Hugh Millen and the Football of the Future

"There is nothing wrong with change, as long as it is in the right direction," said Winston Churchill over fifty years ago. There is no record that Churchill was a football fan, but if he were, he would undoubtedly be giving Hugh Millen the thumbs up.

Millen, the former Washington quarterback and current analyst on KJR-Radio, has helped design (under the auspices of Baden Sports Inc.) an improved football which may soon boost the passing statistics for much of college football. Making things more interesting, Adidas, Inc. recently selected Baden as its manufacturer for all footballs, basketballs and volleyballs.

"Baden had done some things with the new football, and originally they asked me to be a spokesperson for the ball," said Millen recently. "I threw it and thought there were some good things about it. The owner asked me to help develop it further. So last summer and fall I took an aeronautics class at the University of Washington. I got a ball in the wind tunnel, and I studied that stuff and really jumped into it. Our goal was to make the best football in the world. I learned all sorts of interesting things-- Like that a golf ball goes 250 yards with dimples, but if you take the dimples off, it only goes 100 yards. There are a lot of things involved with the aerodynamics that, as my professor would say, are non-intuitive."

Millen was asked why a new design was needed.

"I felt like it could be better," he said. "I have been to so many high school camps and thrown with so many high school quarterbacks. I have seen these balls, and have wondered, `How can you complete half of your passes with these things?' Either the shape was wrong, the size was wrong, the seam construction was wrong, the pebble material on the cover was totally worn out, or the laces were bad. I just really thought that the high school quarterbacks are playing with decidedly inferior footballs. So we put it all on a spreadsheet, focusing on 31 different aspects for making a better football. We decided that we've got to be as good or better on all 31 aspects (compared to competitors), in order to have the best football in the world."

Millen was asked what makes the Baden football better.

"We have a shape that is more conducive to throwing a spiral," he said. "Your index finger is the last thing that leaves the football. You want the force of that index finger driving into the center of the ball. We have an angle which allows the index finger to drive into the center of the ball, and allows for a better spiral. We have four seams on the ball. As opposed to flat or concave, you want those seams rigid or slightly protruding so you can get your finger around and apply more torque, and make the ball spin faster-- which from the aerodynamic effect creates more velocity. It's like how it is easier to ride a bicycle at 20 MPH than at 2 MPH. We also have liner that makes the ball more durable. If your thumb slips just a tad, like an eighth of an inch, maybe the ball won't slip out of your hand like Dave Krieg; but it might be the difference between putting the ball on the left shoulder of the tight end or the right shoulder, so it can be the difference between a completion and an incompletion."

In recent months Millen has traveled extensively throughout the country with Adidas executives—and making the pitch to college football programs.

"We went to Knoxville and I threw the ball with Tennessee's starting quarterback Erik Ainge," said Millen. "I showed him what we had done with the ball. David Cutcliffe, the offensive coordinator, was standing nearby. After about four minutes, Erik walks over to Cutcliffe and says, `I don't how this ball's going to break in, but I like it a lot better than the Wilson ball.' Their punters and kickers loved it too. And Tennessee ordered 400 footballs from us right there.

"UCLA will also be using it this fall," continued Millen. "And we're going to get more schools in the near future, particularly Adidas schools like Notre Dame and Nebraska. As for the State of Washington, all the prominent high schools are going to use it—schools like Bellevue and Skyline."

But what about the Huskies?

"Washington plays with a Nike ball," said Millen. "It is part of their contract with Nike."

Millen was asked – in theory – if the entire Pac-10 used the new Baden/Adidas football, would scoring improve?

"That's a good question," said Millen while pausing to reflect. "I think it could marginally. Do I think scoring would increase by ten points? No. But the quarterbacks would throw with more velocity and would be a bit more accurate. You can read into that yourself just how much scoring would increase."

In conclusion, Millen was asked what about this project excites or satisfies him the most.

"You have to have great respect for the game of football," he said. "I really do love the game, and probably most everything I have I owe to the game. I even met my wife in Denver while playing for the Denver Broncos. I played twenty-three years of football. It's incredible what football has meant to me.

"I have thrown with about sixty high school quarterbacks just in the last year, just in the state of Washington," he said. "When you throw with a kid, and then he turns to his coach and says, `Yes this football is a lot better than the ones we have.' That feels like a touchdown pass to me. You let the QB decide based on his own senses. A defensive lineman can pick up two footballs and say, `What's the difference?' But a quarterback's senses are going to be most acute. He will know the difference. After the changes we made, when a QB picks up our new football, and says, `Hey I love this football'—that's my touchdown pass. I have given a little bit back to the game that has given so much to me."
Derek Johnson can be reached at Top Stories