Arian Foster knew when he tried on his letterman jacket days ahead of the Texans’ 2012 Monday Night Football game against the Patriots that something was wrong.
Here stood one of the best running backs on the planet, playing on a team with an NFL-best 11-1 record, going against a Lombardi Trophy factory and he was dressed like a high-schooler. The problem was obvious.
The sleeves were too short.
And so Joe Dotterweich, hired on short notice for his Houston-based Bull Shirts screen-printing and embroidery company to make Texans defensive lineman Shaun Cody’s team-bonding dream a reality, assured the star back that he’d be matching his teammates in no time.
“All right, I’ll get you another one,” he responded.
The Texans’ letterman jackets live in infamy. They became an immediate punchline for a team that would go on to take a 42-14 drubbing from the Pats, lose three of their last four regular-season games, miss out on a first-round bye and lose to the Patriots again in the divisional round.
But before the tweets, jokes and everything else bad associated with the jackets, they were meant to be a token of the new kids on the block’s camaraderie.
“I used to say before the season it feels like we’re on a college team,” then-Texans linebacker Connor Barwin, who helped design the jackets, told the Houston Chronicle at the time. “Everybody gets along, we have so much fun. And this jacket, you feel like you’re on a high school team where it’s all about winning, it’s all about being around a group of guys. This jacket is just another symbol of that. There’s no names on it. You just have your number, your position group and the Texans logo.”
As Dotterweich recalls, Cody’s idea had been kicking around for a bit, but it wasn’t until the days leading up to Houston’s win over Miami the previous week that the decision was made to actually get them made for the Patriots game. So Barwin and then-Texans equipment director Jay Brunetti came up with the design and brought it to Bull Shirts.
Dotterweich, who had worked with the team before, took on the job knowing it was a biggie: Something like 80 jackets, many in wonky sizes, all custom made with the finest materials. Real leather, no synthetic stuff. Also, because Dotterweich didn’t have an NFL license, he had to get the permission from Texans owner Bob McNair to use the team logo and Pantone Matching System colors.
Yes, the letterman jacket operation went straight to the top.
From roster players to practice squad players to coaches and other members of the organization, an estimated 80 jackets were made. A job like that would normally take Bull Shirts about four to six weeks. They did it in 10 days, including a full day of measuring all the players. Everything was made in Texas.
In a move that makes it either more or less gimmicky depending on how you look at it, the Texans didn’t actually pay for the jackets. The players paid for them, with 100 percent participation. All in all, the order ran somewhere between $16,000 and $20,000.
"There wasn’t one guy on the team that said, ‘You know what? That’s a stupid idea. I’m not gonna do it. I’ll pass,’ ” Dotterweich recalled.
When the jackets were delivered to the Texans’ locker room on the Friday before the game, they were a hit. Players loved them and they garnered tons of media attention. Bull Shirts was bombarded with over 2,000 requests for identical jackets by the public, but Dotterweich honored a gentleman’s agreement made with Brunetti in which he promised to not make them for anyone else.
Then the game happened, and it was never close. The Patriots scored the first 28 points, never looked back and everyone took it out on the jackets.
If the Texans had won that game, they’d have been studs. Going into Foxboro, beating Tom Brady and doing it in dopeass jackets with all the fixings? That’s as close to cool as anything associated with J.J. Watt gets.
Instead, it was essentially the moment when Sarah Marshall walks into the resort and Peter’s embarrassment is compounded by the fact that he’s wearing “this [expletive] shirt.”
Watt deflected questions about the whereabouts of his jacket when asked earlier this season. Dotterweich has one he keeps in his store – an Andre Johnson one that was re-done.
As for the rest of the team, you’d have to ask those guys one by one. The retired Cody still has his, and he defended the jackets’ honor when the Pats shut out the Texans in Week 3 this season.