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The Nose Knows: A Look at Smelling Salts in Sports

I watched the Super Bowl at the home of my friend Sujan, who was having a party. So I was eating, drinking, and yakking with various people while trying to keep one eye on the game — you know how it is. At one point I glanced up at the TV and saw Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski fiddling with something under his facemask before kicking off. I thought he might have been inhaling smelling salts, but I didn’t get a good look at it and it all happened very quickly, so I wasn’t sure. I wanted to type out a note to myself on my phone so I could follow up on it later (as I did regarding several other things that I spotted during the game), but I was in the middle of a conversation, so the whole thing got lost in the shuffle and I forgot about it.

Until yesterday, that is, when Twitter-er Mark Palczewski posted this bit of video:

It was smelling salts! Gostkowski inhaled them while preparing to kick off after booting a field goal in the second quarter.

Smelling salts, which are basically ammonia capsules, are designed to help revive someone who’s fainted, but more and more athletes seem to be using them to get themselves amped up before or during a game (even though there’s zero scientific evidence that the salts enhance performance, and some concerns that they can mask the effects of a concussion). Lots of NFL players swear by the stuff, as do many NHL players. There’s even a video compilation of various NHL players huffing:

The thing is, the usual routine is for players to huff on the bench or on the sidelines, but Gostkowski did it on the field — and at a Super Bowl, no less! I’d never seen that before, but it turns out that Lions kicker Matt Prater has done the same thing (and apparently does it routinely):

via Gfycat

Even coaches use smelling salts — or at least former Bengals coach Marvin Lewis did:

It’s probably not a coincidence that smelling salts are most prevalent in football and hockey — two high-contact, rough-and-tumble sports. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a baseball or basketball player using the salts. What about soccer — can anyone fill us in?

(My thanks to Mark Palczewski and Andrew Clark for their contributions to this entry.)

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MLB spring training caps: People, I’m gonna be honest: I don’t give a rat’s keister about spring training caps, which are basically just glorified fan merch. But I know a lot of you care about them, and the full batch of them was released yesterday, so here’s the skinny:

1. Four teams — the A’s, Nats, Mariners, and Marlins — have new designs this season. As you can see above, they’re all pretty good, especially that Nats lid. If they made that an alternate cap for games that count instead of restricting it to spring training, I might actually get to care about it!

2. The other 26 teams are sticking with pretty much the same designs they had last season.

3. That said, there are nonetheless some changes, even for teams that have kept the same basic design. For starters, last year the logos were rubberized, but this year they’re embroidered (old version on the left, new on the right; click to enlarge):

4. As you can also see in that photo comparison, the fabric has changed. Last year the fabric had some sort of cringe-worthy name that I can’t bring myself to spell out but it kinda looked like normal cap fabric. This year there’s a new fabric with an even more embarrassing name and it looks kinda like a paper towel, which I can’t believe anyone actually likes but apparently some people do.

5. As you can also see in that photo comparison, the annoying “FL” and “AZ” side patches have been replaced by new annoying side patches depicting a cactus for teams training in Arizona (which makes sense because that’s called the Cactus League) and a palm tree for teams training in Florida (which makes no sense because that’s called the Grapefruit League, not the Palm League). Someone should tell MLB that there’s a simple solution to annoying side patches: Eliminate them.

I think that covers it. You can buy — er, see — all of the caps here. Play ball!

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Photo from @VintageMNhockey; click to enlarge

Too good for the Ticker: The Vintage Minnesota Hockey Twitter account posted some great photos yesterday of the Grand Rapids High School hockey team playing in the 1975 Minnesota state tournament. As you can see in the shot above, their nameplates were either snapped on or buttoned on — I’ve never seen that before! (It’s also pretty amazing that a high school team had NOBs in 1975, buttoned on or otherwise, when most NHL teams didn’t yet have them.)

Also of note: those helmets! They almost look more like football shells without facemasks. Here’s a better look at them (click to enlarge):

Pretty wild stuff. Can anyone tell us more about that helmet model?

(My thanks to DJ Bellefly for bringing this one to my attention.)

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Comic book update: Yesterday I showed the cover of a 1970 NFL comic book and said I’d been unable to find any of the interior pages. Happily, last night reader/commenter Bill Moss found a PDF of the entire thing.

It’s pretty great! It has several pages on every then-current NFL team (the Falcons spread shown above is a pretty representative example) along with coverage of Super Bowl III. Here’s a spread from that section (click to enlarge):

Interestingly, there’s no coverage of AFL teams (the merger was still one season away), so the appearance of the Jets in the Super Bowl section is the only acknowledgment of the AFL’s existence.

The text is pretty hilarious. “A team of many exteriors — at times much like a mature veteran, other times a brash youngster, still another day an awkward apprentice — that was the Atlanta Falcons in 1968.” It’s like an NFL Films sequence without the music, the beautifully edited slow-mo footage, or the Voice of God.

Anyway: Big thanks to Bill for finding this, and repeated thanks to my friend Nate Clesowich for bringing the cover to my attention and sending us down this rabbit hole.

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Collector’s Corner
By Brinke Guthrie

Congrats to the New England Patriots, who defeated the Los Angeles Rams to win Super Bowl 53. Sorry, no Roman numerals here. In honor of their win, how about this 1970s hand-painted Steve Grogan ceramic figure, which includes GROGAN 14 on the back.

And now for the rest of this week’s picks:

• From across the Big Pond, reader Ciarán O’Sullivan spotted these items on eBay UK: a Dolphins/Niners cap from the 1988 American Bowl; an “American Football” NFL cap and stationery set; an NFL quilt cover featuring a quarterback who looks a lot like Dan Marino; and an Oakland Raiders tape dispenser.

• Wanna dress like an NHL player, at least on the team plane? An ad for Curlee blazers says this is the same blazer the pros wear — just $65. We’re talking double-knit Dacron™ and wool! If you want the team patch, that’s gonna run you an extra 12 bucks.

• This 1970s Detroit Tigers “jersey T” features a heat-pressed DETROIT on the front.

• Here’s a 1970s NFL helmet watch made by Jubilee. The seller says “most likely an NFL Alumni watch.”

• Keep your skates razor-sharp with this Bobby Hull skate sharpener!

• This 1970s Monday Night Football T-shirt takes you back to one of the great TV sports intros ever.

• Someone is auctioning off a set of six pairs of 1992 Philadelphia Eagles autographed cleats — for $75K, if you can believe it.

• Fans of the retro Expos look will like this 1970s-80s pillbox cap.

• Show your friends you’re a Mets “Super Fan” with this pennant that proclaims, “Catch the Rising Stars!”

• Reader P. Sharon sent in this football helmet clock spotted on

Seen an item on eBay that would be good for Collector’s Corner? Send any submissions here.

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rafflet ticket by ben thoma.jpg

ITEM! Raffle reminder: In case you missed it on Monday, the Chicago Fire are generously offering one of their new jerseys for a Uni Watch raffle. The lucky winner will be able to choose either the primary red design or the secondary white design, both shown above. You’ll also get your choice of size, from S to XXL.

To enter, send an email to the raffle address by this Thursday, Feb. 9, 7pm Eastern. One entry per person. I’ll announce the winner on Friday. Good luck!

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The Ticker
By Alex Hider

Baseball NewsThe Nationals’ promotional schedule includes a Star Wars bobblehead (WaPo link) of P Sean Doolittle (from Tommy Turner). … This story about the Tigers’ equipment staff moving stuff to Lakeland, Fla., for spring training makes note of a “mechanical hat stretcher” the team has used for “decades” — a machine that was gifted to the Tigers from the president of New Era (from Paul Weisner). … Schutt has released new batting helmet models (from Michael Princip). … New softball uniforms for Alabama (from Wade Harder and Griffin Smith). … New baseball uniforms for Texas (from Jake Tilley). … Check out this fantastic 1981 shot of the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens’ baseball team (from Moe Khan).

NFL NewsLate-breaking item from the Super Bowl: Pats CB Jason McCourty wore some colorful cleats featuring Pat Patriot (from Charles Noerenberg). … Pat Patriot also appears on a uniform patch worn by Boston police commissioner William G. Gross during a press conference yesterday (from Ted). … New Dolphins head coach Brian Flores wore a Dolphins-colored necktie at yesterday’s introductory presser. … Reader Joe Bailey was speaking for many of us when he responded to an NFL fan survey with his critique of the league’s decidedly blah 100th-anniversary logo. … Don Diaz was watching Super Bowl IV highlights and noticed that Vikings RB Bill Brown, WR Gene Washington, and RB Dave Osborne all wore jerseys with thinner UCLA stripes than those of their teammates.

College and High School Football NewsFor any Texas high school football fans, this website is putting together an archive of helmets for every school in the state (from Ignacio Salazar). … Love the stripes on this classic Cal State Long Beach football uniform (from Matt Shevin).

Hockey News: The Wisconsin men’s and women’s hockey teams will wear throwbacks this weekend (from Todd Milewski). … Cross-listed from the baseball section: Lots to like in this 1981 shot of the Canadiens’ baseball team (from Moe Khan).

NBA NewsThe Heat have announced that they will retire Chris Bosh’s No. 1 (from Mike Chamernik). … Also from Mike: Oregon state legislator E. Werner Rescke introduced legislation yesterday that would urge the Portland Trail Blazers to change their name to the Oregon Trail Blazers. … New numbers following the Cavs/Blazers trade: F Rodney Hood will wear No. 5 for the Blazers, and new Cavs guards Nik Stauskas and Wade Baldwin IV will wear No. 1 and No. 6, respectively. … With Mardi Gras approaching, the Pelicans debuted their Mardi Gras-themed alternates. Also, Pelicans G Jrue Holiday and his brother, Pacers G Aaron Holiday, swapped jerseys after the game (from Zeke Perez Jr.).

College Hoops NewsVirginia Tech went BFBS and Louisville wore white on the road last night in Blacksburg (from Andrew Cosentino). … Here are upcoming throwback designs for Arkansas, Michigan State and Florida (from Brock Brames). … New throwback for Michigan, too.

Soccer News: Sporting Kansas City has unveiled its new home kits for the upcoming MLS season (thanks to all who shared). … Columbus Crew SC also unveiled its new home jersey (from Alan Elwood and Ed Zelaski). … Louisville City FC of the USL has new training uniforms that include two stars for the team’s two league championships (from Josh Hinton). … FC Schalke 04 of the German Bundesliga has a new sleeve advertiser (from Josh Hinton). … Max Weintraub notes that Manchester United’s red gradient kits make the players look like they’re wearing fanny packs. … This season, Liverpool has been wearing light grey socks with their grey third kit. But yesterday, they wore dark grey socks (from our own Jamie Rathjen). … Also from Jamie: The Aberdeen FC Women have a new jersey advertiser — different from the men’s advertiser. … The same goes for Celtic FC Women, who will also have a unique jersey advertiser (from Ed Zelaski). … New “carnival” jerseys for Mainz 05 of Bundesliga (from Scott Moomaw). …

Grab BagThis BBC article is a deep dive on some wild-looking sports trophies (from Brinke). … Penn State wrestler Anthony Cassar was wearing what appeared to be a gold-leaf (temporary?) tattoo around his neck during a match on Friday, to make it appear as if he was wearing a necklace. Obviously, he would not have been allowed to wear a real necklace during a match (from Max Weintraub). … We have a hurling note from  — who else — Dennis Hurley: Tyrone and Louth played each other on Saturday. Tyrone usually wears red jerseys and white shorts, while Louth usually wears white jerseys and red shorts. However, both wore their alternate uniforms on Saturday, meaning the two clubs were dressed as each other. … Staying in Ireland: The country’s main airline, Aer Lingus, has a new logo (from Kenneth Traisman). … Bridie Kennedy, who plays for Carlton in the women’s Aussie football league, wears a large pink ribbon on her ponytail so that her grandfather can easily identify her on the field (from Graham Clayton).

Comments (73)

    The new spring training (and BP) cap material couldn’t be any worse than the crap they had last year. One sweaty wearing and it would become irreversibly stained. This new stuff looks more along the lines of diamond era, which I actually liked. We’ll see.

    Yes I concur.

    Last year’s material was simply terrible. It didn’t breathe and it looked really bad after just a few uses.

    The diamond era had the advantage of being a cap you could wear on an extremely hot day and still keep cool. It was a good design. Glad to see something similar has come back.

    I totally disagree. I think it’s much cooler than the regular season on-field 5950s and if it does get sweaty, I just run some water over it and scrub with my hand and it’s good as new.

    $40 for a hat. What a world we live in. Feed a family. Buy a kid some clothes. Do anything but a garbage hat that your team only wears for meaningless games in the spring.

    that’s the price of being cool…

    Um, no, that’s price of making your product in America and paying the workers a decent wage, instead of making your product in an Asian sweatshop.

    Are all Authentic Collection hats still made in the USA? I didn’t think so, there are collectors who go out of their way to various different stores make sure they find the USA-made ones. In fact I think there was something in your ticker just last week about a comparison between a China-made and a USA-made SF Giants authentic caps

    For the longest time the MLB on field hats were made in the USA. I noticed in 2012 that some were being made in China. These days it’s kind of a crap shoot. Some are made in the US of imported materials, some in China, some MiLB in Bangladesh.

    I can never get any of the hats online anyway. First size to sell out is ALWAYS 7 7/8. I end up having to go to the team store and get them there.

    The M’s new had goes well with the new light blue spring training shirts. I see it as almost a riff of the Dallas Mavericks stylized M.

    Reading that comic book blurb about Atlanta Falcon QB Randy Johnson “having his worst three years behind him” and knowing how wretched his life wound up is almost farcical.

    Here’s a good write up on how Randy Johnson wound up…
    *This is why I love reading looking back at these remarks in old write-ups / videos about how good or what kind of potential someone has and then this:

    “Ex-Falcon QB spent sad life in long, lonely end zone”


    I was not aware that the Falcons wore black jerseys back then; I only thought it started much later.

    Also of note(?) in the odd hockey helmet photo….

    The “cheerleader” in Native American headdress in the background.

    and the dude with the eyepatch!

    Back then, Grand Rapids High School athletic teams were the known as the Indians (now they are known as the Thunderhawks); Minnesota’s State Board of Education ordered the elimination of American Indian references for team names, student newspapers, yearbooks, etc…in the late 1980’s.


    Wasn’t aware of anybody using smelling salts in soccer (though I’m sure someone, somewhere does) because there aren’t nearly as many TV shots of the benches/sidelines as there are in other sports.

    However, turns out Landon Donovan used to before every game: link

    Also, the montage of NHL players doesn’t include Alex Ovechkin, who is well known around here for his smelling salts.

    Also-also, the picture of the player from Carlton’s women’s team shows that they have their own clash guernsey, which is sky blue instead of white: link

    I once cracked open a smelling salts vial just to see what it smelled like. I about landed on my a$$. A-moan-ya!!

    Wow, was it potent!! i can’t believe this guys snoot it like they do!

    regarding the Manchester United fanny pack kit, they hadn’t had that trouble when wearing black shorts — the team should take note

    I already wear a fanny pack. I keep a spare pair of ridiculously oversized Mickey Mouse style gloves in there, along with a litre of paella. Being from Spain, I can’t go more than 20 minutes without some paella.

    I’m with an NFL team’s coaching staff and I play pickup ice and Dek hockey. We always use smelling salts on the sideline before the opening kickoff, it wakes us up. And I usually grab a handful of them from the sideline medical case and toss them in my bag for hockey later in the week. I share them with the boys right before the opening face-off. A lot of guys are afraid of them or have never seen them. I tell them to try it, just take a slight whiff from far away, at first.

    The purpose is to open your nasal passages and to grab your attention and make you more alert. They don’t give them to people who have head injuries anymore. The risk of jerking their head away from the packet is too much of a concern. On the sideline one of the staff puts two or three of them in a Gatorade cup and pinches the top of the cup shut so you can put the opening up to your nose and control the amount of smell from it. I leaned the hard way to be careful when activating the packet, however. One time before a hockey game I pinched one to break the container and activate the ammonia from it and a piece jabbed my thumb and cut me and I bled like a stuck pig. Now I use something to crush it on the dasher of the bench or use my glove. Glove is nice cause the ammonia lingers and you can go back later for whiffs while you’re on the rink.

    You’d think the guy asking 75 grand for those Eagles cleats would at least take care to spell RANDALL Cunningham’s name correctly.

    My son plays D3 lacrosse in Virginia and the players all take a whiff of smelling salts before exiting the locker room before games. FWTIS

    Thanks Paul, glad you liked the link to the NFL comic book. There are many other sports comics, books, and media at Follow the pull-down menu on the right hand side of the page for links to some other great PDF files.


    I believe the Grand Rapids helmets are Johnson Air Guard helmets. These were fairly popular among Minnesota high schools in the 1970s – the teams my older brothers played for wore them. They had an air “bladder” inside that you could inflate for a tight fit. Because nothing protects the skull and brain more than a pocket of air.

    In the mid-1960s my high school had warmups with NOBs on snapped-on nameplates. You could tell who the JV players who were added to the varsity roster as the season went along because they had no nameplates.

    I find this a bit disturbing. A man wore the wrong jersey to a soccer game and was beaten, arrested, and detained for it.


    He wasn’t arrested for “wearing the wrong jersey to a soccer game.” The UAE-Qatar situation is effectively an undeclared war, and the UAE has strict laws against basically any public pro-Qatar displays. That was his offense. To Emiratis, what this guy did was similar to if a foreigner showed up to the 9/11 memorial wearing a bin Laden t-shirt or to the Holocaust Museum with a Nazi armband. The UAE law banning such displays is an offensive and ridiculous law, but it’s quite distinct from the kind of idiotic policies we’ve seen enforced here in America against the wearing of rival sports jerseys in stadiums, schools, and workplaces.

    Paul, were you torn raffling off the Fire jersey since it has an ad on it? I know ads in soccer jerseys are more ‘standard’ for whatever that’s worth.

    Personally, I find the jersey distasteful, but (a) I don’t care about soccer and (b) I realize that big honking jersey ads are par for the course in soccer (which is one reason I don’t care about soccer). The whole thing is like a language I don’t speak. But I don’t mind doing a raffle for it.

    Also, just to clarify: The team got in touch and offered to send me a jersey. So I did what I usually do in such situations — I said, “I don’t really need more stuff in my house, so could we please raffle off a jersey instead?” That’s how this raffle came about. If they had sent it to me, it would have ended up in the year-end raffle.

    One of the other photos on the Vintage Minnesota Hockey twitter page is an action shot of Grand Rapids celebrating a goal and two of the players are wearing captain’s armbands, similar to soccer. Although one is #6, Bill Baker, who’s in both photos above and isn’t wearing one – perhaps proof they were detachable and not sewn on the jersey. (FYI Baker was a member of the 1980 US gold medal hockey team and scored the game-tying against Sweden in the team’s first game of the tournament.)

    Oregon state legislator E. Werner Rescke introduced legislation yesterday that would require the Portland Trail Blazers to change their name to the Oregon Trail Blazers.

    No, the link says the legislation “urges” the team to change its name. It would not require it to do so.

    This site has great detail on Auburn University’s football uniforms from the 1940s. Those two-toned pants were crazy.


    Is the M on the Mariners spring training cap and entirely new logo or just new to the spring training cap? From a design perspective I think it is way better than the S on their primary hat. If it was an S with that design I’d say it should be their primary cap logo.

    Mariners cap is used during the ST season and the regular batting practice cap. Jersey stays in Peoria. Last two years Trident cap was supposed to be used in batting practice, but some players saw upside Trident unlucky. Always found it funny that “luck”-either bad or four-year some kind of charm. I like the M hat, but it looks much like Marlins, Twins, Brewers. And too much like NBA Mavericks.

    The Grand Rapids helmets – back in the early 70s I wore a Cooper one piece helmet, entirely molded construction, non-adjustable. Foam lining throughout. Kind of a goalie mask for your head. It was the highest tech at the time LOL.

    Are you talking about the widely used Cooper helmet in the 70s? The Cooper SK300.


    Which is also the preferred go-kart helmet of Bubbles from the Trailer Park Boys.


    I really like the design of the M’s hat. But I don’t know if the wear would be half as good as the looks. I have the M’s batting practice hat that used the same material as their spring training hats. I think it has looks to kill, but after a year of use it shows some wear.

    Before :link I can clarify that it looked like this before.

    After: (forgive the quality of the pick, had to take them on the run) file:///Users/sam/Desktop/DSC00647.JPG

    As you can see, there is a visible sweat line underneath the trident and on the bill. Looks to kill, if you don’t wear it

    Take it for what its worth* re: smelling salts,
    Talked to an gentleman at a bar a couple months ago who claimed to be a former Big 10 football player in 1960s who spent time in NFL training camp, and has sons & nephews who played D-1 football/baseball/hockey, and minor league baseball & arena football. Claimed that smelling salts had pretty clearly replaced a lot of use of amphetamines (“greenies”) and various over the counter energy supplements. It’s a way for players to get help staying hyped/focused without going to banned substances.
    Sounds pretty plausible, though it is from “guy who was yapping at bar” so…..
    *(thought about saying “take with a grain of salt…” but that would be too kitschy.)

    Again, the hypocrisy of what is or not “a PED?”

    Smelling salts/ammonia capsules sure seem like performance enhancers,

    But they are “medicinal “ so they are okay.

    Actually, if you read some of the links in today’s entry, there’s zero scientific evidence that smelling salts enhance performance. Players like to *think* there is, so there may be a placebo effect, but that’s all.

    There is a story that just came out in SI about the Nick Francona/Gabe Kapler situation with the Dodgers, and the sexual assault allegations. It also has a couple of paragraphs about how Nick Francona objected to MLB selling military merchandise, and questioned how much the military charities were actually getting from it.


    Don’t have a link but FC Cincinnati players routinely use smelling salts pre-match. Alan Koch (head coach) was actually asked about it during a private event last year. His reply was “I don’t understand it nor do I do it, but we’ve won a lot of games so if that’s what they wanna do that’s fine by me”

    I guess “won a lot of games” is relative. ;) at LouCity, we’ll take stars over wins any day, and we were the ones who “Crushed this League” (kudos to any USL supporter who get that reference!)

    Re: NFL comic book. Face bar and helmet depictions pretty darn accurate. Don Maynard single bar no chin strap. Namath’s iconic face bar. Matt Snell standard 2 bar. Bueno.

    Yesterday I saw a comment on the Providence Friars ticker item about how they hadn’t seen a sport specific logo before and they couldn’t think of anything like it. Well, the RPI Engineers have “Puck Man” as their mascot for their hockey teams.


    I love the A’s spring training cap. I think this is for two reasons..

    1. My favourite colour is green.
    2. My favourite animal is an elephant.

    I will definitely consider buying it *

    * When it’s on sale

    As a Sporting KC supporter, I can tell you than some soccer players do use smelling salts. Usually when they’re huddled up receiving last second instructions before trotting out for the kickoff. I can’t remember which specific SKC players do it, but there are a couple. I wanna say Matt Besler is one.

    It seems the spring training hats are made wider with a flatter crown or is that just me?

    My brother purchased the NFL comic book at a drug store in 1969. I still own it. Many of the player drawings are based off familiar photos.

    Love the photo of the MTL Canadiens softball team. Interesting to note the small logo, Molson Export beer, back when the brewery either sponsored or owned the team. Corporate advertising back in 1981!

    Perhaps on a similar vein of smelling salts usage, it’s not uncommon to see pro cyclists warming up for time trials with cotton swabs soaked with eucalyptus oil jammed in their nostrils. It’s supposed to open up the nasal passages for optimal air flow for these very demanding physical efforts. The swabs are removed prior to the event. link

    Just a late contribution…

    The hockey helmets worn by the high school kids back then are Cooper SK300 helmets. Cooper was offering major upgrades to their original helmets at this time. The SK300 was way better than the SK100 that was as protective as a ski hat.

    The SK300 was also sold as a “Skate Board” helmet and was used for a while in the 70s. Look at the Dogtown stuff.

Comments are closed.