What Happened To Neck Rolls In Football?

If you have watched football from the 1980’s you likely remember the big bulky neck rolls often worn by offensive linemen, fullbacks, and linebackers.

This piece of equipment used to be a mainstay in NFL but nowadays they are rarely seen.

Main Reasons For Their Decline

They Were Mostly A Fashion Statement

The main reason that the NFL and college football have seen a large decrease in the usage of neck rolls is predominantly that they were a fashion statement.

Back in the ’80s, a large number of professional football players wore this equipment making it popular at all levels of play.

Though just like other fashion trends over time the look of the neck roll was no longer in style. Players began to wear this equipment less and less frequently.

Neck rolls in football are similar to the jackets football players wear in high school. The popularity has dropped a lot in recent years.

Some players in today’s NFL still wear the neck roll though that number is quite low.

Inhibits Ability To Look Around

Another reason that the neck roll has declined in popularity is its effect on your neck mobility. Whether you are playing offense or defence having your head on a swivel can be an important factor in your game.

Having the neck roll in makes it more difficult for players to turn their heads side to side. While playing the offensive line position this can be difficult as these players need to look around to determine which players are rushing the passer.

On the defensive end of the ball linebackers need this mobility to see the whereabouts of the receivers nearby.

Ultimately this sacrifice in neck mobility became too costly for many players that may have otherwise worn neck rolls during their games.

Doesn’t Fit Into Todays Game

Another factor to take into account is that the neck roll was popular in a different areas of football. In these 80s running was much more prominent and players were more inclined to think about physicality as opposed to skill and finesse.

This changed the appearance of players as back in that era looking as big as possible was the goal. Having a large neck roll made players seem larger and more intimidating.

In today’s NFL speed is king, players often wear smaller shoulder pads and light equipment in order to get an edge on the field. The use of neck rolls does not fit nearly as well with the new fast-paced passing era of the NFL.

Lack Of Head To Head Contact

One more reason that may have led to the decline of neck rolls AKA cowboy collars in football is a reduction in head-to-head contact.

In the eighties and nineties, it was common for players to make head-to-head contact on tackles as well as blocks. Having the neck roll was believed to protect your neck in these sorts of interactions.

Nowadays the NFL is much more aware of the cognitive damage that can be caused from head to head contact. For this reason, they have input a large number of rules in order to reduce these types of collisions.

Now you will find the likelihood of two players going head to head to be much lower than it was in previous eras. For this reason, adding additional padding to the neck is not a necessity as this area of the body is not as often hit.


I hope you enjoyed this guide explaining what happened to neck rolls in football. If you want to learn more about football equipment see our guide to flak jackets in football or if football players wear knee pads.

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