ESPN Kids Writer Mailbag Week of 5/11

Q: What is the black stuff that football players wear under their eyes? What is it made out of? What does it do? Brian from Tempe, AZ

A: Brian, many players in all outdoor sports wear eye black under their eyes. Its purpose is to keep the sun out of their eyes and make the ball easier to see on sunny days. Sometimes, eye black is a greasy substance made up mostly of wax. More recently, players have started to wear anti-glare stickers under their eyes. It is widely believed that football players started wearing eye black in the 1940s. Originally, players would burn the end of a cork and draw black lines under their eyes with the ashes.

Q: Why are the A, AA, AAA teams called "farm team?" Is that the same as Minor League Baseball? Janie from Conway, NH

A: Janie, A, AA and AAA farm teams are indeed considered Minor League Baseball teams. These teams are affiliated with Major League franchises. Usually each big league organization will consist of one AAA team, one AA team and a handful of A teams. For example, the Chicago Cubs farm system includes the Iowa Cubs (AAA), Tennessee Smokies (AA), Daytona Cubs (A), Peoria Chiefs (A) and the Boise Hawks (A). A-ball teams are the lowest level, and AAA-level teams are just one level away from the Major Leagues. The reason why these teams are called farm teams is because the big league club "grows" talent through their minor league system. The Cubs might draft a player right out of high school and put him on one of their A teams. The next year, he might move up to AA and the year after that AAA. After that, he might be ready for the big leagues. Major League teams use their system of farm teams to develop young players into Major League talent.

Q: Have the Patriots always been a good football team? Andy from Woburn, MA

A: Andy, like most professional sports teams, the New England Patriots have had their ups and downs over the years. Since 2001 the Patriots have been one of the NFL's most successful teams, going to the Super Bowl four times, so it's hard to believe that at one time they were one of the least successful teams in football. But New England has had some pretty lean years. In fact, in 1990, the Patriots were 1-15, one of the worst records in football history. Between 1987 and 1995, New England only made the playoffs once, in 1994. Early in their history, the Patriots had a long history of losing. They started in 1960 and only made the playoffs once between then and 1975. In fact, the Patriots didn't win a playoff game until 1985, when they reached the Super Bowl but lost to the Chicago Bears.

Q: What is the average number of years athletes play in the NFL? William from Naperville, IL

A: William, the average career for an NFL player is only three and a half years. Obviously, some players play longer. Morton Anderson, a retired kicker, played a record 24 seasons in the NFL. However, due to the physical nature of the game, typical NFL careers are very short.

Q: How many NFL teams are named after cats? Maura, Baltimore, MD

A: Maura, let's see here. We've got the Cincinnati Bengals, Jacksonville Jaguars, Detroit Lions and the Carolina Panthers. Four NFL teams are named after cats!

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