The MMQB Illustration

A look at a cool line of old-school collegiate apparel from an unexpected place and the story of how an ex-NFL player helped build the brand. Plus thoughts on the curious T-shirt collab between the NFL and musicians

By Dominic Bonvissuto
September 30, 2016

Remember Nate Kaeding? You know, long-time Chargers kicker with the second most accurate field-goal rate in NFL history and the single saddest gif ever? Well, after he retired in 2013, Kaeding turned himself into a bit of a T-shirt mogul, which is why he finds himself at the top of this week’s Football Lifestyle column. I'll tackle that story below, and run down items on the NFL’s odd T-shirt collaboration with musicians, a new Hines Ward venture and more.

Tailgate Clothing

Nate Kaeding kicked for the Chargers from 2004-12.
Otto Gruele Jr./Getty Images

The story goes like this. In 2011, while sidelined with a torn ACL, Kaeding began researching business opportunities in Iowa City, where he played college football and had successfully launched a popular restaurant. Kaeding learned about designer Todd Snyder, a fellow Iowan who ran Tailgate Clothing, an online shirt shop specializing in old-school, collegiate apparel. Kaeding and Snyder hit it off and Kaeding became an equity partner in Tailgate. Kaeding helped lead the charge to open Tailgate’s first brick-and-mortar store in Iowa City, which was an immediate hit in the college town. A second Tailgate store followed in Madison, Wisc., and two more are slated to open soon in Athens, Ga., and Knoxville, Tenn.

The success of Tailgate caught the attention of American Eagle, which late in 2015 acquired Tailgate and other Snyder brands for around $11 million. (Kaeding’s shares also were bought out, but he remains actively involved with Tailgate as a brand ambassador.) And two weeks ago, American Eagle officially launched its Tailgate collegiate line online.

I’ve been a fan of the Tailgate brand for a few years now and was a little leery of what American Eagle, a suburban mall staple best known for its teen demographic, would do with the acquisition. But I really like the collection, which features the vintage campus aesthetic Tailgate helped popularize. My favorite picks are below, but first here is Kaeding, a very proud ex-Hawkeye, with his favorite item:

Seal T-Shirt

“The seal is an icon of the university that has crossover appeal beyond just athletics, so both sports fans and general alumni can wear it,” Kaeding says. “Plus, the seal is rooted deeply into history and traditions of the university which is really what Tailgate’s brand ethos is all about.”

Now, for my picks. There are 20 schools available in the collection, but I only chose items from ones currently ranked Nos. 1-15 in the current AP poll. Mad your college didn’t make my list? Get better at football.

Rose Bowl T-Shirt

One of the things Tailgate is known for is digging through a school’s archives to find old, forgotten logos and repurposing them into new designs. Wear this shirt and you immediately will earn the respect of any octogenarians hanging around Tuscaloosa.

Crew Sweatshirt

One of the worst parts about living in Southern California is missing out on crisp, October weather. (One of the best? Missing out on finger-amputating, February weather.) Embrace fall in the Midwest with a classic crewneck sweatshirt. Doesn’t get more collegiate than this.

Thermal Shirt

The block ‘M’ is low-key one of the best logos in college football. Too bad Michigan messed up by not using it on their helmets and going with the ridiculous winged ones instead. Help correct that mistake by sporting this around Ann Arbor.

Tiger T-Shirt

You have to love Clemson. When every school out there went with red and white, or blue and white, or green and white, the Tigers slammed their fist on the table and said, F**K IT, WE’RE GOING PURPLE AND ORANGE. The result is some badass apparel, especially when muted a bit with heather gray.

Track Jacket

Hats, t-shirts, hoodies and sweatshirts are as ubiquitous in college football settings as bean bags and beer cans. Mix it up a bit with a statement piece like this track jacket, but—pro tip—don’t layer another Wisky shirt underneath it. One logo per outfit is plenty, bro.

Vols T-Shirt

I grew up in Nashville as a Notre Dame fan and grew to loathe all things Big Orange. (College football bragging among elementary school kids leaves a mark.) But I always secretly loved the rifleman logo and those old-school, ESPN-logo-like stripes in the Vols lettering. More of this please, UT.

Crew Sweatshirt

Does the lack of the word “of” here bother anyone else like it does me? No. Okay then, probably just a nerdy editor thing. Don’t let that minor annoyance keep any Huskers out there from breaking out this sweatshirt for the chilly Lincoln days ahead.

* * *

In a genius turn, the folks at American Eagle and Tailgate chose not to ignore co-eds when creating their new collegiate collection. So to the ladies who are reading this, you know what to do: head here and shop away. To the guys, bookmark this page for the holidays when you’ll need gift ideas for your significant other. 

NFL x Musician Shirts

I was so skeptical of the legitimacy of these shirts that I fired off an email to an associate who does PR for the NFL and asked if these really had the league’s seal of approval. He confirmed they were officially licensed, but you could see where I’d have my doubts, right?

This is a surprising collaboration for the NFL, but continues to show the league’s willingness to step outside the box. So while I’m not necessarily a fan of the products, I respect the idea behind it. Looking for a few observations about the collection, I turned to Tom Mantzouranis, ex-MMQB editor and current video maven, and also the biggest NFL and music nut I know. The floor is Tom’s...

* * *

If you've seen the NFL trot out Faith Hill and Carrie Underwood every Sunday night for years, or Madonna and LMFAO collaborate at the Super Bowl halftime show, or OneRepublic perform to kick off the season, you're already aware that the NFL has no idea what's “cool,” or even relevant, in music. So it should not surprise you that my first reaction upon seeing this collection was: That's the best they could do? (Nothing grabs those key 18-34 year olds like Melissa Etheridge.)

But everybody has their own tastes. So rather than judge the shirts or musicians involved, here are my picks for most and least inspired connections between team and artist:


1. Cleveland Browns & Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. The Browns always seem to be at a crossroads as a franchise, after all.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers & Mac Miller. Both take big swings. When it works out (GO:OD AM, Week 1 vs. the Redskins), it's fun to experience. When it doesn’t (The Divine Feminine, Week 3 vs. the Eagles), it can get ugly. You keep waiting for both to take the next step, but so far ... nothing.

3. Buffalo Bills & Goo Goo Dolls. Neither has had a hit since 1999.



2. Carolina Panthers & Daughtry. When I think of the swagger and style of these Panthers, literally the very last person I think of is Daughtry. Do you think Cam Newton has any idea who Daughtry is? Even Ben Folds would have been a more inspired choice, and he’s a piano player.

3. Los Angeles Rams & YG / Linkin Park. Why did the Rams get two of these? And how did they miss out on both? A more fitting choice would have been Red Hot Chili Peppers, because it seems like they've put out 16 albums and only 7 of them are any good.


Helmets & Stripes

For the Pittsburgh folks, local brand Steel City recently produced some sweet shirts for Hines Ward’s new restaurant Table 86. They’re only available at the restaurant, however. ... Reader Matt Edwards pointed me in the direction of these NFL paracord bracelets. Each one is handmade by a U.S. military veteran. ... Big tip of the hat to reader Ken for figuring out what was on the backside of Miami’s Spencer Paysinger last night. Turns out, it’s one of these Nike Hypercool Fitted shirts. I still think it looks like duct tape, though. ... Weekly reminder to support The MMQB with these killer shirts from Homage.  

Published every Friday, The MMQB Football Lifestyle column is a curated list of links to what’s catching Dom’s eye off the field. The MMQB has affiliate deals with some of the brands featured and receives commission on certain purchases. Have an item for consideration? Share it.

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