"HELMET HEIR: Classic Look"

September 21, 2005


These Spartans have a classic look -- and faces.

They appear on replicas of helmets worn by Michigan State football players in the 1960s and '70s, seen on such stars as George Webster, Bubba Smith and Brad Van Pelt.

The Spartans in those days won Big Ten titles and national championships.

The decals on their helmets showed a Spartan with a face, not the silhouette in the current version. Earlier MSU helmets were solid green, the kind worn by Dorne Dibble and Earl Morrall, and a white version was introduced and quickly abandoned in Duffy Daugherty's first season.

Indiana-based Helmet Hut Inc. has introduced five vintage MSU helmets from the 1940s to the '70s, the first of their kind on the market. The company is co-owned by Jim Parker, a former Grosse Pointe resident and Western Michigan football player.

The helmets retail for $179 and are available at HelmetHut.com and Lansing area stores such as the Campus Den. More than 500 have been sold since sales began this summer.

Former Michigan State guard Tony Conti likes them. Conti, 58, started for MSU's famous 1966 team, which went unbeaten and tied Notre Dame, 10-10, at the end of the season. His own game-used helmet from 1965-66 was used as the model to create the Helmet Hut's reproduction.

"It's identical to the one issued by our equipment manager, Ken Early, in 1965," said Conti, a Lansing area insurance broker. "A picture in a catalog or a Web site doesn't do it justice. I think there's a big market for these if people just got their hands on them."

MSU recently purchased a complete set of the replicas for display in its museum at the Duffy Daugherty Football Building on campus.

"Because so many people come through our facility, from alumni and fans to recruits and their families, we want to tell the history and tradition of MSU football through our museum," said Mike Vollmar, assistant athletic director and director of football operations.

"These helmets help explain that history. They're as close as you can possibly get to owning an actual game-used helmet from the past. As a fan, I would guess these should be pretty hot items."

Parker's love for football dates to the late 1950s and early '60s, when the former Free Press carrier attended Lions training camp at Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills and games at Tiger Stadium with his father, Florrie, and uncle Jim Serracino.

"As a kid, I spray-painted my football helmet silver, and when the Lions introduced the blue stripes and Leaping Lion logo in 1961, I thought it was the coolest thing," said Parker 52, a former Allied Signal Division controller and real estate investor now living in North Carolina. "My mother wrote the Lions for the decals, and their equipment manager, Friday Macklem, sent them in the mail.

"I was the envy of our neighborhood touch football gang."

Parker wore a customized Lions helmet as a 9-year-old while emulating Gail Cogdill, then wore a Western Michigan helmet as an offensive lineman. Long ago, he began to appreciate the football helmet for more than its safety features.

"For me, a football helmet captures the essence and history of a sport and a team better than any other piece of equipment," he said.

After moving to Asheville, N.C., in the mid-1980s, Parker resumed his interest in collecting vintage football helmets. Four years ago, he was introduced via the Internet to his future managing partner, Curtis Worrell, a fellow football helmet fanatic who was looking to remake a vintage Washington Redskins helmet.

In 2001, they started HelmetHut.com, an online museum that chronicles and displays the history of vintage helmets.  Today, the Web site receives more than 1.5 million hits a month.

The company makes vintage helmets for all NFL and AFL teams that existed before the leagues merged in the late 1960s.

Early on, Helmet Hut restored and sold used suspension helmets, which use cloth webbing similar to military infantry helmets rather than the modern-day inflatable, inner-liner systems..

The original manufacturers had not produced suspension helmet parts for more than 30 years, so Parker and Worrell invested Tens of thousands of dollars in tooling, using reverse engineering to produce replacement parts.

"We then decided that since we were making all the parts, why not make the shells and manufacture our own vintage suspension helmets," said Parker, who wanted to improve upon Riddell's commercial version of a throwback helmet consisting of a modern helmet with old-style logos.

Helmet Hut now makes suspension helmets for Riddell.

The suspension helmets, complete with stitched leather jaw pads, are handmade with 40 parts in the same painstaking way they were originally manufactured. The original helmets were made in two pieces. Although Helmet Hut could have saved thousands of dollars by making a one-piece shell, the exact process was replicated in the spirit of authenticity.

Since it began making throwback suspension helmets, Helmet Hut has produced more than 12,000. A number of former NFL players have bought them, including Morrall and Y.A. Tittle.

"I never thought of trying to keep my game-used helmets, so it's really nice to have these replicas," said Morrall, whose home has a display of Helmet Hut models for each team he played for.

In 2003, the company produced replica helmets for the "Paper Lion" reunion in Detroit and for a 40th reunion of the Chicago Bears championship team. Helmet Hut made the commemorative helmet for the College Football Hall of Fame and this fall is making vintage Syracuse helmets for a halftime presentation honoring Jim Brown and other returning players who wore the legendary No. 44.

For Parker, targeting Michigan State for Helmet Hut's first vintage college helmet was a sentimental choice.

"When I was growing up in Michigan in the mid-1960s, Michigan State was a national powerhouse like they were in the '50s," Parker said. "They were also one of the first college teams to put decals on their helmets.

"This year also marks the 40th anniversary of their 1965 national championship team, which was followed by the great '66 squad that played to a 10-10 tie against Notre Dame in the famous Game of the Century."

Helmet Hut recently obtained licenses to sell throwback helmets from Minnesota, Ohio State, Syracuse and Louisiana State. It's completing contracts with Michigan, Penn State, Texas and Pittsburgh.

Parker expects sales of helmets from college teams to grow larger than the market for NFL models.

"There are many more college teams than professional," he said, "and helmet designs changed more often when a new coach came in."

If interested in any of these MSU helmets please click on the photos below.