Former Chicago Bears player, Doug Plank once said. “Most football players are temperamental. That’s 90% temper and 10% mental.” But American Football isn’t just about brawn, it’s about brains too. In the last fifty years, there’s been one increasingly important way to enhance coaches and players’ competitive advantage. To win big you need to invest big in technology.

iPads make the squad

Take the University of Memphis Football team, for example. This year the Tigers, the 2015 American Athletic Conference Champions, wanted to give their players the best possible chance of building on their winning ways. Matt Haron, their Director of Football Video, believed iPads could help. “We gave each player their very own device.” He says. “Now, players can watch game film and do game planning whenever they want.”

MDM is the key to a great defense

Needless to say outfitting a squad of 90 football players comes with challenges too. Not least importantly, making sure their devices don’t get lost with game sensitive data. To overcome that risk, the Tigers use Miradore Online Mobile Device Management. Miradore helps the Football Video staff locate and track iPads remotely. The MDM solution also allows the football video coordinators to set specific profiles to each iPad. So far, the strategy seems to be working with the Tigers riding high in the league and not a single iPad missing. But it’s not just iPads revolutionizing the way American football is played.


Instant replay arrives

There’s a surprising amount of tech in major sports these days, because of broadcasting. But one of the early innovations was instant replay, the ability to quickly rewind and inspect the game. Versions of this were in use on analog videotape as far back as in 1986 for a few years but put on hold due to poor image quality. In 1999, with the advent of all-digital workflows, instant replay made a comeback and has been key to reliving all kinds of wild, unbelievable tricks on the field.

Helmet audio tunes in

Strictly speaking, helmets are hardware, and those have a fun history in the NFL too. However, let’s focus on the electronics. The Cleveland Browns debuted in-helmet radio sets in 1956. The technology didn’t really take off until 1994 when all teams adopted analog radio from a coach’s headset. The 1-2 second delay and incidents of crosstalk, such as players hearing airline pilots or even a Madonna concert, took the fun out of this too. Really fresh, digital radio is a pretty late addition, with a Gubser & Schbakenberg encrypted system added in 2013.


Video overlays line up

In this age of Snapchat filters, we take real-time video processing for granted. However, the tech behind the “yellow line”, first and Ten line, added to NFL broadcast since 1998 with Sportvision’s system is rather heavy duty. As the years move on, broadcasters add more and more rulers and lines to the playing field, which blend in smoothly with the environment. The video technology used needed to add the line of scrimmage, boxes indicating downs and distance, and the red zone. Think about the computation needed to make it happen in real-time HD.

Giant screens go jumbo

It’s tempting to call these Jumbotrons, but that’s really a product specific name, owned by Sony. Two NFL stadiums in Texas are practically competing over who can have the biggest Mitsubishi screens with the Cowboys Stadium’s 160 foot wide, 1080p LED screen being outdone by Houston’s 277 feet wide screens a few years ago. You’d think these screens were for spectators only. But nope, the players, and coaches use them too, to decide when to challenge rulings. It’s also mighty good to be able to see potential tacklers mid-field.


$400 million “knock-off iPads” underachieve

The Microsoft Surface became sort of anti-famous in 2015 when league announcers continuously mixed them up with iPads. Microsoft had made a massive bid to make the Surface the official tablet of the game, but watchers of the game have repeatedly heard the tablets being referred to in less flattering terms, such as “iPad knock-offs”, when in use by coaches on the sidelines.

Technology has a long history in American football and with new innovations introduced every year, that’s doubtless set to continue. But what can we expect next? Let us know your predictions in the comments below.

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Image credits: Joe Murphy and Pro Football Hall of Fame

Joel Willans

Joel Willans

Joel Willans has edited, launched and written for more than a half a dozen mobile technology blogs for both Nokia and Microsoft. A keen mobile photographer, he also loves the way mobile technology has freed him to work anywhere in the world.
Joel Willans