From his home in Kalispell, Mont., Jim Wegener was anxiously watching Thursday night’s college football game between Tulsa and Bowling Green.
Heart in his throat, he was anticipating the big hits -- but not because he revels in such violence. The registered nurse was monitoring his invention, which he hopes will cut down on the number of concussions and head injuries on the field of play.
The 68-year-old Wegener has developed a safety latch for football helmets, preventing them from popping off during play. And on Thursday night, he liked what he saw.
“Cody Green, the quarterback for Tulsa, was wearing one of my inventions and not once did his helmet come off,” Wegener told the Los Angeles Times. “The first time he tried to pull it off, he couldn’t. He had to do it the right way. We hope this thing is going to prevent a lot of injuries out there.”
Wegener spent 20 years as a nurse at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where he saw a number of a severe injuries from football. And as a football fan, he's seen helmets pop off players far too often. So he knew his idea was long overdue.
A few years ago, he began experimenting with different ways to keep helmets in place, but each idea had its flaws. Then one day he was changing a light bulb in his ex-wife's house in Seattle when he figured it all out.
He noticed the two-pronged bulb was actually latched into place.
“When I got done fixing that bulb, I said, ‘Wait a minute, that will work perfectly for my football helmet.’”
He rushed out and got a patent. He told the Times that the device works like a door chain. By sliding a button into a large opening, then down along a narrower trench, the part can't be yanked out like the button snaps on football helmets used today.
The tension from the player's chinstrap keeps it locked, and it can't be removed unless the player pulls down on his face mask and then maneuvers the button out.
Wegener said he spent his life’s savings on the first few batches and then continued developing the device.
But he thinks he’s hit pay dirt.
His website, helmetsafetylatch.com, explains how the invention works and includes testimonials from players and coaches.
He said players from pee-wees to the almost-pros are lining up to purchase the latch, which costs $25 per helmet.
“Safety, safety, safety,” the inventor said.
He said he was particularly encouraged by seeing Cody Green try to get his helmet off.
“These things will simply not break and you can’t pull them off. They will not come off. You have to unlock it. It’s so slick.”
He said Bowling Green officials called him before Thursday’s game, but their order did not come in time for kickoff.
So he rooted for Tulsa.
“Well, they were wearing my invention,” he told The Times.
Tulsa lost 34-7, but there were no injuries.
And that just made Wegener smile.