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Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Updated: November 8, 8:26 PM ET
Long live technology! King of the sports world!

By Page 2

ESPN Classic's "Who's Number One" show will be running down the most important technological advances in sports in an upcoming show.

Page 2 had to weigh in on this topic.

OK, so maybe some of the ideas our writers suggested didn't quite make the final cut. And does a bullpen car count as an innovation? As Paul Lukas details, that's one innovation that didn't stand the test of time.

The Remote Control
When FDR famously invoked the Four Freedoms, he left one off the list: freedom from having to get off your keister. Enter the remote control. As easy to use as a toaster, as magical as electric light, the remote enhances the central pleasure of sports spectating -- namely, watching other people run and sweat and beat each other's brains out -- while negating its primary drawback, the sheer amount of slop you have to sift through.

TECHNOLOGICAL INNOVATIONS

"Who's Number One" will count down the top technological innovations in sports that changed the way the game is played. Voting has ended, so tune into the show to find out which innovations America voted for (ESPN Classic, 10 ET, Dec. 19).

Instant replay. You can't have an innovation much more important than something that changes a ruling on the field.

Composite materials such as titanium and graphite used in golf clubs and tennis rackets. New materials in golf club designs have made shafts more flexible and clubheads more powerful. Courses have had to be lengthened. In tennis, the metallic racket has made the game faster and altered strategy.

Radio communications. In the NFL, plays can be changed from the sidelines after the defense lines up. In auto racing, in-car communication between driver and crew chief allows for constant flow of information.

Domed/climate-controlled stadiums. Changed how the game is played and even in what states the Super Bowl can be staged.

Hawk-Eye in tennis. Determines if a ball is in or out, perhaps affecting how much risk a player can take.

Game clock recording 10ths of a second. Changed the way the ends of basketball games are played.

Computer technology on football sidelines. Video and photos can be studied after each play.

Tommy John surgery. Allowed pitchers to lengthen their careers and, in some cases, return throwing harder than before.

Artificial turf. AstroTurf made the game faster. NeXturf created a safer artificial turf.

Breakaway backboard. More dunking is a good thing.

iPods used by athletes. Especially baseball players, who can now watch their swings anytime, anywhere.

The hockey goalie mask. Just ask the goalies.

Aerodynamic bike designs in cycling. Cyclists now have lighter, faster bikes and even different designs for each event.

QuesTec. Technology used to rate the accuracy of umpires.

New World Cup soccer balls. Redesigned to have better spin ability, which affected number of goals scored in the last World Cup.

Waterflo technology used in swimming pools to reduce drag. Records have been smashed.

Video game training. Coaches are asking players to train on video games to learn strategies and response time.

HANS device used in auto racing. The neck and head support device may limit driver flexibility but has saved lives.

ShotLink. Changed the way golfers review their swing and the way officials see what's happening.

Breakaway gates in ski racing. Have sped up times as skiers can now smash into the gate as opposed to going around it.
Crummy games. Blathering commentary. John Basedow commercials. One press of a button, and poof! -- all of it gone, an insubstantial pageant faded, replaced by something better. Like one of the those VH1 clip shows. The best part? You have only to move your thumb. Surf or mute, and the remote makes you a demigod; throw it at the screen, and you won't get arrested. The same can't be said of going to the ballpark.

In the Declaration of Independence, our Founding Fathers endorsed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. For sports fans, the remote control can't offer life. But two out of three ain't bad.
-- Patrick Hruby

The Protective Cup
Medical innovations have dramatically changed the sporting landscape. Thanks to breakthroughs such as arthroscopy, microfracture surgery and the Tommy John procedure, injuries that once ended careers have become temporary setbacks. Of course, the best way to stay healthy is to prevent injuries in the first place. And who would dispute the importance of a male athlete protecting … um … himself? Hence the importance of the invention of the protective cup.

The cup existed at least as early as 1906, when John Gamble of Philadelphia applied for a patent on "improvements in abdominal guards and supporters." More recently, former major league pitcher Mark Littell helped develop a cutting-edge cup, the NuttyBuddy, which claims to provide "unprecedented levels of comfort and protection" to the wearer.

We don't pretend to be able to fully verify Littell's claim. But we tend to believe his boast after seeing this video, where he takes a shot in the groin from a pitching machine at close range.

Now that takes some serious … um … guts.
-- Thomas Neumann

Air Jordans
Give me the first Air Jordans, in red and black. Give me outlaw sneaks. Give me Mars Blackmon. Give me the slam dunk contest, and the tongue hanging out. Those shoes are the birth of the modern NBA. They introduced style and expression, swagger without apology, the way it once was in the ABA, the way it always is on the park courts, and they made the game, in one populist, everybody's-got-to-get-a-pair swoop, a player's game. I know not everyone loves the modern NBA, but I do. I love the way, beginning with Jordan and his out-of-the-box prideful kicks, it's been about imagining something more than what was there before, about trying something that had never been done before.
-- Eric Neel

Graphite & Titanium
Diamonds may be a girl's best friend, but graphite has won over the hearts of grown men one colossal driver at a time. As it turns out, diamond is a polymorph of carbon -- just like graphite. And graphite, along with titanium and composite technology, has made sports sparkle. While transformations in tennis, college baseball, fastpitch softball and even fishing can easily be attributed to composites, the most delicious progress can be seen in golf clubs -- specifically, the driver.

The last time I went back to my parents' house I was fascinated by a bag of old clubs in the basement. I found a Hogan driver with a steel shaft, persimmon head and four actual screws on the face. Woods really were once made of wood, kids. Today, you best spruce up your geometry skills before you decide on your degree of flex and hexagon head technology.

Have you see the new Nike SasQuatch Sumo Squared Driver? This thing isn't a golf club -- it's Rhode Island on a graphite shaft!
-- Mary Buckheit

1st & 10 Line
When it comes to football, it's not the journey, it's the destination -- to turn an old adage on its head. We don't really care how pretty our team's starting running back looks on his way to the orange first-down marker -- as long as he gets there, and an inch past it.

Luckily we don't have to guess about that anymore, thanks to the wizards at Sportvision. Since 1998, we've gotten a golden line across our television screens that tells us exactly how far a team needs to go to secure a fresh set of downs.

Sure, the players can't see it. Who cares? Could we fans live without it?
-- Kieran Darcy

The Glow Puck
Oh, glow puck. How I miss you. You hurtled into my life on a red comet tail in 1996, only to fly back out again two years later on a trail of blue. Blue because you were flying at less than 70 mph. Blue because I was sad to see you go. By filling my television screen with light beams during the winter weekend afternoons of my youth, you helped me fall in love with hockey. You helped me find that little, old puck. (For who could ever see a black item on a white background? It's impossible!) Now what I wish more than anything is that you would return to us, glow pulasjdflklsdkiorhadfdsl. Oh. Sorry. I saw something shiny outside and I got distracted.
-- DJ Gallo

The QuesTec System
"You can keep your job, we're just going to have this machine do what you do while you are doing it because we think it can do what you do better and one more thing, we're going to use it to evaluate you and decide in the future if you are even relevant to the game anymore."

That's not necessarily what was said to MLB umpires in 2003 when QuesTec, a four-camera electronic system that evaluates the accuracy of umpires' calls after the game, became a part of baseball. But that is no doubt what it sounded like to the umps. So far, so good, though. Only about a third of the league's stadiums use QuesTec and because it focuses only on balls and strikes umps like Rich Garcia (Yankees-Orioles, Jeffrey Maier game) and Doug Eddings (White Sox vs. Angels, Game 2 of the 2005 ALCS) still kept their jobs.
-- Scoop Jackson

Cell Phone Updates
As recently as 1996, the second-leading killer of sports fans was lack of information. OK, that may not be exactly true, but tell that to someone who can't find out the score of the game. We've all been there -- the rapid breathing, the cold sweat, the darting eyes, the paranoia -- not knowing which top-25 team is losing can be like quitting heroin cold turkey.

Enter the methadone of technology -- the modern cell phone.

More than ever, every score is literally in the palm of your hand with everything from scheduling text message alerts to following every pitch, hike and shot of most games. Careful though, the access to that kind of information is just as addictive as the information itself.
-- Mike Philbrick

The Cup Holder
You can have your fancy high-tech gizmos and your space-age medicine, but give me the simple plastic cup holder. Most technological inventions that get praised benefit the athletes and owners. The stadium seat cup holder is all about the fan. Spectating is what fuels all sports and the cup holder is the rare offering to everyone who has bought a ticket.

Its brilliance has been taken for granted. The cup holder frees us from tempered enthusiasm and worries of spills. The days of seeing a foul ball, dropping the drink on the ground, leaping up and landing on a full cup are over. No longer do we miss a home run because we're reaching under our seats for our drink. The guy behind us can no longer spit his peanut shells onto our straw or into our cold one.

I don't even mind wading through someone else's spill in the stands, but if I'm sipping overpriced beverages and see the most awesome interception ever, I don't want to worry about throwing my arms up. The cup holder gets us to our feet faster. It makes us better fans.
-- Kurt Snibbe

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