Dear Dr. Del Rye,
Thank you again for answering my previous questions so thoroughly and cheerfully. I have some more to throw at you, and you can feel free to ramble on.
I enjoyed the Joe Namath feature recently added to the site. On the 1969 Namath SBIII page there is a row of photographs along the bottom depicting the evolution of the former 'Bama star's facemask styles. The third image from the left shows a piece with a cage mask, which seems also to be the design featured on your 1973 Joe Namath repro. I have always loved masks like that on quarterbacks, and love seeing the old films of Namath wearing that style. I used to get a kick out of seeing Jim McMahon wear one also. Did Broadway Joe and Mad Mac wear the same kind of mask or were the masks different, albeit similar?
For most of their careers both Namath and McMahon primarily used the Schutt style "JOP" facemask which stood for jaw and oral protection and primarily consisted of a three horizontal bar cage facemask. Namath also used a Riddell model "BD-9" plastic two bar mask at the start of his professional career and switched to a Schutt model "OPO" (oral protection only) two bar cage facemask for the 1968 season and Super Bowl lll. The difference between Namath's and McMahon's Schutt style "JOP" style facemasks were considerable because of all the changes that were made to that style facemask over the years. Namath wore almost every model of the Schutt style "JOP" facemask including models introduced from the late 1950s to the early 1970s. McMahon basically wore a more modern version of the Schutt style "JOP" facemask having started his career in the early 1980s. McMahon also used a navy colored version of this mask with the Bears while Namath always wore a plain gray colored mask. Click on the "Mask" button on the Helmet Hut website to see pictures of the various years models of the Schutt style "JOP" facemask that were used by these players during their careers.
When I used to assemble my gumball helmets fresh from the supermarket dispenser I loved doing the stripes, and I naively thought for many years that actual helmet stripes were all one piece. I have several questions regarding stripes:
In the early eighties the Houston Oilers had some strange inconsistencies with helmet striping. I have learned from your site that many minor changes, much of the "nuance," in graphic design on helmets are accidental and due to outside forces. It seems, however, that the Oilers had an equipment manager (or assistant) who applied the stripes to many Oiler helmets in a "splayed" manner, where the three stripes were not parallel but instead the scarlet outside stripes were bowed across the top of the helmet and pinched in at the front and back, nearly touching the blue center stripe at those places. Can you shed any light on this oddity?
Very good catch! The two red flanking stripes on the Oilers helmet were applied very poorly and without consistency. The main problem occurred when in 1978 the team changed from 1/2" flanking red stripes that were offset 1/2" from the center Columbia blue stripe to 3/4" flanking red stripes that were offset 3/4" from the center Columbia blue stripe. It was extremely more difficult to maintain a consistent distance between the flanking and center stripe when the gap or offset increased by 50%. Also as the flanking stripes moved further away from the centerline of the helmet they started to approach the downward slope or edge or the helmet shell. Again it became significantly more difficult applying parallel or consistent spaced flanking stripes when the equipment manager also had to contend with two conflicting curves; the normal front to back curve in the middle of the shell and now the top to bottom curve (or edge) on each side of the shell. This problem was solved in the mid 1990s when the decal manufacturer added a 3/4" clear (or transparent) border to the inside edge of the 3/4" flanking red stripe. The resulting 1.5" flanking stripe could now be easily butted up to the center stripe and still give the appearance of a consistent gap or offset between the flanking and middle stripe because of the added clear border.
I have a picture of Walter Payton from the mid-eighties, wearing the navy facemask (which would place the image from 1982-1987) and I believe it is a training camp picture. The image very clearly shows a navy or black vinyl tape center stripe on the helmet. Of course, the Bears have no stripe. Is this a protective measure for camp, and has this been used in games without my noticing it?
When Riddell introduced the inflatable air/fluid "Micro Fit" helmet in the early 1970s they covered the air valve nipples located along the center ridge with a thick vinyl stripe to protect them from being damaged during play. If the helmet was produced in a standard color then a matching colored vinyl stripe was usually used. If the helmet was painted with a special color or with metallic flake then a transparent or clear stripe was used. The practice of using a thick vinyl stripe for this purpose continued forward with subsequent models that used air valve technology until the late 1980s. After that period the air valve nipples were solely protected by removable air valve caps. This is the only reason we know of where a vinyl stripe was used on a helmet for other than decorative purposes.
In a similar vein, I have a picture of the recently passed Mike Webster at center for the Chiefs in 1989, after his transition from assistant coach to active player again. He and other Chiefs are wearing regular KC skullbuckets but they all have a single white center stripe. This is a training camp image. Again, is this just a way to protect the helmets from excess scuffing in camp?
Other than using a center stripe for writing the surnames of players to help coaches identify new players during training camp (this practice is normally done with horizontal positioned strips of medical supply tape on the front or back of the helmets) we are not aware or the Chiefs experimenting with a center decorative stripe.
Please forward this photo to us and we will share it with our loyal readers.
In reference to my gumball helmet comment above, has any team every used a one-piece stripe decal for a design that features multiple stripes and/or trim? I was watching Green Bay on TV recently and it seemed like their helmet stripe (white center, dark green sides) had a clear ridge outside the green stripes, as if the whole stripe combination was printed on the kind of thick, acrylic-like plastic used on some souvenir helmet decals. What's the deal there?
Since the late 1990s the Packers have used a printed one piece pre printed vinyl stripe that includes all three of their stripes. Their equipment manager feels that this method saves application time while also giving a more consistent appearance.
On the old Buccaneers helmet (which I loved though most hated it) the stripe was tapered at the rear, having an almost rounded look. Upon closer inspection lately it seems as if the red side stripes were cut at an angle. The stripe terminated well above the bottom edge of the helmet, which was very noticeable on helmets without rear bumpers. Most of this information is from my memory of years ago, as I don't have a lot of good photographic evidence of this design as seen from the rear. Am I right about the stripe and its distinctive look, and was there a reason for it? I was told years ago that the stripe was meant to resemble, in an abstract way, the plume on the Buc's hat in the logo.
Extra credit for this catch! You are correct -- the flanking red stripes had a slight taper on the rear of the helmet. The Buc's used this taper as part of a simple process to eliminate the need to cut or trim the excess striping material usually incurred while restriping a helmet. The tapered edge of the flanking red stripe was first applied to the rear bottom edge of the helmet shell without extending the stripe to the inside surface of the shell. The remainder of the stripe was applied heading towards the front of the helmet shell. Any excess material from the cut to length striping was tucked hidden behind the front sweatband.
Explain the Miami Dolphins stripe design, in particular the use of navy. The modern version uses navy trim on the inside edge of the aqua side stripes. It seems that in the early nineties before the modernization of the logo they were using more subtle navy trim on both edges of the aqua side stripes. After seeing some old film recently I took another look at your Dolphin's hats, and I can't tell if I am seeing very thin navy trim on the aqua stripes or not. When and how has Miami used navy on their stripes?
The current Dolphin flanking stripes are jade with a navy border. Prior to the current modernization of their logo in which the navy color was introduced for the first time their flanking stripes were simply aqua colored without another trim color. In the early 1990s an additional 1/4" clear or transparent border was added to the 3/4" aqua stripe to be used to create the offset or gap between the flanking and center stripe. Perhaps
the addition of this clear border is creating a misleading dark (or navy) colored edge effect in some photos of their previous helmets.
My souvenir helmets have brought me great pleasure over the years but I have yet to hold an authentic, game-used NFL, CFL, or NCAA piece in my own hands. As such, I turn to you to satisfy my curiosity about logo decals. From observation it seems that some teams, including the Chicago Bears, still use lightweight vinyl decals which are easily torn or deranged, and just as easily replaced. Many souvenir helmets, however, have decals which are printed on very thick and hard plastic, like acrylic, which actually stands up from the surface of the helmet. What kind of decals do pro and major college teams use, what materials are they composed of, and what is their thickness in mils (millionths of an inch)?
Most professional and college teams use decals made from 16 -- 20 mil thick vinyl material. There are exceptions such as L. S. U. who prefer 8 mil thick decals because they recondition their helmets after each game and they believe the thinner decal is easier to remove. According to Cris Willis of Athletic Decals the decals that are used for the collectable Pro Line series helmets have a more aggressive adhesive compared to actual on field use decals which are removed and replaced when the helmet is routinely reconditioned. The Bears were one of the last professional teams to convert to a conventional thick mil decal having used a paper thin decal until the mid 1980s.
Thank you very much for your time and attention, and for providing a tremendous and important resource for football fans and historians.
Michael Wall, Cleveland TN
You are most welcome and keep those great questions coming!
Dr. Del Rye,
Brad, you are absolutely correct inferring that on average the athletes of the 1960's were "smaller, slower and not as strong as today's players". But I would side with the players of the 60's in a back alley brawl any day of the week, then and now. "Toughness" can overcome smaller, slower and not as strong, in my book. Have you ever watched old footage of a player putting on a suspension helmet? Ever looked at his face while pulling it over his ears? Now that's tough.
I am quite sure that these same players did not think much about head protection when making that crushing tackle for the team. In fact many balked at the mandatory face mask rule imposed by the NFL in the mid 60's. But for those that did think about their helmets, they knew as players know today, that they are wearing the best equipment possible for the technology that exists.
There is no question that the player has progressed faster than the helmet. This may be an unfair comparison. Riddell has been the #1 supplier of helmets to the NFL for over 50 years, we will use them as the obvious example. Riddell's dedication to safety has always been their number one priority. Due to the fact that head injuries make up such a small percentage of all on field injuries proves this point.
The "freakishly large, fast and strong" players have only contributed to the abundance of knee, shoulder and neck injuries. The head has always been the most protected of all body parts, but with some players you do wonder why. Riddell and other institute studies found that more concussions were caused by jarring blows to the side of the head than to impacts directed to the front and back. Again Riddell has taken the forefront in protection by the introduction of the new "Revolution" model helmet.
Will this new space age helmet cause a player to forego his own personal safety while delivering that devastating hit? I don't think so. Toughness of the heart and the mind will always supersede the toughness of the equipment. The true debate? the real question? What era player would you most want to take to war?