Former New York Giants running back Joe Morris made the Pro Bowl twice and won a Super Bowl during his National Football League career, all while wearing knee and thigh pads. So he says he’s not taking any excuses this season when he enforces the league’s new rule requiring them.
“By having pads in your pants, you are eliminating the chance of being injured,” Morris, 52, who now works for the NFL enforcing uniform standards, said in an interview. “From a safety point of view, you are trying to protect a player from himself and keep him on the field.”
Lower leg pads were required until 1995. Some players took them out of their pants thinking it made them faster. NFL owners decided that’s unsafe and voted to require them starting this season.
Morris, who at 5-foot-7 and 195 pounds ran for 5,585 yards and 50 touchdowns in eight NFL seasons with the Giants and Cleveland Browns, was New York’s leading rusher when the team won the Super Bowl after the 1986 season. Now he attends Giants home games at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., and watches players to make sure they are dressed properly: shirts tucked, standard socks, no personal messages written on their uniforms and, this year, knee and thigh pads.
“Every week, I pass out $45,000 to $50,000 in fines to guys who just don’t care,” he said.
The NFL is still formulating fines for violating the knee- and-thigh-pads rule. According to the 2012 list, players could be fined a minimum $5,250 for a first uniform offense and a minimum $10,500 for a second offense, though that could change this season.
Former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin, a hall- of-famer who now is an analyst for the NFL Network, entered the league from the University of Miami in 1988 around the time players were starting to manipulate their pads, leading to the adoption of the league’s uniform policy in 1995.
In the days leading up to the college draft, scouts reminded Irvin that he was far from the fastest receiver entering the league and it weighed on his mind, said the former first-round pick.
“I looked around my rookie season and was thinking, ‘I need to make sure I am as light as I can be so I can run as fast as I can,” Irvin, 47, who made five Pro Bowls, said in an interview.
One day he noticed San Francisco 49ers receiver Jerry Rice was cutting the rubber padding out of his thigh pads and wearing only the outer plastic shell to trim weight.
”If Jerry Rice is only wearing a shell, I have to wear nothing at all,” Irvin said. Initially he was afraid he’d get a thigh bruise, but when he sailed through the first game uninjured, he said he decided to never wear them again.
”It’s amazing the psychological effects the little things have on your confidence,” Irvin said. “I was convinced they slowed me down. And I’m sure guys today will be sure of the same. It’s all mental.”
Former Giants coach Bill Parcells said he fought with players who didn’t want to wear pads for the same reason as Irvin. His biggest trouble came from cornerbacks and receivers, Parcells said during a media conference call.
“It was a constant battle for me,” said Parcells, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 3. “I was always one that was very adamant about wearing pads, and I would fine my players if they didn’t wear them.”
Parcells, 71, who coached Morris when he was with the Giants, said it’s smart for the league to require players to wear the pads.
“I’ve seen many, many injuries in my experience that came when proper equipment was not worn and could have been prevented, so I am all for it 100 percent,” he said.
Merton Hanks, the NFL’s vice president of football operations who had a nine-year career as a defensive back, said when players come out for pregame warm-ups this season, if they are not wearing the pads they will be notified to put them in.
If the player returns for the start of the game and still isn’t wearing the pads and attempts to walk on the field, the back judge and head coach will be notified and the player will be removed from the game until the violation is corrected.
Hanks said the new rule was four years in the making and discussed at length with the NFL players’ union before the change was agreed upon.
He said it improves safety, levels the playing field (only kickers and punters are exempt) and sets an example for players from Pop Warner to college football that safety is important.
“Certainly, we expect to have fewer leg injuries and thigh bruises,” Hanks, 45, said. “We have the finest athletes in the world. Carrying a few extra ounces will not be a hindrance to their performance.”