Toner and NFL: Why Paper Still Dominates the Game

Most recent by James Cai

What makes an NFL genius like Tom Brady? The New England Patriots quarterback is probably the nation’s best. 39-Year-Old Brady is also crowned the best signal caller in the league.

Apart from his outstanding records of success, Tom Terrific has the uncanny ability to remain mentally stable. The quarterback keeps his focus on the game even with his team down by three points in the last five minutes of gameplay.

Brady’s mental strength has paid off. He’s led his team to victory consistently. In the last one year to August 2017, Brady has bagged accolades like,

1. The most passing yards in a Super Bowl, 466.

2. Played the most number of Super Bowls, seven.

3. Super Bowls won, five.

4. The highest number of completed passes in a Super Bowl game, 43.

5. The most career passing yards in a Super Bowl, 2,071.

6. The highest number of pass attempts in a Super Bowl game, 62.

7. The most career passes attempted in the Super Bowl, 309.

8. The highest number of Super Bowl touchdowns in a career, 16.

In short, Brady commands success at will. What’s the quarterback’s victories to do with toners and papers?

Quarterbacks, Toners, and Papers

Image Credit: Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsCheat Sheet.jpg


Sitting on Tom Terrific’s wrists in every game is his playbook. That’s where he calls the signals from. That cheat sheet is printed with toner on paper.


That playbook is used for every game. Everytime. And, nope, Tom Brady isn’t the only quarterback using cheat sheets.


Defensive schemes have grown complex and quarterbacks have befriended wristband playbooks to stay competitive. Approaching the end of his rookie season on the New York Jets team, Mark Sanchez, now quarterback for the Chicago Bears, started using wrist-worn cheat sheets. Sanchez has since played for the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles.


You’d find cheat sheets on the wrists of most quarterbacks (even entire teams!). Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Alex Smith who played for the San Francisco 49ers and now plays for the Kansas City Chiefs. Tim Tebow who played for the Denver Broncos and the New York Jets.




Eli Manning stopped using cheat sheets in 2009. Before the New York Giants quarterback started memorizing his signal calls, he’d depended on playbooks.


According to, Kurt Warner commented on his experience with using a wrist-worn playbook. Warner who’s played for the New York Giants, Arizona Cardinals, and St. Louis Rams said,


“I finally used it in Arizona. You’d love to have somebody call the play to you (via the helmet radio), so you get to hear it one time. And then you get to call it a second time, so it gets to process in your mind twice.”


Tom Brady and other quarterbacks happen to be benefiting from a half-century old culture of wearing cheat sheets on wristbands. Quarterbacks started wearing playbook wristbands in 1965.

How Papers Got into the Game

Baltimore Colts quarterback Tom Matte’s cheat sheet from 1965, displayed in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Image Credit: NJ.comsuper-bowl-wristband.jpg


The 1965 Baltimore Colts quarterbacks, Johnny Unitas (who was the starter) and Gary Cuozzo (the backup), had sustained season-ending injuries. The only hope left for the team was Tom Matte.


A loving wife, an index card, and a magic marker in the kitchen table of a suburban Baltimore home were the humble beginnings of the playbook wristband some 52 years ago.


Tom had been in Baltimore Colts since 1961 and was familiar with their play. The team’s offensive coordinator Don McCafferty came up with the idea of the playbook to make things easy for Matte. The cheat sheet worked out well.


McCafferty’s wife, Judy, helped with writing a crude version of the cheat sheet. She wrote the playbooks for the final two games of the 1965 season, and then the playoff between the Colts and the Green Bay Packers.


Matte is now 78 years old. Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio has the former quarterback’s original cheat sheet wristband on their display. Tom is amazed at how the playbook has gained wide acceptance. He says “I cheated my way into the Hall of Fame.”

Habits and Paper-centric Departmentsoffice.jpg


Gartner’s Vice President of Research, Ken Weilerstein, says that printing initially surged with an increase in online content. According to Mr. Weilerstein, printing volumes rose in response to the abundance of content online.


Let’s take a look at the stats here. Back in 2015 – that’s a long time considering the growth speed of online content – every minute (i.e., every 60 seconds),


  • 204 million emails are sent out,

  • 1,400 blog posts go live (that’s over 2 million articles every day),

  • Facebook gets 2.46 million posts,

  • Twitter welcomes 277,000 tweets,

  • Yelp 26,380 reviews and the list goes on.


According to Hosting Facts, we have 1.24 billion websites as of August 2017. Since British physicist Tim Berners-Lee published the first website in 1991, we’ve had a mind-blowing 124 billion percentage growth in websites!


I can’t think of any other technology that’s grown as fast as the internet. And it’s still growing.


People feel more comfortable reading lengthy texts on paper than on screens. So they print. The growing volume of online content encourages more printing.


Infotrends released a study in January 2016. In the study, 60 percent of printing done in companies of any size were essential – 40 percent were optional. Millennials (18 to 29-year-olds), counter-intuitively, didn’t show any significant drop in their printing habits.Printer.jpg


NFL teams hire an average of 3,739 people, including office staff. The Infotrends studies say human resources, accounting, and legal are the most paper-centric departments. Activities that happen regularly like invoicing, printing notes and onboarding consume paper.


In the words of Weilerstein, “It is easier to read long documents on paper than on-screen. Paper is universally accepted as valid for contracts and other legal documents, and the signatures are familiar and accepted to a greater degree than any digital signature.”


IDC’s Keith Kmetz, who serves as the organization’s program vice president for imaging, printing and document solutions shares Ken Weilerstein’s views. Keith pointed out that many companies, including some NFL teams, have initiated a “paperless light” concept.


Almost all internal processes are entirely paperless, in a “paperless light” concept. However, integrating external processes into that internal system would involve some printing and scanning.

To Wrap it Up

Papers will dominate the game for the foreseeable future. Tom Matte’s legacy won’t be digitized anytime soon. The NFL and teams in the NFL, just like other large organizations in the Infotrends studies, have accounting, legal, and other paper-centric activities that’s not about to go obsolete.


Papers will dominate this game because they help ensure victory. And, hey, who doesn’t like winning?



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