When technology and sports collide, you never know what’s going to happen.
Speedskaters suddenly started going faster after somebody invented a spring-loaded skate blade called the “clap skate” that sproings off the boot part when the skater launches into mighty ice-carving strides with thighs as big as sides of beef.
Plus they get to go “clack clack clack” when they skate, which is a real bonus because who doesn’t like to go clackity clack?
Hockey goalies got a lot better — and a lot better looking — after Jacques Plante introduced the goalie mask to the sport, which caused all subsequent goalies, even to this day, to genuflect in holy gratitude whenever anyone even mentions Saint Jacques.
Baseball got a lot more interesting when Harold Q. Bat invented the baseball bat and tennis was much more fun when some technical wizard came up with the brilliant idea of adding strings to the racquets.
Where would we be without sports technology?
I clearly remember the day my Mom marched me down to Horsley’s Hardware to purchase a new hockey invention called the ‘mouth guard.’
This was an uncomfortable hunk of vaguely mouth-shaped plastic that you strapped onto your face to protect your precious 10-year-old teeth.
Like my Cooper helmet, the mouth guard had rows of holes drilled in it, apparently to allow you to breathe, except when you were playing a game at night on the outdoor rink at -20F and your saliva filled your mouth guard and froze solid. Which happened every Tuesday and Thursday.
Not that any of that mattered on account of, in a classic case of closing the barn door after the horse is gone, the reason Mom made me wear the gorky mouth guard was because the game before our trip to Horsley’s I got my front teeth smashed in and all chipped and broken by the butt end of Trevor Ready’s hockey stick.
The technology gurus had yet to invent face shields for hockey helmets, you see. And just because I was born too late, I lived a life well into my adult years with broken front teeth. Such was my pathological fear of dentists.
But that’s another story.
And when we played city league tackle football back in the Mesozoic Age, let’s just say the sports equipment technology was about on par with amazingly modern technological developments featured on The Flintstones. Like some sort of trench warfare recruits, we football kids were issued helmets that would easily slip right onto your average beach ball, plus padded extra-large canvas pants (yes, you read that right, canvas pants).
We provided our own running shoes and the black stuff that you smear under your eyes (Magic Marker).
Also, shoulder pads. Mine, like everyone else’s, were designed for a large adult or possible a small gorilla and there we would be, a couple dozen excited kids flailing around the football field, the shukk shukk shukk rustling sound of our canvas pants echoing in the Saturday morning air, running smack into each other with no idea where the ball was on account of our helmets kept slipping over our eyes.
All of us with shoulder pads so humongous we looked like a bunch of kids trying to smuggle full sized canoes on our shoulders underneath a one-size-fits-all football city-issued jerseys that were made for adult gorilla-shaped linemen instead of skinny, short 12-year-old shrimps in canvas pants.
But boy, did we tackle.
Sometimes at night, even now all these years later, when the world is asleep and all is quiet — once in a special while — I can still clearly hear the massive booming explosion of my helmet smacking into the helmet of my opponent, or perhaps someone on my own team who I tackled by mistake.
After one particularly “huge hit” down at the field in the middle of the oval track in front of the Grandstand at the old fairgrounds downtown, I left the field with a distinctive, rather loud ringing in my ears. This lasted well into my first three years of high school. But that’s another story.
Thing is, I’m an avid football watcher now — Canadian only, thank you very much — and more and more these days I find myself cringing when a 300 pound athlete who can run the 100-metre dash in four seconds and crash through brick walls without slowing down or even noticing, when one of these behemoths sacks a quarterback who is half the size and whose only previous physical contact was when he and his girlfriend were made prom king and queen. You can tell when it’s a good hit when the helmets are dented and both hitter and hittee suddenly speak a foreign language for the next three plays.
But now sports technologists may have finally come up with a brilliant idea. In a word: magnets.
Science dudes put these super-powerful, thin, lightweight magnets inside the football helmets of crash test dummies and smack the dummies’ heads together and they’ve concluded that magnets are really fun to play with.
Also, the risk of concussions is reduced significantly because as even those of us who slept through many, many science classes know, magnets can repel other magnets right off your desk.
Testing with defensive tackles and then actual humans will take place this summer, and I sure hope it works.
But I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like to have football helmet magnets back when we played city football.
There we would be — a couple dozen kids all stuck together — helmet to helmet, head to head, locked in the powerful indisputable magnetic law of attraction for a couple of hours every Saturday morning.
Because there’s absolutely no doubt that the city-issued helmet magnets would have been installed backwards.
Harley Hay is a local freelance writer, award-winning author, filmmaker and musician. His column appears on Saturdays in the Advocate. His books can be found at Chapters, Coles and Sunworks in Red Deer.