In the bestselling tradition of Freakonomics and Scorecasting comes a clever and accessible look at the fascinating links between physics and football.
How is the West Coast Offense like quantum mechanics? How does the shape of the football invoke chaos theory? What lessons did Vince Lombardi glean from the brain of Sir Isaac Newton and the beautiful mind of John Nash? Should the NFL ban helmets? Why, in defiance of mathematics, does a coach almost never go for it on fourth down? The answers to these and dozens of other physics questions determine the outcome of every football game played in America, and—perhaps—the future of the nation’s most popular sport.
In Newton’s Football, journalist and New York Times bestselling author Allen St. John and TED speaker and former Yale engineering professor Ainissa Ramirez look at the peculiar science of America’s Game. They show how most fundamental laws of the physical universe can be found at work every Sunday afternoon. From the way a cornerback uses momentum to make a touchdown-saving tackle to the science of a perfect spiral, basic elements of the game demonstrate scientific principles that continue to astound advanced physicists and engineers. With a clear-eyed empirical approach—and an exuberant affection for the game—St. John and Ramirez address topics that have long beguiled scientists and football fans alike, including
• the odd shape of the ball (or, as they put it, “The Divinely Random Bounce of the Prolate Spheroid”)
• how Teddy Roosevelt saved football using a theory that would later affect robotics and computer animation
• the brutal science of high-speed impacts
• how facemasks made the game more dangerous
• how San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh orchestrated football’s Quantum Leap
• the unexpected problems caused by well-intentioned rules
• why psychologists would say NFL coaches are like primates when it comes to innovation
• how a terrible off-the-field injury changed placekicking
• how the football helmet is effective in staving off injury—and how it is dangerously ineffective
The greatest minds in football exhibit an instinctual grasp of science. In an era when the professional game is plagued by ongoing questions regarding traumatic brain injuries, a firmer grasp of the physics behind this fast, violent sport is needed now more than ever. Blending smart reporting, counterintuitive creativity, and compelling narrative, Newton’s Football takes gridiron analysis to the next level, giving fans a book that entertains, enlightens, and explains the game anew.
About Allen St. John
An award-winning journalist, Allen St. John is the author of seven books, including The Billion Dollar Game and Clapton’s Guitar, and co-author of The Mad Dog 100. He has written for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, U.S. News & World Report, Men's Journal, Maxim, Playboy, Rolling Stone, The Village Voice, Esquire.com, theatlantic.com, and Salon.com, and he blogs for Forbes.com. His work has been featured in The Best American Sports Writing. A graduate of the University of Chicago, he lives in Montclair, New Jersey, with his family.
About Ainissa G. Ramirez, PH.D.
Ainissa G. Ramirez, Ph.D., is dedicated to making science fun for people of all ages. She is the author of the TED Book, Save Our Science, based on her TED talk on improving science education. Before that, she was a popular engineering professor at Yale University. She received her Ph.D. from Stanford University in materials science and engineering and holds several patents, one of which was awarded MIT’s top 100 young innovators award.