Shoulders shrinking on the grill


When the last four NFL teams battle this weekend for a spot in the Super Bowl, you might notice how narrow the linebackers push is.

You might be wondering, “How many stretched leg curls would it take to maximize my butt like Ray Lewis’s?” ”

Listen and then watch, you armchair quarterbacks. It’s not just exercise. It’s the epaulettes.

The little-known armor made its debut in professional football in 1910 with lace-up padding protecting players and making their silhouettes iconic. Bellies seemed tighter, hips narrower.

In the 1930s, shoulder pads looked like they are today, with protection for the entire shoulder and arm, says Meghan Sturgeon, curator of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in Hamilton. They were made of leather, with felt padding, elastic bands on the sides and laces on the front and back.

Over the decades, as fiberglass and rubber replaced leather and felt, and bigger became better, protective gear took on comical proportions.

Throughout the 1990s, quarterback Randall Cunningham became known as much for his padded-up physique as he did for his nasty plays.

Coincidentally, as fashion editors hail the return of the puffy figure, many soccer players are putting away their oversized shoulder pads.

“The current trend is towards a more compact silhouette,” says Paul Lukas, uniforms columnist for

“In college, there are stricter rules for padding,” Lukas explains.

“You have to wear thigh pads, you have to wear knee pads. And a lot of players, when they reach the NFL, will be shaved by some of the more veteran players who say, ‘Hey, you’re a professional now. Don’t be a weakling. ‘”

Switching to a smaller body shape is also a matter of game day survival.

“The trend in the NFL now is to give your opponent as little clinging as possible,” Lukas explains. “That’s why the jerseys are so tight. The sleeves are all but gone. It’s just that armhole and a piece of fabric stretching over the shoulder.

“You want as little projection as possible.”


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