Altruism met fashion during Week 13 as the NFL’s #MyCleatsMyCause campaign allowed players to wear custom cleats showcasing the causes most important to them. From Von Miller’s eye chart (his charity provides free eye exams to children in Denver) to Dolphins free safety Michael Thomas simply displaying the names of Alton Sterling and Freddie Gray, the messaging ran far and wide.
The immense dedication so many of these players have to their charitable causes often gets lost in the seemingly endless parade of controversies around the league. What a display of goodwill by the NFL in giving its players such a lofty platform—or, as many contrarian social media mainstays have suggested, it was all about good publicity. Perhaps people like me are supposed to be tweeting and writing about the display of goodwill by the NFL. Either way, the seeming success of #MyCleatsMyCause begs a different, rather obvious, question: Why not let players customize cleats every week?
It’s no secret that the NFL is militant about its on-field dress code, almost bordering on obsession. Even in picture book form, the NFL’s arduous list of uniform and equipment violations is Ikea-level daunting at best. There are uniform checkers at every game gliding around like prison guards checking that each player’s sock is in proper alignment and that every shirt is tucked to perfection. If not, get ready to make a donation to Uncle Roger.
The uniformity applies to the off-field dress code, as we saw on Sunday night. We now know that the Carolina Panthers are required to wear ties upon arrival to a stadium. There is no defending Cam Newton; if he ever wants to be anointed a real leader, he should have followed the rule. But it’s still an extreme rule—a rule that reminds you that long before he cracked the coaching ranks, Ron Rivera was a player in a bygone era, including a stalwart on the ’85 Bears. (Coincidentally Jim McMahon was the last player in the world who would caught wearing a tie, with the exception of this bold fashion choice.)
But we’re no longer in 1985. There is such an array of individuality in today’s NFL, from variant backgrounds to societal causes to general interests. Not to mention the fact that both players and fans are far more educated about how fleeting this game can be, how much the individual gives of himself to play it, and how his lifespan may be reduced. Rules more associated with a high school team than one of professional grown men feel completely out of step with the realities of the modern NFL.
Uniformity is still a staple of team sports. But if the happy thoughts emanating from #MyCleatsMyCause week taught us anything, it’s that allowing a minor display of individualism can be a beautiful thing. And for these players, a deserved one.
The best of the NFL's custom cleats for charity in Week 13
13 lingering musings on Week 13
1. On FOX’s NFL Sunday pregame show, host Charles Davis casually noted a stat that seems utterly inconceivable: 98% of NFL fans have never attended a game. Let that sink in.
After tweeting the stat and examining the responses, it became clear that most have embraced the NFL as a sport to be watched anywhere but in person. It makes sense. Ticket prices are beyond ridiculous, not to mention additional absurdities like paying $80 to park, all to see a losing team coached by someone who can’t even find his flag. There’s also the fact that sitting for three-and-a-half hours in an ice cube—I mean, outside in an NFL stadium in December—is a modern form of medieval torture. On a related note, I think fans at home get some sadistic pleasure out of watching people breathe visibly frigid air on our 42" HD screens while bundled up in a 65-degree living room, six inches from our heater. Still, the fact that only two percent of fans have seen a game in person seems insane.
2. It’s no secret that NFL officials are not the most consistent at enforcing rules—a hold on one series may be nothing on the next. Well, officiating officially hit a new low on Sunday over in snowy Chicago. The 49ers blocked a punt and after cornerback Dontae Johnson thought he scored (the play was later called back), Johnson celebrated by making a snow angel that resulted in a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty. Moments later in snowy Green Bay, Randall Cobb scored and celebrated in an identical manner. Yet Cobb’s snow angel went unpunished. What is this? Like refs are required to throw a flag after every sack of Tom Brady, are good teams given more leeway with their snow celebrations? Clearly a snow angel addendum needs to be added to the rule book.
3. Speaking of San Francisco, last week this column focused on Colin Kaepernick’s palpable progress and how the 49ers should consider him as their solution under center. I also advised fantasy owners to start Kaepernick in my Week 13 Pro Football Now video. Is that a virtual pie you’re throwing in my face? It’s ok, I can take it. Kaepernick absolutely imploded yesterday—please disregard everything I said last week.
4. With Rob Gronkowski out for the year, a plethora of tight ends serendipitously rose to the occasion in Week 13. Statistically this was the best week for the position this year, both as mainstays in the red zone and as integral part of offenses. TEs with touchdowns: Dennis Pitta (2), Zach Ertz, Ryan Griffin, Ladarius Green, Cameron Brate and Jimmy Graham. Plus Green and Travis Kelce were beasts who finished north of 100 yards.
4+. If Green continues to beast like he did Sunday, with reliable hands to boot, good luck to opposing coordinators. Last thing the Steelers need is another weapon.
5 Gronk’s season-ending injury got me thinking about someone who may potentially resurface: Adrian Peterson. An ESPN report suggested that Peterson was aiming to return for the Vikings-Colts game on Dec. 18, but a more recent Pro Football Talk report says Peterson may not be ready or simply remain sidelined if the Vikings slip from playoff contention. The Vikings are dead last in rushing, but still, it’s hard to believe that the 31-year-old Peterson coming off a torn meniscus is the secret weapon to catapult this team to the postseason. Remember, the Vikings need help to get in, and they travel to Green Bay on Christmas Eve.
6. My Coach of the Year vote? Andy Reid. (Ok I don’t have a real vote but in case someone needs a proxy…) As our Jonathan Jones pointed out yesterday, Reid and the Chiefs have so many ways to win they really don’t need Alex Smith to be elite. Eric Berry would be the frontrunner for DPOY, if not for that superhero also known as Khalil Mack. But it’s not just Berry—players on both sides of the ball are showcasing smart, heads-up football on a weekly basis. No stat better showcases Kansas City’s rise than the fact that the Chiefs lead the league in turnover margin (+15) and as ESPN.com’s SheilKapadia tweeted, the Chiefs have crushed the league in turnover margin over the past 21 games (+30). That’s preparedness. That’s coaching. That’s Reid.
7. The Bucs continue to have a Roberto Aguayo problem. The kicker, in the midst of a disastrous rookie season, missed a 31-yarder on Sunday, brining his overall field goal percentage to 68. (He’s 3–8 on any attempts over 40 yards.) Aguayo’s chip shot miss Sunday had no impact on the outcome; in fact, the surging Bucs now hold the No. 6 seed in the NFC. But is Aguayo really the kicker they want potentially making or breaking a playoff game? Kicking mediocre is so commonplace it’s become an accepted part of the narrative—“Robbie Gould has missed two extra points over the last three games,” Joe Buck quite nonchalantly stated during the Steelers-Giants broadcast—but still, someone more reliable has to be out there, no?
8. With Houston’s loss, the AFC South has no team over .500. What an ugly division with every team housing at least one glaring deficiency. The Titans’ secondary, the Colts’ offensive line, the Texans’ quarterback and the Jaguars’ everything. Happy December, AFC South goers.
9. Shoutout to the Giants’ Black Eli, also known as Eli Apple, who had his first career interception in New York’s loss to Pittsburgh, As regular SI.com readers know, Eli’s mom Annie has a regular column where she provides an inside glimpse into life as a rookie mom and her special relationship with her son. I know Eli and Annie would both have traded the pick for a Giants win, but it was still an individual pinnacle of a season that has mostly been quite successful for the rookie.
10. With Cleveland on a bye, Bears-49ers was billed as a makeshift race to the No. 1 draft pick. I know plenty of fans of both teams who are actively rooting for as many loses as possible in hopes of attaining this coveted spot. But isn’t it a funny “race” considering that these teams are clearly quarterback deficient and the next Peyton Manning isn’t exactly obvious in this draft class. Is there no lesson to be learned from the 2016 draft? Carson Wentz may be a generational QB, but at this point he looks a lot more like Blake Bortles than Joe Montana. And who knows about Jared Goff? Maybe the fixation should shift to the higher numbers. Ezekiel Elliott was drafted No. 4 overall, Jalen Ramsey No. 5, Leonard Floyd No. 9, Eli Apple No. 10. Here’s a pro tip: Grab someone of this ilk and go find a Dak Prescott in the fourth round.
11. The Cowboys-Buccaneers has been flexed into Week 15, which makes four straight prime time games for Dallas (or five straight specialty games if you count Thanksgiving), and it makes all the sense for the NFL. Quick history lesson just for fun: After Week 13, the 2015 Dallas Cowboys were 4–8 and still mired in the toxicity that is Greg Hardy. From a personnel and psychological standpoint I’m not sure any team has had bigger one year turnaround.
12. Here’s something I never thought I would say: I can’t wait for Thursday Night Football this week, featuring the Raiders at Chiefs. Dallas lather aside, there’s no better matchup in the NFL at the moment.
13. Peyton Manning commercials, where’d you go? I kinda miss you.