Monday, July 13, 2009

MMQB: Smart Football

With Peter King on his annual four-week summer vacation, Redskins tight end Chris Cooley graciously agreed to write today's Monday Morning Quarterback column.

I was very excited to be asked to fill in for Peter King this week, though I'm slightly disappointed to be the third person asked -- I mean, seriously, Trent Green? Still, this is a very cool opportunity, and I am happy to do it.

A couple of weeks ago, I squatted over my helmet next to Shaun Suisham on the practice sideline of Redskins Park. It was your every-day water-cooler dialogue, the kicker being the guy who has nothing to do, ever, and then lingering around, begging for someone to scheme with. Conversations with a kicker are typically nonsense-filled ideas ranging from Barack Obama staring down girls' backsides to Michael Jackson's death dragging his estate out of debt. Every so often, we even talk about football, but with a kicker it's usually something about how a holder's chubby, jittery hands can mess up an entire season or why adding two games to the regular season would be so much harder on a kicking leg.

Our recent talk actually led to a profound idea. The topic was actually brought up in a kicking state of mind, wondering why the goal posts don't continue upward for another 10 yards, thus eliminating any judgment call about whether a field-goal attempt is good when the ball is kicked above the end of the bar. Then the brilliance of Smart Football was born!

Many judgment calls should be taken out of human hands. Just ask anyone from Baltimore if Santonio Holmes crossed the goal line or any Chargers fan about the Ed Hochuli blunder that led to San Diego losing in Denver last season. Those two calls alone spurred enough controversy about the NFL's referees and replay system to demand some kind of change.The correct call in every crucial situation would purge a lot of ugly emotion and relieve tension, but can the human eye be correct every time? Seriously, look at the Holmes catch again. Watch it from every possible camera angle, then try to decide for sure whether it's a touchdown. Smart Football eliminates the guesswork.

The system begins by placing sensors in both tips of the ball and then it works with a laser or GPS system. At that point, the possibilities are endless. Technology is so advanced that determining anything that happens on the field with the ball is possible. The sensors indicate the instant the ball crosses the goal line, or any line for that matter. This eliminates officials having to slog in from the sideline, peer over 22 enormous men and try to determine from memory where the ball may have reached.

It doesn't have to stop with the end zone, the league can sensor the first-down markers, as well. Furthermore, it wouldn't be so hard to tell when a ball started or stopped moving forward or backward, which would, accordingly, determine forward progress. I'd be willing to bet Al Davis would have paid Smart Football to give Oakland the opportunity to take Tom Brady's fumble and go on to the Super Bowl.

Yes, this great new method also applies to kickers and Suisham's short goal-post theory, though it can't make ex-punters any skinnier. Goal posts are simply extended by shooting a laser upward, easily determining whether ball went through.

Oh, and before complaining about how much this would cost, consider that I'm talking about the NFL. The league in which defensive tackles receive $100 million contracts. I think there would be a way to swing some GPS technology on the field. Just maybe.

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I like the smart football idea, but I don't think it would work. A few reasons: What happens when an incomplete pass is thrown in the endzone. Does the censor still go off since it crossed the the goal line? Plus, you guys use so many footballs throughout the game. How do you stop censors from going off from the officials, line judges etc...throwing footballs back and forth to each other in between plays? The censor would not help the Holmes play in the SB since the issue is whether he had two feet down or not.

Excellent article, which sucks, because as a Giants fan, I wanted to hate it. Curse you Cooley! But keep writing!

You'd be surprised at how smart sensors are. I'm a software engineer that has been programming sensors to do all sorts of things. It would be cake to set up a rules system to determine which football is in play or not. As for whether 2 feet are planted for catches is another story, but you could put a small sensor in the player's shoes to know if 2 feet are on the ground. Sensors may not clear up 100% of the plays, but would be very benefitial to refs to see the replay and what the sensors say. Sensors do take up weight so applying this technology would spark a lot of debate as to keeping the integrity of the game. (Everything being the same weight and size) Definitely something that can be looked into if the NFL would hire me :P Maybe I could get a piece of that 100 mill.


I think it's a fantastic idea. Up until, as with any other technological advance, it fails. Inevitibly, something will crash or otherwise not work for some reason at a crucial moment (like some referees), and it will suddenly be considered crap. But personally, I think it's a great idea.

The UFL will be testing out the sensors in the ball this year. See if it works for them and take it to the NFL. I agree with almost everything Cooley wrote about everything, except I would like to see the 17 game season so we can watch the Redskins Ravens play in LA.

ticknanner, he is talking about the Holmes play in the Ravens game not the Superbowl.


I have no one to blame but myslef for not publishing this idea, but I must say that I came up with the same thing in 2005. It spurred in my mind after the Redskins lost a heartbreaker in Tampa when the refs said that Mike Alstott crossed the goal line on a 2 pt. conversion to win the game when he clearly DID NOT. It was a water cooler moment of my own with a buddy (or more like a beer keg moment) and I suggested the league should put sensors in the tips of the ball and also sensors that go all around the field. This way, when the ref looks at the replay he can stop the tape as soon as a players knee/elbow/whatever hits the ground and the sensors in the ball can be cross-referenced to the sensors on the field and they can see EXACTLY where the ball was down. And to make it even cooler, the sensors would be infared so you can still see where the ball is even if there are bodies on top and/or all around the ballcarrier. I think I had also just watched Predator when I thought of that part. Great minds think alike - amazing idea!

GPS technology is not accurate enough to use in this application.

Hey Chris, this is a really great idea. I love what they do now at Wimbeldon...they have a ball tracker that resolves all the protests. I watch baseball on my laptop and it is amazing how accurate the ball tracker is on there as well. Good idea...and go 49ers!

What happens when there's a goal line stuff to win the game then 3 hours later they realize the sensors in the ball were broken?

What about hackers (especially in or around Foxboro, MA) or interference from cell phones (like the airplane warnings)?

Are these computers and lasers tough enough for Lambeau Field's temperatures or South Florida's rain?

Also, how many plays are there in a full NFL season? Aren't there like 100+ plays per game? And we are worried about less than 20 plays out of how many thousand in the full season? Seems like a pretty strong percentage of "accuarate" calls without all the Robocop technology.

I'd also like to add to your idea of lasers. Why not hundreds or thousands of lasers blasting the field like those high-tech security lasers in all the James Bond and Mission Impossible films. You could spot the ball based on which laser ray was interrupted. (I'm sure there are no health risks with being exposed to lasers for 4 hours a week.)

hey chris, dude, I am wondering why no one thought of that before, the goal post idea is genius but I guess the NFL has a reason for everything...listen..i am 14 years old and have a blog i guess i started following the Redskins because of Jason Campbell, going to Auburn and everything, but now I am a die hard fan...well..almost...I was wondering if you could take a look at my bog and give me some tips,because I am trying to get it more popular so maybe...maybe...maube..if you could write about it that would be great. Feel free to comment on my blog, and express yourself..i know, sounds chessy, but what the heck? Thanks Chris.

Chris, I like the idea - but I must say, what's with the "controversy" about the Santonio Holmes catch against the Ravens in the regular season? It doesn't matter whether the ball crossed the plane, only that he caught the ball with his feet in the end zone. Think about it, when the ball is thrown to the corner of the end zone, nobody cares if the ball was in the field of play when caught - the only thing that matters is whether the receiver's feet landed in bounds when he caught it. Same thing. The ball crossing the plane only matters when someone is Running the ball in.

You are now officially Hawaii's #2 favorite Washington Redskin player...Thanks for your honest opinion about keeping the Pro Bowl in the Aloha State...If some other team gives Colt the opportunity to play then you can be #1...

The sensor idea is not new. In fact, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh are working on it. Read this:

Sensors would be awesome. It would be easy to coat the entire inside of the football with some type of substance that would allow what ever sensor to see whether any part of the ball crossed the endzone line. (if you only do the ends, you could have a time where someone pushes the ball across sideways, and it doesn't setup the sensor)

Speaking of which, it DOES matter if the ball passes the endzone line. If it doesn't, then it's not a touchdown, plain and simple. The passes caught in the back or side of the endzone, the ball has already crossed the endzone line, that's why the only look at the feet being down.

Even if they don't go to a smart football kind of thing, it would be hella easy to just shoot red lasers straight up off the top of the goal post. An easy instant reply would be able to tell if there is any of the laser on the ball.

Great article.. Too bad it was for Peter King.

Hey Chris, I'm with you buddy, I usually hate whan a player writes anything. But I enjoyed your article a lot. I'm a die hard Bills fan but if you keep writing I'll keep reading!

You would look great in a EAGLES uniform !!!!!

YOU'RE WAY OFF BASE. The game is played by humans. Did you ever drop a pass? Miss a block? Accidentally fumble the ball??
So let's have the replay show that a player SHOULD have caught the ball and CORRECT THE MISTAKE. It's a human game and human errors are part of it. Player/Coach/Official... it should not make a difference.
Oh... regarding celebrations in the end zone....They shoud ALL remain out-lawed and against the rules. It's a TEAM SPORT... People blocked for the QB; other receivers went down field to draw defense away; the QB threw the ball; the coach called the play... on and on..
The guy who scored should run back and hug the lineman and QB and his fellow receivers who MADE HIS TOUCHDOWN POSSIBLE...

Chris, if your cock was as big as your ego, you could use it to pole vault over the Grand Canyon. In the article on, you complained that "athletes are usually terrible writers" at the end of what was a fantastically average column. News flash, Chris, you're no Bill Shakespeare. Heck, you're not even Bill O'Reilly. You complaining about Trent Green and Matt Birk, who wrote articles that were just as average if not better than yours, makes you a pompous asshole. Keep your ego in check, pal. Merely having a blog doesn't make you an automatic candidate for the Pulitzer.

Sorry but you've got this one wrong, Culs. A ball can be thrown close to the sideline (and has before) that never crosses the endzone but is caught by a player whose feet are in - and it is still a TD. The rules state that if a ball is travelling in the air, only the player's feet have to be in bounds, not the ball. That is the rule, that's how it is written.

that is true for sideline endzone passes, but only when the player lands out of bounds to end the play. And it works for running plays as well. For instance, if a running back it headed towards the front right corner of the endzone, all he has to do is tap a foot across the goal line, then out of bounds. Even if the ball doesn't cross the goal line, it's a td.

But it has no bearing on a TD catch in the middle of the field.

If there is no sideline to end the play, it matters whether the ball crosses the endzone line. And whether there is possession when it happens. Which is what the whole Pitt/Ravens TD issue was. Did the ball touch the line and was there possession when it happened.

rule 3 section 28 and rule 11 section 2 article 1 in the rule book -know it, live it, love it

Dear Bubble Boy,

If your brain was as big as your ego, you would realize that nothing you wrote was even remotely humorous. Despite several failed attempts to invoke laughter, all you did was resort to dick jokes, which have been played out since Eddie Murphy filmed Delirious. My guess is that you are a Cowboys fan, which explains your fascination with the male anatomy.

Here is smart football. Moss on a fly, Randel el on a post, Thomas on a slant, Campbell hits you in the flat and you run untouched to the end zone and you win the SuperBowl MVP.....Hail!!!!

First and foremost I am a dyed in the wool born and bred Dallas Cowboys fan from SE Texas who has lived in the DC area since 1991. I get respect from DC'ers because I am not a bandwagon fan... That being said --- I can't stand the Skins and I wanted to not like your article BUT --- you are a funny dude that hit the nail on the head on many topics --- especially laser or whatever technology in fooballs. Hell --- look how long it took them to come up with the "imaginary line" so we know as TV viewers where the first down marker is. By the way Mr. Cooley --- I call you that because you are one big SOB, I had the chance to tour the new Cowboys stadium and I must say that as a visiting member you are going to be very pumped to play in that facility and dare I say give it your all to kick our asses in such an ostentatious building. Even though I hate the Skins, I love the rivalry and dare I say I like the fans too. Now Philly fans are the absolute worst! Please do me a favor and beat them twice this year and knock Donovan McNabb into retirement! Again, I enjoyed your article in MMQB and I hope Mr. King lets you contribute later as the season progresses. Good luck beating the Giants and Philly!

Chris - As Sweet Louey (bitter boy) said above, I am not a Skins fan but I love your blog. I run a blog and I know how hard it is to write about so many different things but you nailed it on the spot - SMART FOOTBALL is a no brainer. You still need referres for holding, penalties, etc - but leverage technology to make the game more effecient. The sensor would only come into play on questionable calls and a team can only 2 "Laser Beam" calls per game - mix it in with reviews. Follow Austin Power and get the refs to wear coke bottles with laser beams. Great stuff, good luck and Go Eagles.

PART I: I thoroughly enjoyed the article from Chris Cooley about using a "Smart Football" to help eliminate bonehead controversial calls such as the Santonio Holmes catch in the Ravens vs. Steelers game. That call changed the look of the playoffs.
My comment about the article is a simple one, although maybe not short. A "Smart Football" as described by Chris is an intriguing idea, however there still would need to be "human beings" making the final determination based on the data provided by the ball. It's for that reason I believe sticking to the existing program is better. What we DO need to to is find some smart referee's. That being said, this entire topic would be unnecessary.

I can site (3) examples of bonehead referee game changing calls that changed the outcome of (3) Baltimore Ravens games in 2008, and the AFC playoffs. All of these calls were discussed at length during game analysis programs on NFL Network, ESPN, Fox Sports, NBC Sports, etc. And, really, there's no disputing there were huge mistakes made by NFL ref's last year.

Ravens issue #1:
The first game against Tenessee. In the Titan's final drive, it was 3rd down. Kerry Collins attempted a pass, and was unsuccessful. 4th down should have been forthcoming, and hence a punt to the Ravens. (I believe the Titans were on about their own 30 yard line, and would not have risked going for it on 4th down). Punt imminent. However, a flag was thrown by an official against Terrell Suggs for roughing the passer because his arm barely brushed against Kerry Collins helmet during the play. It was obvious there was no intent to do so when watching replays, and the call was called "questionable" during every game recap I saw. The Titans drive stayed alive as a result of the call, and they scored a touchdown, beating the Ravens 13-10. The Ravens dominated the entire game, except the final score. The call was ridiculous. Ref Bonehead Game Changing Call #1.

John Kirk
Abbottstown PA


Ravens issue #2:
The call described in Chris's article. I remember watching NBC Sunday Night Football after the game, and hearing the announcers say "You're going to over turn a non-touchdown call on the field based on this footage? Are you kidding me?" Chris Collinsworth didn't like the call. The discussion that followed was about how instant replay was supposed to be to correct a blaringly wrong call that "everyone," without a doubt would agree was a bad call. This was clearly not the case in the Raven's & Steelers touchdown call with 45 seconds left in a game, which, by the way, decided the outcome of the AFC North. Huge implications in reversing a call already made on the field. Yet it was done, without, what (not just Baltimore fans) were saying was no where near enough evidence to do so. In addition, the official never mentioned the ball breaking the plane of the end-zone when he over turned the call on the field.
I later saw a recap on NFL Network that described how they had enhanced the photographs and they "clearly" showed the official made the correct call. Call me biased, but I didn't agree, and again, they didn't have computer enhanced photos at game time. If the call had been made the other way, they would have defended their decision in that manner, stating the call on the field was no touch down, and there was clearly no evidence to over turn. Ref Bonehead Game Changing (and potential Division Champion) Call #2.

Ravens Issue #3:
In the AFC Championship game against the Steelers (again), just prior to the end of the first half, the Ravens were called for "Roughing the Kicker" as the Steelers punted the ball to the Ravens with about a minute and a half to go in the 2nd quarter. The Steelers were awarded some yards, and a drive that stayed alive with a new set of downs. Hence, the Steelers were awarded the opportunity to drive down the field and try to score prior to the end of the half, when, in fact, the Ravens should have been awared that opportunity. Why? When watching the replay, it was clear the Ravens player never made ANY contact with the kicker. None. The kicker simply fell to the ground, and a Raven was nearby, also on the ground. The flag was thrown, and the Steelers were awarded yards and a new set of downs. I remember watching the CBS NFL Today half time show and hearing the comment "In a year of horrible Official calls, this might be the worst one of the year." Now, this may not have mattered, but who is to say the Ravens wouldn't have scored during that time? Maybe they wouldn't have, but they were robbed of the chance. It became apparent that an official doesn't have to SEE the play. He is allowed to "assume" what happened based on where players are lying on the field, and can throw a flag accordingly. He didn't see a Raven roughing the kicker -- because it didn't happen. But the flag was still thrown. Ref Bonehead Game Changing (and potential Super Bowl Champion) Call #3.

So I would say, before we get "smart footballs" into the game, we need to get a smarter system in place to challenge a bonehead referee mistake. Or give the right people "upstairs," or each team the chance to express issues with an official in each of their booths, and allow that person to override a poor call made on the field. There should have been something that could have been done by John Harbaugh in the AFC Championship Game when his team is called for a personal foul that clearly never happened. He was helpless. It was the last 2-minutes in the quarter. You have to live with the refereee decision. Are you telling me the "booth" didn't see that the Steelers kicker wasn't touched? The entire country did! We need smart officials and right decisions. Not smart footballs

I've thought about this idea too, but you need some way to also measure when the ball was caught and whether the player's knee was down in addition to whether it crossed the goal line.

LMAO @ people talking about Holmes in the SuperBowl... he said Holmes vs. Ravens! Guess we know the Warm Weather fans here, everyone! Go watch the video of Holmes' questioned TD against the RAVENS, where he was questioned to be IN THE ENDZONE!

What I think needs to happen is cameras place to view DIRECTLY down the endzone boundaries, and down the sidelines. Replay shouldn't be decided on ANGLES, but by direct view. Use angles to cross reference the direct camera if it's a bit sketchy.

As a rabid sports fan and a professor at Carnegie Mellon, we've been working on smart footballs, smart wide-receiver gloves and smart cleats for the last 2 years. Check out for more details.

We've been looking at how to put miniature chips into the football (weighing less than an ounce, and not requiring recharging very often) in order to tell the difference between the classical "4th and inches" vs. a "1st down".

You can also follow our feed at

The Discovery Channel covered some of our initial work on GPS-equipped smart footballs in their homepage story on SuperBowl 2009. Search for "GPS-Laced Footballs to Offer Keen Play by Play" online.

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