Bruce Laird, Ravens' uniform officer, keeps players on their toes

October 31, 2010|By Kevin Cowherd

NFL players love giving Bruce Laird a hard time.

They call him a snitch. They call him Inspector Clouseau. They call him Colonel Klink. And those are just the printable names.

That's because Laird, the former Baltimore Colts defensive back, is the uniform inspector at every Ravens home game, charged with making sure players from both teams conform to the league's strict – some would say anal-retentive -- dress code..

No socks rolled down.. No skin showing between the socks and pants. No towels hanging from belts. No writing on wristbands or helmets. No tape on shoes. And the biggest no-no of them all: no displaying any apparel or equipment that isn't league-sanctioned.

Is that a T-shirt with a Nike Swoosh showing underneath your regulation Reebok jersey?

You're going down hard. Could be a fine coming your way.

Imagine someone following you around at work saying "Tuck that shirt in, mister" or "Is that a Staples folder you're using? You know we only deal with Office Depot. Get rid of it."

Now you see why Laird could get on a player's nerves – as he once memorably did with Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs.

"With Sizzle, early on it was like: 'You SOB, you're stealing my money!'" Laird recalls. "We get along great now. . . . [But] players get nasty sometimes. 'Cause they get letters from the league. And they get fined."

Laird, who is 60 and looks 10 years younger, has been the Ravens so-called "clothes Nazi" since 1998. (He's also a marketing exec with Multi-Speciality Health Care, an area health care services provider.)

A typical game-day goes something like this: He watches pre-game warm-ups and jots down all the dress code violations.

These are given to each team's uniform coach. (For the Ravens, it's strength and conditioning coach Bob Rogucki or his assistant, John "Mother" Dunn.)

The uniform coach is then responsible for making the players aware of the violations and getting them corrected.

If the violations aren't corrected by gametime, Laird notes it and issues a warning. If the player still refuses to make the correction, Laird files a report with the league and the player faces a possible fine.

For all the headaches connected with his work and the aggravation he occasionally gets from the players, Laird is paid $750 and given a parking pass at the stadium. He seems to value the parking pass way more, as you'll see in a moment.

But the fact is, most players – at least on the Ravens – respect him. Mainly this is because as a former player himself, he admits his loyalties lie squarely with the guys banging helmets every weekend.

"Dudes," he tells violators, "in my personal opinion? Go naked. I don't give a [bleep] what you do. But I'm going to have to write it down. I'm going to have to go to your team and put it out there. I don't know what happens to it after it leaves my desk, nor do I care.

"But I want my job and I got a parking space in D lot. So don't mess with my parking space."

The other thing that makes Laird sympathetic to the players is his own history of "uniform abuse" during his 10 years (1972-1981) with the Baltimore Colts and two with the San Diego Chargers.

"I was one of the biggest violators," he admits. "I cut my jersey, cut my sleeves, didn't wear a belt. But my fines were 500 bucks."

They're way more than that now, maxing out around $25,000.

Which is why Laird proposes a simple solution to the issue of uniform compliance around the league: Tell the player's mother when her kid screw up.

Let the player's mom know her son just gave up $10,000 because he wanted to wear different-colored socks or a thin towel dangling from his hip.

"I'm dead serious," he says. "Send [the violations] to their mothers and all this would go away."

Well, maybe. Until then, though, it will be up to former players like Laird to do the league's dirty work – or not. Because sometimes even a parking space in D lot isn't worth it.

Case in point: it was the fall of 2002. Johnny Unitas, the iconic quarterback for the old Baltimore Colts, had recently died of a heart attack. Chris Redman was the Ravens quarterback. A Louisville grad like Unitas, Redman wore a pair of old-fashioned high-top shoes during a game in honor of his hero.

Up in the press box, a league official approached Laird. Redman's shoes are in violation, he said. Go tell him to take them off.

Laird was incredulous.

"Do me a favor," he says he told the official. "Look around. Look up in those packed stands. They've already shown on the Jumbotron that Redman is saluting Unitas. Do you think Bruce Laird, Baltimore Colts, is going to go down there and tell him to take off the shoes? Why don't you do it? 'Cause I ain't doing it.

"I'll stay right here and laugh. And when they're decapitating you or you get hate-mail for the rest of your life, don't blame me."

Laird says the league official stayed put. But Redman was fined $25,000.

On the other hand, Laird got to keep his job – and his beloved parking pass.

All in all, not a bad day.

Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM Sports.)

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