FeaturedFootsteps Magazine

Leather Helmets? Round Footballs? This is How NFL Equipment Has Evolved Over the Years

(NewsUSA) – With Safety Being the Number 1 Priority, the NFL Has Made Changes Even In Recent Years 

What Will the Future Bring? 

utgers on November 6, 1869, has undergone an astonishing evolution. What started as their version of Frisbee golf around 1974 has transformed into a colossal phenomenon, shaping not only the sport but also the equipment. Explore the intricate journey of football, tracing its roots to humble beginnings and witnessing its remarkable growth through the years. From Princeton and Rutgers to the modern-day spectacle, the pointspreads of this journey tell a captivating tale of football’s incredible progression.

From Rudimentary Gear to Top-of-the-Line Technology

The first iteration of a football game occurred between college kids in 1869 and there were reportedly 25 players per team on the field at the same time. They wore no protective gear and the rules were a hybrid of soccer, rugby, and whatever else was agreed upon.

That was then and this is now but what we’re here to discuss is the plenty of in-between. So much has happened, and due to the unfortunate injuries that can occur in NFL matchups and elsewhere when elite athletes, equipped with monstrous power, clash in a symphony of spellbinding violence, it is incumbent upon the leagues that govern the rules and safety protocols to make every effort that the athletes are protected.


It’s not often we think of the progress that has been made, especially when we are scouring the NFL schedule to figure out which game we want to watch. However, with the advent of technology and the research done on lasting injuries, it’s as good a time as any to draw a timeline and point out when changes were made and how the sport has adapted to them.

1890s — A Navy Midshipman named Joe Reeves created the first “head harness”. It was more cosmetic than utilitarian as the soft leather did little to protect. But it was a first step, a baby step, but a step nonetheless in player equipment.

1910 — Shoulder pads up until this point were merely bags of cotton jerry-rigged on the shoulders. This was replaced by thin pads that had a more comfortable fit, albeit the protection provided was not substantially better. 


1920s & 1930s — The game was still in its infancy when a more durable leather helmet was introduced with a teardrop shape that allowed a snugger fit. We also saw the first cantilever shoulder pads designed off the shoulder to absorb shock.

We should also note that the round rubber ball initially used had been slowly streamlined into the oval pigskin we see today.


1939 — The biggest NFL news swirling during that year was that the league would make the new plastic helmets mandatory and would introduce a single-face bar.

H3: Player’s Safety Is the No. 1 Priority

Naturally, the evolution of football equipment didn’t come to a screeching halt in 1939. Advances in safety and protection continued throughout the decades. But what is the state of equipment today?

As we all know, some of the most devastating NFL injuries are the ones we can’t see. Concussions are still far too frequent as the strength and speed of the athletes have evolved to the point where a 300-pound edge rusher today has the speed of a 180-pound defensive back from yesteryear.


Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, commonly known as CTE, is a progressive and fatal brain disease associated with repeated head trauma. Former players with CTE have led lives of misery and, in some cases, even led to suicide.

Space age design in the creation of everything from cleats to helmets has improved safety but there is always bigger and better on the horizon such as smart helmets that track and monitor the quantity and severity of head blows. This will alert team doctors and staff when an injury either has occurred or may have already occurred.


Even state-of-the-art censored mouthguards can track a player’s heart rate, body temperature, and even hydration levels to make sure health risks are minimized.

Polymers and other space-age materials are constantly evolving and being introduced to not only bring increased safety to the players but comfort as well. Even the fields themselves continue to evolve to minimize injuries while maintaining a playable surface.

Fortunately, the NFL and lower levels of the sport are all unified in their search for increased player safety. And although we still see more injuries than we would like, at least they’re no longer wearing leather helmets.  



Related Articles

Back to top button