Who needs helmet stickers? Sideline swag has become all the rage in college football

on Oct26

They call him the “King of Bling” for a reason.

Working from a shop in South Florida, Anthony John Machado has made custom jewelry — the really big, really shiny kind — for scores of professional athletes including LeBron James and Floyd Mayweather Jr.

So when the University of Miami football program called him this summer, looking for something distinctive, Machado knew just what the Hurricanes needed.

Five-and-a-half pounds of thick, gold, Cuban-link chain and a giant “U” festooned with hundreds of tiny orange and green sapphire stones.

“They wanted to bring a little of that swag back,” Machado said by telephone from his AJ’s Jewelry store in Cutler Bay, south of Miami. “It’s a fashion statement.”

This season, any defensive player who recovers a fumble or intercepts a pass is presented with the “turnover chain” to wear proudly on the bench until the next time the defense takes the field.

“Miami, we’re all kind of flashy,” linebacker Shaquille Quarterman told reporters. “It’s just another incentive.”

Forget the sticker on the helmet after the game. Sideline swag has become all the rage in college football as coaches — like kindergarten teachers handing out gold stars — offer instant affirmation to players who snag loose balls or make acrobatic catches.

At Mississippi, receivers get an old-school wrestling championship belt. Texas A&M players are handed a drum major’s mace to celebrate big plays.

“We’re trying to motivate,” Miami coach Mark Richt said. “It’s crazy what motivates.”

There is a history of college teams handing out impromptu prizes.

In the 1990s, Virginia Tech gave a battered lunch pail to its most valuable defensive player each week. A few seasons back, top-ranked Alabama started bestowing a massive championship belt for defensive plays.

With the Crimson Tide scoring so often on turnovers — making non-offensive touchdowns, or NOTs, part of the football lexicon — the “Ball Out Belt” got a lot of television airtime.

A version of the belt has shown up on other sidelines, including those of Boise State, Memphis and Colorado State.

The Georgia coaching staff is trying something more outlandish.

During each game this fall, defensive players compete for a set of golden shoulder pads that come straight out of “Mad Max,” with long, black spikes and the word “Savage” inscribed across the back.

Linebacker Davin Bellamy showed them off on national television after the Bulldogs’ 20-19 victory at Notre Dame last month, doing his postgame interview in full “Spike Squad” regalia.

“We got a turnover,” Bellamy told an NBC sideline reporter, “and our coach, he strapped them onto me.”

While young athletes seem to like the idea of sideline swag — a little positive reinforcement never hurts — the fad backfired at one school.

Tennessee’s “turnover garbage can” works like this: When the defense takes the field, a staff member on the sideline holds a plastic trash can over his head. If the Volunteers manage a turnover, the responsible player carries the ball to the sideline and slam dunks it.

But with the team stumbling to a 3-2 start and slipping out of the Associated Press media poll, the prop has become in internet meme. And not the good kind.

Disgruntled yet creative fans have posted altered photographs of Coach Butch Jones’ head sticking out of the can. His coaching acumen has been compared to rubbish. There have been “Oscar the Grouch” jokes.

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