Football Pads And Other NFL Technology We Owe To The Military

With Super Bowl XLVII coming up Sunday, we take a look at how military tech has changed the game.

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Football and the military have a lot in common: they both rely on strategy, training, and, maybe especially, technology. The comparisons are so apt we couldn't help but compile a list of some instances when military technology crossed paths with organized football (modern or old-school). Not all of these inventions started with the military, but it's fair to say that without the military advancing them, football wouldn't have put them into use. Who knows? Maybe we'll be seeing drones on every field in a few years' time.

The Modern Football Helmet

Those old-timey leather helmets got their start in an unlikely place: the Navy. In in 1890, a doctor told Admiral Joseph M. Reeves, who was attending naval academy at the time, that if he took any more direct hits during football he'd either die or suffer from "instant insanity." So Reeves had a shoemaker craft a leather helmet to fend off some blows. Things still aren't great with helmets, but we're glad he did.Wikimedia Commons

Modern Pads

Dupont researchers invented Kevlar, and in the '70s, the military enlisted the technology for use in bullet-proof vests. Now, years later, some football pads are using similar "aramid fibers," with some athletes getting custom versions. There are even sports equipment companies looking to add Kevlar itself to pads.Wikimedia Commons

The Electronic First Down Line

Stan Honey invented that yellow line that lets viewers at home know when a team's close to a first down. In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, he explained how he got his start, working on "tracking and remote sensing" for the military. In 1998, he started his own company, Sportvision, to release the technology.YouTube


Teams have started employing GPS to track players on the field in recent years, giving them play-by-play data on their performance, with the hope they can improve it. In the NFL, the Atlanta Falcons have outfitted players with similar tech to predict and prevent injuries. But that's a long while after the military's first GPS satellite was completed, in 1995.Wikimedia Commons


The NFL has been lobbying the Federal Aviation Administration to allow the use of drones--usually the domain of the military--over stadiums during games. Last year, a drone flew over the Super Bowl for security.Wikimedia Commons

Concussion Blood Test

This is one we'll (hopefully) see soon. The military has developed what they say is a simple blood test for diagnosing concussions, and the NFL is interested. We'll wait to see if it gets put into action.Wikimedia Commons

Plastic Helmets For Patton

Bonus fact: There were a few times the military borrowed tech from football. General Patton, for example, used plastic Riddell helmets in training and wanted them for combat, too.Wikimedia Commons