Gilman Gear - Always A Step Ahead

Now Taking the Field at the Super Bowl…
By Jeff Holtz

Just about every piece of field equipment that will be used tonight during the Super Bowl at Reliant Stadium in Houston -- the goalposts, sideline markers, first-down chains, pylons, kicking nets and more -- was made in the village of Gilman in Bozrah.

Gilman Gear has been an official supplier of equipment for the National Football League for the last 12 seasons.

The company was founded in 1929 by Marty Gilman, A University of Connecticut football player who made tackling dummies and blocking shields and sleds for himself using materials from the family’s textile mill.

With 65 employees, Gilman Gear also manufactures equipment for the N.F.L.’s developmental league, the NFL Europe, the Canadian Football League, the Arena Football League, 900 colleges and thousands of high schools in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, along with football programs in Western Europe and Japan.

“We have a dominant share of the football market, said Neil Gilman, 49, who took over as the company’s president in 1979 after his father, Marty, died. “We also make a piece of training equipment for every position on the football field.”

Gilman Gear has expanded into other sports, too. The company’s line of 200 products also features items like Big John, a 7-foot dummy with outstretched arms for basketball players to practice shooting over, and practice dummies for rugby and wrestling.“In this business, you have to evolve,” said Mr. Gilman, who constantly travels to talk to coaches about new ideas and input on his products. “In football, for instance, blocking rules and techniques have changed over time. Pads we were selling in the 60’s are no longer popular.”

His newest products are a down marker that changes on battery power, and a mechanical leg that punts and kicks footballs. Gilman Gear has also developed and is selling a hinged goalpost that folds after games, which could prevent the kind of lawsuit the company is facing after a Ball State University student was injured by a goalpost torn down by a mob of fans in 2001.

Referring to the lawsuit, Mr. Gilman said: “The Gilman Goalpost is perfectly safe for the purpose for which it was designed. We expect it to be dismissed.”

Mr. Gilman plans to attend the Super Bowl, as he does each year, eyeing his products “like a father with great pride,” he said. But despite his immersion in football, he refuses to offer a prediction, or a favorite.

“ It might make someone irate,” he said. “I don’t want any customer to think I’m not supporting them. This is a very competitive business.”