doesn't it, that a league whose athletes have already been rendered faceless by head-to-toe padding and birdcage helmets would seek to strip players of even the most trivial of sartorial splashes. Consider the case of Steeler cornerback D.J. Johnson, who has been fined more than $10,000 over his five-year career for, he says, "tiny, petty, nitpicky things." Among them:
•The headband. Johnson was docked $1,500 in September because the back of his bandanna was visible under his helmet. He was fined for the same offense five times last year. If he tucks the knot of his bandanna inside his helmet, the knot hurts his head. "The sweat runs into my eyes, and my helmet moves without the headband," he says. "Now, after every play, I have to push it back up inside my helmet. Imagine having to think about something so ridiculous during a game."
•The shoes. The league has contracts with three shoe companies, and those contracts spell out the following: Each team is permitted a maximum of 10 players per game who can wear Nikes and 10 who can be shod in Reeboks; the rest must wear Apex One shoes or hide the fact that they're not. Johnson has always preferred Adidas, and for a while he wore that brand, elaborately taping the shoes to cover their trademark stripes and then drawing an Apex One logo on the tape with Magic Marker. However, Johnson felt that the tape hampered his mobility, so he has switched to Reeboks. "This may be the worst rule in the history of sports," he says. "I've worn Adidas all my life. Now they say I can't wear them."
•The gloves. Two years ago the NFL had a glove contract with Neumann and Saranac, not with Easton, Johnson's preferred model. But Johnson wore Easton gloves in a game, and the uniform police nabbed him. He was fined. Now Easton gloves are legal—but they must bear the NFL Properties' QUARTERBACK CLUB logo.
•The socks. Get a load of this rule: The league specifies the exact amount of colored sock and white sock that can be shown. "I've been fined two or three times for having too much black showing," Johnson says.