Players wearing this cumbersome piece of clothing are using them to keep hand warmers close by. In most cases, receivers and quarterbacks are the players most frequently spotted using these fanny packs since they need to maintain the dexterity in their fingers during games played in cold and wet weather.
My own playing career took place in Alaska where October matchups were often interrupted by snow, wind, freezing rain, and other inclement weather. As a quarterback, having these hand warmers nearby at all times was a lifesaver, helping me feel and grip the ball no matter how cold it got.
In this article, we’ll examine the innovative team that first used the hand warmer along with the various designs that have been implemented over the years, and what makes them so effective.
- What looks like a fanny pack, is a special hand-warming pouch.
- Stitched pockets inside the pouch are designed for hand warmers while knitted cuffs help keep cold air and water out.
- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are credited with inventing these hand-warming fanny packs in the early 80s.
When Did Players Start Wearing Hand Warmers
Many of the NFL’s original teams played in cold-weather environments like Chicago, Green Bay, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh. But through the 70s, none of these teams battling on frozen December fields considered hand-warming pouches as a viable option.
It was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of all teams that are credited with the advent of the on-field hand warmer in the early 1980s. Sick of their poor road record, coach John McKay instructed his equipment manager Frank Pupello to come up with some cold weather gear. One of Pupello’s first inventions was the hand warmer. 
“I didn’t want to [use pockets sewn into the jerseys]. Because we’d been in games where it starts out warm and then it gets cold during the game, so what do you do then? So I thought that if we had something removable, like a muff, that would work. But it had to be geared for football. I wanted nylon on the outside and polypropylene on the inside. I wanted it cuffed, to keep it warm. It had to lay flat. It couldn’t absorb water.”– John Pupello on the Uni Watch Blog in 2010. 
Buccaneers’ players wore the handwarmer off and on through the 80s and early 90s, with a handful of other teams adopting the design, but it wasn’t until the mid-90s that teams began to design their own hand-warming pouches. 
But it turns out it takes more than an innovative hand warmer to craft a champion. The Buccaneers endured a brutal stretch of losing from 1983-1996 and didn’t post a winning record again until 1997. 
How Do Hand Warmer Pouches Work?
Hand warmer pouches are made to be well insulated and water resistant so their interior stays as warm and dry as possible. Some high-end models have knitted cuffs, sealing the interior when a player’s hands are inside to keep the cold out. 
But a player’s body heat won’t warm up the pouch on its own very fast and players only have a few seconds to warm their hands. Along with the thermal design, these pouches have internal pockets where air-activated hand warmers can be kept.
These hand warmers saved me several times during my high school career. When the temperature is near or below freezing, my hands would start to feel numb after every play. But a few seconds with my hands around the hand warmers would buy me enough warmth to get through the next play and still throw a spiral.
Two-Hand Warmer Designs
Traditionally, players would don a hand warmer that they could clip around their waist and tighten. While they could cinch this design as tight to their body as they wanted, it could still be grabbed by a defender, giving them something to hold onto and potentially aiding them in making a tackle. It could also be ripped clean off, requiring the quarterback to waste time after the play to retrieve it.
The “old school” hand warmer style that I used to wear. A clip could is fastened around the waist and can be cinched tightly to prevent it from sliding during game action.
A more recent design stitched the hand warmer pouch directly to the jersey. 
This does allow the pouch to move around more than the traditional design but is more difficult for a defender to grab onto and is impossible to tear away.
The newer, sleeker hand warmer style is attached directly to the jersey to prevent it from breaking free and making it difficult for a defender to grab.
It’s hard to imagine quarterbacks and receivers in the 60s and 70s not having these clever pouches at their disposal when field conditions were often terrible with standing water and snow common occurrences. Today I take them for granted and know firsthand what a big difference they can make.
It’s hard to quantify how much credit this simple invention has for the explosion of offense we’ve witnessed since the late 90s, but it has to play some role. How much help do you think this simple fanny pack has had for the modern quarterback? Let us know in the comments below.