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Today's Tidbit... AT&T's 5G Helmet And The Goodyear Silents
As seen in a television commercial airing of late, the Gallaudet Bison football team used a 5G helmet for the first time in their October 7 game against Hilbert College. The Bison quarterback uses a 5G helmet developed by AT&T with a heads-up display above the right eye. It displays a play selected on the head coach’s tablet device, and the quarterback then signs the called play to his teammates.
It's a beautiful commercial, made all the better by the voice of Amira Daugherty, a hard-of-hearing artist who sings "The Sound of Silence" in the background.
I first saw the commercial after coming across a reference to a 1920s-era semi-pro team comprised solely or mainly of deaf players. So, the rest of this tale concerns a fascinating outfit known as the Goodyear or Akron Silents.
The team's background is rooted in the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company operations in Akron. Workforce shortages during WWI led Goodyear to recruit deaf employees, and they soon had over 1,000. Like many companies back then, Goodyear had athletic and activities directors who organized sports teams, musical groups, and other activities for their employees. One of the organizations was The Silent Club. Members of The Silent Club organized football, basketball, and baseball teams that competed in Akron industrial leagues. They stepped up the level of competition and became a traveling semi-pro team as they added former football stars from Gallaudet. From 1917 through 1927, the Silents won more than 85% of their games
Through it all, the Silents were the Ohio semi-pro champions three times in eleven years. Still, the most interesting aspect of their history was their performance in 1918, 1922, 1923, and 1924 in games against the Akron Pros, a team that won the first NFL/AAPC professional championship in 1920.
The first game came in December 1918 when the Silents went undefeated until falling to the Pros 9-0. Following the war, the Army no longer needed gas masks and hot air balloons, and Goodyear soon faced financial headwinds, with the result that they eliminated support for athletics and other activities. That decision forced the Silents to become an independent team, so people increasingly called them the Akron Silents rather than the Goodyear Silents. The other change was adding several players who were not hard of hearing, but the core team remained members of the deaf community.
The Silents and Pros ended the 1922 season with a game that came about when the 12-0 Silents challenged the 4-6-2 Pros for the championship of Akron. The Pros accepted the challenge, intending to blow out and shut up the Silents, and while the muddy field hurt the smaller and faster Silents, they kept the game close and lost 20-7 before 5,000 fans.
The teams also met in a season-ender in 1923, and with the score tied 0-0 in the fourth quarter, the Pros forced one over from the one to take a 6-0 lead that lasted to the contest’s end. The series ended in 1924 when the teams met in the season's opening game. Once again, the Silents hung tough but lost 14-0 to the Pros, who went 2-6 in the NFL that season. So, in four games over four seasons, an NFL team outscored the Silents 49-7 for an average score of 12-2 or thereabouts.
Goodyear's decision to discontinue sponsoring the Silents hurt the team in the long run, as they had less binding them together. Several top players took jobs and played football in other towns, and the Silents faded until the team disbanded in 1927.
While the Silents lasted only eleven years, they did so in the country's most competitive pro and semi-pro environment and acquitted themselves exceptionally well. One of their legacies is their contribution to Ohio and Akron's football focus, which led Goodyear to fly their blimps over football stadiums for advertising purposes, a tradition that continues today. Better yet, the Silents’ performance on the field inspires other young men to play football, like those playing at Gallaudet today.
Postscript: Yesterday’s Tidbit covered the 1940 Northwestern @ Syracuse game, the first in which a team wore plastic helmets. It may be that heads-up displays will be incorporated into every football helmet in the future, in which case, we will recognize the Gallaudet-Hilbert game as the first in which that technology made its first appearance.
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