Superbowl as Panopticon

The American version of football proceeds by fits and starts. There is very little foot in it, except after the fourth play by a team on the offense that has “possession” of the ball or when the team that has scored a touchdown gains an additional point for a set play where a kicker propels the bar through crossbars. Compared to “the beautiful game”, a game of two halves and nearly continuous movement of a round ball propelled by anything but arms or hands of the field players, American football is quartered with teams rotating sides of the field like dueling combatants using anything but feet except during the aforementioned prescribed occasions.

The game proceeds by one set piece after another performed by enormous athletes prized for power, nimbleness, speed and coordination. Each series of four plays, called downs, is calibrated by 10 yard increments measured by referees in pin striped uniforms. For the twenty four men in opposing teams of twelve, American football is a dance of pain and sacrifice to move the ball that rested on the field before the play commenced and ends when the ball again touches ground. A play may last a second, or, a few seconds. A college friend who later played professional football and the Superbowl, too, once told me the difference between the college version of the game was violence.

And money. Forbes calls the NFL (the National Football League) “the richest sports league in the world, with the average value of a team worth $987 million.” The thirty two teams contesting in two divisions to compete for the final championship, the Superbowl, represent a value of $32.5 billion.

On Superbowl Eve, NBC Nightly News featured the security planning for this year’s football championship held in Tampa, Florida. Tampa is also home to MacDill Air Force Base, headquarters of USCENTCOM, where remote control missions by weaponized drones are spun out half-way around the world as smoothly as motorized cameras strung on wires above the field of glory controlled by production trucks outside the stadium.

The reporter noted that the security plans took two years to complete. The two-minute news segment began with a rehearsal; mounted police herding people. On Game Day the US Customs and other government agencies will close the airspace in a thirty mile circle around the Raymond James Stadium. The Tampa chief of police says, “The Secret Service come in and support us on high ground assessment for counter sniper teams.” So do teams of spotters in high booths communicating movements of the opposition to their respective field generals; their methods, according to plans calibrated carefully to expectations of the adversaries’ behavior, culled through HUMANINT. “We’re taking no chances.”

No one is. Chances are for the unprepared, the unprotected, and the reckless. Just in case, SWAT teams are positioned in vans around the stadium watching from within on hand held portable TV’s. The Los Angeles Police Department is generally credited with developing the concept of SWAT in a stand-off with the Black Panthers in 1969, when the Los Angeles Rams finished first in the NFL Coastal Division, and in 1974 with the Symbionese Liberation Army, the year the Rams won the NFC West Division.

The players’ equipment is specially designed clothing, gear, apparatus, for use in urban or suburban stadiums where teams are organized to a rapid, overwhelming response to an immediate threat in gaining field possession and the accumulation of points, or, hits. The gear is designed to protect tactical advantage, allowing players freedom of movement, and gain the advantage in critical situations whether in hot pursuit, or parry and strike.

The players on the field will be protected by helmets that meet the standards of the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment. These helmets resemble the same used by riot control deployed around public events celebrating America, or, soldiers in battle dress. Wearing body armor is a balancing act between protection, heat and freedom of movement on the field as it is in battle. The torso and head are usually protected using Kevlar panels and a Kevlar helmet.

Made of Kevlar® ballistic fabric, the SWAT helmet is designed with a low center of gravity. It has a cradle type suspension system and is offset from the head to provide space for deformation caused by projectiles and to allow for increased ventilation. It meets or exceeds military specification MIL-H-44099A and also exceeds the ballistic penetration requirements of NIJ Standard 0106.01. It exceeds the Probable Ballistic Limit (V50) of 2000 fps and withstands an impact force of 40 foot pounds without fracture. The shell is configured so that there are at least 19 layers of Kevlar® throughout any cross-sectional area of the helmet. It includes an adjustable leather headband and a comfortable chin strap assembly to remain on the head to meet the challenge of Rocks, Sticks, Bottles, Acid, Bullets, Fragmentation, Etc. (Neck protectors may or not be included.)

The face mask, which is usually made of plastic or metal bars, attaches to the front of the helmet. There are two types of face masks, the open cage and the closed cage. The open cage usually is preferred by quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and defensive backfield men because the open cage—with two or three horizontal bars and no vertical bar above the nose—enables better visibility. The closed cage usually is the choice of linesmen because the closed cage—vertical bar running the length of the mask over the nose with two, three, or four horizontal bars—helps to keep other players’ fingers and hands out of their eyes. In the 1970s, vinyl coating was layered onto the bars to protect against chipping and abrasions. Soon, colors were added to the face masks as another way to distinguish players and teams. The logo of a player’s team usually adorns both sides of the helmet. The NOCSAE warning label states that the helmet should not be used to strike an opponent. Such an action is against football rules and may cause severe brain or neck injury.

The football helmet is manufactured to standards devised to protect against MTBI-Mild Traumatic Brain Injury. For purposes of this standard MTBI is the near threshold brain injury level that typically produces post concussion signs and symptoms without anatomical change.

NOCSAE publishes standards but does not conduct surveillance to assure compliance to standards. It is the sole responsibility of firms that manufacture or recertify protective products to certify that all requirements of these standards are met, including on going statistically relevant QC protocols. Firms utilizing the NOCSAE logo to originally (prior to the first time such product/model is offered for sale) certify products, must submit documentation in the form of a test report from an independent A2LA accredited ISO 17025 certified laboratory, with the appropriate scope.

To test the helmet, a headgear is positioned on a headform that is mounted onto a hybrid III neck assembly which is rigidly mounted to a linear bearing table to achieve a somewhat realistic post impact situation. The linear impactor head is propelled at the headgear such that the impact energy (Joules) is within 3% of the specified level. At impact, the instantaneous resultant acceleration is measured by a triaxial accelerometer and the Severity Index calculated.

NOESC recommends a device that is capable of delivering an impact to the target by moving along a straight line towards the target. Like a battering ram, the impactor head (moving section that after acceleration is allowed to free travel to the target in a guided fashion) shall have a mass of 13.3 kg ±3%, and have a convex face conforming to the radius in fig x. The face shall be padded with a polyurethane foam having a density of 13 lbs. pcf and mechanical properties. The impactor shall be capable of delivering impacts at velocities from 6m/s to 12m/s.

The seventy thousand audience wraps the field like polycarbonate. Protecting the stadium from terrorists is the highest purpose of law enforcement surrounding the stadium and continuously monitoring the situation. AP reports, “At least 20 different federal agencies will be involved.”

Vehicles entering the stadium have all been X-ray’d. The NBC News segment shows large X-ray machines scanning the length of tractor trailers, an advanced technique that will someday be in daily use at every American port. Ticket takers and workers will be screened and watched closely by police and Transportation Security Administration officials, employing the same techniques as used at airports to detect suspicious behavior. According to CNN, “TSA spokesman Christopher White said that the officers are being sent at the request of the local police and the FBI, and that it’s the first time such officers are assisting with a major sports event.”

Washington Business Journal reports, “Reston-based Kore Telematics and Oklahoma City-based U.S. Fleet Tracking, a vehicle tracking system, teamed up for the third year to secure more than 100 cars carrying football players and entertainment personalities. Each driver will get a Kore-powered vehicle tracking device from U.S. Fleet Tracking. This year, the small device is the size of a cell phone and clips on clothing. The location is transmitted via the Kore network to U.S. Fleet Tracking servers. The installation-free device is allowing nearly five times as many vehicles to be tracked this year over last. Security officials remotely monitor each car’s location through five-second updates and can zoom in to see what lane or parking space a car is in.”

The coordination of the assault with the other components of the tactical elements is executed by the Tactical Commander after the command has been given by the Incident Commander. The Tactical Commander provides instructions to the Tactical Element Leaders for offense, defense, quarterback and special teams. One element is the Emergency Response Team that is immediately given contingency plans and sent to downfield to the crisis site. A team of scouts is then sent to create an assessment of the situation, provide options for entry, methods of safe approach, descriptions, and other salient features like wide out patterns, blocking and tackling, and no-snap huddles. The Team draws maps on paper and practice the movements and timing that will be used in the assault.

To keep track, police have gone high tech with a sophisticated table monitor provided by Microsoft. The Police Chief shows NBC, “I can track location in real time, picture is moveable, pointable, adjustable, I can change elevation. If I have a tactical operation I can bring it in and get as big as I need to.”

On the field, thermal printers are in place to print out for the tactical squad commander observations relayed by non-combatant assistants using computers and databases to record every adversarial trend occurring in real time on the battlefield. Another design feature has been the use of radio receivers in the helmets so that coaches can relay plays to their signal callers. In order to bring the game closer to the fans, a “helmet-cam” also has been used so that fans get to see exactly what the players see on the field. The referees on contested plays can consult with cameras showing the position of the ball from multiple angles in assessing whether the initial decisions was fair or foul to the roar of the crowd, happy that no judgment will be made without the hidden hand of technology.

Four miles from the stadium, the waterways of Tampa are closed off to boat traffic and heavily patrolled by marine police in speedboats with quadruple outboard engines. Then there was Pepsi singing Bob Dylan, “Forever Young”. A twelve minute concert by Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band: It’s Boss Time.

According to Maria Bartiromo, MSNBC, the value to GE of commercial advertisements for the Superbowl was $206 million. That is twenty million shy of the recent contract to provide command, control, communications and computer information support for Tampa-based USCENTCOM. General Davd H. Petraeus, commander CENTCOM, conducted the coin toss. Hours earlier, NBC TV host Matt Lauer interviewed President Barack Obama in front of a White House fireplace before his invited guests, Republican and Democratic Congressional leaders, arrived to watch the game. His first question lobbed at the President like an alley-oop pass: what is it like living with your mother-in-law?

ALAN FARAGO, who writes on the environment and politics from Coral Gables, Florida, and can be reached at


Alan Farago is president of Friends of the Everglades and can be reached at