"More Helmet Reflections"



By Dr. Ken


Trying not to stand out from the crowd, I was quite embarrassed when Freshmen Football Coach Jim Kelly singled me out for assuming an incorrect three-point stance. That my new and already beloved football helmet put me into this situation was extremely troubling. I was so impressed with the caliber of equipment, especially the gleaming white helmet, I felt as if I would definitely be able to play “better”, better than I expected, better than the coaches expected, and better than anyone back home expected. Almost all of the MacGregor externally padded helmets I was exposed to at my two high schools were fitted with single bar or double bar masks. As was typical for the day, members of the backfield and receivers were given single bars while linemen were given double bars. In a few cases, the “cage” or larger triple bar masks, with or without a full vertical bar were reserved for interior linemen. I was careful to use the term “members of the backfield” because even in the early 1960s, some of the high school teams were still utilizing a single wing offense and teams using a variation of the T-formation often had a single wing series that they would use in specific situations. In the single wing, the quarterback was not the back who received the ball from under center and as often as not, dropped back to pass but more of a blocking back. If this sounds archaic, remember that it was an exciting time to play football. The changes in the substitution rules still dictated that everyone played at least one offensive and one defensive position, and as the younger generations have heard numerous times, our peers were in superior “ running condition” with the ability to withstand fatigue after playing a full four quarters, something that few if any modern day players can claim. The change in equipment at that time was also exciting and interesting for those of us who paid attention to the details of such things.


I mentioned in the March HELMET NEWS article that the shoulder pads we wore in high school were made primarily of leather, with some plastic. The change to the lighter mostly plastic or all plastic shoulder pad allowed us to run harder and do so longer as each player was saddled with less weight to carry. This newer type of shoulder pad also covered more of the sternum and pectoral region without adding unnecessary bulk or weight. Compared to today’s pads, ours would seem archaic, non-protective, and bulky yet they were a vast improvement over what we had in high school. What for me were “new” hip pads, a step-in type of girdle made of lightweight mesh type material and plastic was a real innovation. The older style strap-on leather and fabric hip pads were extremely cumbersome and the joke we always referred to was that it made most fellows appear to have “womanly hips” as there was a definite ballooning effect after strapping them on. For this reason, many of the players did not wear their hip pads. I know that I always felt very slow and lacking in agility when I wore them in high school and simply stopped wearing them. I was told that the great Jim Brown who at the time was in his first few years with the Cleveland Browns, taped foam rubber into his pants to protect his hips and that he also chose not to wear the standard hip pads. This was enough of an endorsement for me to try that procedure a few times. The new hip girdle made it much easier to comply with the coaches’ wishes that we actually wear the protective equipment that was issued to us. The rib pads remained a mystery to me. I had never seen them in high school, and felt that wearing them would definitely make me seem like a robot on the field!     


The thigh pads and knee pads were similar to what we had worn in high school. The knee pads were the soft, foldable slip-in models that were placed in the knee area pocket of the pants, offering minimal protection to any direct traumatic contact to the patella or kneecap. The thigh pads also slipped into an appropriate pocket sewn into the football pants but were of a hard plastic material. To this day, I am quite sure that every high school and college football player in the United States was issued the exact same thigh pad during the time I played. However, as a short running back who could stay low to the ground, I always tried to request “the biggest thigh pads” in the equipment room, believing that my lack of height and ability to run crouched over the ball made it possible to offer nothing but “knees and elbows” to any potential tacklers. I recalled the words I had read in a football magazine where Packer great Jim Taylor had stated that he tried to expose nothing but his knees, thighs, and shoulder pads to anyone attempting to tackle him. If that was good enough for Taylor, it was good enough for me to at least try to emulate and I thought that having big pads would help. I knew I certainly needed as much help as possible in order to make up for a lack of talent!