Sports Illustrated's college football issue came tumbling out of the mail last week, and I was taken not by the story on Nick Saban or the Matt Barkley spread, but on the true No. 1 of college football.
Nike and the swoosh.
By my count, the almighty swoosh appears 158 times in the Aug. 20 issue of Sports Illustrated. The magazine is a mere 122 pages.
That means there are more swooshes than ads and articles, combined.
The Nike swoosh appears on cleats, socks, jerseys, helmets, gloves, wristbands, footballs, elbow pads, biceps bands and on the skinniest little knee band a football player has ever worn.
Somehow it was big enough for a mini-swoosh.
This swoosh-consciousness hit me during a post-practice interview with UA coach Rich Rodriguez last week. He had a swoosh on his cardinal red baseball cap, another on his navy blue practice shirt, another on his sweat-stained practice shorts, one more on the frame of his sun glasses and, of course, a swoosh on both sides of his Nike-issued footwear.
Who's No. 1? Nike.
Nike pays the UA roughly $1.3 million per year to outfit itself in swoosh-gear. The contract with Nike is such that it specifies that athletic department personnel must wear the swoosh during practices, games, photo sessions, camps and interviews,
The Wildcats are forbidden to diminish the Nike logo in any way, and, in the contract legalese, insists that the swoosh be placed in "high-traffic" locations at McKale Center and Arizona Stadium. In other words, wherever TV cameras may focus.
You don't mess with Nike.
When Washington State recently signed its eight-year deal with Nike (worth about $12 million), the school agreed that its pay would be reduced by 45 percent if it ever failed to wear official Nike gear at a public event.
What does Nike get from all of this?
From Arizona, it gets the exposure plus one all-access pass to every game at Arizona Stadium, two sideline passes, 10 of the best-available tickets and VIP parking (and similar access at UA basketball games).
Nike has so much clout that Arizona gladly agreed to wear Nike-inspired, platinum-colored basketball uniforms in an ESPN telecast last year. (Given that precedent, it shouldn't be difficult for the Wildcats to soon wear copper football helmets.)
Athletic departments of the NCAA's elite schools are so beholden to Nike that last week it was announced 16 schools will take part in an 80th birthday celebration for Nike co-founder Phil Knight when the great occasion arrives - in February 2018.
Who plans a birthday party five years in advance? Only those who know how valuable Nike is to the college sports industry.
The scramble to get one of those 16 privileged spots must have been intense. The Oregon Ducks, whose nine-year deal with Nike is worth $22 million, will be the unofficial host of the Swoosh Fest, partnering with Stanford, Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, Texas and most of the big-name schools in college hoops.
Cal didn't make the cut for Knight's 80th, but the Bears have a contract that allows their basketball team 175 pairs of Nike basketball shoes, per season, which is about, what, 15 per player?
Nike's influence has grown steadily for 30 years, but never more than the last decade, when it moved to become partners with as many BCS-level schools as possible. (It has everyone in the Pac-12 - except UCLA, an adidas school - for an estimated $22 million annually.)
Just to be sure that SI's 2012 college football issue isn't a freaky swoosh show, I dusted off my 2004 SI college football issue and counted the swooshes: 112 in 136 pages (including swooshes on the bottom of football cleats and on the chin strap of a Cal quarterback).
Is this Nike omnipotence good for college athletics? It helps to pay the bills, which probably means cheaper ticket prices. And because Nike has so many million-dollar partners, no school (except Oregon) seems to have a telling advantage.
The Ducks are the chosen runway models of the swoosh empire, and their athletic plant is funded more by Nike than by any season-ticket revenue.
And who pays Nike for all of this generosity? We do. I do.
I took inventory of my closet and was shaken by my contributions to the swoosh:
Four pairs of golf shoes, all Nike.
Six Nike golf shirts.
Two pairs of Nike golf slacks and four pairs of Nike golf shorts.
More than a dozen pairs of Nike dri-fit athletic socks.
Three pairs of Nike running/cross-trainer shoes.
Three Nike golf caps.
Hundreds of Nike golf balls at the bottom of a lake or in the deep rough throughout Southern Arizona.
At the top of the closet, I found a forgotten navy blue cap from Utah State's 2011 homecoming football game. It has a white swoosh on the bill and another on the back.
At last, my remote alma mater has made it to the big time, and I am helping to pay for it.
Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or firstname.lastname@example.org