A Colorful History of Paintball

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kadmy/iStock via Getty Images

Having spent a month arguing with no end in sight, Charles Gaines and Hayes Noel decided to resolve their conflict the old-fashioned way. They agreed to a gun duel at 20 paces.

It was the late 1970s and Gaines, a writer and fly fisherman best known for authoring Pumping Iron, a book later turned into a documentary that helped usher Arnold Schwarzenegger to superstardom, had been verbally sparring with his friend Noel about who would be better-equipped as a survivalist. Gaines believed someone with outdoors skills like himself would excel. Noel, a Wall Street stockbroker, thought his urban instincts would prove superior.

After going back and forth like this while vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, Gaines returned home to New Hampshire and spotted something in an agricultural catalog. It was the Nel-Spot 007, a gun powered by carbon monoxide (CO2) gas and used to mark trees or cattle using a gelatin ball filled with oil-based paint. Gaines thought it would make for an interesting combat simulator. Instead of testing survivalist skills with ammunition, they could test it with globs of paint.

After getting the guns, Gaines and Noel engaged in a duel that Gaines won—this according to Gaines—and also crept around in the woods hoping to snipe the other, a situation which both men later said they had gotten the upper hand in.

These conflicting narratives failed to settle their argument, and so the two friends decided a bigger, more involved experiment was in order. Purely by accident, they created the game of paintball in the process.

A person playing paintball is pictured
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Weapons that shoot projectiles using compressed air are nothing new. In the 1940s, Britain’s commercial freighter ships used steam-powered cannons to launch grenades at enemy aircraft. When they were bored, the sailors used the cannons to shoot potatoes or beer bottles instead. Much later, sports teams would adopt T-shirt cannons powered by the same principle to dispense apparel to fans in the upper decks.

The idea to use CO2 for paint came from the Nelson Paint Company in the 1960s. Hoping to assist foresters with marking trees that weren’t easily accessible on foot, the distributor marketed the Nel-Spot 007, which shot the gelatin balls with a resounding splat. Farmers also used them to indicate cattle that had been bred. (Because the paint was used for marking, the guns were and typically are still called paintball markers, not paintball guns.)

By the time Gaines became aware of the device in 1979 or 1980, it still had no practical use outside of agricultural purposes. Along with Noel and another friend, a ski shop owner named Bob Gurnsey, the trio decided to arrange a combat simulator using the Nel-Spot 007. The duel had proven that being hit with the paintballs resulted in no serious injury. (Gaines reportedly tried it on his wife, Shelby, as well, who reported that “It didn’t hurt much.”) Gurnsey developed a rudimentary set of rules for the competition, which would see the three men and nine other competitors attempt to capture flags from four stations in a 100-acre field in Henniker, New Hampshire, a site not far from Gaines’s home. The object would be to grab the flags and head for a premarked exit without being shot.

In order to maintain the central conceit of their debate, Gaines and Noel tried to recruit a cross-section of personalities for the event. There were outdoorsmen like a forester and Vietnam veteran along with would-be urban tacticians like a trauma surgeon and an investment banker. All were armed with the Nel-Spot 007, goggles, camouflage, paintballs, CO2 cartridges, a compass, and a map.

People playing paintball are pictured
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The competition was held on June 27, 1981. For two hours, the men stalked around the premises, lurking behind foliage and doing their best to seize the flags without being bombarded by paintballs. Gaines grabbed two flags before getting into a stand-off with a Green Beret, who was holed up in an abandoned woodshed. The trauma surgeon wound up shooting nearly half of the dozen players by himself. But in the end, it was the forester, Ritchie White, who emerged the victor, utilizing a stealth strategy that allowed him to covertly grab all the flags and get out without firing a single shot.

Did the event resolve the debate between Gaines and Noel? Not really. But they were having too much fun to care. So was Bob Jones, a participant and writer for Sports Illustrated who published a story on the competition in 1981. Along with other coverage from TIME and Sports Afield, Gaines, Noel, and Gurnsey were inundated with letters and requests for more information about the rules of the game and the necessary equipment.

Sensing a business opportunity, the three formed the National Survival Game, a business devoted to the burgeoning recreational activity. Gurnsey continued to refine the rules while the others assembled kits consisting of the Nel-Spot 007 and the paintballs. Gaines was able to negotiate a deal with the Nelson Paint Company to license the guns and ammo for non-agricultural purposes.

Soon, they were licensing the National Survival Game brand to franchisees, who opened paintball fields and held organized competitions. By 1982, the National Survival Game was promoting a World Championship, and enthusiasts were modifying the weapons to include pump-action loading, larger magazines, and automatic firing. Because other organizations besides National Survival Game were popping up, the more generic name of paintball was introduced. More importantly, the paint became water-based rather than oil-based for easier clean-up.

While paintball exploded in popularity throughout the 1980s, not everyone was on board. In New Jersey, the guns were considered firearms due to their ability to shoot projectiles at velocity. To acquire a paintball marker, one needed a firearms permit. And even if you had one, you might still leave yourself open to legal problems if you used it to “shoot” at another human being.

The issue wasn’t resolved until 1988, when a paintball enthusiast named Raymond Gong sued the state’s attorney general and Monmouth County prosecutor John Kaye to remove the weapons from the New Jersey Gun Control Act. Judge Alvin Milberg asked for a demonstration and watched as a human target was hit roughly a dozen times without suffering injury. The defense also proved the CO2 cartridge used in a paintball marker was not the equivalent of a cartridge used in a real firearm, a term used to describe ammunition. Gong won and was able to open his own paintball field.

Gaines sold his share in National Survival Game early on, leaving the business to Noel and Gurnsey. The activity has since grown far beyond their initial ambition to settle a friendly debate, with players spending upwards of $169 million annually on equipment. Despite the inherently aggressive nature, it doesn’t seem to be particularly risky, with just 0.2 injuries reported per 1000 participants. While not quite as popular as it was in the early 2000s, there’s still plenty of demand to demonstrate survival skills with one well-aimed paintball.

54 Super Facts for Your Super Bowl Party

Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images
Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images

Want to be the smartest person in the room at this year's Super Bowl party? Bust out a few of these fun facts about Big Games past.

1. Super Bowl Sunday is the second biggest eating day of the year.

plate of chicken wings
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According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Super Bowl Sunday is America's "second-largest food consumption day." (Only Thanksgiving Day beats it.)

2. Those rumors about sewage systems failing because of all the flushing toilets during halftime are just that: rumors.

Close-up of a toilet flushing
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A persistent rumor says that sewage systems in major cities occasionally fail during Super Bowl halftimes, because a large volume of people supposedly all flush their toilets simultaneously. Don't worry! There's absolutely no evidence to support this claim.

3. Peyton Manning is the only starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl with two different teams.

Donald Miralle/Getty Images

Peyton Manning is the only starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl with two different teams: the Indianapolis Colts in 2007 and the Denver Broncos in 2016.

4. Phil Simms was paid a lot of money to say he was celebrating his Super Bowl win by "going to Disney World."

Phil Simms is going to Disney World
Allsport/Getty Images

Phil Simms was paid $75,000 to shout "I'm going to Disney World” on the field moments after his Giants won Super Bowl XXI. Disney also paid Denver’s John Elway the same amount of money to yell the same thing—just in case his team won.

5. Two teams are tied for most Super Bowl wins—and a third could join them after Super Bowl LIV.

Mewelde Moore #21 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates holds up the Vince Lombardi trophy as he celebrates with his daughter Jalyn Chantelle after their 27-23 win against the Arizona Cardinals during Super Bowl XLIII on February 1, 2009
Jamie Squire, Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers and the New England Patriots are tied for the record for most Super Bowl wins, having captured six Vince Lombardi Trophies apiece. The San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys have each won five.

6. The New England Patriots have both won and lost the most Super Bowls.

 Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks passes as Wesley Woodyard #52 of the Denver Broncos defends during Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium on February 2, 2014
Jeff Zelevansky, Getty Images

Which team has lost the most? That would be a tie between the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots, who've each dropped five Super Bowl matchups.

7. Super Bowl fans would really like to see "Weird" Al Yankovic take the stage at halftime.

FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

A 2014 Change.org petition to "Have Weird Al Yankovic Headline the Super Bowl XLIX Halftime Show" received more than 100,000 signatures.

8. Super Bowl I was far from a sell-out event.

A fan holds up a ticket to Super Bowl 50 outside Levi's Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.
Andy Lyons, Getty Images

The priciest tickets to Super Bowl I, which was played on January 15, 1967, cost $12. Adjusted for inflation, that's the equivalent of about $89 today. And even at that bargain price, the event still didn't sell out.

9. The Pittsburgh Steelers were the first Super Bowl-winning team to visit the White House.

Jimmy Carter greets the Pittsburgh Steelers, 1980
The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum

In 1980, the Pittsburgh Steelers were the first Super Bowl-winning team to visit the White House. They visited with Jimmy Carter in a joint ceremony with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who had won the 1979 World Series.

10. When it comes to accommodations, a Super Bowl host city is sometimes forced to get creative.

Scott Halleran/Getty Images

When Jacksonville, Florida, hosted Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005, the city didn't have enough hotel rooms to meet the NFL's requirements. So in their bid to serve as the Big Game's host, they had to recruit five docked cruise ships as "floating hotels" for the event.

11. Maryland sports fans had good reason to not love New York back in 1969.

Joe Namath
Elsa/Getty Images

Maryland sports fans must have really hated the Big Apple in 1969. On January 12 of that year, the New York Jets upset the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. Nine months later, the New York Mets prevailed over the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles in the '69 World Series.

12. The Super Bowl I halftime show included 300 pigeons.

iStock

The Super Bowl I halftime show consisted of two marching bands, acclaimed trumpeter Al Hirt, two men in jet packs, and 300 pigeons.

13. Western Pennsylvania produces a lot of star quarterbacks.

Joe Montana and Dan Marino
DOUG COLLIER/AFP/Getty Images

Western Pennsylvania is quarterback country. Six Hall of Fame QBs hail from this region, five of whom (Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, and Jim Kelly) played in at least one Super Bowl each as quarterbacks. The sixth, George Blanda, competed as a placekicker in Super Bowl II.

14. There's a simple way to determine who will be the "home" team.

Doug Benc/Getty Images

In odd-numbered Super Bowls, the NFC team is the designated "home" team while AFC teams enjoy that honor during the even-numbered Super Bowls.

15. Super Bowl XLIV broke a longstanding TV ratings record.

M*A*S*H
Keystone/Getty Images

In 1983, 105.97 million people tuned in to the final episode of M*A*S*H, making it the most-watched TV broadcast in American history. It took more than a quarter-century, but in February 2010, Super Bowl XLIV finally broke that record when 106.5 million people watched the New Orleans Saints beat the Indianapolis Colts. Subsequent Super Bowls have broken even that record, with Super Bowl XLIX—which was played on February 1, 2015—currently holding the top spot, with 114.4 million viewers on average.

16. A record dollar amount is being (legally) bet in 2020.

Getty Images

It's estimated that more than $325 million will be (legally) bet on Super Bowl LIV—a record number.

17. In 1971, a member of the losing team was named MVP for the first (and so far only) time.

Chuck Howley
Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Although the Baltimore Colts beat Dallas in Super Bowl V in 1971, Cowboys linebacker Chuck Howley was named the game's MVP. He's the only player in history to earn this honor as a member of the losing team.

18. The Vince Lombardi trophy is crafted by a company everyone knows.

Former Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan
Tom Hauck /Allsport

The Vince Lombardi Trophies—a new one of which is handed out every year—are made out of sterling silver by Tiffany & Co.

19. A power outage put a halt to Super Bowl XLVII.

Super Bowl blackout (Superdome 2013)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

A power outage at New Orleans's Superdome put Super Bowl XLVII on hold for 34 minutes.

20. Installing new sod for a Super Bowl game is a pretty big task.

Super Bowl 50
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

A fresh layer of high-quality, natural sod is installed on the field prior to each Super Bowl played on natural grass. For Super Bowl 50, the company West Coast Turf harvested 75,000 square feet of premium grass on the NFL’s behalf.

21. Boston's former mayor had to send a lot of Dunkin' products to New York when they lost to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII.

Giants Super Bowl XLII victory parade
Al Bello/Getty Images

In 2008, then-Boston Mayor Thomas Menino lost a high-stakes bet to his Gotham counterpart when the Giants upset the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. Because of New England's defeat, Menino had to send a truckload of Massachusetts delicacies—including 42 pounds of Dunkin' Donuts coffee (because it was the 42nd Super Bowl) and 12 dozen Boston cream pies (a reference to Tom Brady's number)—to New York City, where the food was donated to charity.

22. Jim McMahon embraced the pre-Super Bowl spotlight.

Jim McMahon, Super Bowl XX
Getty Images North America

A few days before Super Bowl XX in 1986, Bears QB Jim McMahon mooned a TV news helicopter that was flying over one of Chicago's practice sessions.

23. There has never been a shutout in the Super Bowl.

NFL logo
Tom Hauck/Staff/Getty Images

There has never been a shutout in the Super Bowl. The Miami Dolphins hold the record for fewest points scored in a Super Bowl; in 1972, they lost to Dallas, 24-3.

24. Only one Super Bowl game has gone into overtime.

Pats overtime TD
Elsa/Getty Images

Super Bowl LI was the first one to ever go into overtime. The Patriots defeated the Atlanta Falcons 34-28.

25. For the first time ever, there were no cheerleaders at Super Bowl XLV.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Super Bowl XLV was the first one in history that didn't include cheerleaders. That's because neither of the game's participating teams—the Pittsburgh Steelers nor the Green Bay Packers—has a professional cheerleading squad.

26. Cleveland has neither played in nor hosted a Super Bowl.

Johnny Manziel, Cleveland Browns
Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Cleveland is the only current NFL city that has neither hosted a Super Bowl nor seen its own team, the Browns, make an appearance in one.

27. There was a major mishap when the second half kicked off in Super Bowl I.

football on field
iStock.com/tomazl

During Super Bowl I in 1967, NBC was still in commercial when the second half kicked off. Officials asked the Packers to kick off again.

28. The 1989 halftime show was broadcast in 3D.

Dan Witkowski

The 1989 Super Bowl halftime show was broadcast in 3D (a novelty for the time). In it, a magician dressed like Elvis Presley ("Elvis Presto") had the entire stadium participate in a round of the classic “Is this your card?” trick.

29. In 1977, a frisbee-catching dog provided some pre-game entertainment.

dog catching frisbee
iStock.com/Mordolff

Another unusual spectacle was the 1977 Super Bowl pre-game show, which included a Frisbee-catching dog named Ashley Whippet.

30. Lisa Simpson correctly guessed the winner of Super Bowl XXVI.

Lisa Simpson Predicts Super Bowl XXVI
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

Springfield's resident wunderkind really knows her football. In an episode of The Simpsons which aired on January 23, 1992, Lisa correctly guessed that Washington would beat Buffalo in Super Bowl XXVI, which was played three days later.

31. Not sitting president has ever attended a Super Bowl.

Titans fan Al Gore
LUKE FRAZZA/AFP/Getty Images

No sitting president has ever attended a Super Bowl. However, four sitting vice presidents—Spiro Agnew, George H.W. Bush, Al Gore, and Mike Pence—have made Big Game appearances.

32. The NFC had a 13-year winning streak.

Getty Images

From 1985 to 1997, the NFC won 13 straight Super Bowls. During that streak, the NFC clubs outscored their AFC opponents by a cumulative score of 490-219.

33. Things got messy at the White House celebration for Super Bowl XXI.

Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum

While celebrating the Giants' Super Bowl XXI victory with President Reagan at the White House, linebacker Harry Carson emptied a Gatorade tub of popcorn over the Gipper's head.

34. John Candy caused a momentary bit of distraction.

George Rose/Getty Images

On San Francisco's Super Bowl XXIII game-winning drive in 1989, Joe Montana saw a celebrity spectator; in mid-huddle, he nonchalantly asked his teammates, "Hey, isn't that John Candy over there?"

35. Joe Salave'a had the perfect answer to a reporter's question on Super Bowl Media Day 2000.

RICK RUNION/AFP/Getty Images

On Super Bowl Media Day in 2000, a reporter asked then-Titans defensive tackle Joe Salave'a, "What's your relationship with the football?" He replied: "I'd say it's strictly platonic."

36. There's been a fair amount of back-to-back Super Bowl victories.

TONY RANZE/AFP/Getty Images

Back-to-back Super Bowl victories aren't as rare as you might think. The Packers, Dolphins, 49ers, Cowboys, Broncos, Patriots, and Steelers have all pulled off this feat. In fact, Pittsburgh has won back-to-back Super Bowls on two separate occasions.

37. The Super Bowl has given some popular TV shows a great start.

Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

The Wonder Years, Family Guy, and Undercover Boss all made their premieres immediately after the Super Bowl.

38. The 1985 Chicago Bears were nominated for a Grammy.

Mike Powell/Getty Images

The 1985 Bears recorded a hit rap song called "Super Bowl Shuffle," which was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rhythm and Blues Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. (It lost to Prince & the Revolution's "Kiss.")

39. Joe Montana had a perfect Super Bowl record.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Joe Montana not only emerged victorious from all four of his Super Bowl appearances, he did it without throwing a single interception in any of those games.

40. A streaker interrupted the 2004 Super Bowl.

Super Bowl streaker
Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Just before the second-half kickoff in the 2004 Super Bowl, a man disguised as a referee stripped down to a G-string and streaked across the field. Patriots linebacker Matt Chatham was able to knock him to the ground, enabling security to apprehend the hooligan.

41. The coin used for Super Bowl XLIV's coin flip was out-of-this world.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

In 2010, Super Bowl XLIV featured an unusual piece of memorabilia: The coin that was flipped right before the game had previously spent 11 days orbiting the Earth on a NASA space mission.

42. A California Aquarium hosts an Otter Bowl.

Otter!!
ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

For the past several years, the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California, has hosted an annual Otter Bowl on Super Bowl Sunday, where a group of these adorable mammals play around with a football while a staffer narrates the action. The event was canceled in 2019 so that the aquarium and its visitors could pay tribute to Brook, a popular, 21-year-old sea otter resident who passed away shortly before the event following a diagnosis of congestive heart failure. The event has returned for 2020 though.

43. Tom Brady is the NFL's most winning quarterback.

Super Bowl QB Tom Brady
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The New England Patriots' Tom Brady has won six Super Bowls, more than any other starting quarterback. Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana won four apiece.

44. The player who scored the first-ever Super Bowl touchdown was hungover.

referee calling a touchdown
iStock.com/groveb

The very first Super Bowl touchdown was scored in 1967 by Packers wide receiver Max McGee (who was hungover at the time). 

45. Super Bowl players get pretty hefty bonuses.

Bob Levey/Getty Images

Super Bowl bonuses are a thing. In 2019, every player on the Pats' championship roster earned $118,000 for winning. The defeated Los Angeles Rams received $59,000 each as a consolation prize.

46. University of Alabama and Purdue University have a good track record when it comes to quarterbacks.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Two colleges have produced three Super Bowl-winning starting quarterbacks: the University of Alabama (Bart Starr, Joe Namath, and Ken Stabler) and Purdue University (Len Dawson, Bob Griese, and Drew Brees).

47. The Super Bowl used to go by a much longer name.

Green Bay Packers defensive linemen Willie Davis (left) and Henry Jordan (right) tackle Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson (middle) in Super Bowl I.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The event we now call the "Super Bowl" originally went by a duller name: "The AFL-NFL World Championship Game." Although "Super Bowl" has been used unofficially since the very first game, the term wasn't officially recognized by the league until a few years later, with the name first appearing on the cover of the program in 1969 and on the ticket in 1970.

48. Forty years after winning Super Bowl VII, the Miami Dolphins were (finally) invited to the White House.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

In 2013, 40 years after winning Super Bowl VII, the famous perfect-season Miami Dolphins were invited to the White House by Barack Obama.

49. A (presumably) excited fan stole Don Shula's watch in 1973.

Don Shula
JEFF HAYNES/AFP/Getty Images

As Don Shula was being carried off the field after the Dolphins' Super Bowl win in 1973, a fan reached up to shake his hand—and stole his watch.

50. The Super Bowl XXX website was banned by some servers.

Al Bello/Allsport/Getty Images

During the 1995-1996 season, some proxy servers blocked the Super Bowl website because it was Super Bowl XXX.

51. Hunter S. Thompson wrote about a couple of Super Bowls.

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Hunter S. Thompson covered Super Bowls VII and VIII for Rolling Stone.

52. Ratings for the 1993 Super Bowl went up during Michael Jackson's halftime show.

Michael Jackson Super Bowl Halftime 1993
Mike Powell/Allsport/Getty Images

In 1993, Michael Jackson's halftime performance had higher ratings than the game itself.

53. Tom Brady is the oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl.

Tom Brady at the Super Bowl
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

In 2019, Tom Brady became the oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl at age 41—he beat Peyton Manning, who led the Broncos to a Super Bowl win in 2016 at age 39.

54. Kyle Shanahan is making history in Super Bowl LIV.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates with his father, Mike Shanahan, after winning the NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers at Levi's Stadium on January 19, 2020 in Santa Clara, California
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan is making his Super Bowl debut in 2020—making he and his dad, Mike Shanahan (who led the Denver Broncos to consecutive Super Bowl victories in XXXII and XXXIII) the first father-son duo to each make a Super Bowl appearance as head coach.

Quiz: Which Superb Owl Are You?

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mdesigner125/iStock via Getty Images

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