Alex Smith grew up in La Mesa, outside San Diego, so it's not a surprise he used to wear a Padres cap at postgame press conferences. But Alex Smith used to be terrible, so something had to change. Last year, in the midst of a successful season, he switched to a Giants cap and used it as a good luck charm, donning it after every win.
All was right with the world. The league had a new marketable star. As Smith won games, he won the hearts of his adopted hometown and created some crosstown synergy between two playoff-bound teams. So what did the NFL do? They fined him $15,000 for wearing the cap after Sunday's win.
Smith revealed the fine today, saying he was told the Giants cap is non-sponsored gear of a competing league, and as such is off-limits during the 90 minutes after each game. Note that this doesn't apply to regular, non-sports clothing.
"So it's weird," Smith said. "I could wear a Polo shirt after the game and they're not going to fine me."
Because someone in the NFL offices has a sense of what constitutes bad PR, the fine was quickly rescinded. But Smith was warned that if he does it again, he'll be out $15,000 each time. Fourteen more games, plus playoffs, that'd be upwards $210,000. We don't think Smith will be repping his Giants fandom so openly.
So why crack down now, after Smith wore the Giants cap all throughout last season? It could be the league's new apparel supplier Nike throwing its weight around, but a more likely answer is that the NFL's branding watchdog is only occasionally paying attention. New England's Wes Welker was fined after the final regular season game in December for wearing an unauthorized hat during a locker room interview. Welker's response: "Thanks for warning me the other 16 weeks I wore the hat."