Browns involved in QB headset communications controversy

In Week 14 of the 2016 season against the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Soccer Giants had issues with the communications device installed in quarterback Eli Manning’s helmet. Head coach Ben McAdoo used a portable walkie-talkie to relay offensive play to Manning. The use of walkies during a match is legal, however coaches are not permitted to use them.

Thus, the league asked for a team fine. Others wanted a harsher penalty like losing a draft pick. Either way, the National Football League (NFL) considers the Giants to be offenders and the penalties are warranted. It sort of feels like double jeopardy, as the only drive the Giants used the handheld device ended in a deadly interception.

This incident with QB communication devices is not an isolated event. Something else happened in 1956.

The Cleveland Browns arguably had the best coach in the NFL in Paul Brown. He was an innovator and didn’t hesitate to try new techniques and ideas. Brown was also known as a tactical mastermind.

Until the late 1940s, radios in general were grouped together, some with lots of tubes and storage space. In 1926, a patent was granted for the transistor, a small semiconductor device that allowed the radio system to switch electronic signals and power supply. The key emphasis in this invention is the undersized dimension of this electronic wonder as it could be placed in a device as small as the palm of your hand. The demand for effective use of the transistor did not appear until 1954.

In the preseason of the 1956 season, Brown was informed that a small transistor radio could be placed in the QB’s helmet. Back then, most NFL quarterbacks called their own games. Brown was the gambling caller for Cleveland and relieved his signal caller by sending coins with a messenger guard; which was a slow but efficient process. The idea of ​​shortwave communication intrigued Coach Brown, who then recorded his own frequency. There was no rule against technology or regulation that dealt with a variant of electronic communication.

From 1946 to 1955, the Browns completely dominated the professional football landscape. The club had played in their respective league’s league game for an amazing 10 consecutive seasons. They won all four years of the All-America Football Conference, and then once the franchise merged with the NFL, they won the league crown in 1950, 1954, and 1955 while losing in the game for the title in 1951, 1952 and 1953. Their six consecutive appearances in the NFL Championship game still remain the league record.

And to start the 1956 season, the Browns were once again the consensus favorite. But things were different for this campaign. First, Coach Brown’s All-World quarterback Otto Graham had retired. Wide receiver Mac Speedie was signed with Saskatchewan from the Canadian Football League while future Hall of Fame member Marion Motley was transferred to Pittsburgh. The blow was the loss of Graham, who was named NFL Player of the Year in 1955 for current league champion the Browns.

In Graham’s place was QB George Ratterman; a capable companion who had played with four different clubs. Although Ratterman had been Graham’s replacement for four seasons, Brown wanted an advantage for his newly installed quarterback.

As it turns out, there were two Cleveland residents (and true Browns fans) named George Sarles and John Campbell who had invented a receiver small enough to fit into a player’s helmet. He was able to receive audio only. Brown decided to give this new technology a try and outfit Ratterman’s helmet with the shortwave transistor against the Chicago Bears in the preseason. This was found to be unreliable as the wave connection kept shutting down and killing the connection. After a few rounds, the process was abandoned for this game.

Sarles and Campbell had the opportunity to resolve some of the issues and perform more testing. As the regular season began, they informed Brown that the four watt receiver system was ready but had some issues. On the one hand, shortwave transmissions were not secure. If the opposition was aware of the process and knew the correct frequency that was being used, they could in fact listen to the transmission. On the other hand, the signals could easily be scrambled if the opposing team knew what to do. Another obstacle was that other radio frequency devices – such as amateur or police radios – could interfere with the signal.

Browns head coach Paul Brown hands coins to Ratterman

But Brown believed the system was ready for a live game. In Week 3 against the Giants, Ratterman was once again armed with a transistor headset. The trick would be to hide the transmitter on the key.

By a strange coincidence, the Giants had become a few days earlier one of the first franchises to connect their coaches in the stadium’s press box with a wireless system. This allowed assistants on the sidelines to move around freely.

The Giants learned of Brown’s plan to wire Ratterman’s headphones for audio communication. They bought their own radio, then contacted the FCC and, under public record laws, found out what Brown’s frequency was. The next step was an action plan for the game itself.

Vince Lombardi, the Giants’ offensive coordinator, recruited a little used wide receiver named Bob Topp to be on the radio receiver. Next, Giants special teams star Gene Filipski (and former Browns player) was placed next to Topp and translated the Browns’ offensive plays. That information was then passed on to the Giants’ defensive coordinator Tom Landry, who signaled in games to captain Andy Robustelli on the field.

In front of a hometown crowd of 60,042 fans, the Browns finished with 40 rushing yards and just 134 total yards on offense as they would lose 21-9. Ratterman has been let loose at least a dozen times on attempted passes when the offense was fundamentally ineffective. If sacks had been an official statistic at the time, Robustelli would have had six on his own. At one point in the second half, Coach Brown abandoned the experiment and returned to the messenger guards sending coins. From that point on, the Browns were able to move the ball around on offense, but stolen game transmissions for most of the game sealed the Browns’ fate.

The Browns would end with their losing first season as a franchise with a 5-7-0 record while the Giants would win the East Division, then beat the Chicago Bears 47-7 in the NFL Championship game for their fourth NFL. . Title.

For what it’s worth, Ratterman became the first player in professional football history to wear a communications device during a live regular season game.

Ratterman’s helmet

Four days after the 1956 Giants-Browns game, NFL commissioner Bert Bell ruled that player headset communications used during championship games were illegal and banned their use. The QB headphone transmitter was reintroduced in 1994 and is a standard today. Ratterman’s helmet was then donated in 1985 to the Professional Football Hall of Fame and is currently in the “Gridiron Glory” exhibit along with other innovations.

Along with the loss to the Giants, the experience of that first helmet with radio communication could be summed up when after one of the Browns’ offensive series failed, Ratterman stepped on the sidelines and told Paul Brown: “Coach, a guy just got stabbed on Fifth Avenue.

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