There is no doubt that football is a popular sport in the US. This sport, combined with the soft, easy-to-catch-and-throw Nerf football, was what almost all Americans’ childhood is made of. Looking at this piece of sports equipment, the US Army saw a solution to their need for an anti-tank system.

A Nerf was Born

Reyn Guyer and his wife, Mary. Photo from reynguyer.com

In 1968, Reyn Guyer, who is a toy developer, came up with an idea of balls for indoor use without straining the hands of the players or damaging the furniture that might get hit. He sold the concept to the Parker Brothers, and it hit the world by storm. From there, different Nerf products were developed— all light and bouncy and don’t wreck your house. The Nerf baseball was added to the product line as well. You couldn’t throw a ninty-nine mile per hour fastball with it, but getting beaned by one didn’t break all the bones in your face either.

The Cold War And Soviet Aggression

There were concerns about possible conflicts with the Soviet Union at that time. Very well-founded ones too. The Land Warfare Laboratory (LWL) constantly explored options on how the army could deal with the massed armies of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries swarming into western Europe. They wanted a small, anti-tank grenade to equip infantry with, one that could be effective in immobilizing enemy tanks and armored vehicles.

The Brilliant Idea

LWL thought the best weapon against these mechanized units would be a simple, easy-to-use, hand-thrown anti-tank grenade. Through intense brainstorming (we hope!), engineers’ theory was that a football-shaped grenade would be best in disabling these vehicles at close quarters because “most U.S. troops are familiar with throwing footballs.” They started testing the theory with a hollowed-out Nerf football filled with explosive charges and a detonator. Here’s how (they think) it would work: The now-lethal Nerf-bomb football would spiral perfectly to a tank and explode, damaging it beyond repair and making it useless.

Pretty straightforward, right? 

Well, not really. As it turned out the uneven weight distribution made the flight path of the Nerf-bomb all but entirely unpredictable. They would spin wildly and sometimes land not far enough from the thrower. You see, actual footballs are hollow inside, and that’s why they are stable. This football grenade appeared to be more dangerous to the guy throwing it than to any Soviet tank or armored personnel carrier.

The concept of Nerf football grenade was finally dropped(or fumbled) in 1973, and the military ended sticking with its more traditional if heavier anti-tank weapons like the M72 Light Anti-Tank Weapon rocket launcher, (the truly awful)M47 Dragon light ATGM and the M67 90mm recoilless rifle.  None of which could be hand thrown at an enemy tank,

The OSS “Beano” grenade that exploded upon impact and a compass hidden in a uniform button, CIA Museum.

There have been other attempts of the military to use the concept of sports in wars. During World War II, the Office of the Strategic Services experimented on a hand grenade with the exact same size and weight as a baseball, and called it “Beano.” Beano had a habit of exploding prematurely and freezing up in the winter.

There is a sports connection to that as well. Other nations made grenades in various shapes and sizes. The German, “Potato Masher” type had the explosive charge attached to a stick. Our most common type of grenade resembled a small pineapple with its roughly square fragmentation pieces thinned out to aid dispersal. After WWII, we adopted the M-33 type, it was shaped like a baseball because just about every American has some experience with chucking one of those around. It was later improved by a safety mechanism in the M-67.

We didn’t have much success in incorporating football into warfare when it came to anti-tank grenades but baseball certainly came into play with anti-personnel grenades  Maybe the next thing would be a Lacrosse stick to add loft and distance to the throw?

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