10 Vicious Hits: Why New Football-Helmet Technology Matters

New research out of the Hoosier State may impact how the sport is played at all levels soon enough. Here is a visual sampling of why such a breakthrough is of paramount importance.

Two researchers at Purdue University, Eric Nauman and Tom Talavage, aim to create helmets that will help protect football players from concussions. However, the speed and the strength of today’s participants make the challenge to build safer helmets exceedingly difficult. According to data collected by the Purdue Neurotrama Group (PNG), high-school players in Lafayette have received blows to the head that registered as high as 289 g—nearly as much force as falling from a height of 35 feet. If these colossal impacts are being recorded at the high-school level, just imagine the force being administered in the college and pro arenas.

The list of hits below highlights not only the super-human forces involved in football, but also the importance of the research that Nauman and Talavage are conducting now:

2007: New Orleans Saints vs. Philadelphia Eagles

This vicious hit occurred during the 2006 NFC Divisional playoffs. Eagles cornerback Sheldon Brown plowed through then-rookie Reggie Bush’s body. The hit stripped Bush of both the ball and his sense of balance:

2012: New Orleans Saints vs. San Fransisco 49ers

Pierre Thomas had his sights on punching the ball across the goal line for the Saints, but 49ers safety Donte Whitner had other plans. The jarring hit appeared to knock Thomas unconscious before he even met the turf. Perhaps not surprisingly, Whitner filed legal papers this month to change his last name to Hitner, emphasizing his physical style of play.

2010: Indianapolis Colts vs. Philadelphia Eagles

After hauling in a pass from Peyton Manning, Colts wideout Austin Collie was blindsided by an Eagles player. Collie’s arms seemed to reach out following the collision, demonstrating what is referred to as the “fencing response” to a concussion. He was eventually carted off the field on a stretcher. (Sorry, Colts fans: Collie now plays for the New England Patriots.)

2013: Louisville Cardinals vs. Florida Gators

In the most recent Sugar Bowl, Louisville signal-caller Teddy Bridgewater was sent flying by Florida linebacker Jon Bostic. The crunch knocked Bridgewater off of his feet and left his helmet rolling downfield.

2013: South Carolina Gamecocks vs. Michigan Wolverines

During last year’s Outback Bowl, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney made a name for himself by breaking into the backfield and leveling the Michigan running back. The seismic collision caused a fumble, which Clowney snatched up with one hand.

2010: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cleveland Browns

Former Steeler James Harrison was fined $75,000 for this hit against Browns wide receiver Mohammed Massaquoi in week six of the 2010 NFL season. Harrison was fined six times, totaling $125,000, for rough play between 2010 and 2011. Massaquoi was diagnosed with one of many concussions that have plagued his career.

2012: Wisconsin Badgers vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers

Hard hits are usually associated with defense, but that’s not the case here. Nebraska wide receiver Kenny Bell was flagged for unnecessary roughness after laying out a Wisconsin defender in last year’s Big Ten championship game. Deadspin called it the best “legal block” of the year.

2012: Seattle Seahawks vs. Dallas Cowboys

In week two of the 2012 NFL season, Seattle wide receiver Golden Tate sent Dallas Cowboy linebacker Sean Lee to the sideline after Tate blocked for a scrambling Russell Wilson. The NFL fined Tate $21,000 for the hit to Lee, who, perhaps by an act of providence, actually tested negative for a concussion.

2000: Washington Redskins vs. Dallas Cowboys

While not the biggest, LaVar Arrington’s hit on Troy Aikman on this play in December 2000 gave the Hall of Fame quarterback his tenth reported concussion and ultimately ended his 12-year career.

2013: Indianapolis Colts vs. Denver Broncos

Even punters can get in on the action. The Colts’ own Pat McAfee barreled into Broncos return man Trindon Holliday on Oct. 20. While it was a helmet-to-helmet hit, McAfee was not called for a penalty—but to the amusement of the kicker and his legions of Twitter followers, he was called in for random drug testing the next day.

This article is a companion piece to the “Damage Control” feature in the October 2013 issue.