Newton's Football: Science Through the NFL

Reading Time: 2 minutes

NEWTON'S FOOTBALL coverOn some level, Newton’s Football is about finding the common ground between Isaac Newton and Vince Lombardi. But on another, it’s simply about asking crazy questions that lead to unexpected answers. It’s what scientists do. The best minds in football do it, too.— From Newton’s Football by Allen St. John and Ainissa G. Ramirez, Ph.D.

I’ve always been one of those geeks who loved sports, especially football. Newton’s Football is the first book I’ve read that firmly connects geekdom in sports. After reading this book, readers might think Vince Lombardi was a geek and they would be absolutely correct.

Contained in this book, a joint effort by journalist St. John and Dr. Ramirez, are the following:

  • Why the unique shape of the football bounces in a unique way, often befuddling to players and scientists alike.
  • What the Uncanny Valley, developed by a Japanese robotocist, means and how it applies to the injuries risk inherent in football.
  • How Lombardi worked a game theorist in developing Power Sweep.
  • Why soccer-style kicking is scientifically superior to straight-in kicking, and why Tom Dempsey’s special foot boot may have given him the advantage in setting a field goal record that stood until last week.
  • How small changes in the game, even to improve safety such as adding better helmets, can have a butterfly effect on how the game is played.
  • What Bill Walsh’s breakdown of quarterback decision-making has in common with a spreadsheet on your laptop.
  • How chaos theory drives the no-huddle offense.
  • How the future of football may lie in a formation that creates 16,632 eligible receivers.

And that’s not even mentioning the history of the game included in the book and the interviews of contemporary scientists and football coaches, who have more in common than one might think.

Full disclosure: I’ve known Allen St. John for over twenty years. He’s a friend but also an excellent writer. In concert with Ramirez, he’s produced a book that will inform scientists about football, football fans about science, and entertain fans of both.

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