"Tennessee Stars"

By Dr. Ken
As a collector and admirer of football helmets, it is easy to get jaded when you have the exceptional privilege of having handled or worn game-used college helmets because you and your teammates were the ones playing in them, or of seeing photos and helmet prototypes because you are involved in helmet research and/or design. As a former high school and college football player who played minor league football and unceremoniously went through pro camps without much notice from coaches, general managers, and at times, competing players, the "perk" and lasting memory in some cases was to at least have access to, use of, or exposure to a number of beautiful helmet designs. Still, there are some helmet collections that make one stop and look, stop and think, stop and truly appreciate the power that a history-filled and stunning grouping can have.
The recent introduction of the University Of Tennessee helmet collection from the suspension era that HELMET HUT unveiled in late April is one of those groupings that has both an outstanding appearance and history. From my perspective, every university has an interesting football history and "nice looking" helmets, many of which are detailed in the COLLEGE SECTION on the HELMET HUT site. Even the simple shell adorned with no more than a one-inch center stripe and side numerals conveys power and reflects the era within which it was worn. However, the Tennessee collection was truly spectacular. If one were told, "I am going to show you a series of white football helmets, most with a one-inch orange center stripe, some with a center stripe that is an inch-and-a-half in width, some with a number, some with a letter 'T' logo on the sides", I'm not sure that much excitement would be expected. However, when actually seen on an individual basis, each helmet has a clean, attractive, and stately look while the entire collection when viewed as an entity, reflects the spirit of a very proud program and its tradition.
One of the best yet least known players of the Tennessee Volunteer stars is Curtis C. Kell. One might wonder how a player so consistently excellent at performing the skills of his position that it earned him entry to The College Football Hall Of Fame, can be a relative unknown. As one of the few college football players that assiduously lifted weights in an attempt to become a bigger, stronger, faster, and better football player, I was well aware of   "Chip" Kell who was perhaps the first college football player to bench press 500 pounds. My own involvement in both football and weight training resulted in meeting, knowing, and working with Chip and when comparing him as a player and person to the many greats of his era and those who played at Tennessee through many decades, he stands above most.
For those like me, Chip was by any standard, among the finest players of his day, a two-time first team consensus All American, three times All Southeastern Conference performer, Lombardi Trophy finalist, and two-time winner of the Jacobs Blocking Trophy, an award given to the offensive player deemed to be the best at that thankless task and one that many winners took great pride in earning.
During a period in American history when muck-raking journalists, liberal politicians, flamboyant musicians and media darlings, drug-dealing status seekers, and anti-establishment "heroes" hogged the daily headlines and were considered to be social icons, Chip Kell lived by a code that seemingly came out of the past, one based upon doing everything "right" and through the application of hard work. His idols were those in his family who set the example of hard and consistent effort, intelligent application of skill, and a determination to succeed while respecting others and doing so as considerately as possible. In the late-1960's, Kell was an anachronism, a misplaced gunfighter ready for any challenge yet courtly and chivalrous to those most in need. The football related accolades began early as he was the first eighth-grader to letter as a varsity player in the City Of Atlanta Football League; Honorable Mention All City Of Atlanta and All State in ninth grade; Honorable Mention All Greater Atlanta in tenth grade; All Greater Atlanta, All State, and All American as well as the Second Most Wanted High School Football Player In The State Of Georgia by the time of his graduation; a member of the 1967 North All Star Team. He chose the University Of Tennessee as his college destination as a scholarship athlete in two sports, both football and track and field. His track accomplishments rivaled those of the football field and included owning the National shot put record in eighth grade as well as the City Of Atlanta discus record and high jump title. In ninth grade, he had the National Ninth Grade record in the shot put, the National Fifteen Year Old record, was Sport Magazine Teen Age Athlete Of The Month, and continued with the National Junior shot put record and the State Of Georgia record which stands approximately forty years later. In addition to his collegiate football laurels, he was two-time SEC shot put champion. While Chip's father was not his football coach, he was a successful high school coach who had started his son on a weight training program before junior high school and with a willingness to work that far exceeded that of older athletes, Kell forged his body and a very disciplined mind into a championship athletic career.
Chip bench pressed four-hundred pounds at the age of fifteen, a feat made more incredible because so few athletes were serious about strength training during that era. His strength served him well for when arriving at Tennessee, he was chosen as one of the rare freshmen that regularly scrimmaged with the varsity and with a somewhat unusual and frightening notoriety that began in his frosh season, Kell to this day holds the UT "record" for caving in or breaking eight helmets. One can only imagine the power generated by a 250-pound man who could run a 4.7 forty-yard sprint on grass in late-Sixties circumstances and equipment. His college career led to the San Diego Chargers of the NFL where he suffered a horrible knee injury. Able to rehabilitate enough to finish two years in the CFL with Edmonton, Chip followed in his father's footsteps and became a well-respected high school coach in Georgia and later in Tennessee and for many years, manufactured his own line of strength training equipment that was used at Auburn, Florida, Utah, Maryland, and numerous other high profile university and pro football training complexes.  
There is no doubt that Chip Kell was one-of-a-kind in terms of athletic strength, speed, and power wrapped in one package and among the many greats at Tennessee, it is Kell that I see in my mind and think of when I view the Tennessee collection, not just the helmet used in the 1968-'70 seasons he played. I think of Phillip Fulmer, first as a player who shared the offensive line next to Kell and who later became the dynamic offensive coordinator of the Vols. I then think of Fulmer as the head coach and the great players he has developed which in turn takes me back to the beginning of the suspension era and the run of great players like Doug Atkins, Johnny Majors, and so many others that proudly wore the immediately recognizable UT headgear. Beauty and tradition in one package, one that motivates and reminds all of the discipline, sacrifice, and effort it takes to be a champion, at Tennessee, Oklahoma, Purdue, and all of the other universities so appropriately represented at HELMET HUT through their helmets.