Classic Rams

Rams halfback Fred Gehrke, who studied art in college, painted the first helmet logo in 1948

Some pro football players are known for their running. Some are known for their passing. And some are known for their kicking. But Fred Gehrke was probably the only player known for his painting. Fred played for the Los Angeles Rams. He was a halfback. He also painted pictures. In 1946, Fred began thinking how plain pro football helmets looked. They were made of brown leather. Most of them had no other color on them. So Fred painted a picture. It showed how he thought the Rams' helmet should look. In the picture, the helmet was blue. There were gold horns on the sides. Fred showed the painting to the Rams' head coach, Bob Snyder. "Bob could not tell much from the painting," says Gehrke. "So he gave me a helmet. He told me to paint it the way I wanted."

Fred took the helmet home. He stayed up all night painting it. "I drew the horns on with chalk," he says. "Then I painted the rest of the helmet in blue. Then I came back inside the chalk lines with the gold for the horns. It was not easy. On those helmets, the leather was not even. It was hard to paint." The next day Fred went back to show the coach. He was afraid Snyder would not like it. But Snyder was pleased. He showed the painted helmet to everyone. Now Fred's real work would start. He would have to paint each one of the Rams' helmets. The team's owner, Dan Reeves, paid him $1.00 for each paint job. The next year, when the Rams came out on the field in their helmets, the fans stood up and cheered. But even then, Fred's work was not done. The helmets took a beating in games. A lot of paint came off. Fred had to paint some of the helmets after each game. In 1949, the helmet makers came out with a new helmet. It was plastic. This could be painted when the helmet was made. This way the colors and designs would not come off. Soon, other teams started putting colors and designs on their helmets. From then on, Fred did not have to paint helmets anymore. But his idea caught on. Today, all the pro teams have helmets painted in team colors. Fred Gehrke was not one of football's greatest players. But he added color to the game. And he did it in his own special way- with a brush.

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