First of all, I have been checking out site for five years now. I love the way things continue to evolve. Keep up the good work.
Now, down to business. I remember the USFL in the 80's. Living in Oakland, I remember when the Raiders left and moved to LA. The USFL came along and the Oakland Invaders setup shop. Even though it only lasted a couple of years. I still think about those uniforms, especially the helmets. The Michigan Panthers, The Oakland Invaders (of course), The Houston Gamblers, The Boston Breakers, The Philadelphia Stars, The New Jersey Generals, The Denver Gold, etc... I like pretty much the entire leagues helmet with the exception of a few. I was wondering if helmethut was going to ever create a USFL section. I remember those old BIKE helmets with the RIDDELL facemask. I actually liked the look of them. I curious to know what helmets were used by the players. I would like to hear some stories behind some of the hardware. Considering the NFL Hall of Fame players that came out of the league and some of the NFL players that ended their careers in the USFL. Thanks for having such an awesome site.
Thank you very much for your comment regarding the United States Football League. For many of us the USFL’s existence seems to be but a few brief years ago. A retrospective look obviously takes us back twenty-five years, thus there is an entire generation of football fans who probably know very little about the USFL. Your observations are quite accurate: the helmet designs were very attractive and many superb players populated the league with a significant number becoming major stars in the National Football League. An overlooked fact is that quite a few USFL head coaches and their assistants became extraordinarily successful in the NFL after receiving experience in the upstart league. While established hands like former Rams and Redskins head coach George Allen lent their already heralded talents to the new league, relative newcomers to the pro coaching ranks included Jim Mora, Dom Capers, Vic Fangio, Lindy Infante, June Jones, Tom Rossley, Marv Levy, and Steve Spurrier. All of these men would make their marks in the NFL or in the collegiate ranks in years to come.
No one can argue with the fact that many players who began their pro careers in the USFL also made a significant impact when they entered the ranks of the National Football League. The most obvious were those who became the very biggest stars, players like Reggie White, Steve Young, Jim Kelly, and Hershel Walker. However, lesser know players like Sam Mills, Gary Anderson, Maurice Carthon, and Bobby Hebert had solid, productive NFL careers after getting their start in the USFL.
Some, like Doug Flutie, had already played in Canada, showed enough in their USFL day to attract an opportunity not previously provided by the NFL, and made it work for them. For those who enjoyed the USFL, and the fact that it provided year-round football, its switch from a spring league to direct competition with the NFL were saddened, because almost anyone could have predicted the final, disastrous results. Perhaps the best summary of the USFL’s history, with great photos, is the publication “USFL, The Rebel League The NFL Didn’t Respect But Feared”, a wonderful book by Mike Damergis that can be found at www.usflonline.comand Mr. Damergis is truly an expert about the league.
The uniforms were eye-catching as a group, and some were outstanding for their simplicity and others for the thought that obviously went into the design. The New Jersey Generals stood to one side of the spectrum, the jersey numbered front, back, and sleeves with an outline around each numeral, the helmet consisting of a red shell with a five-star wreath on each side. The unusual Michigan Panthers helmet remains a favorite of collector’s due to the Panther decal and the way in which it is situated on the helmet. The staff at Helmet Hut agrees with you that the USFL presentation of helmets would be a beautiful addition to anyone’s collection. However, by 1983 when the USFL began play, the Riddell WD-1 model and Bike helmets were in use as suspension helmets, the focus of Helmet Hut, were no longer being manufactured. The Riddell “suspension era” spanned the approximate time of 1945 through 1978. The true suspension helmets were phased out as impact absorbing cells of various materials and fluids were added to the inside of the shells for enhanced protection. Thus, none of the USFL helmets were manufactured as suspension helmets. There may have been one or two players who were attached to their old suspension helmets that they continued to wear it through an entire career, part of which took place as a member of a USFL team but unlike Charlie Joiner who wore a TK-2 suspension helmet through the eighteen years of his career, until 1984 (see Helmet Hut feature http://www.helmethut.com/Chargers/Joiner.html ) none have come to the attention of Helmet Hut’s nor Dr. Del Rye.
Okay, here's something you might be able to explain, or expand on a compare and contrast. Both Lamar Hunt and Bud Adams, were Texas Millionaires who helped found the AFL. Hunt owned the Dallas Texans (which later moved to KC and became the Chiefs) and Adams owned the Houston Oilers (now the Tennessee Titans).
Although Hunt's obsession with the very consistent Texans/Chiefs uniform and image has been well documented, what was the deal with Adams and the seemingly constant changes with the Houston uniforms and helmets in the 60's and early seventies? It seems that nothing stayed the same too long, except for the inclusion of columbia blue and the basic image of the oil derrick, which had various types of trim depending on the helmet, stripe style and colors.
Your site has many different versions of the Houston helmets, there were others, such as my favorite, the silver version. Even the font of numerals on the Houston Jerseys seemed to routinely change in the first couple of years in the AFL. Was Bud unhappy, adventurous, confused, or did he just change his mind a lot trying to find a certain look?
Thank you for your question and yes, we would agree that upon first glance, the Houston Oilers certainly did have what appears to be a frequent change in uniform style. Without being personally acquainted with Oilers owner Kenneth S. Adams, Jr., best known as Bud, an observer can only speculate. Bud’s father, Kenneth Senior, was known as “Boots” Adams and was a true legend among oil industry wildcatters. The Phillips Oil Company, formed by brothers Frank and L.E. Phillips in Bartlesville, Oklahoma in 1905, made a fortune and achieved iconic status by drilling eighty-one consecutive sites and hitting oil in every one of them, something unheard of especially because it was the instincts of the oil wildcatters like Boots Adams and not “high technology” that determined the drilling sites. Thus, as Phillips Oil grew to a huge conglomerate, being one of the pioneers in providing propane as a home heating fuel for example, and opening all of those very noticeable Phillips 66 gas stations across the country, the Phillips brothers and Boots Adams who became president of the company, made many millions of dollars. Bud, Boots’ son from his first marriage, certainly benefited from what one critic called, his “charter membership in the Lucky Sperm Club.” Bud attended Culver Military Academy in Indiana, served in the military, and then played football at Menlo (CA) JC before taking his talents to Kansas. A blocking back, he was never described as a star but he played, left school prior to graduating, and accepted a financial stake provided by his father and converted it into successful oil, ranching, banking, farming, and auto sales. At one time, Adams had the largest Lincoln Mercury dealership in the United States. Thus, he was successful in business and like Lamar Hunt, just as unsuccessful in trying to purchase the Chicago Cardinals or land an expansion franchise from the NFL. Thus, with Hunt, he formed the American Football League and retained ownership of the Oilers and Tennessee Titans, after the move out of Houston, to the present time.
Unfortunately, Bud Adams, because of the animosity caused by the move of the Oilers and his inability to bring either a consistent winner or Super Bowl contender to Houston, remains an oft-criticized figure. In the 1950’s and ‘60’s, he was also characterized with the negative stereotypes of the “rich Texan” and his full length leather coats, ever-present white Stetson hat, and ostentatious office, described as “one of the biggest offices in a business known for offices the size of football fields” that was “complete with barbeque pit, lily pond, and desk as long as a billiard table” did little to mute that image. Despite being described as “shy” by some who knew him and “needing a course in public relations” by others, Adams was also known for trying to make a big splash and gaining as much attention for the Oilers as possible. His behavior at times was also seen as not befitting the owner of a pro franchise, especially by the more staid members of the NFL ownership group. There was the time that Bud enlisted a waiter at a South American style restaurant in Houston, to try out as a place kicker. Bud and a friend, after finishing dinner, took the waiter to Jeppeson Stadium, turned the lights on “and Bud and his companion would rush the kicker, waving their arms and howling, trying to see how the startled waiter reacted under pressure.”
Despite his critics, Adams always had a high payroll, being willing to pay for a team that could win and was considered to be generous with those he liked. In the waning days of the New York Titans for example, Titans owner Harry Wismer was on the brink of bankruptcy. Adams flew to New York to watch his Oilers play the Titans, visited with Wismer, reached into his own pocket, and gave Wismer ten thousand dollars in cash to help pay his bills. Wismer reportedly broke down and cried, telling Adams that he was the only one who had stepped forward to assist him. Thus, there were obviously many sides to Bud Adams, but it is undisputed that he hired and fired many coaches, even those who proved to be successful and often with what seemed to be little logical reason. So for the sake of our discussion, let us assume that through the years, and perhaps more so when younger, Adams was a bit impatient and perhaps mercurial with his Oliers team. His penchant for impulsive and often contradictory decisions certainly could have carried over to uniform design. What Adams described as “baby blue” was reportedly his favorite color and the Columbia blue and red of the Oiler uniforms closely matched those of the University Of Kansas. Another popular theory was that Adams chose the uniform's blue color because it was the same as the eye color of his wife. The silver helmets that you noted as favorites of yours also had more than one version, another reflection of the Adams' "change of heart." These factors may explain the numerous alterations in the Oilers’ uniforms through the years.