Saturday, August 11, 2007

The NFL's dot matrix

Watching this weekend's preseason game between the Bengals and Lions, I noticed there was something odd about Carson Palmer's uniform. Then I saw the same odd thing with Jon Kitna's uniform. Their backups, Doug Johnson and Dan Orlovsky, had it, too. Later, I was watching the Bills against the Saints on CBS, and it happened there, too. Take a look at J.P. Losman and Drew Brees:

Later, I flipped over to the Falcons-Jets game on NFL Network. Check out Chris Redman and Kellen Clemens:

I wondered, what the heck is with the green dots on the helmets? Only the quarterbacks have them -- as you can see in the last photo above, Jets fullback Darian Barnes' helmet is dotless. I had two general theories.

One related to the special contact rules involving the quarterback. Perhaps the dot is there to remind a defender closing in on a QB's blind side to keep his arms down, because so much as a tap on the quarterback's helmet can draw a 15-yard penalty. Or perhaps it's there so that the referee, who is positioned behind the line of scrimmage and is responsible for calling roughing-the-passer infractions, can keep track of the quarterback when the pocket gets crowded. Or maybe it's there to help other officials, stationed downfield, identify when the ballcarrier as a quarterback, so that when he hook-slides, they can flag anyone who hits him.

The second theory had to do with the special audio equipment installed in quarterbacks' helmets. I thought that maybe, because these are early preseason games, the dots were just equipment managers' way of keeping track of which helmets are equipped with speakers. Some teams have five or six quarterbacks in camp rather than the two or three they'll be carrying on the roster during the season. I'd bet it's a challenge making sure that you have one of the audio helmets for each one.

I could find nothing on explaining the dots, nothing on my favorite football sites, nothing in the mainstream media. So I turned to Paul Lukas' fantastic Uni Watch blog, the favored website of athletic uniform enthusiasts obsessives everywhere (and I count myself among them). Lukas has gotten to the bottom of the case: The dots are there so officials can confirm that only one player on the field is wearing a speaker-equipped helmet. This becomes a concern when teams put two quarterbacks on the field at the same time -- think Seneca Wallace going in as a reciever for the Seahawks, or the time a couple years ago when the Broncos split Jake Plummer out wide and had Bradlee Van Pelt take the snap (and run a quarterback draw, taking advantage of a confused Chiefs defense). League rules say only one player can recieve the audio from the sideline. So if Wallace comes in as a receiver, he has to change helmets.

Lukas asks the obvious question: What's to keep equipment managers from conveniently "forgetting" to put a green decal on a helmet? The answer appears to be "spot checks by the officials." Translation: Nothing.

So I learned something this weekend. But I have to question the NFL's choice of decal. This was the best they could do? In a league that's completely obsessed with appearances, a league that mandates a maximum length for receivers' hand towels, they chose to slap this butt-ugly, lime-green, 3-cents-apiece-at-Office-Depot sticker on the back of quarterbacks' helmets? Not cool.

1 comment:

Rich Lanthier said...

Interesting about the dots, I did not notice it in the Redskins "game" but I did not really even watch anything in that mess... Oh, I had something really smart to say... and now... poof, it is gone... OH yeah! The NFL network broadcast of the preseason was TERRIBLE! The voices were not even synced to the bodies.... I thought I was going to barf... It is getting to be too much....