The Mysterious (one game) Helmet Design that Launched a Superstar

Midshipmen’s 1962 “Jolly Roger” Helmet

As soon as this very first 1962 Navy “Jolly Roger” authentic helmet reproduction rolled off the assembly line recently at the ole Helmet Hut / Historic Helmet factory the entire workforce surrounded it in tributary awe. The factory is generously comprised of well seasoned craftsmen who grew up “old school.” They have such glorious memories as hoping, in the late 1950s and 1960s, that their next week’s issue of Sports Illustrated would feature color (versus the normal black and white) photographs along with the football stories. They remember adjusting the antenna to get better reception for the Saturday or Sunday game (singular noun intended) and hoping they would not have to get up from the sofa too often to adjust the vertical hold control. And they certainly remember the legendary gridiron battles between Army and Navy especially those in which Roger Staubach commandeered the Midshipmen to three consecutive victories over their arch rivals. In their own words, which are spoken with the wisdom of having “been there” when it all happened: “this is not only one of the most interesting and striking helmet designs ever worn in the history of college football it is also the helmet that was worn during one game only – the game that Roger Staubach became a nationally recognized star!”

After a brilliant prep career at Purcell High School in Cincinnati, Roger was very disappointed to find out that Notre Dame, his lone college preference, had decided not to offer him a scholarship. Dejected, he hastily signed a non binding letter of intent to play for the Purdue Boilermakers. After watching Roger’s outstanding performance in the Ohio High School All Star game the Irish changed their minds and suddenly offered him a scholarship but Roger, still upset by their original rejection, turned them down and instead made a final decision to accept an appointment to attend the Naval Academy and play there rather than at Notre Dame or Purdue.

Roger attended junior college in 1960 to improve his academic skills. He entered the Naval Academy the following year and excelled playing on Navy’s freshmen Plebe team (the NCAA did not allow freshmen to play on the varsity squad during that era). Entering his sophomore season in 1962 he was listed as the team’s third string quarterback. After the team started out poorly with one victory and two defeats Roger received his first starting opportunity and led Navy to a victory over Cornell. Roger continued to start and play well for the remainder of the season culminating in his tremendous performance while leading Navy to a resounding 34 – 13 victory over their legendary rival Army in front of a nationwide television audience.

The unusual helmet markings Roger and his teammates wore that day were designed by their somewhat controversial head coach Wayne Hardin. During his six year stint at the helm Hardin seemed to take special pleasure in taunting or mocking the rival Army team by adding special slogans or symbols on the Navy uniforms for their annual battle (see Dr. Del Rye’s 6/5/2005 column to read more about this unusual ritual). During Hardin’s tenure Navy beat Army five out of six times while the traditionally conservative Naval Academy administration conveniently looked the other way as Hardin implemented his uniform shenanigans each year for the big game.


The 1962 Navy “Jolly Roger” helmet features unique, predominately black hued, mysteriously eerie symbols that contrast perfectly against the team’s traditional unadorned brilliant sparkling gold shell. The independent left and right helmet side symbols are written in Chinese and are interpreted in English as “win” (meaning defeat) and “Army.” As noted in Dr. Del Rye’s previously mentioned column the use of the Chinese language by Hardin was a not too subtle mocking gesture to Army’s head coach Paul Dietzel who invented the scrambling style defense nicknamed “The Chinese Bandits” while at LSU. Dietzel brought this style defense with him to Army and claimed that it would effectively contain the Navy offense.

Although it now seems perfectly fitting, the helmet’s front side “Jolly Roger” pirate flag symbol was not meant to relate specifically Roger Staubach. The “Jolly Roger” flag often displayed death or scary images (some images were commonly found on gravestones of the time) - skulls, bones, swords/daggers, and also hourglasses. While bones and weapon images obviously were signs of death, the hourglasses were used to denote that time was running out for the pirates' enemy to surrender before the pirates were unleashed upon them. The main reason for the pirate flag was to make the enemy surrender without much of a fight, if at all, so the more fearsome the flag (or the pirate's reputation too) then the chances were higher of an initial surrender. Original pirate flags were personalized or unique for each pirate ship. Navy head coach Wayne Hardin picked one of the most notorious of all pirate flags that flew for the pirate ship captained by Richard Worley. In September of 1718, Richard Worley and a group of 8 others set out in a ship that was barely seaworthy from New York down the coast and up the Delaware River. Soon, the crew's size had increased to 12 and later to 25. They had taken on and transferred to a much nicer ship. Worley and his crew were captured when they mistook 2 ships as merchants. After receiving a tip to Worley's whereabouts, the Governor of North Carolina had sent the 2 ships out to trap him. Fighting to the end, all of the crew died except Worley and one other member. Both were hanged the very next day, February 17, 1719.

We hope you will enjoy this Navy “Jolly Roger” helmet. It helped launch the legendary college career of a future Heisman Trophy winner and sports icon. It will now also be known as the one helmet introduction that brought normal production activity to a grinding halt at your vintage “old school” helmet factory.

If interested in any of these Navy helmets please click on the photos below.