USC Trojans

USC “Diamond” Helmet Stumps “The Hut”

(until 91 year old Trojan superfan comes to our rescue)




The old adage, “it’s not what you know but who you know” was certainly relevant at Helmet Hut Headquarters in the last few weeks. The chronology of professional and college team helmet logos and designs are in our lifeblood and it became quite a challenge when no one on our research staff could identify the meaning behind the “diamond” logo used on the 1955 USC Trojan helmet. The mystery was finally solved by Helmet Hut reader extraordinaire, Mr. Francis Benavidez -- USC Class of 1936, who aside from military duty and a year spent teaching overseas, has attended every home USC game since his freshman year in the fall of 1932.

During the glorious “golden era” of college football from the 1950s through the late 1970s college teams changed their helmet designs quite regularly, often when a new head coach arrived. Noting that more than 100 major college teams played in that era, it is quite understandable that a voluminous collection of wonderful helmet markings were used over that thirty year span. The earlier helmet designs primarily consisted of a combination of player numerals and striping using school colors. In the early 1960s many teams started to add logos reflecting their school mascot or team nickname.

It was quite unusual that a 1950s college team would use a logo, rather than just conventional player numerals and perhaps a stripe. The 1955 USC Trojan helmet was certainly an anomaly. It not only had logos but the logos (apparently) did not represent the school's mascot or nickname. Was this just another example of California culture being ahead of the rest of the nation?

Helmet Hut was stymied, what could this rare and unusual one year style logo represent?

Dr. Del Rye was called on the hotline but he could not provide an answer. Dr. Ken did research around the clock, sacrificing his normal three hours of sleep a day, trying to find at least a clue. Numerous calls to both the USC athletic and sports information departments were fruitless. In fact, they were not even aware of the logo. The "diamond" logo was not mentioned on other helmet websites and a search on the on the Internet came up empty. Our good friend Kent Stephens of the College Football Hall of Fame could not find an answer after an exhaustive search using their prodigious archives. Finally someone suggested calling Francis. We thought it was a brilliant suggestion. As we like to say at Helmet Hut which certainly pertains to Francis, “he not only knows it – he lived it."

Trying to be respectful as possible of the three hour time zone difference, we tried to be patient and not call our elder friend too early in the morning. Although it was still not even 8:00 am in California our immense curiosity about the logo prevailed and we could wait no longer to make the call. When his gracious wife Mary answered we were relieved and also amazed to hear that the spry 91 year old Trojan-mister was already up and out “doing errands” and would not be home for another twenty minutes. When we finally reached Francis and described our predicament he chuckled and replied “yes, those helmets seem vaguely familiar, give me a night to sleep on it."

When we arrived the next morning at Helmet Hut headquarters there was the following wonderful crackling sounding message, much like a recording of a vintage radio broadcast waiting for us: “The University of Southern California was founded in 1880 and their 1955 diamond helmet logos were used to help commemorate the school’s 75 year diamond jubilee anniversary.” The statement was delightfully followed by: “dear, did that work / is it recording? – “yes dear, just hang up the phone now."

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


To read more about Francis please read this recent article by Bill Plaschke from the LA Times:

(Copyright (c) 2005 Los Angeles Times)

He will be just another face, one of 92,000, easy to miss, wrinkles and lines and thick glasses buried underneath an old baseball cap. He will be just another body, one of more than a half-million that have filled the Coliseum this fall, stooped, slow moving, anonymous. When Francis Benavidez carefully lowers his brittle frame into seat 101, row 55, section 19 for Saturday's USC-UCLA game, he will look like any other old Trojan fan.

But look closer.  He, and many other folks like him, aren't just cheering for USC football. They are USC football. Except for three years in the Navy and a year teaching overseas, Benavidez, 91, has attended every home game since enrolling as a student in 1933. That's 68 years' worth of home games, more than 400 drives to the Coliseum, each one longer and more important than this year's game- winner at Notre Dame.

"That's my team," he said. "That's who I am."

And, at its core, that's what USC football is, the most storied tradition in Los Angeles sports built by folks who have spent their lives unconditionally propping it around their cardinal and gold shoulders. It is only fitting that, if the Trojans beat UCLA, they will set the Pacific 10 Conference record with their 27th consecutive home victory. It only figures that in one of their greatest years ever, each home game has been a sellout, the overall average of 90,574 ranking more than 25,000 fans ahead of second-place Washington in the Pac- 10 attendance standings. And, of course, for this greatest of games in this wildest of seasons, Francis Benavidez will be there.

"When was the last time I missed one? I don't know," he said. "Fifty years ago?" When the Trojans won 10 games over three seasons in the early 1940s, he was there. "Some folks booed," he said. "I never could." When the Trojans went 1-9 and drew 24,902 against Washington State in 1957, he was there.

"I've seen a lot more people out there recently," he said. When Notre Dame pounded them in Paul Hackett's last game as coach in 2000, the fourth time in five years they did not go to a bowl game, he was there. "But then Pete Carroll showed up," he said. Yet more than Carroll or Reggie Bush or Matt Leinart, it is folks like Benavidez who have kept the Trojan tradition alive. And now, it is one of the things keeping him alive. "I don't think, at his age, he has any business still going to those games," said Mary, his wife of 62 years. "But it's what keeps him going." Well, OK, Mary once attended classes at UCLA. "But that's not why I don't want him going," she said with a smile. "I just worry that at his age, being out in that night air for that long isn't good for him." He doesn't mind. Living in a modest Northridge home without computer, cellphone or cable television, the Trojans are one of his last links to the outside world. He has a lifetime free pass from USC because he used to run track there, once holding the school record for the mile. That faded metal card gives him a sense of belonging.

He is the self-appointed USC expert at all church gatherings. His companions' nods and questions give him a sense of community. In turn, the former schoolteacher and coach gives the Trojans everything he's got every home Saturday, enduring a routine that has become grueling even for the fittest of fans. "He would rather go to a Trojan game than eat," said Mary. "And I'm serious." This Saturday he will awaken at 7 a.m., dress in a cardinal shirt and cap, eat a breakfast of pancakes and eggs, spend two hours reading the newspaper, then wait patiently in the 1950s style living room for his ride. "He's always there, never late, always waiting for me," said Ed Lewis, a church friend who has been driving him for the last five years.

Usually the trip takes about 45 minutes. Against Fresno State, though, it took more than two hours. Said Benavidez: "I got down to the Getty Center and realized I had forgotten the tickets, first time, I had to come back home and get them, can you believe that?" Said Lewis: "I told him, it happens once every 70 years, don't beat yourself up over it." Once they arrive at the Coliseum, they park on the same lawn that Benavidez has parked on for 50 years. The owner saves him a spot, only $20; they talk and joke. "It's like me and that fella have grown old together," Benavidez said. Then Benavidez makes the long and slow walk to his seat, a couple of blocks from the lawn to the Coliseum entrance, and then through the tunnel, then several steps up. "We're always talking to people, he's known some of them for years," said Lewis. "We don't know names, but we know faces." Once Benavidez begins the walk up to his seat, all eyes are upon him, folks shouting, "Hey Coach!" and holding their breath that his curved frame can make the trip. "Everybody watches out for him," said Lewis. "Every time he goes up and down, everyone makes sure he doesn't fall."

Then the game starts, and it is as if the Trojans make him young again. Benavidez has two hearing aids, but has no trouble hearing the public address announcer. He wears thick glasses, but from where he sits in a corner beyond the Trojan bench, he says he can see everything. "It's amazing, he never misses a play," said Lewis. "He knows all the stats, all the high schools, all that from reading that newspaper all day." He drinks water brought by Lewis, and munches on peanuts or licorice supplied by another longtime fan sitting in front of him. He is among not just friends, but family, and he never leaves until the end. "I'll never leave early, ever," he said. "I'm with my guys all the way."

 Mary worries about him until he walks back through the door. She even waited up long past midnight to greet him after the Fresno State game. By then, she was ready for bed, but her husband was just getting started. "I get home from the games and I just can't sleep," he said. "I've still got that game in me." And Francis Benavidez will forever remain in those games, all of them, 68 years' worth of USC home games, an anonymous fan, a living cornerstone.