Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) walks off the field after exchanging jerseys with Denver Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib (21) after the Denver Broncos beat the Dallas Cowboys 42-17 on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver, Colo. Elliott is currently under a six-game suspension. (Max Faulkner/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS)
Photo: Max Faulkner/TNS
Photo: Max Faulkner/TNS

Behind the NFL tradition of exchanging jerseys

The Cowboys' running back had walked up to Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick after a 30-27 Dallas loss at AT&T Stadium and asked Vick to sign one of his gloves. 

Vick agreed and the NBC cameras caught the exchange. It went viral. Choice was criticized. 

He later apologized on Twitter, adding that he was getting the signature for his nephew. 

Fast-forward seven years and it has become an NFL postgame tradition for players from each team to exchange jerseys. Some are signed, some include a written message, some are just held up for photos. 

Regardless of the final score, it happens after every game. The number of Cowboys exchanging jerseys after the previous three blowout losses has been about the same as after wins. 

It seems that it could be awkward walking into the locker room after a four-touchdown loss to the division rival Eagles with a green jersey in your hand, but players and coaches say it's not a problem. 

"I have no issue with it," tight end Jason Witten said. "I always say you got to be able to speak the language. That's the language we're in right now, sharing that and having that for the game room. I think that's neat for the game. To each their own." 

Witten has never exchanged jerseys with an opponent. Heck, he doesn't even stick around after games to shake hands. Regardless of the outcome, the 10-time Pro Bowler heads right to the locker room. 

"For me, you only get 16 of those opportunities," Witten said. "When you win, you want to enjoy those times. When you lose, it's just moving forward. We have plenty of time in the offseason. I have no problem. It's not like I'm, 'You guys got to get in the locker room' or anything like that. I think it's great that there are relationships and friendships. 

"It's a tough league to be a part of, so to go shake his hand or hug him or go exchange jerseys, it's good for the game." 

Witten is very particular about his jersey. He joked last week that equipment director Mike McCord has been "dealing with some of my nonsense for a long time." 

"It's probably a little bit of superstition, just the fit," Witten said. "You don't want to let those guys hold you, so you get that perfect tailor. You don't want to lose that." 

Pro Bowl linebacker Sean Lee has similar views. 

Lee isn't against exchanging jerseys. He's done so with Buccaneers linebacker Kwon Alexander and Raiders linebacker NaVorro Bowman, Lee's former Penn State teammate. 

But he almost never gives up one that is game-worn. 

"I try to wear the same one every game unless it's really torn up," Lee said. "I like having the same jersey, the same pads every week. It's kind of a routine. You played a lot of games in your jersey and your pads. There's something to it. Maybe I'm superstitious, but it's just the way I like to do it." 

Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence exchanges with opponents he knows. Former Boise State players are usually on Lawrence's list. 

Sometimes the trade is arranged via text message the week leading up to the game. Other times it's negotiated on the field during pregame warmups. 

Occasionally, a player is just so impressed by another's performance that a request is made postgame. 

"Bro, you're a beast," Lawrence said Broncos offensive tackle Menelik Watson told him after Dallas' Week 2 game in Denver. "You're going to be a Hall of Famer. I need your jersey." 

Like most players, Lawrence said he has several jerseys that he plans on hanging in his game rooms, which could make for an interesting smell considering he doesn't wash them. 

"That's the beauty of them," Lawrence said. "Game-worn. You don't wash blood off game-worn jerseys." 

Wide receiver Brice Butler has a collection of jerseys from opposing players. His favorite, though, is the one from his father, Bobby Butler, who was a defensive back with the Atlanta Falcons for 12 seasons. 

Brice Butler said former NFL players who played with his dad often question him about players today training in the offseason with their opponents. 

They, too, don't understand the jersey-swap trend. 

"My dad has pictures with other players after the game when they were talking," Butler said. "It wasn't like, 'Don't talk to them.' But it just was a different game. 

"When my dad played, they would've never have (traded jerseys). Heck no."

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.
AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.

Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.
AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.