"On Wisconsin"

The Badgers Create the Ultimate "Throwback" Event

The gods of college football smiled on Madison, Wisconsin this past Saturday. In perfect early fall-like weather the Wisconsin Badgers wearing wonderful "classic" style uniforms and playing in a tastefully renovated historic stadium honored its glorious past and more than 500 returning heroes with a thrilling opening season victory. This event established a new benchmark for capturing the wonderful passion, pageantry and heroic memories associated with this great sport named College Football. 

Almost one year ago alumni Tom Zimmer (above), a special friend of both Helmet Hut and the Badger football program, discovered the authentic reproduction of Pat Richter's 1962 Wisconsin helmet on this website. Tom immediately grasped the deeper meaning it conveyed; this historic helmet proudly linked the modern day craze for Wisconsin football to its rich and storied past. With the image of the vintage helmet always on his mind and realizing that the unveiling of the renovated historic Camp Randall Stadium was scheduled for the start of the upcoming season, Tom worked tirelessly with the Wisconsin Athletic Department to turn the special day into an epic event. They passionately agreed that the spiritual foundation of the renovated stadium and the bright future of the program should be constructed from the everlasting memories of its past heroes and traditions. It would be a divine potion of past memories, present excitement and future dreams at the 2005 season opening game as the school launched a new era of Wisconsin Badger football using the theme "Camp Randall -- The Legacy."



Wearing "throwback" style uniforms to honor the past is not a new idea. Unfortunately, most teams have taken great liberties while trying to replicate their historic past designs and the results sadly reflect their casual or negligent approach. Tom Zimmer would never let this happen at his beloved Wisconsin. The famous 1963 Rose Bowl style side helmet numerals and front and rear positioned block "W" logos were correctly reproduced in both font style and original thin mil material (and donated by your friendly little helmet website).  Rather than delegate any of the logo application task and risk imperfection, equipment manager Mark Peeler (above) personally applied each set of logos and numerals to more than 100 helmets. Under Mark's careful direction each "throwback" style helmet was fitted with a classic gray colored facemask. The handsome deep red Wisconsin 1962 style jerseys were also perfectly replicated including the contrasting white colored sleeve and V-neck trim. The jersey sleeve numerals were even correctly positioned below the shoulders, on the sleeves, positioning now virtually extinct due to today's radically and unsightly short sleeve lengths. Classic style pants, socks and black shoes completed the vintage look. 


The players were first issued the special uniforms to wear for Friday's "walk through" practice. Their initial reaction, not so unexpected among players primarily in their teens, was one of youthful amusement when taking the practice field. Once on the field the players noticed the unusual sight of spectators milling around the gridiron perimeter during a Friday, prior to game, practice. The players initially assumed that these visitors were special boosters receiving an extra privilege for their generosity to the football program. The somewhat older gentlemen were pointing in the direction of the players in what seemed to be a compounding tribute to the vintage outfits. The players quickly discovered that these unexpected visitors were early arrivals of the retuning 500 former players being honored on Saturday. Many of whom wore these same style uniforms during their playing days. From that moment on the comportment of the youthful men on the field completely changed. For the next 90 minutes or until the final game preparations were concluded there perhaps has never been a football team that so proudly wore their school colors.


On Saturday morning the returning players attended a breakfast banquet in their honor at the basketball arena which is connected to the football stadium. A special booth was set up in the lobby leading to the banquet. The booth featured authentic reproductions of all eleven (plastic) helmet styles that have been used by the team over the years. The quiche got cold and no one cared as the former players refused to be seated until they had a chance to revisit with their former teammates and headgear. Sincere wide smiles from the always in control quarterbacks were trumped by the wet eyes and tears of the always more emotional showing linemen. Wives and children of these gallant gladiators openly wept as they saw their personal hero reclaim his youth, shoulders back and standing tall, while having his picture taken with the appropriate vintage helmet that he once wore tucked firmly under his arm. A pair of 1963 Rose Bowl starting guards (above) hugged endlessly after being reunited for the first time in more than 30 years. The special bond between the men associated with this game could never be better demonstrated.



Fifteen minutes before kickoff the 500 players were escorted from the arena to midfield. Marching into the stadium in groups separated by the different eras they represented, it resembled the pageantry and glory of an Olympic opening ceremony. The most recent former players were followed by the next most recent group and so on. The applause of the sold out audience reached an earthshaking crescendo as each approaching incrementally older group, in a meaningful reminder of our immortality, numbered fewer and less spry than its preceding group. The roar became deafening when the limited few in the final group were assisted to midfield in their wheelchairs with no less splendor than when Roman gladiators proudly entered the arena in their glorious chariots. All throughout the game, during breaks in the action, the gigantic new scoreboard would replay special moments in Wisconsin football history. After the replay was completed the camera would pan to the featured player in the replay as he was escorted to center field while the crowd roared its appreciation -- hence the meaning of "priceless" was forever elevated to a higher level.

It was only fitting that the gods of football, along with a highly charged Wisconsin team, saw to it that the home team rallied for an exciting victory. But even without the victory this would have been a perfect day. Football games are sometimes won and sometimes lost -- the thrill ultimately is the anticipation of the outcome of the next contest. But once a football player hangs up his old helmet for good there will be no more games for him to play. He only has his memories to cherish. Thanks to Wisconsin, Tom Zimmer, Mark Peeler, Ted Kellner and many others who made the special efforts that will keep these former Badger player's special memories glowing bright for many years ahead.  


Please click here if interested in any of these reproductions.

Helmet Hut would like to express its sincere appreciation to the University of Wisconsin for their gracious hospitality and for allowing us to participate in this historic event. We thoroughly enjoyed our special weekend with the Badger football "family." It would be difficult to individually acknowledge each person that we had the pleasure of meeting but we would like to extend a special thanks to the following former players (many pictured above and below) for their contribution to this story:

Dave Berg, Duane Boettcher, Richard Borney, Mike Cwayna, Ralph Farmer, Randy Frokjer, Kevin Gassner, William Gregory, Dale Hackbart, Robert Kennedy, Von Mansfield, Gary Messner, John "Blackie" O'Brien, Rudy Schmidt, Dick Simmon, Jerry Stalcup, George Steinmetz, Dennis Stejskal, Clarence Stensby and Jim Wimpress.