HELMET NEWS ARTICLE FOR OCTOBER 2005
CONTINUING HELMET REFLECTIONS
By Dr. Ken
Playing in the Missouri Valley Conference allowed the advantage of facing schools from all parts of the country. Until this football season, when there was major restructuring of many of the collegiate conferences, I was struck with the similarity between what had been Conference USA and the Missouri Valley Conference. Interestingly, many of the same teams were involved. The MVC teams almost always had Houston and Memphis State on their schedules although those two schools were Independents. Memphis State did become a full MVC member for the 1968 season but I believe most opposing coaches and players considered them as part of the conference years prior to that even though (thank goodness) they were not eligible for the conference title. Accurate or not, fair or not, Memphis State like some of the other members of the Valley was considered to be a renegade school, accepting “student athletes” who might not have passed academic muster in other locales. I do know that Memphis State played great football and always seemed to have a huge, talented roster that hit from whistle to whistle. During the mid-sixties MSU had many players that were just a bit under SEC qualifications but there was no doubt that they were one of those teams that would beat their opponents physically, win or lose.
Although a bit older than me and already in the pros when I began my collegiate career, John “Bull” Bramlett was typical of Memphis State football, at least in my eyes. He came out of Humes High School in Memphis, famous for another one of its students, a singer by the name of Elvis Presley. Bramlett was the local bad-ass in an “other side of the tracks” neighborhood and the bell cow of the Humes football team. Memphis State had a lot of guys like that, sinewy 6’1”, 215 pound players who could hit a ton and run all day. Head Coach Billy “Spook” Murphy (and in this modern era, you just never hear great nicknames like that anymore for head football coaches) would go into New Jersey and find a player or two each year who just couldn’t qualify at Syracuse or Penn State. He would do the same and come up with three or four who fell a bit short of the needs of Alabama, Tennessee, or Ole Miss yet they had big time SEC physical talent. MSU was loaded in the mid-sixties and as a running back, I remember their backfield well. Coming out in blue jerseys with white and red shoulder stripes, gleaming white helmets with closely spaced blue and red striping, they looked like a team ready to play. The helmets were a bit beat up and that have been typical of a lot of the southern schools. The equipment supervisor and perhaps the head coaches might have wanted that “rugged” look to the helmets and although we played them late in the year, the streaks of multi-colored paint on most of those white shells was indicative of a lot of hard hitting. I know that watching Tom Wallace, their tailback, who was considered to be short at 5’9” and light at 175 pounds, still had everyone concerned because the guy looked like a package of dynamite. Herb Covington was a big fullback and fast. The big block numbers on the side of the Memphis State helmets made it easy to pick guys out as they went through their warm-ups and the helmet stripes that closely matched the jersey stripes gave them an awesome appearance.
Interestingly, one of the players from that era of Memphis State football was Dean Lotz who recently passed away. Dean was an excellent center who later played for Orlando of the Atlantic Coast Football League. I knew Dean through the sport of powerlifting as he became the central figure in the lifting game in Memphis and that part of Tennessee. He promoted national level contests, was a fine competitor himself, and later until the time of his demise, earned a reputation as one of the best trainers among those who prepared NFL players for their seasons. Dean and I once had a major disagreement regarding some promises that were made related to awards at the Memphis Open Powerlifting Championships. I would like to add that my wife was the Outstanding Female Lifter at that specific meet and another lifter that I coach was the Outstanding Male Lifter and both were to be recipients of a special award that was not presented. I ended one of those conversations with the comment that “Geez Dean, this is really typical of a former Memphis State football player. You guys were outlaws then and it hasn’t changed.” Dean laughed and said, “Don’t badmouth us Tigers, I remember you Cincinnati guys in your fancy-assed uniforms as flashy types. You don’t want me going there do you?” That exchange was done in good humor but it pointed out that many who play football do focus upon and recall specific aspects of a team’s uniform and often, it carries a certain connotation. I never would have thought us as being “fancy” but we had numbers, striping, and a two colored logo on our helmet and multiple sleeve stripes on the jersey with TV numbers. I guess to Dean and perhaps others, anything past the basic stripes and numbers was fancy. I know that Memphis State looked great with a classic look in their jersey shoulder stripes, what to me were closely matched helmet striping and their entire “look” was very formidable. That they were talented and tougher than most teams made them a force to be reckoned with at all times and its nice to see their current team, under hard-nosed Head Coach Tommy West, is playing a similar brand of ball.