NFL Tech: The Coolest Sports Tech You’ve Ever Seen

Marshawn Lynch runs during the Super Bowl

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The National Football League hasn’t always been quick to get onboard with new forms of technology, but even the NFL has to bow to the fact that analytics have become the new normal in professional sports. Sometimes it’s better to simply roll with the punches, even if you’re the most popular sport in America. Believe us, this new player tracking technology is well worth it.

While the NFL used last season to test out the live player tracking technology — made by Zebra Technologies — this 2015 season will see it used league-wide, as every stadium will now be equipped with the proper sensors. How do these sensors work? Per Buzzfeed:

“They’re looking for sensor tags, located under each of the players’ shoulder pads, that are capable of live-tracking movements on the field of play. The tracking is extraordinarily accurate — according to Zebra Technologies, which makes the tags, the margin of error is less than six inches. That’s a tiny amount, especially when compared to GPS, which is usually only accurate within yards.”

Once this data is acquired, Zebra processes the information, then forwards it along to NFL servers where it is distributed to different broadcasts. As a viewer, we’re sure you’ve seen it used by TV broadcasters during instant replays. And if that’s the case, then you already know: It’s awesome.

Now that the National Football League will be using this technology throughout the entire league, as opposed to just the 18 stadiums from last year, we can’t help but be reminded of how many times this league has used new tech to evolve for the better. Therefore, in light of this latest development, here’s a look at the five coolest pieces of technology in the NFL.

1. Instant Replay

Referee Jerome Boger looks at the screen in the instant replay booth during the game

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Although it hasn’t always yielded perfect results, the introduction of instant replay into the National Football League has been a major game-changer for the sport.

The first time this tech was used during an actual regular-season game was on September 7th, 1986, during a showdown between the Cleveland Browns and the then defending Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears. Of course, if we’re being honest, the National Football League was behind the times on this one. After all, Tony Verna’s invention had first been used during an Army-Navy game all the way back in 1963.

Still, if you ask us, better late than never.

2. Coach-to-Player Communications System

Helmets of the Jacksonville Jaguars quarterbacks display green 'radio' decals

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While the first player-to-coach communications system was actually used by coach Paul Brown of the Cleveland Browns in 1956, it wasn’t until 1994 that the “National Football League instituted the use of a radio helmet to allow for limited communication from the sidelines to the quarterback on the field.”

In 2008, the defensive side of the ball was finally permitted to use the same technology. Two defensive players were equipped with the tech in their helmets, however the defensive coordinators could only have one player on the field at a time using the “live” helmet. Anything that makes communication between coach and player easier is definitely a step up in the NFL.

3. Electronic Playbooks

Vance Walker #99 of the Kansas City Chiefs consults a person electronic device

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Why carry around massive binders filled with insane amounts of papers, when you can store all that information on an electronic device? After all, if the technology is available, it should be taken advantage of. This is exactly what the Baltimore Ravens and Tampa Bay Buccaneers did in 2011 when they started championing the use of iPads. The trend has spread dramatically since then.

Nowadays, thanks to a sponsorship deal between the NFL and Microsoft the use of electronic tablets has become the norm for all teams throughout the league. Once again, technology has saved the day in pro football — and the backs of players league-wide, as they no longer have to worry about injuries associated with lugging around a massive playbook.

4. 1st & Ten Line

This one is for the fans.

On September 27, 1998, during a game between the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals, the Virtual — and yellow — 1st and Ten line made it first-ever appearance on the screen. This fantastic creation, courtesy of SportVision, enhanced the viewing experience for those watching the games at home, who now knew exactly where the first-down marker was on every single play. We are forever grateful for this revolutionary piece of visual technology.

5. Virtual Reality

Game enthusiast, Jacob Mix, tests out the virtual reality head-mounted display Oculus Rift CV1

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Not every organization in the National Football League is using virtual reality as an advanced training method. But with the Dallas Cowboys paving the way by signing on with StriVR Labs, and the New England Patriots quickly following suit, it shouldn’t be surprising when more teams starting looking into a piece of tech that enhances preparation, while also limiting physical wear and tear. In practice, the VR headset uses footage captured from a camera near the line of scrimmage to create a 360-degree view of practice footage — allowing players to see the play from a new perspective that isn’t traditional game tape.

We live in a virtual world. It looks like the NFL franchises are ready to embrace it.

All information is courtesy of NFL.com, ESPN Front Row, and BuzzFeed