Kramer '56







100 year


It is redundant to state that the Michigan helmet design is famous, immediately recognizable, or more than any other part of the uniform or aspect of the Wolverine program, definitive of Michigan football. The helmet history is well known but worth retelling because it is such a widely copied design yet unique. It is also long-standing and begins in Princeton, NJ where College Football Hall Of Fame Coach Herbert "Fritz" Crisler designed it for the 1935 Princeton National Championship team. He had the leather helmet painted to represent a fierce Tiger, readying to fight with its orange ears pinned back and three orange stripes being symbolic of the tiger's markings, on a black shell, giving a look of sleek, fast, furious motion. Coupled with Princeton's traditional "tiger-striped" long-sleeved jerseys, Crisler's Princeton Tigers gave a tough athletic appearance when they entered the field of play. Crisler also believed that the unique markings would allow his quarterbacks to better see receivers downfield. When Crisler left Old Nassau for Michigan in 1938 he brought his unique design with him. Crisler was hired because Michigan's National Championship teams of the early '30's degenerated into four dismal seasons and Crisler was brought in to instill a new, more aggressive attitude. A change in helmet design signified his goal and the formally all black leather helmet was painted with the yellow or maize "winged and stripe" design over a navy blue background that has been maintained since. Michigan compiled a fine 6-1-1 record in Crisler's inaugural year with good passing statistics, reinforcing the coach's belief that the unique helmet coloring helped to find downfield receivers in a sea of standard black or brown helmets of the day. It should be noted that Crisler's predecessor Harry Kipke had painted criss-crossing white stripes on the black headgear in 1937 to make it stand out but Crisler's design has endured. Of course, the configuration of the leather helmet, the way it was constructed and stitched, allowed the winged design and stripes to be painted and stand out while the winged portion gave greater structural support to the stitching. When plastic became the primary helmet material the Wolverines maintained the painted wing and stripes design and to this day, still paint, rather than "decal" their famous helmets each season. From a structural design to a decorative one, the famous "Michigan helmet,"  even when worn by others, remains associated with Big Blue. Crisler was innovative in other ways too. When he had to face the awesome Army team of 1945 and its unstoppable running attack, he became perhaps the first coach to introduce two-platoon football and he developed many variations of the standard Single Wing offense. After a ten year stint and successfully guiding Michigan's teams through the War years, Crisler stepped down after a dream-like undefeated National Championship season in 1947 and former U Of M All American end from the '20's Bennie Oosterbaan took over. Crisler's reign was highlighted not only by the Bob Chappuis-led National Championship and huge Rose Bowl win over USC by a score of 49-0, but by the 1940 season run of "Ol' 98" Tom Harmon. Single-handedly as a runner, passer, receiver, defender, punter, and kicker Harmon epitomized the all-around, All American play, doing everything on and off the field in an exceptional manner and winning the Heisman Trophy for his efforts. He led the nation in scoring for two consecutive years, something never before done and continued his heroics in the Army Air Force. He was shot down while fighting in the Pacific Theater and listed as Missing In Action on two occasions, winning a Silver Star and a Purple Heart for his service. He later went on to pro ball with the Rams and a successful career in sports casting.