Dear Dr. Del Rye,

I enjoy all of the Helmet Hut features and I learned a lot looking back at the Helmet News explanation of concussions and injuries. I know that the columns were written for the average fan but with concussion such a hot topic, is there a simple and short explanation for guys like me who are just regular guys? I would like to talk about it as if I knew something and I think I do know a little but is there an easy summary? Thanks, I know this is not really a helmet type of question but an answer would be great.

Very truly yours,


Lawton, OK

Dear Douglas,

Thank you for the question and I agree that anything related to the game of football, helmets, and concussion certainly is “the” topic of conversation among fans, players, front office personnel, and medical professionals. The series of articles in the HELMET NEWS section that began in February 2004 and ran through December of 2004 is a concise summary, written for the “non-professional” but I will attempt to give a shorter summary, one that can be “carried” into normal, every day conversation with fellow fans.


As early as 1960, Dr. John Mealy, as reported in the Journal of The Indiana Medical Association of March 1963, noted that “the etiology of the rising incidence of football head injuries is external trauma transmitted through the helmet to the skull and brain. Increasing numbers of heavier and quicker athletes, head up tackling and ball tackling are some of the recent factors in the sport that could contribute to the increased number of serious head injuries. These factors would provide for greater collision impacts and potentially more lethal types of injuries. However, the most widely held opinions suggest that the design and construction of the rigid plastic helmet, with its projecting faceguard, unpadded occipital rim, and inner sling suspension is deficient. This type of helmet may well serve to increase rather than decrease the likelihood of serious cranio-cerebral trauma, as well as cervical cord injuries.”

“Head Up Tackling” or blocking as noted by Dr. Mealy often translated to “head down” and excessive compression on the head and spinal cord

After stating that we would provide an easy to understand summary of concussion in football, this might seem an unlikely way to do so but this published medical statement is significant because Dr. Mealy, more than fifty years ago, identified most of the on-the-field problems we still have today! Despite the fact that the influx of money now available for football related concussion has made this a little talked about and behind-the scenes “big business,” and every legitimate and self-appointed expert has reason to push forth their own agendas, most professionals agree that the actual cause of concussion is a shear-strain or stretch type of injury. The old thought was that one’s brain was “crunched” or compressed with hard contact but as the series of HELMET NEWS articles points out, the uniform density of blood, nerve tissue, and cerebrospinal fluid, the relative inability to actually compress the brain, and the brain’s “willingness” to provide minimal resistance to changes in shape relative to the resistance offered to changes in size, all point to “stretch injury.” Certainly the brain can be bruised due to contact, especially if the brain strikes the inside of the bony skull but think about the elements of the brain being pulled apart or stretched to the point where nerve cells can no longer function normally. This is considered the more frequent cause of concussion. Once this occurs, there is a chemical response that also alters brain function. The damaging stretching and subsequent chemical reactions in the brain equal “concussion.” I believe in any every day conversation among your friends and fellow fans, this would be a very accurate summary:

-         the brain can be damaged or injured by a direct impact

-         the brain can be damaged or injured if it strikes the hard inside surface of the skull

-         the brain can be injured if the nerve tissue pathways are stretched or pulled apart beyond a certain point

-         the brain’s function is altered if the stretch of the tissue is enough to cause chemical reactions

The no longer seen picture perfect shoulder block of the mid-1950’s


The points that Dr. Mealy made resonate today:

“Head up tackling” which very much came with the introduction of the face mask often places the head and neck in a dangerous position when contact is made. Mike Ditka has strongly advocated the removal of the face mask from helmets which would cause tacklers to make initial contact with the shoulder.

Classic 1950’s “lead with the shoulder” tackling technique, advocated by Ditka


“…the design and construction of the rigid plastic helmet with its projecting faceguard, unpadded occipital rim, and inner sling suspension is deficient.” With the evolution of the helmet to provide enhanced internal padding, alteration in shape to protect the different parts of the face and skull that receive the greatest impact forces, and changes in facemask design with of course a rewriting of the rules, the concussion incidence is still of epidemic proportions. The suspension helmet was a great step forward from the leather helmets that preceded it and today’s helmets actually are well designed for their purpose but as football is played, there is no one or easy answer to prevent severe head injury. The lack of proper tackling technique in any game, especially at the NFL level is obvious and would be laughable if it did not cause so many severe head injuries as player’s attempt “kill shots” instead of solid, reliable tackling of the ball carrier. Better technique that removes the head and face as a weapon on the field, as well as the continuing improvement in shock transfer and absorption helmets will continue to be the sought after answer.


Your question hopefully has been answered but there is no easy answer to the current dilemma of head injuries on the field.

Dr. Del Rye


Dr. Del Rye: 

There are so many different colleges and pro teams through the years and they all outfitted their teams with different brands of helmets, masks, pads, etc. Because of this I know its impossible to put an exact date on most equipment changes or events so to speak but do you know when the regular one bar mask and two bar mask were phased out of college football? I hope you can answer this and I appreciate it. I love the features on Helmet Hut.

Thank you

Raymond Vincent



Dear Raymond,

You’re correct of course, its difficult to trace the evolution of football equipment and state with any single date of accuracy that “this specific item was eliminated from the game in the year 19__.” Budgetary concerns, the personal preference of individual players, coaches, or equipment managers, and the availability of certain items may have kept a piece of uniform attire or a protective item in play years after “almost everyone else” ceased its use. Closely related to the aforementioned variables is the “absence of absolutes” for lack of a better term. For example, College and Pro Football Hall Of Fame wide receiver Tommy “Shoo Fly” McDonald is credited with being the last non-kicker in the National Football League to play without wearing a face mask of any kind. His sparkling career spanned five pro teams between 1957 and 1968 and he made the last of his six Pro Bowl selections in 1965 with the Los Angeles Rams.


McDonald as a Eagles player, without a face mask

His slim 5’9”, 175 frame streaking through the secondary without the protection of a facemask made him immediately recognizable to fans yet McDonald did at times wear a facemask. That he did so for example, in 1960 during the Eagles Championship season, made this fact quite noticeable yet many experts will state without hesitation that “McDonald never wore a face mask while playing professional football.” This is merely an example of player preference that indicates a variation, especially in this specific case, that is directly in contrast to the player’s most distinctive uniform trait.  


Packers fullback Jim Taylor wore a one bar mask early in his career, and switched to a two bar mask afterward. Standard protection for fullbacks who did the bulk of their running between the tackles, the two bar mask was Taylor’s choice throughout the latter part of his career.

For those seeking clear and concise answers, the addendum to the above statement is that “the two bar mask was Taylor’s choice throughout the latter part of his career, except when it wasn’t!” For example, in the NFL-AFL Championship Game of 1966, Super Bowl I, Taylor switched to a single bar mask.

Thus player preference alone makes it impossible to put a definite date on the extinction of any specific mask or helmet model. However, a close examination of most of the major publications indicates that by the end of the 1976 season, there were only a scattered few in the collegiate or professional ranks still using a two bar mask.

Missouri Tailback Dean Leibson in 1976


Colorado’s Jeff Knapple wears two bar mask with addition of U Bar in 1976 game

Ken Anderson as an obvious example, wore a two bar mask into the 1980’s, another example of an individual player having a preference that made him singular in his choice for most if not all games in any particular season. 


***WARNING***  What you are about to read is true. The names have NOT been changed to protect the innocent!



Dr. Delrye,


Why is it that some teams, such as the Packers and Bears, have the letters on their helmets reversed: the "G" or the "C" face in different directions on the two sides of their helmets. I cannot find an explanation for this.

Before we answer this question, do you feel that the Packer and bear fans are dyslexic?  Should they look at one side of the helmet logo backwards?  If we understand you correctly, should one side of the Jets logo be reversed and say steJ?   We want to answer your question but we are not sure we understand it.  We think you are pulling our leg and we love it.  For the English reading viewers, the alphabet is read and viewed in one direction.  Now the question is, have you ever seen a helmet logo displaying a letter or letters backwards?  We have dozens of them on our store from Illinois, to STATE to Florida to Georgia.

eyrleD .rD

Sorry there, Dr Rye, I was not legging your pull. It was a question, honest. My visualization skills obviously need upgrading. Go Pack! Fan the Bears!!



You are a good sport.  Of course we can use this question if we like, but we will ask you first if not to reveal your last name.  We all do this Dan, just in different ways.