To overcome damaged vocal cords, Steve DeBerg had a speaker on his shoulder pads
Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow will play today, a week after suffering a throat contusion that sent him to the hospital. He spent the week on “voice rest,” and it remains to be seen whether his voice holds up when it’s time to call plays in the huddle and shout signals at the line, especially in a Detroit dome that could get noisy.
The situation brought back memories of a bizarre development from 1980. 49ers quarterback Steve DeBerg had laryngitis. He couldn’t project his voice. So the team developed a system that put a microphone in his helmet and strapped a speaker system to the back of his shoulder pads, under his jersey.
“He told me the quickest way to recover was to not speak for a month,” DeBerg later said, explaining his doctor’s advice. “I said, ‘I’m an NFL quarterback. I have to yell over 75,000 fans. I can’t not talk.’”
From an AP story published at the time, the speaker was three times stronger than a car stereo. He’d use it again while playing for the Broncos, after taking a hit to the throat that injured his vocal cords.
A tenth-round pick of the Cowboys in 1977 (he didn’t make the team in Dallas as a rookie), DeBerg spent 17 seasons in the NFL, playing for the 49ers, Broncos, Buccaneers, Chiefs, and Dolphins. He skipped 1994 through 1997 (he was the Giants’ quarterbacks coach in 1995 and 1996) before returning at age 44 to play for the Falcons. He appeared in eight games and started one at the same age as Tom Brady — whose raspy voice also could eventually use a DeBerg-style boombox boost.
DeBerg is the answer to another trivia question. He’s the oldest player ever on a Super Bowl roster, at 45 years and 12 days. To break that record, Brady will need to get to the Super Bowl to cap the 2022 season, or any of them after that.