For what seems like the entire history of sport, when there have been teams, there have been captains. But until now, only hockey had a formal on-uniform designation for the honor, with one player on each team wearing the captain’s “C” and two others with the assistant captain’s “A.”
There is a logistical reason why the NHL clearly delineates its captains; these players are the only ones who may discuss rules issues with the on-ice officials. In soccer, the captain is usually the player who is the primary conduit between the sideline manager and the other 10 players on the field.
In the NFL, it’s a little different. The quarterback is the one who commands the huddle by sharing the playcall, but for many years, he received the actual play selection from another player who rotated into the lineup, or via hand signals from the coaches on the sideline. The captain’s only formalized duty is ceremonial — to walk to midfield for the pregame coin toss.
The captain’s role won’t change, but the way the NFL denotes it will, as the NFL follows the NHL and scattered other teams in other sports (like the Boston Red Sox with Jason Varitek) by incorporating captain’s patches on its uniforms. According to UniWatch blog majordomo Paul Lukas, only three teams have designated their captains with uniform patches, lettering or insignia prior to this year: the 1983 Cowboys, the 1992 Chargers and the 1994 Patriots.
Now, everyone will have this:
“The league wanted (the patch),” Head Coach Mike Shanahan said, “and we will obviously do that.”
On the Broncos, the men wearing the patch will be …
Offense: Jay Cutler, Tom Nalen.
Defense: Champ Bailey, John Lynch.
Special Teams: Chosen game by game; this week, it’s Jason Elam.
“That is always a tremendous honor,” said Lynch, who has been one of the team’s captains in each of his four Broncos campaigns. “I don’t care how many years you played in the league; to me, it’s the greatest honor you can have, for your teammates to say, ‘We want you to represent us and be one of our leaders.’
“It’s a great honor.”
It’s also quite signifcant for Cutler, who was elected by his teammates in spite of only having five career starts to his name.
“It gives you an idea what the team thinks of him,” Shanahan said. “This is totally a team selection. The coaches have nothing to do with it. It’s strictly among the players and who they see as their leader.”