HELMET HUT’S ASK DR. DEL RYE column of August 20, 2008 focused upon two questions, both of which drew additional comment from readers who prefer to remain anonymous. Relative to the many changes in the Houston Oilers helmet design through the years as per the decisions of owner Kenneth “Bud” Adams, one Texas reader added:
“Bud Adams was having drinks with two other rich Texas buddies at the Cattleman’s Club many years ago and one of his friends started bragging about his land holdings – ‘its over 9,000 acres almost as far as the eye can see.’ The other friend added that his 12,000 acres took almost a whole day to cross. Well poor old Bud Adams humbly admitted that he only controlled 900 acres. ‘Geez,’ his buddies responded, not previously realizing Bud was not in their league. They politely asked where his ‘ranch’ or land was located and he responded along with a slight smile ‘downtown Houston.’"
The many changes in the Oilers head gear with shell colors in various shades of blue or silver always contained some of the Columbia blue and red that Bud preferred.
The discussion about the USFL helmet designs brought additional information from North Carolina:
“I remember Riddell had a promotional deal with the USFL to supply them free helmets and facemasks. That is why you saw so many of the Riddell masks (versus the more popular Schutt variety that were preferred by the players but not free for the USFL teams). Also, Riddell introduced a major change in 1983 to all of their helmets that involved the now traditional thick front sponge rubber pad located in the pocket of the sweatband. This new one piece sponge pad replaced the traditional air filled ‘Pac 3’ (or liquid and air ‘HA 9’) plastic cube padding in the front area. But when this padding change was introduced in the spring of 1983 the front ‘Riddell’ sweatband did not yet have a pocket. The new frontal pad was simply encased in an independent vinyl pocket that was attached to the front of the helmet liner with Velcro. This thick rigid flat pad did not curve to fit to the natural roundness of the player’s forehead unless the player kept his helmet on and the pad was forced into proper position. But as soon as he took off his helmet on the sidelines the pad violently straightened out, broke the Velcro seal, and popped out of the helmet onto the field -- what a mess! The Riddell engineers quickly redesigned the front ‘Riddell’ sweatband to include a pocket for this pad to be securely enclosed in. The problem was solved before the 1983 USFL spring season ended, and more importantly to the embarrassed Riddell, before their more voluminous High School, College and Pro customers reported for the start of their 1983 season in the Fall. If not for the Spring season timing of the inaugural USFL season It could have been a major disaster for Riddell if this problem was not discovered until the start of the normal 1983 Fall football season!.”
Philadelphia Stars 1983 preseason camp
Dear Dr. Del Rye,
Like all of your readers I truly enjoy the different features on the HELMET HUT site. I am a fan of Colorado and Colorado State which is unusual out here but I like supporting both “home teams”. I hope you do a feature on Colorado State helmets soon because the old “Rams” design with the horns was great. I liked the Colorado helmet feature you did a while ago ( see HELMET HUT http://www.helmethut.com/College/Colorado/coloradoindex.html ) and I have a question about the blue trim that Colorado used on the early 1980S helmets. Does anyone know the reason they chose this color because your article really doesn’t give an exact reason. Thank you for your time and please do Colorado State.
Barnett, Steamboat Springs, CO
At this time, we unfortunately have no immediate plans to present the many beautiful and unusual Colorado State helmet designs but it certainly would be a very worthwhile project. Thank you for your question regarding the addition of Columbia blue to the University Of Colorado uniforms and the staff at HELMET HUT has occasionally asked the same question. In the descriptive seasonal summary for Colorado’s 1981 season, our staff stated: “Perhaps in an effort to renew spirit and enthusiasm, Fairbanks made wholesale uniform changes, introducing a Columbia blue theme. The helmets certainly had a new and unique look to longtime fans, a gold shell with a gold interlocking ‘CU’ logo inside a Columbia blue buffalo logo on each side of the helmet. A Columbia blue facemask set off the new color scheme that included new, distinctive jerseys.”
In 1982, as noted in the HELMET HUT Colorado information, another change was made after Head Coach Chuck Fairbanks left for the USFL New Jersey Generals and his place was taken by Bill McCartney. “He maintained the Columbia blue theme but upgraded it, taking the gold helmet and adding to it so that the final look included a one-inch Columbia blue center stripe, white one-half-inch flanking stripes, a white interlocking ‘CU’ logo inside a Columbia blue buffalo complete with a white border and a Columbia blue mask.”
There are aspects of the Colorado uniform that can be confusing to the casual fan. Although the logo on the three different styles of Colorado helmets worn from 1969 through 1978 present a “CU” logo, the official name of the institution is The University Of Colorado at Boulder and not Colorado University. As noted on the University website:
“Since 1888, CU-Boulder students have proudly worn the official school colors: silver and gold, symbolizing the mineral riches of Colorado. Today, black is often used as a background color to provide greater contrast for the gold.”
While the Columbia blue trim on the gold shell of the helmets worn by the Buffaloes from 1981 through 1984 made for a beautiful and distinct appearance, why was the color chosen as it was not one of the official school colors nor could there be a rationale for utilizing it as could be understood for black or white trim? The definitive answer came from Mr. David Plati, the Associate Athletic Director/Sports Information Director of the University. Mr. Plati stated, “I was here-I lived it all…Fairbanks had a special logo designed but it never made it to the helmets, only to the stationery and such. Fairbanks is not responsible for the blue, that was the Regents.” Despite some published reports that implied or stated that Colorado chose the Columbia blue color and designed the helmets and jersey to more closely mimic those worn by the University Of Pittsburgh whose program was quite successful at the time, Mr. Plati notes that this just wasn't true. As Mr. Plati recalls, "A member of the Board of Regents suggested that our athletic teams wear 'Colorado sky blue at 9,000 feet' and many of the other Regents went along with the idea." Thus the use of this unique contrast color came not from the head coach, the equipment manager, nor the athletic department but from the Regents of the University to bring more notice to what was at the time, a flagging program.
Dear Dr. Del Rye,
First, thank you for the many great articles, helmets, and information. I am a Helmet Hut reader for many years. Looking at old magazines and books made me think of a question that is concerned with the 1950s use of the Riddell suspension helmets and the tighter fitting helmets that were not suspension types. It is difficult to tell if some of these are still leather or if they are plastic and why did these come into use, or stay in use when almost everyone started using the suspension helmets much earlier? I appreciate any information, thank you.
At HELMET HUT we appreciate football history and though you may be younger than those who would easily recall the glory years of Coach Chuck Moser’s Abilene High School teams of the 1950’s, we salute the great legacy your city brings to the sport of high school football. We also thank you for your inquiry. As our regular readers like yourself know from the many articles archived in the Ask Dr. Del Rye and Helmet News sections, John T. Riddell had been manufacturing and distributing sporting goods since 1929 and ten years later, his employee Gerry Morgan developed the design for a patented football helmet utilizing a molded plastic shell. Made from an ABS thermoplastic resin, it was introduced in 1939 but the intercession of World War II prevented its wide spread use as plastic was difficult if not impossible to obtain due to the war time effort. In 1941, Riddell’s “Protective Shield Support” system was introduced in combination with the new helmet and it was this suspension support system that allowed the helmet to be worn while keeping the molded plastic from having direct contact with the player’s head. The purpose of course was to provide a means to dissipate direct force so that it was not transmitted to the head but instead was spread over the sling-like fabric strapping. Taking the tight, head-hugging leather helmet and replacing it with this new design that provided “standoff space” between the player’s head and the top of the helmet allowed for improved ventilation and body temperature control and for many players, was much more comfortable. The War made the new design immediately applicable to the construction of military helmets and an additional patent provided for an improvement in the sling system that allowed for adjustments so that different sized heads could be better fit. In 1944, the United States Military Academy at West Point became the first team to outfit the entire squad with the Riddell plastic shelled, suspension type helmets (see HELMET HUT http://www.helmethut.com/College/Army/NYUSMA4256A.html ) and within a few seasons, the majority of college teams had made the switch from leather to plastic and as importantly, from tight fitting on the head to the suspension system.
In 1953, Patent Number US 2634415 was granted to J.G. Harvey and A.J. Turner of the Wilson Athletic Goods Manufacturing Company that provided them with the rights to manufacture a hard shell plastic helmet that was padded and like the earlier leather helmets, did in fact fit tightly to the head.
The Wilson Company believed that the suspension helmet had been “…inadequate to the avoidance of severe head jolts…” and instead proposed a closed-cell foam lined shell helmet. They placed holes in the helmet’s foam liner that was aligned with holes in the plastic shell for the purpose of ventilation and heat dissipation and this tight-fitting helmet was effective in absorbing blows to the head. The helmet unfortunately was hot, despite the holes provided for air flow, heavier than the suspension helmet, and for many players, uncomfortable. Ironically, the padded shell is of course, similar to the designs used from the late 1970’s to the current day but the suspension helmet’s popularity kept it in use and caused the eventual demise in the widespread production of the Wilson type of helmet. That some of the hard, molded plastic Wilson, Rawlings, or Spalding brand of helmets looked similar to and often indistinguishable from the old style leather helmets, at least from a distance, came from the use of the molds that the leather helmets had been based upon.
Note Lions plastic helmet on Alex Karras # 71 that resembles leather model
Many teams, with the Chicago Bears among the most obvious, and individual players remained with the Wilson or other brand of padded shell as the Riddell suspension helmet became the standard throughout the game. Interestingly, it was later revealed that Bears’ owner George Halas had a business interest with the Wilson Company.
Thankfully, the “Wilson type” of padded plastic shell made for a contrast in appearance that allows those of us who love helmet and football history, one more interesting point of discussion.