Few things are as quintessentially American as football and most people in this country have probably played it in some form at least once in their life. This was what the U.S. Army was banking on when it developed an anti-tank grenade using an explosive charge jammed into a hollowed-out Nerf football in the early 1970s.
The Army’s Land Warfare Laboratory (LWL) at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland concocted the “football device,” something I wrote about briefly years ago now, as part of a broader effort to develop a hand-thrown anti-tank weapon of some kind that began in July 1973. The Army had originally established LWL in 1962 to develop, test, and evaluate any and all weapons or other technology that might be applicable to counter-insurgency campaigns, a type of warfare that was emerging around the world at the time. This included in various countries in Southeast Asia, such as South Vietnam and Thailand, where the United States was already becoming increasingly embroiled at that time.
In 1970, LWL was renamed the Land Warfare Laboratory, a switch that kept its acronym intact, and it began exploring systems that be might useful to a broader set of conflict types. One of these efforts was the anti-tank grenade project, a requirement driven by concerns about the utility of existing infantry anti-armor capabilities, especially in an urban environment, such as the ones the U.S. military expected to be a primary setting for any major conflict against the Soviets in Europe.
“Current standard US Army antitank weapons have been designed to provide maximum practical stand-off range,” a 1974 final test report on the football grenade, as well as the other types LWL evaluated, explained. The primary infantry anti-tank weapons in Army service at the time were the BGM-71 TOW and FGM-77 Dragon anti-tank guided missiles and variants of the M72 Light Anti-Tank Weapon (LAW), a shoulder-fired rocket launcher.