American football has come a long way from its violent beginnings as a “mob sport” in which paralyzing injuries—and even death—were not uncommon. Rule evolution and innovations in safety gear were natural progressions for the sake of the sport’s very survival.
In 1905, in response to 18 deaths from football injuries in that year alone, and mounting opposition to the “barbaric violence” of the sport, Presidet Roosevelt urged Yale’s Walter Camp—football’s legendary founding father—along with coaches from Harvard and Princeton to reassess their sport. The men subsequently formed an organization that would become the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). They also passed a list of significant rule changes, the most important being the legalization of the forward pass. Up to that point, quarterbacks were not allowed to toss the ball downfield. The forward pass not only changed the game to one that is distinctively American—and quite different from its combination soccer and rugby roots—but reduced the number of deaths and injuries as well.
As American football evolved, players became bigger, faster, and more powerful and the need for protective apparel, helmets, and pants with pads to protect thighs became increasingly apparent, though the game began with none of these. Each piece of gear has its own story that parallels the development of lighter, more flexible, and later, synthetic materials—many of which were developed after WWII in the 1950s.
Our PatentWear design reflects American football’s evolution in gear, with a particular focus on the ball patented by Milton Reach in 1939. Some specific objectives of his invention include simulated lacing that allows better grip and also allows for the ball’s covering to be made of any “desirable material.” Additionally, his patent claims the air channels in the recessed groove formation in the ribs create “aerial friction” for better ball control. Modern professional footballs are made of leather, but recreational and youth football leagues allow less expensive plastic or rubber materials. The panels are also stamped with a pebble-grain texture for improved grip, realistically captured in our design.
As for the passionate spectators of today, John F. Kennedy perhaps said it best: “We are inclined to think that if we watch a football game or a baseball game, we have taken part in it.“