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October 18, 1956 - The NFL Outlaws the Radio Helmet

Posted October 18, 2007 12:01 AM by Steve Melito

On this day in engineering history, the commissioner of the National Football League (NFL) banned the use of a "radio helmet" which enabled coaches on the sidelines to communicate with quarterbacks on the field. De Benneville (Bert) Bell, the feisty NLF commissioner who protected ticket sales by blacking-out television coverage of games within 75 miles of a home team's stadium, outlawed the device on October 18, 1956. A firm believer in a level playing field, Bell rejected the radio helmet after learning that most of the NFL's teams were unable to develop a radio communications system that rivaled that of the Cleveland Browns.

In the spring of 1956, two Ohio inventors met with head coach Paul Brown of the Cleveland Browns about a small radio receiver that they had developed. John Campbell and George Sarles theorized that their device could be mounted inside of a football helmet to enable Coach Brown to communicate directly with his players. In this way, Quarterback George Ratterman could his receive his plays right from the coaching staff instead of from substitute players arriving from the sidelines. By eliminating the delays and confusion caused by miscommunication, the Cleveland Browns would have a better chance of winning the NFL's Eastern Conference and repeating as league champions.

Paul Brown liked the inventors' idea, but insisted that their device be tested in secret. In a secluded area behind John Campbell's house, George Sarles donned a football helmet with a small radio receiver and went into the woods. Eventually, the signal weakened and communication stopped. When Sarles failed to return, Campbell set out in search of his fellow inventor. To his surprise, he saw Sarles talking to a police officer who had intercepted the signal. Fortunately for Campbell and Sarles, the officer was a Cleveland Browns' fan who agreed to keep his discovery secret. Before releasing their invention to Paul Brown, however, Campbell and Sarles changed the frequency on the device.

During an exhibition game against the Detroit Lions, the Cleveland Browns ran plays like clockwork. Shortly before halftime, a suspicious Lions' coach noticed that Paul Brown was not using player substitutions for play calling. When a Lions' assistant spotted a radio transmitter hidden behind a post on the Browns' sidelines, word spread like wildfire. The rest of the league scrambled to create their own radio helmets, but none were as effective as the Sarles-Campbell device. Although the Cleveland Browns used the radio helmet in three more games, NLF Commissioner Bert Bell soon outlawed all such communication systems.

On December 30, 1956, the New York Giants defeated the Chicago Bears for the NFL Championship while Paul Brown, George Ratterman and the Cleveland Brown stayed home. Less than 50 years later, in 1994, the National Football League instituted the use of a radio helmet to allow for limited communication from the sidelines to the quarterback.

Resources:

http://www.440.com/twtd/archives/oct18.html

http://archive.profootballweekly.com/content/archives/features_1999/hof1_030700.asp

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bert_Bell

http://sports.jrank.org/pages/382/Bell-Bert-Impact-Television.html

http://www.profootballhof.com/history/release.jsp?release_id=2080

http://www.profootballhof.com/hof/member.jsp?player_id=23

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Engineering Fields - Control Engineering - New Member China - Member - New Member

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#1

Re: October 18, 1956 - The NFL Outlaws the Radio Helmet

10/19/2007 4:10 AM

in the old day, the radio helmet must be big and can be found easily.

but now the compact radio can be set in helmet or anywhere of the football players and has more ppower than ever and can transmit more distance.

even can transmit real time images.

so we can see more wonderful scenes just participate as a player on the field.

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#2

Re: October 18, 1956 - The NFL Outlaws the Radio Helmet

02/15/2010 9:34 PM

George Sarles was my father. He was an electronic engineer and inventor. With respect to his pioneering the football helmet, there is/was additional data (and possibly the relics) stored in the archives at the Football Hall of Fame in Ohio. George owned his own corporation (ESCO), originally located in Westlake, OH and eventually re-located his business to Dayton, OH in the late 1960's (to be near his largest client, Wright Patterson Airforce Base). He was awarded the Silver Star for Bravery in WWII. He was a pilot and loved flying. Later in his life, he lived in Dayton, Ohio, married to his third wife (Carol). George died in Detroit, Mich. while on a business trip. His favorite tavern (after the old Elzona in Westlake, OH) was the Tall Timbers in Dayton, OH. His known children are George A, Jr., Karla E., Lynn E., Mason E., and Steven. His best friend was Herb Green. I loved my dad very much, I miss him terribly, but he had SERIOUS issues in his home life history. God Bless. Karla

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