The Physics of Throwing a Football

Discussions on the subject of throwing a football are as common as chalk lines on a football field. Coaches and players talk about the proper grip, footwork and throwing motion, but few discussions mention of the physics involved. Prolific passers rely on the physics associated with the shape and design of a football when planning throws.
Footballs have been described as inflated leather missiles with laces, eggs and pointed ends. The shape of a football is such that it allows the ball to be thrown in ways that set the game apart from other ball games. Newton¡¯s first law of motion explains that an object at rest remains at rest unless acted upon by an external force. In this regard, a passer¡¯s throwing motion becomes the external force that propels the football. But it wouldn¡¯t travel as far if the passer attempted to throw the football with the points of the ball perpendicular to the line of travel. In addition to throwing the ball point first, the passer¡¯s grip and release cause the ball to spin on its lateral axis, and he benefits from the aerodynamics of the ball¡¯s ellipsoid shape.
Common sense suggests that the amount of force differs when throwing short and long passes. This is not to say a passer might not attempt to zip the ball between two defenders when his receiver is running a short pass pattern. But overall, less force is needed to throw a 15-yard pass and more is needed to throw a 40-yard pass. Newton¡¯s laws of gravity explains that every action is accompanied by an equal and opposite reaction. This helps you understand why most short passes have less loft and arc than long passes. Typically, passers focus on the receiver when throwing short patterns. If you watch a replay or stand near a quarterback who is throwing a long pass, you¡¯ll notice his eyes are focused on a point at the top of a perceived arc when he releases the ball. Whether openly stated or not, passers understand the physics that pertain to an equal and opposite reaction when throwing a football.
Comparing footballs used in youth leagues with regulation professional footballs, you see that youth footballs have a greater circumference. The reason for this is associated with the average strength of the players at each level. A ball with a grater circumference holds a greater volume of air and as a result, carries farther when thrown. Footballs used at the collegiate level have a larger circumference than youth footballs and are slightly smaller than professional footballs. By the time passers become professionals, they can throw a regulation football short or long without the aid of additional air volume.
Physics applies to every aspect of throwing the football, from a passer¡¯s throwing motion to the distance and accuracy of his passes. Hall of Fame quarterbacks, such as Johnny Unitas and Joe Montana, used the physics of throwing a football to an advantage. Both understood that releasing the ball a certain way caused it to react a certain way. You can realize the physics involved by throwing a football the length of a garden bench and throwing it to a neighbor across the street. Renowned physicist Sir Isaac Newton formulated the laws of gravity and motion that apply each time you throw a football.

The History of Women’s Baseball Leagues in 1943-1954

For a brief number of years in the 1940s and early 50s, women had a professional baseball league to call their own. Originally designed as a means to counteract the effects of World War II, the women¡¯s pro league enjoyed a good deal of success for several years. The 1992 movie ¡°A League of Their Own,¡± starring Tom Hanks and Geena Davis, was based on the league and some of its more colorful characters.
In 1942, as minor league baseball teams were disbanding because of World War II, Chicago Cubs owner and chewing gum mogul Philip Wrigley feared major league teams might do the same. He funded research to look for a solution, and the answer was to create an all-women¡¯s professional league to keep baseball alive during the war. The major leagues did not shut down, but the All American Girls Softball League began in 1943 just the same.
The AAGSL would go through a series of name changes over the first few years as it got comfortable and gained a following. The word ¡°Baseball¡± replaced ¡°Softball¡± to help distinguish it from the many amateur softball leagues, then it was changed to ¡°Ball¡± and eventually back to ¡°Baseball.¡± Around 1950, the league abandoned the underhand softball way of pitching and started throwing overhand like the men.
Since the bulk of the players the league was drawing were from softball teams, it made sense to use a softball in the games. The executives wanted to keep the game lively, so they moved the pitching rubber back and used nine players on the field instead of 10. They also instituted men¡¯s base running rules, allowing leadoffs and steals.
At the start, four non-major league cities were chosen to begin play: Rockford, Illinois; South Bend, Indiana; and Racine and Kenosha, Wisconsin were formed, each with 15 players, a manager, a business manager and a female chaperone. Male sports figures were used as managers to try to arouse public curiosity. Salaries for the players were between $45 and $85 per week, and all players were required to attend charm school every day after practice.
The first women¡¯s professional baseball game was played on May 30, 1943, and Racine won the first championship. The first season was successful, with league attendance of 176,612. The popularity of the league continued for a few years after the war, with attendance peaking in 1948 at 910,000, when there were 10 teams. The team directors took over ownership of the league after the 1950 season, and interest began to wane. The league ceased operations after the 1954 season.

How Has Football Equipment Improved?

While it’s possible to enjoy a game of touch football by getting out on the field with other players and a ball, you need proper equipment to play tackle football. That has been true since the game was first played in the second half of the 19th century. Some of the basic equipment used by players includes helmets, shoulder pads, football pants and face-masks. Equipment has changed and improved dramatically over the years.
Helmets have undergone many changes through the years. In the early part of the 20th century, players wore leather helmets to protect their heads from significant trauma. Chin straps and leather pieces that covered the ears were added to the basic helmet form. Plastic helmets were manufactured in the 1940s and were used in the 1950s. Since the 1950s, padding has been added to the front, back and sides of the helmet to protect players’ skulls from violent collisions and improving their chances of walking away from a clash with fewer injuries.
Shoulder pads first started to be worn by players shortly after 1910. President Teddy Roosevelt had decried football as a violent game and said changes were going to have to be made to protect players in order to keep the game legal. Leather shoulder pads were worn to protect the players’ upper bodies. By the 1960s, the pads were improved by creating a plastic shell and foam to protect the players’ shoulders and chest.
Football pants were originally baggy, but offensive players found that defensive players could grab them and use them to help them make tackles. Pants became more form-fitting, but leg injuries persuaded football officials to make improvements to pants by making room for pads to be inserted in the 1920s and 1930s. Starting in the 1940s, pockets have been placed in the pants to hold the pads, including thigh pads, hip pads and kneepads.
The facemask was first put on helmets in the 1950s when the plastic helmet was first used. The initial facemask was a clear plastic see-through strip in front of the mouth. It was replaced by a single plastic bar that was gray in color and then a double plastic bar. Offensive and defensive linemen began to use facemasks that protected the entire face in the 1960s thus improving safety. This style of facemask is referred to as a “bird cage.”
The original football was round and made of a pig’s bladder. The ball was difficult to blow up and by the turn of the century rubber was used in place of the pig bladder. It was eventually covered in leather. The roundish ball was replaced by the more oblong-shaped ball — making it more aerodynamic — with the advent of the forward pass in the early part of the 20th century. The current dimension of the football is 11 to 11 1?2 inches along the length with a circumference of 28 to 28 1?2 inches.The legal football weighs 14 to 15 oz.
Football shoes were originally made of leather and often had sharp spikes for traction.These needle-like projections were effective but also dangerous. Players stopped using them during the 1940s and used rounded spikes to reduce the injury possibilities. Some players went to higher-top shoes for additional support. Baltimore Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas’ famous pair of high-top shoes sit in an exhibit in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Unitas wore them from the start of his career in 1955 through the end in 1973. Players went to lighter and more comfortable cleats in the 1960s and 1970s. Improvements continue to be made in the shoes and players can easily screw in new spikes depending on the weather and the surface they are playing on.