Top Advances in the History of Sports
How big of a deal was the Astrodome when it opened?
It was called the Eighth Wonder of the World. In other words, it was no less a marvel than the Taj Mahal itself.
And while the pure-domed stadium has fallen out of favor in Major League Baseball and given way to retractable roof stadiums all over the country, the title "Eighth Wonder of the World" serves as a reminder that, way back in 1965, the notion of playing football or baseball in an indoor stadium was seen as nothing less than a modern miracle.
Let's take a look at the Harris County Domed Stadium (a.k.a the Houston Astrodome) and the top 10 advances in the history of sports.
The Forward Pass, 1906
In 1905, the Chicago Tribune reported that 18 people were killed and 159 seriously injured throughout the year playing the game of football. As momentum developed towards banning the sport of football altogether, it took no less than the President of the United States Teddy Roosevelt, to intervene.
Roosevelt came forward and publicly demanded that the rules of football be changed to make the game safer, and within months a new congregation of over 60 football schools had come together to propose changes to the game.
The forward pass, the most significant of these, was passed on April 6, 1906, and the sport of football was saved forever.
Night Baseball, 1935
This was an extraordinary solution to a straight-forward problem.
The problem: Major League Baseball teams constantly struggling to fill their parks in a society in which adults spend their days at work and kids spend their days at school.
The solution: Lights.
Night baseball got its start in the minor leagues and the Negro Leagues before Major League Baseball, but on May 24, 1935, the Cincinnati Reds decided to experiment with putting up lights at Crosley Field.
Within a few seasons, night games were the norm for all but one pesky holdout; the Chicago Cubs managed to make it all the way to 1988 before playing a game under the lights at Wrigley Field.
The Zamboni, 1949
Any sport depends, nearly above all else, on the consistency of its playing surface.
The infield grass in baseball, the hardwood in basketball, the grass or clay in tennis--the playing surface must be right, or playing the game will be nearly impossible.
This is true in no sport more than hockey.
Before Frank Zamboni invented his fabulous eponymous machine, it took a three man crew over an hour to resurface an ice rink, to often inconsistent results.
With the Zamboni, the process can be completed in under 20 minutes.
A grateful NHL and international hockey community has prospered under the watchful eye of the Zamboni.
The Shot Clock, 1954
On November 22, 1950, the Fort Wayne Pistons beat the Minneapolis Lakers by a score of 19-18 in a game whose fourth quarter score was 3-1.
Later that season, the Rochester Royals and Indianapolis Olympians played a six-overtime thriller in which the only shot taken in each overtime period was an end-of-the-period attempt to win the game.
Something had to be done or the game of basketball would be at its end.
In the pre-season of 1954, Syracuse Nationals owner Danny Biasone experimented with a time limit for each possession in an exhibition game, and then convinced the NBA to use the clock in the regular season.
Not only did Biasone's Nationals win the NBA Championship that year, but he is also generally credited with saving the NBA.
Instant Replay, 1963
On December 7, 1963, a young sports director for CBS named Tony Verna came up with a simple way to solve a vexing problem.
Verna was constantly bothered by the fact that during telecasts of football games, so much of the action took place off screen. Many times per game, with the camera trained on the ball, something would happen away from the play and the television audience would be left to wonder what had happened.
So, at the 1963 Army-Navy game, Verna put a "replay" camera on each team's quarterback. At the right moment, viewers of the game at home saw a regular speed replay of Rollie Stichweh's game-winning touchdown, along with an admonition that what they had just seen was not live action.
And Instant Replay was born.
Domed Stadiums, 1965
Thanks to the Houston Astrodome and the invention of domed stadiums, we can play baseball in the rain and football in a blizzard.
And while the state-of-the-art in sport today is retractable roof stadiums, which allow for the luxury of an outdoor game on a nice day and an indoor game on days not-so-nice, the concept of sports without the elements was made possible once we figured out how to play the game with a roof over our heads.
Football Helmets, 1920s; Batting Helmets, 1971
Football developed leather helmets to protect its players in the 1920s, and the NFL first required them in the mid-1940s. The development of polymers in the 1950s led the sport away from leather and down the road to what would become the modern day polycarbonite helmets.
In baseball, the batting helmet did not become a legal requirement until the shockingly late date of 1971, despite the death of Ray Chapman in 1920 by a pitched ball and a skull fracture suffered by Mickey Cochrane in 1937.
Free Agency, 1970s
Older sports fans and sports writers will often reminisce about the days when professional athletes were more accessible to the common fan, when the ballplayers and the beatwriters would sit and drink at the same bar and play cards on the same trains after the games.
Blame free agency, not that this is a bad thing.
Prior to 1969, Major League Baseball teams used contracts which contained what was known as "the Reserve Clause," which gave the teams the right to automatically renew a player's contract for one or more years upon its expiration, but did not give the players the right to terminate the contract.
After the 1969 season, the St. Louis Cardinals traded Curt Flood to the Philadelphia Phillies, but Flood refused to be traded, instead demanding that he have the right to terminate his contract and become a free agent. Flood ultimately sued Major League Baseball and lost, but the damage had been done.
Meanwhile, Oscar Robertson was fighting the same fight with his own lawsuit against the NBA. The suit would be settled in 1976, with the NBA reluctantly agreeing to allow free agency.
Within a decade, the Reserve Clause would fall into disuse and free agency would become the norm in Major League Baseball, and eventually in the other major professional sports as well.
Cable Television, Late 1970's
The modern era of sports has been dominated by millionaire athletes, billionaire owners and a potentially trillion dollar professional sports industry.
How has it come to this?
The evolution of cable television no doubt played its role. Gone are the days of the Game of the Week and Monday Night Football being the only opportunities to catch a handful of games featuring a handful of players.
Cable television pumped the leagues, teams, players and games into every living room in America on any given day or night, and pumped dollars into teams and leagues with exclusive rights contracts.
Cable television did not alone make professional sports a trillion dollar industry, but professional sports could not have done it without cable television either.
The Internet, 21st Century
How many yards did Randy Moss have for the 2007 New England Patriots?
Hold on, I'll check.
Were the New York Yankees an original member of the American League?
Let me look it up.
Did the Cubbies win last night?
Yes; I read about it on my iPhone on the way to work this morning.
How many girls did Tiger Woods hook up with?
I'll send you a link.
The "Internet" got its start some time between the Russians launching Sputnik and Bill Gates dropping out of Harvard. The Internet came onto most of our radars in the 1990s, and in the 21st century we have our first generation coming into maturity that has never known a world without the Internet.
Today, there are no unknowns left. We no longer have to wonder. The sports world is laid out for us to exploit and share. We can recognize players, look up stats, read about events, watch replays and learn the history of our favorite sports. The creation myths are lost, and every detail of every quibble of every stat and story can be found somewhere on line.
At the same time, professional athletes no longer enjoy the anonymity and privacy that once allowed them to be kings of the world, having their cakes and eating them, too.
No single tool has given the professional athlete and the leagues in which they toil the exposure of the Internet, and that is variously a good thing as well as a bad.
But take it or leave it, love it or hate, the Internet has fundamentally changed the way we view sports.
Wait a minute.
Maybe it's the other way around.