On March 11, Janoff's concept became a reality. Sacramento Surge quarterback Ben Bennett wore a helmet-cam while taking snaps and throwing passes in a no-contact intrasquad scrimmage. When Bennett passed, a viewer could follow the ball downfield from the moment it left Bennett's fingertips until it landed in the receiver's hands. (The experimental footage would have been even better if Bennett had had shorter hair.)
"Now that we've seen the video, we want this to go big time," says Janoff, who is also the director of the NFL's
Monday Night Football
on ABC. There is a slight catch, however. Before the helmet-cam is cleared for use in games, it must undergo tests to see how it will stand up to a smashing blow from a linebacker. At $20,000 a unit, it's not exactly disposable. But it's likely that the device will be used within a few weeks.
The helmet-cam, shaped like a tube of lipstick, is encased in foam rubber and attached to the inside of a standard football helmet, just above the right cheek-pad, so that only the dime-sized lens is visible. A tiny wire plugs into a transmitter, which Bennett wore on top of his shoulder pads. Technicians are still trying to figure out how to place the transmitter inside the pads. "We may get seven or eight good replays out of it a game," says Janoff. "When the defensive end charges the quarterback, it's a great sense, a great feel."
Of course, the quarterback may not always agree.
Up from the Gutter
Del Ballard Jr. wins just two weeks after his infamous roll
At one point during the Long Island Open, last week's Professional Bowling Association tournament in Sayville, N.Y., Del Ballard Jr. was introduced to the crowd as "the guy who did something we'll never forget, and neither will he."
What Ballard did, on March 2, was lose to Pete Weber in the nationally televised finals of the Fair Lanes Open in Randallstown, Md., in the most devastating way possible. Ballard needed two strikes and a seven in the 10th frame to beat Weber. He got the two strikes, but, instead of safely rolling the ball down the middle for the seven, he tried to make his customary gutter-hugging hook. He slipped and put the ball in the channel. "Since then I think I've gotten more publicity for the PBA than for anything I ever did in the past," said Ballard, a 10-year tour veteran from Richardson, Texas.
Ballard had to take an awful lot of kidding after the gutter ball, but rather than resent the ribbing, he chose to go along with it. At a pro-am event the week after his slip, Ballard rolled his first ball into the gutter—on purpose. He got a standing ovation.
If Ballard's gutter ball is considered one of sports' great "chokes," then his performance in the Long Island Open has to stand as one of sports' great recoveries. He got the monkey off his back with clutch victories over Danny Wiseman and Jim Johnson Jr. In fact, the match against Wiseman in the semifinal was similar to the match against Weber. Ballard needed a strike and an eight on his last two rolls. After he got the strike, he hooked the ball for another strike and a 250-247 win. Then he blitzed Johnson 223-183.
"I prayed I would get in a spot like that on TV again," said Ballard. "I'm thankful it came so soon. The title's the thing, but just rolling a big ball like that should erase all bad memories for me and hush the folks who had been kidding me.