A platoon of ex-NFL players prowl the sidelines before games, clipboards at the ready, identifying violators of the league's strict dress code, getting the goods on them.

Shirt out? That'll cost you. Socks down around the ankles? Pay up.

On the night Terrell Owens pulled a Sharpie out of his sock to autograph a football after scoring a touchdown, the Uniform Police nailed him for $5,000 because he had his shirt tail hanging out of his pants.

What's more, he was advised that the league frowned on carrying a pen -- or anything else except a foot -- inside a sock.

"Nit-picky," Owens decided.

The NFL takes this stuff seriously. The message is "Look sharp, or else."

The roster of the Uniform Police is interesting. Enforcing the code in Oakland is ex-defensive back Jack Tatum, whose autobiography titled "They Call Me Assassin," would seem to make him an odd choice for a law and order guy.

Raymond Clayborn, another rock-'em, sock-'em defensive back type who once threatened to place a reporter in a garbage can, is on the case for the Houston Texans. Tony Hill, Nat Moore and Joe Morris also are in the uniform enforcement business.

In Atlanta, longtime offensive lineman R.C. Thielemann is the NFL inspector. He knows where to find offenders. "It's always the speed guys," he said. "In eight years, Warren Sapp is the only lineman I had to write up. He was wearing a long-sleeve shirt with a funky logo."

Logos are a sensitive issue. "Mainly, it's a Reebok league," Thielemann said. "On the uniforms and event footwear, the logo must be present."

So what happens if a player shows up with a Nike glove or Air Jordan shoe?

"That logo must be taped over," Thielemann said. "Same thing for logos on down markers. It's not just players. It's a whole lot of stuff we look for."

Don't look for any sideline confrontations. Thielemann's not into that. "Most times, I tell the equipment manager," he said. "Let him be the bad guy."

The rules are strict. No doo-rags, no bandanas under the helmets. Like the foot-in-sock rule, the league prefers only heads inside helmets. If a player wears a stocking, it had better be the team color. And please, no logo.

One year, quarterback Jim McMahon decided to push the envelope and showed up with an Adidas commercial plastered on his headband.

Advised by commissioner Pete Rozelle not to do that, McMahon came back with a headband that said "Rozelle." The commissioner was not amused and fined the wiseguy quarterback.

To avoid crossing the police, players are advised to tuck in shirts, pull down their pants over the knees, and wear towels in front, not back. And please, towels are limited to 6 inches long and 8 inches wide. An oversized towel cost Tennessee cornerback Samari Rolle $15,000, although that fine was reduced on appeal.

When Peyton Manning wanted to wear high-top shoes in tribute to the late Johnny Unitas, he was told that was unacceptable, and he backed off.

The fine is $5,000 for the first offense, $10,000 for the second. About a half-dozen players a week get nailed, and the fine money goes to NFL Charities. Last week, a dozen players were caught for various infractions.

Fashions change with the times. Basketball players have evolved dramatically from the skimpy pants that ex-Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson once called "Marilyn Monroe shorts," to the baggy ones that look as if another player could fit inside them.

Michigan's Fab Five were the fashion trendsetters who popularized the baggy look. After last month's university purge, it's about the only thing from their legacy still left at Ann Arbor.

Baseball went from heavy wool uniforms to svelte double knits and then to a baggy blouse look. Now, the new collective bargaining agreement includes a dress code. No more pants down to the shoe tops, looking like pajamas. No more oversized shirts that invite getting hit by the pitch.

It remains to be seen how iconoclasts such as Barry Bonds and Manny Ramirez will respond to the new pants-length rules.

When the New York Mets opened their season in Japan a couple of years ago, Derek Bell showed up wearing a shirt with sleeves that stretched down his forearms, like a kimono. It was, he said, a tribute to local custom.

Nice explanation. Not as good, though, as one Dave Parker offered for his personal fashion statement.

Parker was one of the first players to wear jewelry on the field. Asked why he had a pearl in his ear lobe, he smiled.

"Because," he said, "I thought a diamond would be too ostentatious."

Doo-rags, like the one former Redskin Deion Sanders used to wear, are banished by the NFL.