By Dr. Ken
It is my opinion, and I believe that many would agree, that HELMET HUT is the  best "helmet related" site on the internet and it reflects the passion and interest that the principals of the company have for what might seem an odd focus. As a former player who was fortunate enough to wander through Pop Warner, junior high school, high school, collegiate, what I will affectionately term "minor league" football, and two NFL camps, it has been exciting and rewarding to share my passion and interest in helmets with HELMET HUT readers. As my wife once inquired, "Are any of the visitors to the site as batty as you are over football helmets?" I like to think that most are and view the helmet as the central and most significant piece of equipment of the uniform and the symbolic representation of the team, institution or city, and history of the specific program. The obvious and for me, often asked question is, "How did you get into this?"
Playing tackle football on the streets in Brooklyn, N.Y. was tough. Former Olympic medalist and sprinter John Carlos who raised a furor in Mexico City at the 1968 Olympic Games with his Black Power protest, was offered tryouts with a number of NFL teams and spent most of one season with the Eagles and then two more in the Canadian Football League. At the Eagles' pre-season camp he was asked what, other than his amazing speed, made him suited to play football, having been a track and not a football performer in college. Carlos described a childhood and adolescence of playing tackle football on the streets of Harlem in New York City, being tackled onto the concrete and knocked into parked cars, calling it the perfect preparation for the NFL. My introduction to organized football was very much the same with full speed tackle played without any protective equipment, in the middle of busy streets. I have previously described the almost spiritual effect that the first high school football game I saw had upon me after we had moved to Long Island and the small town of Point Lookout. Now populated primarily by those who can afford housing ranging from $500 thousand to one million-plus, it was then a summer-only community, leaving winter residency to blue-collar types like my father who could afford little more than a summer bungalow with no heat as a year-round home. Watching the hometown Long Beach High School Marines square off against the Uniondale Knights was a mystical experience and one I wanted in on and it was the MacGregor externally padded Columbia blue helmet that caught most of my attention as the Marines marched down the field.
My fascination with helmets was solidified when watching college football games. For those old enough to recall, there would be one game on per week, the Saturday Game Of The Week which featured either a game of national importance or an Eastern powerhouse like Syracuse or Pitt. I would sit with my Pop Warner League helmet nearby, often reveling in my homemade paint job that gave me a replica of Army's gleaming gold helmet with black center stripe, and remain transfixed at both the intricacies of the offense and defense as well as the skill of the individual players. However it was the January 1, 1959 Sugar Bowl game that sealed my lifetime love affair with the football helmet. One could blame this one game for addicting me to college football and a passion that drove a New York City youngster to know as much as possible about Southeastern Conference and Southern football. Like many of my friends, the favorite team for most of us during the mid and late 1950's was powerful Army. They were awfully good, they had running backs Pete Dawkins and Bobby Anderson (see HELMET HUT'S authentic reproduction of his helmet), and it was still close enough to the end of both the Korean War and World War II that the institution represented the very best of American values and virtues. However I read everything I could find that was related to football and knew about Louisiana State University and their Chinese Bandits defense. I knew that Auburn was not allowed to play in one of the four major post-season bowl games because they had cheated in some way, yet they were the national champions in 1957 and I surprised my younger brother by decorating his youth league helmet with electrical tape so that it mimicked the distinctive headgear of the mighty Auburn Tigers. I knew that I was seeing something special when watching the Sugar Bowl that matched Clemson and LSU.
Television broadcasts in color were rare in the 1950's and it wasn't until 1966 that NBC became the first one-hundred percent color broadcast station. Having a color television was uncommon in our neighborhood at any time in the 1960's and certainly in 1958, if any college football game had been broadcast in color, I would not have known about it. Thus watching Clemson and LSU in the Sugar Bowl, I could only guess at the shades of the uniform color even with the knowledge of the official school colors at my side in the Street And Smith College Football Yearbook. The lack of color did not diminish my enjoyment or awe of the LSU helmets. I knew the headgear was a shade of yellow with a white stripe flanked by purple stripes and I thought the player numerals on the sides were the coolest thing I had seen. Though this was a standard appearance for the era and I had certainly seen many other teams wear side numerals, everything about the stripes on the helmet to the shoulder stripes on the jersey, and the pants that seemed to be the same shade as the helmet made me think that this was the greatest uniform ever seen. I recall Clemson looking very sharp too with what was described as an orange helmet with a great arrangement of a blue center stripe flanked by wide white stripes. Being partial to a jersey with shoulder stripes, it was great to see Clemson in jerseys that also featured contrasting shoulder stripes.
The game was spectacular, a defensive struggle that featured the famous LSU Chinese Bandits, a defensive specialty unit that had to, and could also play offense but whose forte was in stopping the opponent. Billy Cannon, Johnny Robinson, and Warren Rabb were the well-known names and stars for LSU but I knew through my reading that the number one LSU Tigers had these very special defensive players whose sum was greater than the addition of their parts, who gave up a touchdown or less in nine of their ten regular season games. I knew the names of Tommy Lott, Mel Branch, Gus Kinchen, and Hart Borque, who seemed to be as small as I was, as well as the All American stars and these guys were animals, flying all over the field to stuff what looked to be a very fine Clemson team. I knew about Clemson's Lou Cordileone, a great lineman from St. Michael's High School in Union City, New Jersey who was related to an older teenager I was acquainted with. Cordileone made a number of '59's All American teams and was the number-one draft choice of the Giants in 1960. He had an oft-repeated quip after learning that he had been traded to the San Francisco Forty-Niners for their terrific QB YA Tittle. "I was traded for Tittle, you mean just me?" Clemson FB and LB Doug Cline was impressive, hustling all over the field and recovering a fumble on the goal line when LSU's FB J.W. Brodnax was stopped as he was diving into the end zone at the end of the first half. LSU's winning TD in this 7-0 defensive gem also involved Cline. As the up-back on a punt, an errant center snap hit him in the leg and was recovered by the Bayou Bengals who scored a few plays later when Cannon threw a halfback option pass to Mickey Mangham for the winning points. I followed Cline's career as a linebacker for the Oilers from 1960 through '66 where he also joined Cannon in the backfield as the Oilers blocking fullback.
This great game held my attention and made me an LSU fan, one that was partial to shoulder stripes on the jerseys and the distinctive flanking stripes placed on either side of a center stripe. I came to love what is now considered to be "old school" hard-nosed defensive football that epitomized the type of play that was emphasized in the south and southeastern colleges from the mid-1950's through the late '60's. It was the LSU Tiger helmet that symbolized their entire uniform and gut-busting march to 1958's National Championship. It was in fact, that one game that for reasons that remain unknown and unexplained that changed my perspective and made me believe I could be much more than I otherwise may have been prepared to be.