Michigan State

Summer Vacation in Michigan!
When Mother Nature Turns Everything Michigan State Spartan Green

It has been a long-standing tradition for many Michiganders to exit the city and head "up north" to their rustic cabins for a week or two each summer. There the entire family can enjoy the serenity of the surrounding lush green vegetation and crystal clear lakes. Daytime activities such as hiking, swimming and fishing are usually followed in the evening by campfire conversations where the adults and children can openly share their memories of past experiences in a most captivating environment.
This summer Helmet Hut was most pleased to receive a request from Michigan State University to provide them with authentic reproductions of the various helmet styles worn by their legendary Spartan football teams. This coming fall the school will be celebrating the 40 year anniversary of their 1965 National Championship team. They are also making plans for next year to celebrate the "Game of the Century," the fabled 1966 game with Notre Dame that ended in a 10 - 10 tie. These helmets will be put on permanent display in the museum portion of their impressive Duffy Daugherty Football Building. Prior to delivering the helmets we felt it would be most appropriate to photograph them in the same beautiful northern Michigan scenery that so many people enjoy each summer. The rich Kelly green and white Spartan colors were simply stunning when placed in this setting. Deep in Michigan's beautiful rural woods the helmets turned almost lifelike, as if they were on their very own family retreat. If helmets could talk, can you imagine the glorious recollections that each generation represented could provide while sitting in front of one of those crackling Michigan campfires?   
Back in the early 1950s when Detroit was known as the world's leading automobile manufacturer, Michigan State's East Lansing campus was often referred to as the nation's "football factory." During the 1950s era the Spartans churned out such impressive models as Lynn Chandnois, Dorne Dibble, Don McAulliffe, Tom Yewcic, Sonny Granddelius, Earl Morrall and Dean Look. Their 1951 undefeated and untied team claimed a share of the national championship with Tennessee. The following year the team was again unbeaten and untied. They ended the 1952 season with the nation's longest winning streak (24 games) and were named the undisputed national champions by every official poll. After being made to wait for several years the team was finally admitted into the Big 10 as a regular member in 1953. They promptly went on to capture the league championship (losing only one game during the season) and beating UCLA in their first Rose Bowl game. After the 1953 season Biggie Munn, the legendary Spartan coach, turned the team over to his protégé and future legend Duffy Daugherty.   
The 1960s "new model" introductions from the MSU's further expanding "football factory" read like a "Who's Who" in both college and pro football. Standout performers such as Fred Arbanas, Ed Budde, George Saimes, Clinton Jones, Gene Washington, George Webster and Bubba Smith were included in that vintage. Offensive lineman are often overlooked when recalling the heroes of the past but check out an ESPN Classic replay of the famous 1966 game with the Irish and focus on the unbelievable pulling and trapping offensive line play by MSU's Anthony Conti and Jerry West. They, along with the rest of the Spartan offensive line, dominated one of Notre Dame's all time greatest defensive units (led by All Americans Alan Page, Pete Duranko, Kevin Hardy, Tom Schoen and Jim Lynch). MSU was the consensus national champion in 1965 and claimed a share of the 1966 national championship (as voted by the National Football Foundation) with Notre Dame. Both the 1965 and 1966 MSU teams are considered by many to be among the greatest in the history of college football.
Duffy retired after the 1972 season. The Spartan teams of the 1970s did not compare record wise with the storied teams of the 1950s and 1960s but the "football factory" continued to produce outstanding talent. Brad Van Pelt, Joe DeLamielleure, Billie Joe DuPree, Bill Simpson, Larry Bethea and Kirk Gibson were some of the more notable players from that period. Among the decades more memorable team performances was their 1974 upset (MSU had an unimpressive 3-3 record going into the game) of number one ranked Ohio State 16 - 13. The outcome of the game was delayed for 45 minutes while officials reviewed a potential game winning touchdown for OSU as time expired. The officials, along with Big Ten commissioner Wayne Duke, ultimately ruled that time had expired prior to the snap of the ball (To say OSU coach Woody Hayes was not supportive of the final decision may be one of the decade's greater understatements). In 1978 MSU defeated heavily favored Michigan 24-15 in hostile Ann Arbor. They went on to tie Michigan for the Big Ten title but were not allowed to go the Rose Bowl because they were on NCAA probation.
As previously stated, several MSU football players went on to play professional football after graduation from college. Perhaps more interesting, is the lengthy list of former Spartan football players who never played professional football but still managed to remain in the public eye. James Caan played quarterback for the Spartan freshman team in 1956. You may remember him better in the movies portraying Brian Piccolo in "Brian's Song and Sonny Corleone in "The Godfather." Dean Look, the Spartans 1959 All American quarterback served as an NFL on-field official for 29 years. He was the side judge who signaled touchdown on the historical Joe Montana to Dwight Clark pass better known as "The Catch." Steve Garvey #24 was a first string defensive back for the 1967 Spartan team but is far more known for his outstanding baseball career. Kirk Gibson was an All American wideout with blazing speed at MSU in the late 1970s. However, Gibson is better remembered for hitting historic World Series home runs for both the Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Dodgers. All American fullback Bob Apisa played on MSU's glory teams of the mid 1960s. He joined the Screen Actors Guild in 1970 and has subsequently appeared in more than 30 televisions shows and over 30 feature films as an actor and stuntman. Dick Kenney, a Spartan kicker and teammate of Apisa, never had pro football aspirations simply because of his unusual kicking style which was not allowed in the NFL. The Hawaiian born Kenney kicked the ball barefooted using a conventional (for that era) straight on kicking style -- ouch! Ironically, Pent Gent, a very solid receiver for the Dallas Cowboys during the mid 1960s (and author of the critically acclaimed football novel and screenplay "North Dallas Forty") graduated from MSU but never played college football. He was a starting forward for the Spartan basketball team. 
From the perspective of the helmet aficionado, the history of the Spartan football helmet may be even more interesting than the legacy of the Spartan teams and its players. In 1933 the Spartans hired Charlie Bachman from Notre Dame as their new coach. Totally ignoring Michigan State's official green and white school colors, Bachman outfitted the team in gold (from Notre Dame) and black (neutral?) uniforms. Their leather helmets were predominately gold with a contrasting black wing design at the front of the helmet. Centered inside the wing silhouette was a gold colored block "S." It is somewhat ironic that Michigan State's arch intrastate rival Michigan, who made the wing pattern famous, did not start wearing the wing until 1938 or several years after Michigan State first start wearing it. Michigan State continued to wear the gold and black winged helmet until 1947 when Biggie Munn replaced Bachman on the sidelines. Biggie immediately ordered newly designed green and white uniforms which mirrored the official school colors. Their first game in 1947 was played on the road against Michigan. The Spartans entered the field at Michigan Stadium wearing their new white leather helmets with a green wing (similar to the Bachman black wing design only with a smaller white block "S"). The Wolverines apparently did not think much of Michigan State's new duds as they proceeded to trounce the Spartans 55-0! When Michigan State returned to East Lansing to prepare for the following weeks home opener against heavily favored Mississippi State the players soon discovered that their almost new white leather helmets were suddenly retired by Coach Munn. As Biggie distributed new Kelly green (with a white center stripe) plastic suspension helmets to the downtrodden down team it was rumored that his superstitious behavior was exceeded only by his authority to exceed the team's uniform budget.

The Spartans responded with an unexpected 7-0 victory over Mississippi State and the classy new helmet style has remained the virtual base design for all subsequent MSU helmet design modifications. One noteworthy exception occurred in 1954. The Spartans wore their traditional green helmets for their season opener on the road in Iowa. For unknown reasons, new coach Duffy Daugherty decided to unveil white helmets with a green center stripe the following week for their home opener against Wisconsin. After losing to the Badgers followed by a loss to Purdue, Duffy brought back the traditional green helmets for good (perhaps someone finally told him what happened to Biggie Munn after he initially introduced the white Spartan helmets in 1947). For the 1956 season Duffy added white 2" tall, NCAA (early 1960s Giants) style numerals to the sides of the Spartan helmets. He switched to white 3" tall, rounded (1960s SD Charger) style helmet numerals for the 1957 season and retained that numeral style through the 1964 season. In 1965 Athletic Director Burt Smith perhaps sensing that they were about to unleash a very special football team conducted a contest among the student body to replace the helmet numerals with a drawing of a Spartan head logo. The winning entry was approved by Coach Daugherty and was adopted for use starting that year. With the new logo came the anticipated on field success. Smaller white 2" tall, NCAA (early 1960s Giants) style numerals were relocated to the rear of the helmet, flanking the center stripe. With the exception of a few minor alterations (the general white border of the logo was changed to black and more closely tapered to the contour of the Spartan head that it surrounded) this design was used until Duffy retired after the 1972 season.

The Spartans, like many other college teams, substituted a NCAA recommended logos design ("100" overlaid on a football shaped outline) in 1969 to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of college football. Denny Stolz, an assistant to Duffy, was hired to replace him in 1973. Another student contest was held to revitalize the look of the Spartan head logo. The winning design resulted in a more abstract Spartan head that, although significantly larger, was even harder to decipher within the sight-lines of the stadium compared to the preceding design. This design was canned along with Coach Stolz after the 1975 season. The next coach, Darryl Rogers, was hired just prior to the start of the 1976 season. The team quickly adopted his preference for additional white one-half inch wide flanking stripes, both spaced one-half inch from the traditional white one inch wide center stripe. Wide, white 3" tall, full block (Raider) style numerals were positioned on the helmet sides because a new logo design was not ready in time for the 1976 season. A green colored facemask was also introduced. As the end of the suspension helmet era quickly approached a new Spartan head design was implemented prior to the 1977 season. This predominately white colored logo had a more sharply contoured silhouette style design that was significantly easier to recognize from afar. It is also a style that is virtually identical to the logo that is used for the current Spartan helmets.         

We have only touched on the mere highlights that reflect the rich tradition of Spartan football. Countless personalities from the past, colorful anecdotal stories and endless tales of glory still remain. Those untapped recollections are best left to those who are instinctively inspired by the Kelly green and white. They are the Michigan State faithful who spend the best of their summer leisure hours sharing these fond memories in the perfect environment -- near the flickering flames, crackling sounds and unique aroma of a log burning campfire located hundreds of miles north of their otherwise imperfect worlds.

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