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Rate this product:. Sponsored products for you. The experiment with electronic coach-to-player communications began in This radio helmet, which two Ohio inventors devised for Cleveland Browns coach Paul Brown in so he could radio plays in to his quarterback, was banned shortly after its first use. But the NFL embraced an improved coach-to-quarterback communications system nearly 40 years later.
Pro Football Hall of Fame. Brown first used the system secretly in an exhibition game against the Detroit Lions. Other teams scrambled to devise their own units, but none were as effective as the Campbell-Sarles version. Even that device encountered technical issues — for example, the quarterback intermittently heard a nearby taxi dispatcher instead of the head coach. In , with coaches still using hand signals and player substitutions to call plays, the NFL approved a new version of the system, available to all teams.
Once again, coaches could communicate directly with quarterbacks between plays. Why the change? The previous year, the league cut the play clock from 45 seconds to 40, but instead of speeding up the game, the change slowed it down. Teams had to call more timeouts because they were running out of time sending substitutions in with play calls for the quarterbacks.
NFL officials hoped that the new communication system would help speed up the pace of the game. The new system did reduce the need for timeouts, saving teams 8 to 15 seconds on play calls, Marty Schottenheimer, then the coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, estimated at the time. Coach-to-quarterback communications systems replaced hand signals and player substitutions as methods for coaches to relay play calls to quarterbacks.
Letting every team use the system eliminated the competitive advantage that Brown initially sought in the s. The system benefited from newer technology, along with better reliability and security: Messages now could be scrambled to keep other teams from listening in. Since then the coach-to-player communications system has become a fixture, and the NFL continues to improve and refine it. In , for fairness and defensive play-calling security, the league allowed the system to also be used between a coach and a designated defensive player.
In , the headset signals switched from analog to digital, reducing interference and improving the sound quality making it sound more like a phone instead of a walkie-talkie. In , after two years of testing, the league equipped all on-field officials with headsets so they can communicate with each other wirelessly, enabling them to coordinate more effectively before plays and discuss penalty calls more quickly after them. The first use of instant replay in an NFL regular-season game between the Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns gave the Browns a touchdown, overturning the initial ruling on the field that the ball was recovered out of bounds.
The league first tested instant replay during the preseason, but waited until the regular season to adopt it. The first time it was used, in a regular-season game between the Chicago Bears and the Cleveland Browns, it confirmed a call that a Browns player had recovered a botched Bears snap in the end zone for a touchdown. The league rescinded the instant replay system in , citing its impact on the length of games and complaints that reviews could be initiated only by an instant replay supervisor, not a coach or official.
Referees were notified by pagers equipped with minimicrophones when a supervisor initiated a review. The system was cumbersome and inefficient — but it was an improvement over the walkie-talkies that were initially used by the replay official and the referee. In , the league brought back instant replay with better technology and communications tools, as well as revisions to review rules. And the technology continues to improve. That shortens the length of a replay review.
Coaches can use Microsoft Surface tablets to zoom in on high-resolution color images instead of showing players static black-and-white photos. Scott Boehm via AP. More recently, the league demonstrated the ability to balance new technology with the best interest of the game when, in , it introduced two Microsoft products — Surface tablets and the Sideline Viewing System — to NFL sidelines.
During games, coaches previously received faxed black-and-white bird's-eye view images of offensive and defensive formations to analyze on the sidelines between each series. Now, they get high-resolution color images transmitted immediately to secure tablets, allowing them to zoom in or draw on the screen while instructing their players. The tablets are configured so teams cannot access the Internet or install anything that might give them a competitive advantage; they can only be used for coaching.
The league collects the tablets as soon as the game ends, and they are stored until the next week. One day the Microsoft Surface tablets may replace paper entirely. The league is also looking at expanding the use of tablets to allow coaches to review video during the game, a concept that is currently being tested.
As with its use of all technology, the league wants to walk before it runs. The screen is the equivalent of more than 4, inch flat-panel TVs. In a sense, in the ever-evolving NFL, the future is already here. Beginning in the season, RFID transmitters will also be placed inside game balls to further measure location and performance data.
Its universal application will hinge on how well the system works initially, agreements with the players union on how it can be used, and discussions with players and coaches about whether or how it could benefit them for training and instruction. For fans watching at home, the NFL and Microsoft reached a deal in to deliver an enhanced, interactive experience via the Xbox One and other Microsoft devices. As part of the arrangement, users can get real-time fantasy football updates, track scores and stats, watch personalized highlights and replays, or interact with friends on screen — all while continuing to watch a live NFL game broadcast.
In stadiums, the league encourages clubs to provide a technologically rich gameday experience. This includes showing action and replays on enormous screens, making it easier to use smartphones and other devices by enabling better access to Wi-Fi, and providing real-time updates on fantasy football statistics and other games.
For players, the NFL has been considering and testing the use of head impact sensors, trying to determine whether they can feasibly and reliably provide data that can be used to protect players and improve the design of equipment. Theoretically, the NFL also could use technology to get rid of the first-down markers and chains used to measure for first downs. A beam across the field could do the trick — but for that to work in many of the proposed systems, the football would need to contain a microchip — and any change to the ball is a big deal, as McKenna-Doyle has noted.
What will sports look like in the future? A discussion |
The NFL has tested chips in balls and is not likely to add one permanently until quarterbacks are unable to tell the difference between a ball with a microchip and one without. And even if the chip is eventually adopted, the measuring chains may remain — since taking time for the measurements provides a break in the action that some coaches and players prefer. The measurements often add drama to the game — the anticipation and the tension building as the officials stretch out the chains.
These are the types of values that the NFL, as the steward of the game, must consider as traditions bump up against technology.
Football Ops Protecting the integrity of the greatest game. League Governance Ensuring a consistent and fair game that is decided on the field, by the players. NFL Rules Enforcement Ensuring that players conduct themselves in a way that honors the sport and respects the game.