The NFL playoffs continue this weekend with Kurt Warner leading the high-scoring Arizona Cardinals into New Orleans for a showdown with the Saints. There is speculation that a loss could mark the final game of Warner's career, not for lack of ability (he threw for five touchdowns last week against the Packers), but because of his concern about sustaining another concussion like the one that sidelined him earlier this season.
While the NFL introduced new rules this season requiring players who exhibit any significant symptoms of a concussion to be removed from a game or practice, players have long taken protecting their noggins into their own hands. From oversized helmets and Velcro-affixed padding to facemasks and ball-repelling throat protectors, here are 10 interesting ways that athletes through the years have protected their most valuable assets "“ their heads.
1. Mark Kelso's Pro Cap
Longtime Buffalo Bills trainer Eddie Abramoski had watched safety Mark Kelso get knocked silly one too many times, so he took action. In 1989, Abramoski approached Kelso with a Pro Cap, a half-inch of rubberized padding that fit over a standard helmet and was attached with Velcro. The device was designed by Bert Strauss of Protective Sports Equipment in Erie, Pa., where Abramoski was once a high school football standout. Teammates dubbed Kelso "The Great Gazoo," but the teasing was a small price to pay for the protection the Pro Cap offered. The creators of the device claimed that the Pro Cap reduced the chances of a recurring head injury from 65 percent to 3 percent. "The biggest obstacle is the aesthetics," said Kelso, who credited the Pro Cap with prolonging his career. "I think guys just don't want to wear it because it looks so different." At least two other NFL players, Indianapolis Colts lineman Randy Dixon and San Francisco 49ers lineman Steve Wallace, also wore the Pro Cap. "Everyone laughs at me," said Wallace, who started wearing one after suffering his fifth concussion. "But what's more important, your ego or being able to play with your kids with a clear head after your career is over? I'll never play again without it."
2. David Wright's Jumbo Helmet
3. Ryan Sadowski's Plastic Cap Insert
When veteran Randy Johnson went on the disabled list with an elbow injury last season, it opened the door for San Francisco Giants rookie Ryan Sadowski to make his major league debut after a remarkable trip through the minor leagues. In 2003, while pitching for the Giants' short-season minor league team, Sadowski began experiencing headaches. He didn't think much of them at first, but after becoming extremely sick a few months later, he had an MRI and was diagnosed with a subdural hematoma. Sadowski had emergency surgery and doctors told him that he would probably never throw again. Instead, he resumed pitching in 2004. The Giants wanted Sadowski to wear a skullcap to protect his noggin when he returned, but the right-hander had a more creative solution. Sadowski starched one of his caps and provided it to a plastic manufacturer, which produced a mold and a custom plastic insert for Sadowski to place inside his regular caps., "It's kind of shaped like a salad bowl," he told the San Jose Mercury News last year. Sadowski won his first two starts before struggling and being sent back down to the minors.
4. Jacques Plante's Goalie Mask
5. Steve Yeager's Throat Protector
Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Steve Yeager is remembered for a number of things, and his ability to hit a baseball is not one of them. Yeager's cousin, Chuck, was widely considered the first pilot to break the sound barrier. Steve Yeager, who was a .228 hitter in 15 major league seasons, posed nude for Playgirl in 1982. He appeared in Major League, Major League II, and Major League: Back to the Minors. He won the 1981 World Series MVP award. Oh, and he almost died in the on-deck circle. In 1976, shards from Bill Russell's broken bat tore a hole a half-inch deep in Yeager's neck, piercing his esophagus. Yeager underwent emergency surgery and made a full recovery. Shortly after the incident, Dodgers trainer Bill Buhler, who was known as Dr. Fix-It throughout his 44 years in baseball, invented and patented a throat protector that hung from the catcher's mask. While it wouldn't protect him in the on-deck circle, Yeager began wearing the throat protector behind the plate and it soon became a staple piece of equipment for both catchers and umpires.