[Editor’s Note — Here is a nomination for the 2012 Al Copeland Humanitarian Award by Guest Blogger, Collin Hitt]
Stan Honey invented the yellow first down line for televised football games. His remarkable invention was in fact an improved version of his own, failed highlighted hockey puck. The company he founded and the techniques he invented are key to the electronic strike zone seen in every baseball broadcast.
I nominated Stan Honey two years ago for the Al Copland Humanitarian Award. I am renominating him for the second and final time. In the time since his first nomination, he has made my life better by making televised football impervious to distractions, something I greatly appreciated yet still underestimated two years ago; I’ve since become a father.
I’ve discovered something else in the meantime. Stan Honey changed how Americans get from place to place. But more on that later. First, I must again remind everyone of what Stan Honey did for the game of football.
Americans, of their own free will, watch sports. None is more the family sport than football. There is no cosmic necessity to watching football – plenty of countries don’t care for it, or even know about football. But making football more enjoyable is something that improves the lives of almost every American.
Football is a simple game: keep getting first downs until you score. The end zone is instantly recognizable. So are the uprights. So a touchdown or a field goal are easily noticeable, at a glance. Not so for first downs.
Most of the game is spent trying to get a first down. Games are won and lost between the chains. And yet, until Stan Honey, the first down mark was often impossible to track for those watching from home or a bar.
Football is America’s game because it is television friendly. At most, 750,000 people are watching the NFL from the stands. The rest of America is either working or watching from home. A broken play, a sack, an end-around, a nine-and-a-half yard run, a muddy junked-up field – all can leave the at-home viewer disoriented, confused about the play’s relevance to the all-important first down. In time, yes, the announcers and the referees let us know where things stood. But this is America, and we want our information now. Instant answers, Stan Honey gave us that.
With the yellow first down line, football is also now watchable at a glance. Before Stan Honey, it’s not inconceivable that I might have been reaching for a spicy chicken leg, or a clean diaper, when the ball was snapped. Yes, I knew it was 3rd and 4, but now I’d lost my frame of reference. Jay Cutler is scrambling. Where is the line of scrimmage? The first down marker? It is a big moment in the game and I’m disoriented. Thanks to Stan Honey, the feeling of frameless cluelessness is now gone.
I might miss the snap, but at a glance I know the situation. I’ll know the millisecond the play ends whether it was a failure or a success.
Moreover, the stupid questions from the peanut gallery (some people call these folks their family), have become fewer. “How far do they have to go?” “Did he get it?” “He got eight yards. That’s good right?” When is the last time you heard someone ask one of those questions? (It was before 2001.) Everyone now knows: get past the yellow line. Stan Honey made watching football with football novices tolerable. It has made distractions less distracting. It has allowed people to pour earnest effort into snacking between commercial breaks. It allows certain people to read Elle Decor while watching the game. It has made an all American sport more American.
In case you question the impact that Stan Honey has had on America, think back to the last time that the announcers said “We’re having some trouble with the yellow first down line you usually see across your screen at home.” Technology being technology, the yellow line machine breaks from time to time, and when it does, life is awful.
When I last nominated Stan Honey, I focused exclusively on his invention of the yellow first down line. I’ve still done that here. But Honey’s pioneering work in fact began in electronic navigation hardware. The Garmin or the TomTom – even the navigation software used on your smartphone – they either directly descended from or directly inspired by the Etak Navigator that Stan Honey first brought to market in 1985.
From People Magazine, in 1986.
Start up a Navigator-equipped car, and a local map appears on a computer screen mounted near the dash. A green arrow marks the car’s location. Punch in a destination, and it is displayed as a flashing star.
Now begin your drive and turn a corner. The arrow representing the car remains centered, pointing straight ahead, while the map pivots and scrolls around the arrow, matching every turn you make. Approaching a cross street, there’s no need to crane to read a street sign when a glance at the screen reveals the street name, a feature that’s doubly helpful at night. You can even touch a button and zoom to a wide view showing a whole city or shift down to the neighborhood scale, where only a few blocks appear. When the arrow on the screen meets the flashing star, you’ve arrived within 50 feet of your destination.
Over the years, Honey’s Navigator surrendered market share to other products, but that’s no matter. Invention is followed by innovation. His device and software inspired imitators and improved versions that are commonly recognizable.
This has changed your life. Think of where you’re sitting right now. Did you use a navigation device to find the place, the first time you went there? When family or others come to visit, how do they find the place? I’ll bet their quest, and yours, would have been different if not for Stan Honey.
It’s fitting to place Honey’s contributions next to those of previous winners, as well as the award’s namesake.
As I write this entry for an award named after Al Copland, I’m getting hungry for Popeye’s Chicken. My first thought – I’ll pick up a bucket for the game this Sunday. Now I’m searching on my iPhone for the nearest Popeye’s. Great. I know where I’ll go for chicken on Sunday and how I’ll get there. And when I get home, I’ll be able to keep track of the game from the dinner table, where my son and I will be twenty feet away from the TV (and our new couch). Thank you, Stan Honey.
The 2009 winner was Debrilla Ratchford, inventor of the rollerbag suitcase. The next time I fly somewhere will be before the end of the football season. I’ll pack my rollerbag and get in the car. Using my handset, I’ll find the best route to the airport. I’ll get there early. I’ll roll my bag up to the bar and watch three different games on muted televisions, which is feasible because of the yellow lines on each screen. When I reach my destination, I’ll pull out my handset and find my hotel and the restaurants nearest to it, where I again might watch a football game or two. Thank you, Stan Honey.
Wim Nottroth was the 2010 winner. He is a pacifist and an anti-terrorist. Life is sacred. Peace is a precondition for a fun and enjoyable life. Spicy chicken, the yellow first down line and the rollerbag are enjoyable only in times of peace. Sure, they are trivial in a sense. But they are things that make the good life good. And so, in their own small ways, they are proof that Peace, and Wim Nottroth, are right.
Last year’s winner is the inventor of the tampon. I’m glad I didn’t nominate Stan Honey last year.
So, in closing, we have to ask ourselves, why did Stan Honey do what he did? He invented the yellow first down line for us, but really he invented it for himself. He is now a wealthy man. He has now retired to full-time yacht-racing, a lifelong passion that inspired his interest in triangulation, the foundation of his inventions. The literature on Stan Honey is scant. Few know his name outside of yachting, where he has won multiple awards for transoceanic navigation. Self-interested yachtsmen are not models for adulation. So don’t expect him to win a medal of freedom or genius award anytime soon. Yet he made every American’s life better. And that’s why he deserves the Al.