LIONS INSIDER

A behind-the-scenes look at an NFL gameday

Posted Apr 3, 2013

Tim Twentyman provides a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on before, during and after each Detroit Lions game

Dexter Bussey spent 11 NFL seasons slashing through defenses as a running back for the Detroit Lions. He amassed over 5,000 rushing yards and scored 23 touchdowns over his career.

He retired following the 1984 season, but rejoined the NFL almost 10 years later. Bussey returned to the sidelines in the mid 1990's; not as a player or coach, but as the uniform inspector for the NFL at all Detroit home games.

His is one of the many jobs that takes place before, during and after an NFL game that go mainly overlooked by fans.

Bussey's job is to inspect every players' uniform at every Lions home game – both home and away teams – to make sure it meets NFL specifications dictated by licensing agreements and league rules.

He writes a pregame, first-half and second-half report, which has to be submitted to the league within 24 hours after the game.

So when a player sees a FedEx package in his locker midweek following a game at Ford Field with a uniform violation fine inside -- like Lions receiver Nate Burleson did to the tune of $5,000 in 2011 -- it means the player was in a report filled by Bussey or one of the other inspectors.

"I have to be transparent and invisible," Bussey told Detroitlions.com. "I don't want to be an agitating factor on game day ... but my job is to report what I see and if I see it I report it. We have to be consistent throughout the league and every inspector should be completely absolute."

Bussey, 61, who lives in Bloomfield Hills, tries to give out warnings when he can and will sometimes give a player the benefit of the doubt. For example, if a lineman has a jersey untucked without noticing it. But his job is to enforce the rules and make sure players respect the uniform and have a nice, clean look.

It should be noted that his reports to the league are simply suggestions and the league office hands down the ultimate decision on any fines after reviewing the film.

"These guys sometimes just don't know," Bussey said. "By the color of the shoe, they know. If it's a personal message, they know. There are certain things we know they know. The players know the policies as well as I do.

"My eye is trained for logos and color, whether it's on the shoe, stockings, pants (rolled above knee), sleeves (wrong color). Every aspect of it has been defined and my job is to keep these players monitored and avoiding the fines."

PREPPING THE FOOTBALLS

John Brown (who's better known as J.B. to players and employees at Allen Park) has an important job when it comes to getting game balls ready for Sunday.

Each football has to have exactly 13 pounds of pressure in it, which is mandated by the NFL and inspected before every game.

Brown has a special formula for getting the Lions' game balls exactly how quarterback Matthew Stafford likes them.

"We'll wet the balls down with a towel and then brush them," Brown said. "We brush them until they get to a certain color and feel.

"Then I have a bucket that's filled with dirt more or less and I'll wet (the dirt) and put it on the ball and rub it into the ball so the ball has this layer of dirt on it. Then I brush it off again it gives it that gritty, tacky feel."

Brown said Stafford doesn't like the football really sticky, instead preferring it a little more worn in.

The football that starts a game might even have a little dirt still on it, according to Brown, and will have a different tint than the one that finishes a game after 45 minutes of use.

Brown says the Lions bring 12 game balls to the field on Sunday and usually end the game with about six after some reach the stands following touchdowns. Brown estimates that he breaks in six or seven new balls every week.

Tim O'NeillDetroit Lions Equipment Manager Tim O'Neill

CLEAT WORK

In the visiting locker room last year before the Detroit's Monday Night Football game in Chicago, Lions equipment manager Tim O'Neill and equipment assistant Joey Jaroshewich looked like the tire team on a NASCAR pit crew.

A wet field and a late tarp removal because of inclement weather meant O'Neill and Jaroshewich had to get the players from molded cleats to detached cleats.  

Armed with a modified drill -- not unlike what a NASCAR team uses to get the lugnuts off a tire -- O'Neill manned the drill. Down the line the shoes came as they changed the spikes on the bottom of the detached cleats.

"The surface and the weather decides whether we get guys from molded cleats to detachable cleats, and if so, what cleat configuration and what size," O'Neill said.

Most players prefer the molded cleats, which are cleats with spikes that can't be adjusted, because they're more comfortable and there's less cleat pressure on the bottom of their feet. Skill players, in particular, prefer the molded cleats, according to O'Neill.

"Let's say rain comes late, and we know it's coming, we'll want to switch guys' cleats, but they'll want to just wait and see. All of the sudden it's a mad rush after they come in from pregame."

THE K-BALL COORDINATOR

A lot of fans might not know there is actually someone in the NFL with the title of 'K-ball Coordinator'. He's the guy that stands along the sideline with the white officials pants and has a burgundy polo shirt.

He's in charge of taking care of the six footballs designated for use each game as the kicking footballs. There's no difference between the kicking ball and the game ball, other than the kicking balls are brand new balls every week. Like the game balls, they also have 13 pounds of pressure.

The kicking footballs are sent to the K-ball Coordinator's hotel on Saturday and he will actually carry the footballs into Ford Field on Sunday.

When the kicking balls arrive at the field, Lions equipment assistant Clay Coleman has 45 minutes to prep the brand new ball under the supervision of the K-ball Coordinator.

It's basically Coleman in a room with the K-ball Coordinator and all he can use is a small Wilson brush, a bucket of water and a towel. Coleman's mission is to try and wear down the seams and try to get the football as "used" as possible. The more he can wear down the ball, the softer it feels to the kicker.

Coleman will concentrate on four balls in 45 minutes and hope footballs five and six don't ever make it to the field. Ball one gets used until a player runs back a kick or the ball goes into the stands. Teams rarely get beyond ball four, according to O'Neill.

"It's more of a feel thing," O'Neill said of why this process is necessary. "It's almost softer on the kicker's foot and broken in. In 45 minutes working on four balls, you're kind of limited."

UNIFORM MAINTANANCE

On top of making sure the game footballs are to Matthew Stafford's liking, one of Brown's other weekly jobs is to be at the Lions' Allen Park headquarters at 5 a.m. following a game day to go over every jersey and pair of pants that were worn the previous day and look for damage.

When damage is found, Brown packages the uniform up and sends it to Tricia Cook, who's been the team's seamstress for 20-plus years.

Why not just replace the jersey?

"The tailoring for these new Nike fitted jerseys has gone down but these (players) have them the way they want them and how they feel," Brown said. "It's just easier to get them repaired."

Some players are very particular about their jersey and some just like the beat-up nature of a game-worn jersey.

Pants and jerseys combined, Brown says Cook receives around 20 to 24 pieces on average to fix every week.

From uniform inspections to getting game footballs ready for use to wearing in the brand new kicking balls and getting players in the proper cleats, there's a lot that goes on behind the scenes before, during and after an NFL football game that goes generally unnoticed by fans.