The Amazing Tale of Ottawa’s Radio Football Helmet of ’62

The 1962 Ottawa Pirates football team, the first to used the school’s radio-equipped football helmet. (Photo courtesy of Ottawa Township High School.)

Today’s column from CBS Chicago

OTTAWA, Ill. (CBS) Colin Kaepernick hears voices in his head.

But it’s not as if the quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers needs to see a shrink before Sunday’s Super Bowl. After all, Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco hears voices, too.

For that matter, so has every other NFL signal caller since 1994, when the league officially allowed teams to use wireless radio communication during games. Today, a quarterback couldn’t shake the voices out of his helmet even with the help of a team psychiatrist.

At the start of this season, the NFL dumped the analog system that coaches have used to relay plays onto the field since ’94 in favor of a digital network designed to improve signal clarity and connection. For a league that has often embraced new technologies at a glacial pace, the NFL’s switch to digital was a significant advancement.

But it wasn’t nearly as momentous as the advancement made more than five decades ago by a small-town Illinois high school that invented and employed its own radio-equipped football helmet during the early 1960s. So successful was this radio system for the Pirates of Ottawa Township High School that after four seasons they ended up getting the thing outlawed by the Illinois High School Association.

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