The National Football League schedule for the 2022-23 regular season begins on Thursday, September 8, as the defending champions Los Angeles Rams host the Buffalo Bills. Regardless of which team starts, the tee they will use to hold the ball and lift it off the lawn will be one H. Jay Spiegel’s ’74 innovation.
In fact, every opening start for every NFL game since the 1999-2000 season has been made from one of Spiegel’s patented starting points at Ground Zero 1, according to Spiegel.
It should come as no surprise that Spiegel chose to attend Cornell University because, of the five colleges he was accepted into, he felt he had the best football chance at Cornell. He made the team as a Series 2 player in his first year but left the team before the season started. After that, he decided to play collegiate football and Sprint in the following years at Cornell.
But football, and especially kicking football, continued to attract Spiegel’s attention – even as he was charting a path to a non-football career.
Spiegel created his own major at Cornell University, making use of something called a college program. A similar option still exists, although it is now called an independent specialty. His degree program was called Energy Conversion and allowed him to take classes in MEP, Nuclear and Environmental Engineering. Long before he graduated, Spiegel knew he wanted to become a patent attorney, and this particular set of classes put him in good standing for the future.
After graduating from Cornell University in 1974, Spiegel worked in the US Patent and Trademark Office until 1982 as an assistant examiner and then as a primary examiner. He also received a law degree from George Mason University in 1981. Since 1982 he has been working in the private sector, specializing in patents, trademarks and copyright law.
During those years in the patent office, Spiegel was prohibited from applying for any patents himself by government policy. Once he was no longer a government employee, he had to wait a year. But all that time his brain has been bobbing away, working on ideas for a kicking tee that would fit best in the style of the newer generation of NFL kickers.
While in high school, he wrote to recently retired NFL star Lou Groza to see if Groza would give him kicking pointers. To his surprise, Groza, who lived in the Cleveland area, hit back. The two met to work on technology and became lifelong friends. Spiegel, who was a member of the Cornell Glee Club, even sang at Groza’s memorial service when he passed away in 2000.
Spiegel kicked himself in the traditional straight style popular at the time. But his high school days in Cleveland coincided with the introduction of soccer-style kicking into professional football by Pete Gogolak ’64, who was a regular on the Big Red soccer team. By the time Spiegel was ready and able to apply for patents, many NFL footballers were kicking soccer-style and current tees weren’t perfect. They had two stuck prongs to hold the ball upright and those hitting the soccer style were coming into contact with the prongs before the ball, negatively affecting their kicks.
Spiegel designed a T-shirt without prongs and applied for a patent in 1983. By 1985 he convinced some NFL players to try his prototype and give it feedback. He continued to improve his design and by 1995 the National Football League approved a tee for use in games. By the 2000-01 regular season, all teams had adopted Spiegel’s Ground Zero 1 tee, although there were two other competing shirt designs approved and made available to them.
Spiegel started Premium Products, Inc. , in 1985 to market Ground Zero 1 and four other tee designs. In 2015, he sold the football division of his company to Champion Sports.
Spiegel began practicing law, H. Jay Spiegel & Associates, in 1981 and has been practicing patent, trademark and copyright law with great success for 40 years. In that time, he also held 45 patents of his own, with many more coming to market. Listening to Spiegel’s talk, it becomes clear that his tee holds a special place in his heart.
“When you are a patent attorney, you have to be honest with your clients and tell them that only 1% of patented inventions make enough money to pay the cost of obtaining a patent,” Spiegel said. All inventors thought they would be within 1%. I have been very fortunate and have received a lot of satisfaction and pleasure from my inventions.”
If you tune in for a Bill-Rams Thursday night, make sure you’re stable before the opening game kicks off and then turn your attention to the often-overlooked piece of equipment right there on the 35-yard line. It’s a very good bet that Spiegel will do the same.