Feather Helmet "RK"
Billy Ray Barnes

(Game worn)

When Wake Forest decided to replace Tom Rogers as head football coach after the 1955 season, the Deacon program was perhaps best described as mediocre. New coach Paul Amen posted but five wins in his first three of four seasons but he made one excellent strategic move prior to the start of the 1956 campaign when he moved talented halfback Billy Ray Barnes to fullback. The two-way star from Landis (N.C.) High School was recognized as a better defensive player and punt returner than a running threat out of the backfield but in his senior season of '56, Barnes, after gaining 177 yards in the opener against William And Mary, was the shining light in a tepid 2-5-3 season. On such a poor team he was, against all odds, the ACC Player Of The Year, leading the conference in  punt returns, total yardage, and rushing, piling up 1010 yards on the ground. The rushing record stood until it was broken by another Demon Deacon stalwart, Brian Piccolo, whose 1044 yards led the nation in 1964. It took forty years for Virginia's Tiki Barber to repeat Barnes' combination feat as he too led the ACC in rushing, punt returns, and total yardage. The Eagles chose Barnes in the second round of the 1957 draft and returned him to halfback. He was solid in all phases of the game and between '57 and 1961, gained a total of 2391 rushing yards and remained a dependable receiver. He was especially valuable, teamed with fullback Clarence Peaks in the Eagles run to the 1960 NFL Championship.


Barnes became a Washington Redskin in 1962 and was extremely popular as the Redskins television network was a standard feature of every Sunday's viewing during the season throughout the Carolinas. His performance remained as dependable as ever and he rushed for 492 yards in his first 'Skins season and finished 1963 with 374 on yet another of the Redskins' underachieving squads. Interestingly, his reception yardage averaged over sixteen yards per catch in those two seasons as he made the swing pass and oft-spectacular event. Barnes completed his NFL career with the Vikings, retiring after the 1966 season. With a better supporting cast, this versatile athlete would have had a more memorable stay in pro football but he earned the reputation as a dependable player wherever he was placed and while doing whatever he was asked to do. 



This beautiful Washington Redskins "feather" helmet was worn by Barnes in his two Redskins' seasons and it retains its timeless attraction. This specific headpiece was manufactured in 1961 and the handwritten notations inside yield insight to its lineage. The Redskins first-round draft choice of 1958 went to the Los Angeles Rams, thus their second-round choice, Mike Sommer, was their first pick of that season. Sommer, a 9.8 speed merchant, was drafted in order to provide a breakaway threat in the offensive backfield. Sommer had starred at George Washington as a two-way halfback and return man and his Redskins' contributions were limited to kick and punt returns in his rookie season. After appearing in one game in '59, Sommer, who wore number 21 in 1958 and number 27 in 1959, had the good fortune to find himself on the NFL Championship Baltimore Colts team for the remainder of 1959 and during the 1960 season. With the Colts, he wore number 26. In a weird turn of events, Sommer split the 1961 season, playing with the Colts but then returning to the Redskins where he appeared in two games, wearing number 26. Sommer left the Redskins after the '61 season to complete his pro career with the Raiders, leaving his new Riddell feather helmet for Barnes who immediately removed the cowcatcher mask and applied his familiar one bar. Another notation inside the helmet is the number 8 which may have been used by an aspiring quarterback during the 1961 exhibition season as the Redskins did not roster anyone wearing that number until 1982. In fact, until Sonny Jurgensen wore his famous number 9 after joining Washington in 1964, the only single-digit numbers given out by the Redskins to that point in time was the famous 0 worn by Johnny Olszewski and number 3 which was donned by quarterback Ralph Guglielmi.
The Billy Ray Barnes helmet from 1962 and 1963 reminds all helmet fans of the classic helmet and uniform designs of the past.