"My First Memory"




By Dr. Ken 

We have talked extensively about the outer shell of the helmet and its role in reducing impact

force as a result of its shape and materials. Our next point of consideration is the liner of the helmet but in keeping with the holiday spirit, my attention has been diverted to more festive things. This month’s discussion will “off-ramp” to helmet logo design and some comments that I hope will be of interest to the readers. If one is diligent about gathering all of the outstanding information that is available on the HELMET HUT website, then the ASK DR. DEL RYE column is a regular stop on the agenda. The Doctor offers a wealth of information and because the topics vary so much as a result of our readers’ participation and reflection of their interesting questions, the information is varied and insightful. In the most recent column, helmet logos were discussed which released a wealth of memories for me.


My first memory of “football” other than being bounced off of parked cars on our street in Brooklyn, N.Y. in the frequent games of football we played as youngsters, came from television. I became aware of the beauty of the helmet while watching the Army-Navy football game in 1956, one of the few televised games that were then broadcast. On a small, hazy, black and white Dumont television set, the images of the “real live” players in their shining gold helmets left a lasting impression. The next year, national champion Auburn captured the imaginations of both my brother and I. We took our youth league football helmets and altered them to fit our excitement. I played for the Knights in the Long Beach/Lido Beach/Point Lookout youth league after moving to the latter small town which sat on the edge of the beach on Long Island and while our gold and black uniforms looked somewhat like those of the great West Point team, it wasn’t quite what I had thought I saw on television the previous fall. Thus, I saved my paper route money and bought a can of spray paint, getting what I thought was the exact shade of gold onto my helmet, even though it differed slightly from that of my teammates. I then used an Exacto-knife and meticulously cut numbers from electrical tape and as easily as that, I was transformed into another Pete Dawkins, the great Army halfback who won the Heisman trophy the following season. Many of the guys on the team liked the color change so much, that our coach volunteered to purchase the same spray paint and modified everyone’s helmet. My brother asked me to “make an Auburn helmet” for him and I took his all white helmet and striped it to match the photo of Tiger running back Tommy Lorino I had seen in a preseason football magazine. Although he was the only one on his team with an Auburn duplicate helmet, he was thrilled and so was I.


I had no idea that there was something called “pro football” until the famous 1958 Colts vs. Giants championship game. At a friend’s house that day, I asked what game he was listening to on the radio, knowing that the college football season had ended, except for a few bowl games. When told it was the Giants, I had no idea what they were. I received a brief lecture about pro football, a passionate pursuit of my friend’s family. As one of the more affluent families in the area, I just assumed this was an activity that few knew about, limited only to those with exclusive access to such things that I imagined to be financially distant. It remained that way until I actually saw pro football on television the in the following 1959 season. The uniforms of the Giants, the distinct horseshoe of the Colts, and most of all, the distinctive horn design on the Rams helmet opened new vistas in my imagination and much time was spent sitting in the back of my junior high classrooms sketching different helmet and jersey designs.


The first live game I witnessed was at Long Beach High School in 1957, as the Long Beach Marines defeated the Knights of Uniondale. To this day, so many decades later, I can still feel the excitement I felt that day as I realized that there was such a thing as high school football. I had no previous idea that this type of thing even existed. Long Beach wore Columbia blue helmets with matching jerseys while the Uniondale team wore all black uniforms with yellow/gold trim. As I stood by the fence behind the goal line and watched Lenny Beck lead the Marines to victory, a conscious decision was made that “this is what I am going to do” and I recall it as if it were yesterday. That I have “a thing” for the Oiler helmet of 1960-63, Columbia University uniforms (where I turned down an offer to attend and play in the mid-sixties), and any other helmets of that color blue says a lot for childhood experiences. Having this “thing” for the home team Columbia or sky blue color, my 1958 “helmet experience” involved a stroll past Wolf’s Sporting Goods shop in Rockville Centre. Point Lookout, even today, has few stores as it is such a small town. Long Beach has a lot of bars and all types of stores, but its actually on an island. Rockville Centre was “the big town” closest to us and offered real shopping, a small Sears department store, and other amenities. They also had the closest store that exclusively sold sporting goods and as I walked by the window one day in 1958, I saw what the owner told me was a University Of Kansas helmet in the street level display. It was close enough to Columbia blue to make me think it was beautiful, but it was the first real college helmet I saw and got to touch. As goofy as this sounds, as it was when I watched the Long Beach football game the fall before, it was at that moment that I decided that I would play college football, for Kansas or a school at that level. Yes, all because of the helmet!


As I continued my football career in junior high school and then in high school, I began to pay special attention to all aspects of uniform design, but especially, of the helmets. Colors, striping, numbering, the type of masks, and chinstraps all became areas of interest and passion. The high school logos of the day, in the late 1950s and early 60s were very limited, at least in our area. Most teams had solid colored helmets or a single contrasting stripe, often with numbers on the sides or front and back of the helmet. Few had stylized designs that allowed one to know the team mascot with a quick glance at the headgear. However, television, even in black and white and on a very small screen for those who can recall those days, brought a world of helmet inspiration into the living room. Watching the bowl games, regularly scheduled Notre Dame broadcasts, and the weekly college football game showed me teams I knew only through the pages of the various football preview magazines. The lightening bolt of the Air Force Academy, the swooping horn of the Colorado Buffaloes, the great red “W” at the front and rear of the Wisconsin helmets (note that the latter two beautiful helmets can be seen on the HELMET HUT COLLEGE SITE as well as in the NEW ADDITIONS area), and the distinct external padding of Ohio State and Duke which truly highlighted their color combinations and coincidentally matched the type of externally padded MacGreogor helmets we wore at the high school became immediate favorites. That schools would have their mascots painted onto their helmets was an amazing thing to me and while it may sound as if I led a sheltered existence, none in my neighborhood did. We ran what were rough streets and were involved in all of the athletic activities that were available but only those from the earlier generation will remember that helmet and uniform design, just as safety features, began crudely and slowly evolved. The starting point of individualized, stylized, distinctive helmet logo and color patterns really began in the late 1950s and I would like to share my observations.


To be continued