"MORE HELMET REFLECTIONS"
MORE HELMET REFLECTIONS: FOR JULY 2005
By Dr. Ken
The University Of Cincinnati for decades had a reputation of being a jumping-off point for coaches who were on the way up. As a stepping stone school, I believe the nadir was reached in the late 1980s and the administration finally got a bit smarter and insisted on coaches’ contracts that were a bit tougher to void when the latest current coach decided that he could do better elsewhere. The coaching roster is quite impressive but few remained long enough to make their permanent mark at UC. Sid Gillman and Paul Dietzel were two UC coaches who had tremendous influence in the game of football. Gillman is credited by most experts as developing an advanced passing game that was the foundation for the modern West Coast Offense. His explosive attack reached its culmination with the San Diego Chargers but the genesis of it was at UC. Dietzel won the 1958 College National Championship with his LSU Tigers and was the first to have huge success playing three-platoon football in the one platoon era. His innovative substitution practices changed the game and in many ways ushered in the specialization substitution that marks the modern game in both the pros and colleges. Chuck Studley was an underrated coach who later was the defensive coordinator for the Bengals, 49ers, Dolphins, and Oilers as well as the Oilers interim head coach. His defenses brought quite a few Super Bowl appearances. Tony Mason went on to success at the University Of Arizona, Watson Brown at the University Of Alabama At Birmingham (after stints at Vanderbilt and other schools), and Mike Gottfried parlayed his time at UC to jump to the University Of Kansas, then to Pitt, and eventually to a successful career in broadcasting. The UC brass became so annoyed at the departures of both Brown and Gottfried after only a year into their contracts, that they tightened things up so that coaches could not come in, sign a five year contract, and leave after one or two years for greener pastures. Although Tim Murphy was very successful at UC and later at Harvard, he at least stayed for a lengthy period of time after the “mercenary” type of maneuvers by the previous coaches. The one great advantage for uniform lovers brought by what was a constant coaching merry-go-round, was that each coach would redesign the team helmets and jerseys upon their arrival. Because of the many coaching changes, far more than most colleges at the same level, UC has had quite a number of helmet designs through the years.
After the 1966 season, Coach Studley left for a successful career in the professional ranks. Homer Rice became the head coach. A local legend, he had won Kentucky State Championships at Highland Heights High School across the river from Cincinnati and later coached at the University Of Kentucky as an assistant. He ran one of the first successful Veer attacks in the college arena, enhancing many of the things in the option attack that Bill Yoeman was doing at the University Of Houston. When one thinks “Wishbone” they most often thing of Emory Ballard at the University Of Texas and their awesome attack and while the Wishbone offense is considered to be “different” from the Veer, the option game of the Veer pre-dated the Wishbone and offered many of the same procedures and benefits. Rice’s 1967 helmet was all red with a white stripe being added the following year. Rice departed after the 1968 season, later coaching in the professional ranks with a number of teams and even serving as the interim head coach for the Cincinnati Bengals in 1978 and their head coach in 1979. However he made a lasting mark as one of the most successful athletic directors in history, developing strategies that helped many schools achieve financial stability. He also published a number of books that stressed the power of positive thinking, imaging, and many “mental techniques” that have since become standard fare in psychological circles. In 1969 it was a black helmet with a white oval with a red “C” within it. From 1970 through 1972 it was back to the red helmet, which was worn until 1983 with a variety of “UC” type logos. It went back to black in 1983 and has remained black with a stable copyrighted design since 1991 but whenever a school has so many coaching changes you can expect a lot of different helmet designs.
The colleges UC played against, at least in the mid 1960s, were also schools that seemed to have a lot of coaching changes and subsequent uniform alterations. For me, this was a plus, giving me more fodder for my over active mind to focus upon. North Texas State was one of these schools. They had a terrific green helmet with Joe Greene wearing one of them! They also had quite a few players during that time period that went on to the NFL: Cedrick Hardman, John Love, quarterback Steve Ramsey, and Ron Shanklin. Wichita State had great black uniforms with gold trim, what seemed to be a new coach every year, and a different helmet logo to go with him. Tulsa and Houston were always tough teams and the Tulsa uniforms, even with Glenn Dobbs coaching the entire time, seemed to have a lot of changes. They had white helmets with blue and yellow striping, then gold helmets, sleeve stripes one year, shoulder stripes another. For someone with my compulsiveness, this made focusing for each game and visualizing the opponent in his uniform a bit daunting but very enjoyable and exciting. One of my summer training partners, another of the very few football players who lifted weights regularly in those days, was Henry Fera. Henry was from the Bronx and was just huge, perhaps two hundred and seventy pounds at six feet tall with a legitimate bench press of close to five hundred pounds. Henry later went on to place high in the Senior National Powerlifting Championships after his football career was finished. Henry went from Mount St. Michael’s Catholic High School first to Northeastern Oklahoma State Junior College and then on to Tulsa. We would lift, run, and then eat, a necessity for two players who were lacking in height relative to others who played their positions (and in my case, relative to everyone on the field) and who were continuously attempting to gain muscular body weight. We would talk about our offenses and defenses and our uniforms. Henry did not think it odd that I visualized details of my opponents, including face mask style and any award stickers that might be on the helmets. The latter were not common but were occasionally seen in the form of stars, a skull and crossbones design, or a miniaturized version of a team mascot or logo.
One of the first things I think of when
exchanging “war stories” with other former players, are the uniforms, especially
the helmets. During my playing days I can state without hesitation that not once
did I consider the safety aspects of the helmet, only the color and cosmetic
design features. The face mask was always a concern as new ones became available
and I wondered if an advantage could be achieved with a change in style but I
stuck with a double bar with “bullring” or U-bar the entire time. Other than
going from the MacGregor externally padded helmet in high school, to a Riddell
RK 2 where one could not help but avoid noticing that the smooth and hard finish
of the RK was obviously different than the padded shell of high school years,
the actual performance qualities of the helmet were not in my consciousness.
This would come after a number of concussions.