Early 1950’s Gamer
The “Silver Era” Turns Golden
Although a scientist would contend that it’s simply the reflection of its internal silver paint shining though its now decayed and yellowing transparent plastic shell don’t be fooled. Any true Detroit Lion’s fan understands that the golden hue that now glows from an original 1950’s Lions “Riddell RT” helmet is a sign from the football gods commemorating the team’s fifty year anniversary of its glory years. In the “Golden Fifties” the Lions played in the NFL Championship four times and won three times, the last time in 1957.
There is probably no finer collectable representation from that glorious period that this month’s featured helmet worn by Bobby Layne, the Lion’s immortal quarterback and true leader on and off the field. The helmet, along with his Honolulu blue jersey, were originally sourced directly from the estate of the Lion’s longtime equipment manager Roy “Friday” Macklem. Bobby was a favorite of ole “Friday” and it was common knowledge among many of the players that the two often shared a nip or two in the locker room every day prior to practice. Tales of Bobby’s exploits are legendary and tend to grow over the years but there is not an exaggeration to say that he was one of the greatest team leaders in the history of sports.
There is no question that this relic belongs on display at the luxurious Lion’s headquarters or in the Pro Football Hall of Fame where Bobby’s legacy has resided since his election in 1967. Unfortunately, unless the NFL owners can create additional sources of income beyond national television and radio contracts, private suite sales, stadium naming rights, merchandise licensing, private seat licenses, parking revenues, $250 club level seating, $6 hotdogs and $8 beers there is no discretionary money left to acquire these priceless artifacts for their fans (customers) to enjoy when they visit the stadium.
Bobby’s famous and now retired number “22” remains proud and clearly visible in its original position at the rear of this early 1950’s (1954 factory date code) leather appointed “RT” helmet. These gold (with black trim) helmet numerals were the same type offered in the 1950’s Riddell helmet catalog and worn by several teams during this period. Ironically, Bobby periodically continued wearing these same style helmet numerals long after he was traded to the Steelers in 1957 up until his final regular season game in 1962 long after they were discarded by most other teams. In post season play that season Bobby and the Steelers qualified for the, now defunct, “Runner-Up” Bowl (against the Lions) the game when the Steelers first introduced their now iconic black helmets. Another consistent feature of this and every helmet that he wore throughout his 15 year pro career was the absence of a facemask, a vivid reflection of his unmatched steely and free spirited comportment. Quarterbacks were subject to ferocious blows to the head during this era. Bobby’s helmet included a rare, Riddell factory installed, optional padded headband and internal padded ear holes designed to minimize potential head injuries. The helmet’s gray center ridge, unlike the remainder of the shell, is not translucent but color impregnated explaining why time has not also turned it golden.
It has often been quoted that “Bobby Layne never lost a game – time just ran out on him.” The image of this month’s featured Bobby Layne helmet inspires the following additional sentiments: “As time passes the golden locks of mere mortals turn silver but the once silver headgear that of this legendary Lions quarterback will forever radiate a growing golden sparkle.”