If you enjoy watching football, like myself, you may have wondered what those large wristbands Quarterbacks wear are for. Like the one in the gif below, it’s very common to see a QB sport a wristband like this on their non-throwing arm.
With a typical NFL offensive playbook boasting hundreds of plays, memorizing each makes for a formidable task. To help ease this burden, quarterbacks often sport these wristbands that carry a “portable playbook.” These wristbands are commonly refered as wrist coaches.
I did some research to learn more about the history of the QB wristband and how technological advancements have altered its use over time.
The History Behind the QB Wristband
In 1965, the defending champion Baltimore Colts lost their reigning MVP (and future Hall of Fame) quarterback, Johnny Unitas, to a back injury. Matters only worsened when backup QB Gary Cuozzo went down shortly after.
With things looking bleak, coach Don Shula turned to their running back, Tom Matte, and asked him to step up and try his talents behind center for the final two games of the regular season.
To make the transition as smooth as possible, offensive coordinator Don McCafferty suggested he sport a wristband with a “cheat sheet” of the offensive playbook.
In his first week starting at Quarterback for the Colts and aided by the offensive playbook on his wrist, albeit a revised version to suit his running capabilities, Tom Matte led his team to a 20-17 victory over the Rams.
The following week they would face a Green Bay Packers team that secured a last-minute field goal to tie the game at 10 and send it to overtime. In a heartbreaker, the Colts would go on to lose in the extra period 13-10 off a field goal that’s disputed to this day.
With a regular season record of 1-1 at Quarterback, Tom Matte would finish the season with a 35-3 win over the Cowboys, taking home the game’s MVP award.
Is the Wristband Still a Popular Tool Today?
While we see many Quarterbacks around the NFL still wearing these offensive playbooks on their wrists, technological advancements have turned them into a bit of a “just in case” tool.
Professional football helmets in today’s games have thoroughly advanced since Tom Matte’s 1965 starts. All Quarterbacks in the NFL today have helmets equipped with earpieces connected to the coach’s headsets on the sidelines.
While this allows the coach to quickly call in plays to the Quarterback that he can then relay to the team, they still sport the “portable playbooks” on their wrist for a reason. Mechanical failures resulting in communication between the coach and Quarterback being disrupted is a common occurrence.
In addition, crowd noise can easily impact a player’s ability to hear the call being forwarded to them through the headset when playing in some of the NFL’s most daunting stadiums. In cases like these, Quarterbacks can comfortably rely on the playbook conveniently located on their wrist to keep the offense moving without disruption.
Final Words About Wrist Coaches
While still a commonly used tool in the NFL, the reliance on these wristbands has taken a step back for professional Quarterbacks as of late.
With the aforementioned technological advancements and a further emphasis on a Pro’s ability to read a defense and call audibles at the line of scrimmage, these wristbands can be most beneficial for “amateur” football Quarterbacks.
These wristbands still prove invaluable to this day for someone who’s just starting their career as a young Quarterback. After all, there’s a reason the original wristband used by Tom Matte is proudly displayed in the NFL Hall Of Fame.