It's All about the Gear

The passing explosion we saw at the onset of the season has mostly imploded in recent weeks, but the fact remains that passing has been exploding in slow motion over the years. There are probably several causes, including rule changes, early player development, and tactical innovations. But one theory I haven't heard is that equipment is helping receivers, specifically their gloves.

Have you seen these things? I was in a sporting goods store yesterday, and there was a prominent display featuring special gear Nike created for the Army Navy game next Saturday. For some reason the main focus was on $75 'Vapor Jet' receiver gloves. Being a Navy guy I couldn't resist the display, so I grabbed a pair of the gloves. My God, there is no way a receiver should ever drop any pass wearing these gloves. Whatever the material is on the palms and fingers, it was probably developed by NASA so astronauts could snag meteors while out on spacewalks.

Now all those miraculous, acrobatic one-handed catches suddenly make more sense to me. I'm not sure when gloves like that got so good, or exactly what the effect has been, but it's hard to imagine they haven't made a substantial difference.

I'm sure other developments in gear have influenced the sport. The trend is toward smaller and lighter pads, and today's helmets are lighter too. Modern cleats in conjunction with the trend toward field turf may also have an effect.

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9 Responses to “It's All about the Gear”

  1. Joe Soriano says:

    Yeah, I don't think we talk about gear being a factor quite enough in sports like football. I remember the days when Cliff Branch used to make his gloves extra sticky in order to lead the league with 13 TD catches one year and end up being a key cog for the Raiders. Those are some sweet gloves, and I bet you felt like Randy Moss just wearing them haha.

  2. John says:

    is there any way to track the percentage of balls dropped over the years

  3. Anonymous says:

    Troy Aikman in a broadcast recently was talking about how he never found good gloves to use during his career, despite trying every product out there. When the weather was cold and/or wet, he'd find the ball much harder to grip and his accuracy would decline. He had the little hand warmer thing back then that everyone still uses now (that little fanny pack like thing you see QBs use from time to time), but it wasn't the same as having gloves on.

    He said he tried on the gloves that the QB in the game he was broadcasting was using, and it was like a revelation. Aikman claimed that he'd probably have used those gloves regardless of the weather conditions, because it was probably a better grip than his bare hand.

  4. Tom says:

    Interestingly in rugby there is a ban on gloves which cover the fingertips.

  5. Jeff Fogle says:

    Interesting article from Darren Rovell back when he was writing for ESPN.com (now with msnbc I think) from back in 2005. Reebok called its technology "gryptonite" even back then...

    http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=2225388

  6. James says:

    I agree. Those WR gloves are amazing.

    Anecdotally, it seems to me a lot of QBs don't wear gloves, and those that do tend to have a hard time adjusting when they are forced to wear gloves (due to weather, injury, or other factors).

    I remember Collinsworth going on about Ben not being able to put any touch on his passes while wearing gloves a year or two ago, so Ben was rifling passes on slants and curls instead of tossing fades and swing passes. Also didn't Stafford place his accuracy issues on the gloves and not his broken finger last week?

  7. Joshua Northey says:

    I don't understand why they don't keep a tighter control of these things. Same thing with hockey sticks. Hockey sticks have turned that into a fundamentally different game than it was 15-20 years ago.

    There are lots of things you simply couldn't do before. Ditto with these sticky gloves (which I used as a soccer goalie). They are insane. So sticky. You can palm an object much larger than you could without them.

  8. John says:

    Those gloves are amazing and yet Roy Williams still drops half his targets.

  9. Anonymous says:

    A little off-topic, but Joshua is right about hockey - not just the size of the goalie equipment shrinking the available net, but the new sticks allow similarly strong players to shoot up to 20% harder. So goalie play today is far less reflex, and much more positioning and luck. Also skates and hockey gloves are far lighter than 25 years ago, resulting in increased speed.

    In Formula 1, rules are put in to slow down the cars - otherwise technological advances would make them far too fast. Other sports don't seem to be as concerned.

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