Football Players Reach Out in an Unconventional Way

Few cultural trends in sports last long. Some, like the boastful and notorious “jersey pop” fade away when players and the fans who emulate them finally realize that these antics are no longer cool. Others, such as end-zone celebrations, are simply outlawed by professional sports leagues and constitute a multi-thousand dollar fine plus a 15-yard penalty. Consider Terrell Owens and his habit of carrying Sharpie markers in his socks a thing of the past. The same can be said for Joe Horne pulling a cell phone out of the padding of the goal post and calling collect.

There once was a time, about a decade ago, when sports offered fans an added entertainment bonus for attending games. Sure, grown men and their sons are still able to find themselves in awe when watching the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders perform the halftime show at Texas Stadium. But what they can’t find are those marvels of choreography simply known as the touchdown dance. By the looks of some, it seems they are constructed and performed as precisely as running a post pattern or blitzing a quarterback. The Dirty Bird made popular by the Atlanta Falcons during their 1998 Super Bowl run? The St. Louis Rams’ Bob and Weave? Britney Spears should be jealous.

Today, those fads are but a distant memory. No longer in existence, except in our memories. Perhaps athletes collectively have progressed. Maybe some have even emotionally matured. Either way, the change is apparent at all levels of competition. The aspect of entertainment has now been reduced to the game itself. Performance, intended for the delight of audiences, has transformed into the personal, intended for the players who perform.

Black eye smear used by football players to block the sun’s rays has been around for nearly 30 years. But innovation paired with the technology of the 21st century has converted what was once a messy cream into a neat and convenient adhesive strip. The fact that players wear them in today’s game is old news, but now they are being adorned with personal messages that serve as inspiration. Unlike other trends that have graced the sports world in years past, the custom black eye strips are comparable to playoff beards and backwards hats in that they have stuck and are here to stay.

During the 2005 BCS FedEx Orange Bowl, Matt Leinart and Lendale White led USC to a national championship, but as much talk was made about up and coming star Reggie Bush’s eye strips as the Trojans’ victory. Under one eye, Bush had written “619” and beneath the other, “SE.” After analysts and commentators were left puzzled, Bush revealed that the messages were symbolic of his hometown of Spring Valley, California – a city whose area code is 619 and is located in the southeast portion of San Diego County.

Bush paved the way for what is now the most popular method of giving shout outs to loved ones and instilling confidence in one’s self. The nation got a glimpse of eye strips’ popularity during this year’s national title game between Florida and Oklahoma. Gators quarterback Tim Tebow’s strips featured “John” and “3:16” under his eyes, a rare deviation from his trademark biblical verse of “Phil” coupled with “4:13” which he wore during every regular-season game in 2008.

The nationwide audience also saw the emotional purpose that the strips have, as injured Gator Louis Murphy was helped off the field by trainers after injuring his leg. Although 101 words could have been used to describe the agonizing expression on his face, only those legible were “I (heart) U” and “Mom,” written underneath his eyes. Former USC quarterback Mark Sanchez wrote the name of a teenage boy with bone marrow cancer under his eyes, while teammate Rey Maualuga gave some love to his father. Athletes have found an appropriate way to bring a team game to a more personal level. The meaning is in the message.