Monday, February 02, 2009

Pigskin Physics

Give me an "F!"
Give me an "=!"
Give me an "M!"
Give me an "A!"
What’s that spell!?
Newton's Second Law!!
Force! Inertia! Momentum! Rah Rah Rah!

Alright, so chances of that particular cheer erupting at your Super Bowl party last night were probably pretty slim. But physics is everywhere and the big game is absolutely chock full of it. This article in Saturday's New York Times speculates what Isaac Newton might have to say if he were in the announcer's booth for the Super Bowl. A body in motion will remain in motion unless acted on by an outside force, like a defensive tackle. Believe it or not, a really hard football tackle, like the one by Fitzgerald and Breaston trying to stop Harrison in the second quarter, packs more of a punch than a space shuttle launch.

"The best hitters accelerate at the last instant. That final jolt of speed allows them to apply a bigger force to their victim," Professor Timothy Gay of the University of Nebraska in Saturday's article. Gay knows the physics of the gridiron well, having written The Physics of Football in 2004. The book is extensive, explaining everything from forces and trajectories of punts, to the effect of a soggy field on the ball. It even has an entire chapter devoted to "The Wave."

Last year we here at Physics Central hosted our own in-depth look at football physics. We held the first ever "Nano-Bowl," an online video contest where participants explained the physics of the game. You can see the winners, or take a look at all of the 27 entries we received. If you like what you see, we've got another contest looking for the best videos on the physics of toys.

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