Dr. Doctor:
For the last several years the Tennessee Vols wore an unusually wide center orange stripe on their helmets. This year they switched to a more conventional one inch center stripe which I think they wore back in the 1960s and 1970s. What's up with the sudden change? 
Thanks, Knocksville Nelson
Dear Knocks:
This is a good example of the old slogan -- "try it, you'll like it." The Vols choose to wear throwback uniforms (pants and jerseys) for their season opener this year. They also decided wear their old style one inch center helmet stripe for that game to correctly compliment the vintage uniforms.  The Vol's current head coach Phil Fulmer, who played for the team in the late 1960s and wore the one inch stripe, really liked the classic look of the one inch stripe (hooray Coach Fulmer --"the Hut") and decided to kept it for the remainder of the season. The equipment guys loved the change because the conventional two inch stripe was hard to apply without incurring unsightly creases or air bubbles under the stripe.
The team's assistant equipment manager Max Parrott told us of another reason they preferred the one inch helmet stripe. Starting approximately ten years ago, due to liability insurance considerations, the school allowed each player to choose the type of helmet that they wore in high school or any other helmet type that they felt most comfortable with. (Prior to this period Tennessee used almost exclusively "Air Power" helmets because its original manufacturer Bike Products, just like the school, was also located in Knoxville.) In the last ten years many Vol players, especially those recruited from northern states where the use of Riddell helmets is more prevalent, preferred to wear Riddell "VSR-4" helmets which shells have a slightly raised one inch wide center ridge section. The conventional two inch wide orange stripe looked fine when applied to the "Air Power's" smooth shell surface but when it was applied to the Riddell "VSR-4" type helmets the wider two inch stripe unflatteringly highlighted that helmet's one inch wide raised center ridge section. The vintage one inch stripe looked equally fine regardless of the shell type it was applied to.
The Vols have not yet decided on what style stripe they will wear for next year but based on the aforementioned information look for that wonderful and classic one inch orange stripe to reappear.


Dear Doc:
I recently came across some odd looking facemasks and found out they were manufactured by Riddell in the 1970s. What can you tell me about older style Riddell cage type facemasks?
thanks, Scott
Dear Scott:
In the 1950s and 1960s Riddell only sold cage style facemasks that were manufactured by Schutt Inc. In the 1970s for reasons known only to Riddell management they decided to compete with Schutt Mfg. and produce and market their own line of cage style facemasks. Riddell's attempt to "corner" the facemask market would make for an interesting Harvard Business School case study.
More than 30 years later and after countless unsuccessful new design introductions by Riddell the facemask market has remained a virtual monopoly for Schutt. It has long been rumored that the local construction industry near Riddell headquarters in Chicago has enjoyed a cost savings windfall over the last thirty years by eliminating steel rebar that is used for building foundations and substituting unsold scrapped Riddell facemasks which are free for the taking at area dumpsites.
In addition to their facemask failures Riddell has also lost a significant portion of their core helmet business to Schutt who purchased Bike Product's helmet division in the late 1980s. Partly motivated by revenge for Riddell's original attempt to put them out of business Schutt has subsequently made some savvy business decisions and grown from a small family owned facemask manufacturer into Schutt Sports a major player in the sporting goods industry.     
Let's give Riddell some credit -- it only took them 25 years to realize that their numerous launches of radically styled facemasks could never compete with the Schutt facemask designs. In the 1990s Riddell changed tactics and virtually copied the Schutt facemask designs. In addition they included, at no additional charge, one of these Schutt style "knockoffs" with each Riddell helmet sold. How could they not succeed now? Well, some things are just not meant to be. As of the date of this column equipment managers across the country continue to remove their "free" Riddell facemasks from their newly purchased Riddell helmets and replace them with the Schutt variety.
There is however a bit of good news that has surfaced for Riddell as a direct result of their determination to remain in the facemask business. Politicians from numerous states have made lucrative offers to Riddell to get them to relocate their facemask production facilities to their respective states in the hopes that it will benefit their own local construction industry as it has in Chicago over the years.
Here are some of the more interesting examples of the "creative" efforts that have been made by the Riddell facemask designers since the early 1970s:
(a) One of Riddell's first cage style models often referred to as their "lacrosse" inspired line. Sales never took off but this product line enjoyed a major comeback a few years ago when eight masks were purchased for the movie "Rudy." What is real scary is that Riddell's current line of facemasks that have been designed exclusively for their ultra modern "Revolution" helmet are eerily similar to this original design. A little advice -- please burn the original blueprints before they fall into the wrong hands again -- future Riddell facemask designers.
(b) Why stop at copying just Schutt facemasks? This mid 1970s Riddell design looks like a distant relative of the lightweight aluminum Dungard cage facemask. The only problem is that Riddell forgot to use the aluminum and instead substituted the more conventional and significantly heavier regular steel bar. Randy Gradishar (Broncos) wore this style mask for several years. In our opinion this was one of the few cage facemasks designed by Riddell that was actually cool.
(c) This 1977 design actually realized some success. The mask was extra strong because it was made from stainless steel. Several outstanding players including John Jefferson (Chargers), Ken Stabler (Oilers), and Lester Hayes (Raiders) and James Lofton (Packers) wore this mask. This was a relatively expensive mask to produce because of the costlier stainless steel bar and Riddell had trouble competing against the less pricey regular steel Schutt facemasks.
(d) This design was produced in the early 1980s and was contractually promoted through an endorsement contract with a newly formed spring football league known as the USFL. Both products, the facemask and the USFL, suffered the same fate and became extinct within two years. Unlike the defunct football league, Riddell actually saved millions of dollars in legal fees by not having anyone to sue for their unsuccessful product.
(e) This early 1990s design actually had potential. This super strong but lightweight plastic facemask could actually support the weight of an automobile without breaking. Unfortunately the protective bars were too wide and a players vision was severely restricted by this design. After the substantial initial tooling cost was incurred the actual unit manufacturing cost to produce this plastic injection molded mask was quite low and Riddell produced hundreds of thousands of these masks with hopeful, but somewhat blinded (pardon the pun), sales expectations. If building codes for building foundations are ever changed to approve plastic rebar then perhaps these facemasks may also be useful. In the meantime they can be strung together and used as an effective low cost privacy curtain.


Dr. Del Rye,

I really enjoy your site. The new Dungard masks that you have been showing lately are great. They are very distinct. When these masks came out, would entire teams use them, individual players, and who made that decision? I always wondered if the equipment manager had the final say or the players. I appreciate your time. Keep up the great work.

Steve, Tennessee  


Dear Steve:   

Thanks for the compliment. Each player makes the final decision on what style facemask he will wear as long as it has not been banned by the league. When first issued their equipment in training camp most rookies will accept without question the standard facemask style for their position but they are also allowed to choose an unconventional style if they prefer. The equipment manager, although he may prefer and recommend a certain style or manufacturer, usually maintains an adequate inventory of each variety for the players to choose from. Once a player decides on a style of mask to wear he will usually keep using that style of mask throughout his career unless he suffers an injury that requires special protection or if he switches to a technologically improved version of his existing style.


When John Phillips was promoted to head equipment manager for the Kansas City Chiefs in the mid 1980s he personally outlawed ("he just threw every one they had away") the use of all Dungard facemasks by the team even though they were not yet outlawed by the league. The top mounting bracket of the Dungard facemask was bolted directly to the helmet without energy absorbing attachment clips. He theorized that this was the reason for the abnormally high amount of neck injuries suffered by the Chiefs who, compared to other teams, wore a greater proportion of Dungard facemasks. John's theory was subsequently proved correct and as a result of his actions the number of neck injuries suffered by the Chiefs were significantly reduced.


Watch for the upcoming "Talking Helmets with the Equipment Manager" column in Helmet Hut featuring the Ram's former equipment manager Don Hewitt. Don talks about his unsuccessful attempts to convince the mask-less Hall of Fame receiver Tommy McDonald of the oral benefits realized by wearing the protective device.


Dear Doc:
While looking at old photos of players standing on the sidelines I have noticed that the inside color of the helmet shell is sometimes different that the outside color of the helmet and sometimes it is the same. Can you please shed some further light on my observation?
Thanks Doc, Big Mike
Dear Mr. Mike:
Thanks for the interesting question. In the 1960s most Riddell helmet shells were molded in white impregnated plastic and the helmet's exterior surface was painted in the team's color. The interior of the helmet shell was always painted gray. The gray interior paint was alleged to provide an additional sound deadening effect but most likely it was done to enhance the appearance of the helmet as demanded by its inventor, the meticulous John T. Riddell. So if you saw a picture of the inside of a 1960s era helmet shell it was most likely gray. After 1969 Riddell retired their famous "RK" model helmet which shell had slightly flared sides and a somewhat flat shaped top surface. The more rounded "TK" model shell was the only shell style that continued to be produced after 1969.
The Riddell factory made two production changes to the "TK" helmet in 1970 that involved color. First, they discontinued painting the inside surface of the helmet shell gray. The second change was the introduction of helmet shells molded in various impregnated colors that did not require exterior painting. The colors that were originally introduced were limited and included black, kelly green, navy blue, scarlet, cardinal, "Green Bay" gold and burnt orange. Additional colors such as purple, royal, Columbia blue and light gray would be added in the late 1970s and beyond. For instance, in 1970 the Steeler's could now order black impregnated helmets and eliminate the need to repaint the helmet shells. For teams whose helmet color was also available as a molded impregnated color the helmet shell interior most likely matched its unpainted exterior surface.
A team such as the Vikings continued to paint the exterior surface of their helmet shells in 1970 because their purple helmet color was not offered as a molded impregnated color. The Vikings soon learned that the on-field deterioration of the helmet shell's purple painted exterior surface would be less noticeable if they used a molded navy blue impregnated helmet shell rather than a molded standard white impregnated helmet shell. Therefore if you saw the interior of an early 1970s Vikings helmet shell it would most likely be (impregnated) navy blue. Teams such as the Raiders or Lions who wore silver helmet colors used molded standard white impregnated helmet shells until molded light gray impregnated helmet shells were introduced in the late 1970s. Teams such as the Forty Niners and Saints who wore gold painted helmets were able to use Green Bay (impregnated) gold colored shells to make exterior surface paint chipping less noticeable. In summation, a team who still required an exterior painted helmet shell after 1970 used a molded helmet shell impregnated in a hue most similar to the teams helmet color.
I have used the phrase "most likely" rather than "always" when dealing with helmet shell color conventions because there are occasional exceptions. For example, a Steeler player may be traded to the Lions and he may have a special fitted helmet which he prefers to keep using. In that situation, the Lions would simply paint the exterior surface of his impregnated black helmet shell silver and re-decal the helmet with Lion team markings. So while most 1970 Lion helmet shells had white interiors reflecting a molded standard white impregnated shell, in this case a Lion helmet shell interior would be black. Another exception is related to the fact that until the 1990s non standard extra large size helmet shells were only molded in the standard white impregnated color. In the 1980s the Redskin's lineman Dave Butz's image as a vicious "head knocker" was probably unfairly enhanced by the numerous white gouges that could always be seen through the painted cardinal colored exterior surface of his extra large size molded white impregnated helmet shell. Although Dave was no one to mess with (certainly not at his size!) his helmet gouges were no more numerous, but significantly more visible, than those of his teammates who wore normal size impregnated cardinal color molded helmet shells that did not require paint.