Sunday night’s Super Bowl wrapped up the NFL’s 100th season, and it also completed the sport of football’s 150th year of existence.
Born on a New Jersey field, the game’s players, rules – and most of all, equipment – have evolved in this time. The technology infused into gameplans, uniform materials, and equipment has improved and become more innovative. However, one piece of equipment has seen more cutting-edge technology built into it than any piece ever before.
The first football game between Rutgers and what is now Princeton was nothing like today’s game in any way. Player safety was not something widely thought about until John T. Riddell introduced the plastic-shelled helmet in 1949.
Riddell’s helmets would see more durability, protection, and comfort for 50 years – but in the early 2000’s, Riddell’s company not only improved the design. They rewrote the book on making a better football helmet.
Now in 2020, they are about to add more chapters.
Helmets manufactured today are made primarily by three companies – Riddell, Schutt, and Zenith. On the surface, they appear to be no different than their predecessors – but just like an iceberg – there is so much more underneath.
Riddell’s Speedflex helmet began the Renaissance in helmet manufacturing for the 21st century. The improvements include stronger materials, improved inner padding protection, as well as better weight and comfort. Each model is designed with maximum protection for the player as more than just a goal.
“Protective technology is always, you know, priority 1,2,3 and 4,” says Thad Ide, Senior Vice President of Research and Development for Riddell.
Ide is at the forefront in the development of the technology embedded inside each of the new Riddell helmets. He is leading Riddell’s Research and Development team to be voted as the top helmet brand used. Riddell did it with a helmet design able to reach the multiple levels of users, and going beyond just being a piece of headgear.
“It was intended to be affordable to high school, USA, but to also provide coaches or athletic trainers with actionable information about the head impact exposures that their athletes were seeing,” says Ide.
This actionable information comes from the inner liner being packed with various sensors directly linked to the sideline and alerting coaches and trainers to real-time data about impacts a player may have received.
The company has gone even farther in providing resources to translate that data into coaching and training.
What’s the next step in Riddell’s evolution of the helmet? Using lasers to 3-D scan a player’s head to create a one-of-a-kind “fingerprint” and a 3-D printed custom inner liner making the helmet’s fit and comfort level not only better than before but unique to this player.
For now, helmets are protecting players better than ever before and at the same time – building towards something even better.
“Making use of the sensor technology and all the data that we collect from that to inform, you know, what will be our next generation helmet platform. Which is you know something that you’ll see in the not-too-distant future,” says Ide.