“You might have noticed last year that we had a lot of guys with shoulder pads popping out of their jerseys,” Clifton Perry, the University’s head equipment manager, told me during a visit to Caldwell Field House last month.
I hadn’t noticed, or at least it didn’t seem unusual. But for Perry, this was a problem that needed attention.
The football team’s distinctive jerseys, featuring four stripes on each sleeve, included a mesh-fabric V-neck, and in hand-to-hand scuffles at the line of scrimmage, the opening often stretched enough to let the top shoulder pad flip through. Perry would have preferred a tighter jersey with contoured sleeves, but those sleeves only had room for two stripes. So this year, he got creative, designing a two-stripe jersey, to keep the pads in place, and a striped undershirt that extends below the jersey’s sleeve, to preserve the style that the Tigers have worn since the 1890s. The team will debut the new look in its home opener against Davidson Sept. 27.
The width of a jersey’s neck and the difference between two stripes and four might seem like minor details, but they matter in Perry’s world, the underground network of locker rooms and tunnels where he and his staff furnish uniforms and practice gear for more than 1,000 Tiger athletes and coaches. Nestled among neatly stacked orange shoeboxes and industrial-sized washers and dryers, Perry manages orders for each team and signs for a seemingly endless stream of deliveries. (The local UPS driver has Perry’s cell number programmed into his phone.) Princeton has a contract with Nike to supply most of its athletic gear, which arrives blank — no logos, except for the ubiquitous swoosh — and is shipped out for customization by printing and embroidery companies.
For Perry, who took over for longtime equipment manager Hank Towns in 2004, working in the equipment room was a chance to return to college sports. He’d been a walk-on athlete and manager at Division-III Roanoke College, and after graduation, he was a high-school teacher and coach for 11 years.
At Roanoke, Perry had dreamed about coaching college athletes. “I don’t know whether or not I wanted to do their laundry,” he jokes. But there is stability in the equipment room, he says, and an uncommon opportunity: to help athletes be successful and look good, too.