"Exterior Padding"

by Dr. Ken
In moments of leisure, relaxation in my house, is defined by vintage copies of STREET AND SMITH COLLEGE FOOTBALL ANNUAL. My small collection is focused upon the mid-1950s through the early 1970s. This time period approximates my awareness of college football, my high school and college playing career, and the eventual graduation or completion of university attendance and concomitant eligibility of all of the freshman who came into school and who were playing as I was graduating. In short, its the period of time that has held my deepest interest in college football and I have more or less commemorated it by saving or acquiring what was in its day, the epitome of college football literature. My 1960 and '61 issues are particularly interesting and exciting to view, and for numerous reasons. There were a great number of players, more than in some other years, who made an indelible mark in college ball, the professional game, or both. It was also a two year period which demonstrated a number of variable helmet designs. Some players still wore what appear to be leather helmets. Some of these were plastic helmets which retained the leather helmet shape. Some have what are obviously the more rounded plastic helmets. Still others are wearing the very helmet that I wore through four years of high school football.
One of the best things about the photos from 1960 and 1961 (not to mention the cover of the 1962 regional issue of STREET AND SMITH that was sold in the states that encompassed the Atlantic Coast Conference) was the Macgregor helmet with external padding. This specific design had such a distinctive look that one could not miss it. Few teams en masse adopted this particular helmet, although a number of players on any specific team might have worn one due to preference or a decision made by the team's athletic trainer. Duke University's Jay Wilkinson, son of the great Oklahoma University coach Bud Wilkinson, was featured on the cover of the aforementioned 1962 issue. Duke was one of the premiere teams that used the externally padded helmet. In 1960, Ohio State also implemented its use, and its broad red "stripe" was very distinctive and instantly recognized. In 1966, Woody Hayes altered the color pattern, and featured a red helmet body and had the wide padded center colored silver with black striping. The Buckeyes wore this color combination for another year before switching to the "all plastic" helmet for the National Championship '68 season. Iowa too, had almost all of its players in this distinctive helmet. In upstate New York, the Big Red of Cornell and the highly respected Colgate University program (yes, Colgate! Think Marv Hubbard and Mark Van Egan and enough able bodies to block for them) made what I believe was "a package deal" with Macgregor and wore the externally padded helmet until the early 1970s. Cornell's Ivy League cohorts Harvard featured the same padded helmet.  In the West, BYU and Fresno State gave representation with this unique headgear. Last but certainly not least, Lawrence High School proudly wore an all yellow model, believing that this unusual type of helmet, used by almost no other full teams on Long Island or in the New York City area, allowed us a certain ability to hit harder and more effectively.
The September 1, 2001, ASK DR DELRYE section of the HELMET HUT site gave an excellent explanation of the externally padded helmet, complete enough that I would like to quote liberally from the given description. The center ridge "is actually a piece of foam padding which (was) covered in a sheet of synthetic leather" which was "then glued to the center ridge of the helmet and painted to match the helmet color." While this description was made regarding the helmet worn by Willie Lanier and Bobby Bell of the Kansas City Chiefs in the sixties and early '70s, which was actually formulated by KC equipment man Bobby Yarborough, it applies closely to the factory produced Macgregor model of a slightly earlier period of time. The helmet was essentially a "regular" helmet that had a wide strip of foam down the middle. To further draw upon DR. DELRYE'S response, it was believed that the external padding provided protection against concussion type of injury. Later studies and surveys revealed that when worn in practice, players suffered fewer contusions and scrapes which might have limited practice or playing time. DR. DELRYE pointed out the interesting fact that  "the entire Oklahoma Sooner team in the late 1970s and early 1980s wore this type of helmet in practice sessions only. They chose to wear the conventional non exterior padded shell for actual games."
Unfortunately, the exterior padded helmet fell into disregard because studies also indicated that they caused or were more highly correlated with an increase in the number of cervical spine (neck) injuries. Simple physics provides our explanation although I don't believe much thought was given to the "cause of increased injury" at the time. Simply put, external padding does not make a great deal of sense from the perspective of engineering economy. Applying the same logic to the newer external helmet coverings, we would note that the additional 12-14 ounces in weight, and one inch of padding altered the "feel" of the helmet and gave the wearer a definite awareness that he was wearing it. Often, the feel of the helmet served as a reminder to remain in proper hitting position. If we review the HELMET NEWS article, HELMET SAFETY, PART IV, we are aware that brain and cervical injury can occur from rotational acceleration which is a product of a number of factors that were clearly spelled out; moment arm length, mass or weight, and length of time of impact contact. The additional weight on the helmet shell increases its mass, thus increasing the potential for injury. Any increase in weight or mass also makes it more probable that the neck musculature of the player will fatigue faster, or more probably fall into an incorrect contact position, increasing the chance of injury. The foam and its covering on the Macgregor externally padded helmets (and similarly on the external helmet coverings used today) had a higher coefficient of friction and thus would increase the time of contact impact. As DR. DELRYE put it, "the exterior padded helmet had the opposite effect (of a quick helmet deflection) as the crevice shape and leather like surface of the exterior pad caused the helmet to cling to or grab the object it was colliding with. Under these circumstances the helmet would absorb rather than deflect the full force of the collision and transfer this force to a player's susceptible neck region." With increased time of impact contact, there would be an expected increase in rotational acceleration and a higher probability of injury.  Thus, the two factors of additional weight and mass of the helmet and the increase in contact time, both serve to increase rotational acceleration and potential resultant injury.
Now, if we assume that an extra inch or more of padding would be effective in reducing the frequency and severity of injury, I would agree with some researchers who have noted that the padding "is in the wrong place." Making an analogy to the automobile, if a material was developed that would be unequivocally protective, would you use it and add three inches in length to the bumper of the car, or would you put it inside the car (similar to the present day air bag)? Additional padding, if effective, is best placed within the confines of the helmet. Again we must keep in mind that there will be a tradeoff when utilizing additional helmet padding. Any additional weight, as noted previously, can lead to faster fatigue and slower reaction time when trying to keep the head from dropping upon contact, or when "pulling it back" into proper hitting position, so the benefits of added weight have to be weighed, with no pun intended, against any potential risk of injury. This is a major consideration. The length of time of actual contact upon impact is one of the determining factors in the severity of spinal cord injury and eventual impairment. Decreasing the time of actual impact contact may reduce the probability of quadriplegia or cord shearing and could be the ultimate difference between spinal cord tissue destruction, and "spinal shock."  
The exterior padding that is added to helmets today reportedly have a coefficient of friction that is the equivalent of the hard plastic shell. However, the padding will deform upon contact, increasing the surface area of the contact surface, and thus increasing the time of impact contact. Time of impact contact ultimately, is the factor, whether players, coaches, trainers, or manufacturers were aware of it at the time, that spelled the demise of the externally padded helmet.