From Gridiron To Battlefield?

kimberly dozier helmets football iraq
It was one of those Eureka! moments.

Army doctors home from Iraq and Afghanistan were watching NFL players pound it out, and thought, "that's what our soldiers need, helmets like ... that."

Because, believe it or not, the effects on the brain of on-field collisions can be a lot like an IED explosion, CBS News correspondent Kimberly Dozier reports.

Blasts strong enough to shake and even bruise the brain, often leading to traumatic brain injury, known as "TBI."

Today more than 30 percent of troops who have served in combat suffer from TBI after repeated exposures to blasts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Researchers at three major Army hospitals to test - and a marriage between football and the military was born.

"Let's just look and see if we take a football helmet that's designed to prevent concussion and gerry-rig that into an Army combat helmet, and then test it in a standard fashion that helmets are tested to see if we couldn't decrease the incidents of concussion," said Dr. John Holcomb of the Brooke Army Medical Center.

Did it ever. It was 50 percent better.

A blow to the head accelerates the skull inside the helmet, and the brain inside the skull. The helmet's multiple layers of special foam padding absorb most of the energy, especially along the sides of the helmet, where the most dangerous blows occur.

Current military helmets have only a fraction of that padding.

The military has sent out a call to NFL helmet-makers such as Riddell telling them: apply their technology to combat helmets and we'll buy hundreds of thousands of them.

"We're going through an evaluation process right now just to see if we could bring some of our materials and design expertise to the combat helmet," said Thad Ide, vice president of research and development at Riddell.

They've done it before. Founder John Riddell invented World War II's classic web-suspension helmet.

A different war means different challenges.

"We're looking for a pad system that fits in, is compatible with the advance combat helmet; we're looking for pads that meet our requirements of sustaining blunt trauma at 10 feet per second," said Lt. Col. Robert Myles Jr., product manager of Soldier Survivability.

The military hopes to run some of the new designs through their paces this summer.

If they find the right one, military officials say they could field helmets in Iraq and Afghanistan in less than 90 days, tackling the challenges of modern warfare head-on.