This winter a small group of people will huddle around screens in offices here to films of hundreds of football games.
But they will not be rooting for either team. Their goal is to develop safety standards for football helmets, and perhaps save an industry in big trouble.
Sales of football helmets in 1976 totalled about $10 million. But product liability lawsuits filled against the industry sought damages totalling $110 million, according to Sporting Goods Dealer magazine.
The people studying the game films will be staff members of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. They will judge such things as a the level and frequency of impact involved in the use of football helmets.
In 1976, there were an estimated 45,000 concussions uffered by organized football payers. Twelve high school football players died of head injuries.
But there is no clear information about the football helmet's role in those injuries.
"Under modern rules," a report by a CPSC staff member to the commission said, "any helmet to protect the head will provide some degree of protection. The issue then becomes whether less than 'optimum protection' can constitute and unreasonable risk of injury."
CPSC staff members are responding to an outside request for a mandatory standard in the football helmet industry.
The request came last January from Dr. A. C. Larcher, a chiropractic physician in Chicago, who holds patents for certain kinds of football helmets.
According to William Kitzes, CPSC program manager for sports and recreation equipment, the staff has forwarded a package to be considered soon by the full commission.
Kitzes says the staff advocates more study to see if safety standards are feasable for helmets. Sophisticated testing to see how head injuries occur will be used to evaluate the helmet's role, he said.
Meanwhile, some manufacturers, like McGregor, already have abandoned the helmet business, according to Sporting Goods Dealer. There are presently about 30 helmet manufacturers.
In one suit, a Florida jury awarded $4 million to a youngster paralyzed when he was, essentially, karate-chopped by the rear of his helmet. The helmet maker, Riddell, was ruled negligent for failing to remove the rear of the helmet.