Fumble-riffic NFL Championship Game? Maybe, says Stevens

1/23/2014

Cold temperatures could play a small part in a player’s ability to hold onto the football as temperatures dip during the February 2 NFL Championship game in northern New Jersey. That's the conclusion of Stevens Institute of Technology researcher Dr. Antonio Valdevit, an Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering.

"It's reasonable to suppose that the cold might affect the hands' grip pressure in the big game," Valdevit said. "We wanted to learn more."

Working with graduate students Constance Maglaras and Rebecca Chung, Dr. Valdevit wired special sensors to his own middle finger and thumb — the two fingers most involved in gripping a ball. The Stevens team then measured grip strength on a regulation football against a pushing force (a tackler attempting to "strip" the ball away with constant force) at three significantly different temperatures: with the ballcarrier's hands at 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degree Celsius); 41 degrees Fahrenheit (5C); and 4 degrees Fahrenheit (-20 C). The team ran the experiment eight times at each temperature.

Conclusion? Thumb-gripping power was unaffected, even at near-zero temperatures, said the Stevens researchers.

But the middle finger did lose significant power as temperatures dropped. In fact, it required almost three times as much force to hold onto the football at 4 degrees Fahrenheit as it did at more pleasant, dome-like temperatures.

"We can't say for certain fumbling or bobbling will increase in the game," concluded Valdevit. "Players will likely adjust their grip under colder temperatures — reposition their fingers, wear gloves.

"But given what we found in one of the fingers, it's also possible the cold will have at least some effect."