How Has Football Equipment Improved?
While it's possible to enjoy a game of touch football by getting out on the field with other players and a ball, you need proper equipment to play tackle football. That has been true since the game was first played in the second half of the 19th century. Some of the basic equipment used by players includes helmets, shoulder pads, football pants and face-masks. Equipment has changed and improved dramatically over the years.
Helmets have undergone many changes through the years. In the early part of the 20th century, players wore leather helmets to protect their heads from significant trauma. Chin straps and leather pieces that covered the ears were added to the basic helmet form. Plastic helmets were manufactured in the 1940s and were used in the 1950s. Since the 1950s, padding has been added to the front, back and sides of the helmet to protect players' skulls from violent collisions and improving their chances of walking away from a clash with fewer injuries.
Shoulder pads first started to be worn by players shortly after 1910. President Teddy Roosevelt had decried football as a violent game and said changes were going to have to be made to protect players in order to keep the game legal. Leather shoulder pads were worn to protect the players' upper bodies. By the 1960s, the pads were improved by creating a plastic shell and foam to protect the players' shoulders and chest.
Football pants were originally baggy, but offensive players found that defensive players could grab them and use them to help them make tackles. Pants became more form-fitting, but leg injuries persuaded football officials to make improvements to pants by making room for pads to be inserted in the 1920s and 1930s. Starting in the 1940s, pockets have been placed in the pants to hold the pads, including thigh pads, hip pads and kneepads.
The facemask was first put on helmets in the 1950s when the plastic helmet was first used. The initial facemask was a clear plastic see-through strip in front of the mouth. It was replaced by a single plastic bar that was gray in color and then a double plastic bar. Offensive and defensive linemen began to use facemasks that protected the entire face in the 1960s thus improving safety. This style of facemask is referred to as a "bird cage."
The original football was round and made of a pig's bladder. The ball was difficult to blow up and by the turn of the century rubber was used in place of the pig bladder. It was eventually covered in leather. The roundish ball was replaced by the more oblong-shaped ball -- making it more aerodynamic -- with the advent of the forward pass in the early part of the 20th century. The current dimension of the football is 11 to 11 1⁄2 inches along the length with a circumference of 28 to 28 1⁄2 inches.The legal football weighs 14 to 15 oz.
Football shoes were originally made of leather and often had sharp spikes for traction.These needle-like projections were effective but also dangerous. Players stopped using them during the 1940s and used rounded spikes to reduce the injury possibilities. Some players went to higher-top shoes for additional support. Baltimore Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas' famous pair of high-top shoes sit in an exhibit in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Unitas wore them from the start of his career in 1955 through the end in 1973. Players went to lighter and more comfortable cleats in the 1960s and 1970s. Improvements continue to be made in the shoes and players can easily screw in new spikes depending on the weather and the surface they are playing on.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman authored The Minnesota Vikings: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and Who's Better, Who's Best in Football -- The Top 60 Players of All-Time, among others, and placed in the Pro Football Writers of America awards three times. Silverman holds a Master of Science in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism.