In every football facility across the county, the equipment room carries a level of intrigue. This room houses all of the gear that you see players sporting on Sundays. The jerseys. The gloves. The hats. The shoes. So many shoes.
It’s a place that collects football history. Relics from the past – footballs from memorable games, jerseys worn by legendary players – all end up making their way to this space over the years. It’s a place where players hangout or hideout, and can blow off steam during the long days of the season.
In perhaps more than any other sport, equipment is such an essential part of the game. The attention, effort and money that goes into outfitting an NFL team is an incredible endeavor. The men and women responsible for that job stay out of the spotlight. They go mostly unnoticed, often by preference, but their work is seen by millions of fans every week.
This is the team behind the team.
The equipment staff starts each day early in the morning around 6 a.m.
This group isn’t only responsible for outfitting the players, they also handle the equipment that goes into each day of practice. They set up the practice fields with yard markers, blocking pads, JUGs machines and plenty of footballs.
By the time the players arrive at the facility, the equipment staff has already spent hours making sure the gear is in their lockers and the fields are ready to go.
The morning of Nov. 4 brought big changes to the Under Armour Performance Center. Just two days after a 20-point loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, which included a six-touchdown performance by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the Ravens shook things up. The team cut cornerbacks Chykie Brown and Dominique Franks, and tried to inject new life into the secondary by picking up cornerback Danny Gorrer.
Gorrer’s arrival meant the equipment staff had to jump into action.
After arriving and signing his contract, Gorrer’s next stop was the equipment room. He first needed a jersey, helmet and pads in time for the Tuesday afternoon practice.
Gorrer met with William Sheridan, Tom Wood and Kenico Hines in the morning to pick out his helmet and cleats, and get fitted for his pads. Time was precious. He spent about 30 minutes with the equipment staff before hustling off to team meetings to start digging into his new playbook.
The jersey is the most precious part of an NFL uniform. As Gorrer went through his meeting with the equipment staff, he decided to wear No. 37. NFL rules dictate the number groups that certain positions are allowed to wear, and Gorrer had limited options as a mid-season acquisition. Seamstress Sharon Heller quickly got to work stitching his name on the practice and game jerseys, and finished with his jersey in a matter of minutes. Every player has a practice jersey and three game jerseys (one in each color). In the equipment room, there are hundreds of jerseys available for whenever a new player gets added to the roster.
Part of the role of the equipment staff is to ensure players have customized uniforms. Some players want high top shoes. Some want a helmet with a visor. Some wear gloves. Some wear hats on the sideline. Players have preferences for every aspect of the uniform, from their shoes to their chin strap. Some players even have specific requests for the team-issued sweats they wear around the building.
So many accents go into building a uniform, and the equipment team has all options at their disposal. They also must have all gear precisely organized to ensure they can get everything they need, right when they need it.
Building the gameday uniform is a process.
The work to dress the team for games every week begins well before players arrive at the stadium Sunday morning. Sheridan puts the jerseys on the shoulder pads four days before the game. The jerseys in today’s NFL are a far cry from the loose, baggy uniforms NFL players used to wear, as today’s players want the jerseys as tight as possible to prevent opponents from having anything to grab. That means members of the equipment have to methodically fit the jerseys onto the shoulder pads.
The players aren’t the only group in need of gameday attire.
The coaching staff also has a uniform of its own. NFL rules require coaches to wear team-issued gear on the sidelines or in the coaching box, and that attire must be supplied by league outfitter Nike.
During the week, the equipment staff talks with Head Coach John Harbaugh to determine exactly what the coaching staff will wear for the game. They have to provide everything from the coaches’ hats to their shoes.
Whether the Ravens play home or away, the equipment staff has plenty of gear to transport. Shoulder pads, helmets, jerseys, pants, cleats, hats, footballs, jackets, kicking nets and everything else that makes its way to the sideline gets packed up and taken on the road.
The semi-truck gets loaded Friday afternoon, and the equipment staff starts that morning by delivering bags to the locker room for players to pack up. After the team finishes morning practice, players pack their bags, which are then loaded onto the trucks. In addition to full-time equipment staff, the Ravens employ several retired or off-duty firemen to help with this process.
The trucks arrive at M&T Bank Stadium the day before home games, and the equipment staff and firemen are there waiting to set up the locker room. The locker room at M&T Bank Stadium is bare during the week because the activity takes place at the Under Armour Performance Center. That means that the equipment crew has to set up nameplates and stock lockers before every game. The crew unloads each player’s bags of pads, cleats, jerseys and helmet into their individual lockers. By the time the players walk into the stadium on gameday, gear has been in place for hours.
Putting on a uniform sounds easy, but that’s not necessarily the case for NFL players.
With the way players prefer to wear the jerseys as tight as possible, they often need help from one or two people to squeeze into their pads. They also seek out the equipment staff to ensure that their uniform is up to code with strict rules laid out by the NFL. Uniform violations – like wearing the wrong socks or shoes that aren’t the exact right color – can result in significant fines.
During the games, the equipment staff is always ready to jump into action. Sheridan, Wood and Hines spend their time on the sidelines, repairing equipment that breaks and tending to requests from players over the course of competition. The responsibility is significant. Players can’t take the field if their equipment isn’t in working order, and the equipment staff must be prepared for every possibility that could occur.
As soon as the game is over, the work starts again.
The sweat-filled jerseys have to be ripped off the pads and sent to the laundry. As the jerseys come out of the laundry, the equipment staff sorts through them to locate any damage. Just like players need time to repair themselves after every game, the same is true for equipment. Jerseys, pants and helmets all take a beating throughout a game, and the equipment staff spends the days after every game getting them back in working order.
Taking an NFL team to another city – even for just 24 hours – isn’t an easy task. There is an enormous amount of work and preparation across many layers of the organization. The equipment staff is at the center of that. Just as when they are home, they have to make sure that the players and coaches have everything they need to be at peak performance when they get to a new city.
Just like packing up for a home game, the equipment staff loads trucks with gear the trucking company then ships across the country to wherever the destination is that week. In addition to extra pads, helmets and footballs, the equipment staff also sends crates of water and Gatorade to stock the coolers in the locker room.
As soon as the team lands in a new city, the equipment staff and firemen go directly to the stadium. Players, coaches and other traveling staff members go to the hotel from the airport. But the equipment staff has to get to work preparing the locker room the next day’s game.
No matter where the Ravens play, they want the locker room to feel as familiar as possible.
The equipment staff brings along home furnishings, including “Play Like A Raven” signs and floor mats, a digital clock that matches the one at M&T Bank Stadium, and the same white board that lists specific times for the activities leading up to kickoff.
The equipment staff does the work on the front end so the players and coaches walk into a familiar environment, no matter where they play. Routine and consistency are an expectation in the NFL, and the members of the equipment staff play a key role in maintaining that continuity every single day.
Sheridan, Wood and Hines mostly stay in the shadows and out of the spotlight. But their significance every week can’t be understated.
Players always like to say, “You look good, you play good,” and this is the team that makes it happen.