With a readership and dedicated fans that are knowledgeable and passionate, HELMET HUT has a continuous flow of input that includes questions, comments, compliments, and corrections. Our staff agrees that all is appreciated and welcomed as we attempt to bring enjoyable, interesting, and accurate information to other helmet lovers like those of us wandering the premises of our company. Our May 2, 2009 ASK DR. DEL RYE column posted a number of interesting helmet adaptations including two presented for the always popular Joe Namath.  



Unlike most quarterbacks, Joe Namath often wore what most considered to be “linemen” facemasks to achieve greater facial protection, and why not? Broadway Joe was well known for his man-about-town adventures and good looks that made the ladies swoon and perhaps early in his professional career he knew that Hollywood and the theater’s stage would be calling. Before switching to one of his better known early cage type of masks such as the bolt on 1960’s vintage “Cow Catcher” as per his 1977 Los Angeles Rams helmet (and note the tape in the corners that served as protection from the worn off rubber dip)



the beloved Joe Willie protected his visage with a mouth and teeth protector made from sponge rubber covered with vinyl plastic. For the astute observers, the white dots that appear on the Jets decal are a reflection of a bank of stadium lights.




We were seemingly brought to task by an interested and observant reader that forced the staff to go directly to a relative, one who wishes to remain anonymous, of a long time locker room employee of the New York Jets. The individual our HELMET HUT staff interviewed was fortunate enough to have worked with his older relative as a part-time employee of the Jets, assisting within the confines of the locker and equipment rooms and we at HELMET HUT were fortunate enough to receive answers about the modification shown on Namath’s helmet. Unfortunately, the answers did not serve to clear up this interesting point of discussion but we will leave it to each reader and helmet fan to come to their own conclusion First, from our reader who questioned our description of Namath’s “mouth and teeth protector”:    


came across this cool photo that shows Namath is in fact sporting a special helmet fitted with "outgoing" speakers so that players can hear him in the huddle when the stadium becomes deafening. the dots on the jets decal are speaker holes, the block in the facemask is his mic, he has his index finger on the volume control, smaller rivets can be seen in the helmet that hold the small speakers in place. Inside shot of the helmet:




speaker holes:


volume control wheel:


This is the type of information that all of us on staff “live for” as we love to be able to go to our loyal fans and present them with accurate information. The photo of the inside of Namath’s helmet is especially revealing BUT questions remain. In summary, the conversation with our “Jets connection” immediately noted that it made “little sense to jam a speaker into the facemask. It is placed directly in ‘harm’s way’ where damage is almost guaranteed.” Studying the photos, we agreed that this presentation was “clearly a type of communication system” but during his time with the Jets and that of his uncle which included Broadway Joe’s entire tenure there beginning in 1965, there was “zero recollection of using anything like this. It might have been an experimental system but it was never, to (my) memory, ever used in an in-season game.” Perhaps this was a “mock-up” of a proposed sideline-to-quarterback speaker system with the addition of a microphone that would better allow the players on the field to hear Namath’s huddle instructions. However, as ingenious as this might have been for the time it was built and experimented with, our staff has been unable to verify its use during any actual play and the memory of the former Jets’ employee, cannot recall its use or existence at any time. A perfect system that would have allowed Joe to receive coaching instructions in an era when the quarterbacks still called almost all of the plays on the field? A communication system to better allow communication with players on the field and in the huddle? Something “ready to go” but disallowed by the NFL hierarchy because it would have given the Jets an unfair competitive advantage? This historical helmet modification will have to remain an interesting mystery until more information is uncovered.

Thank you for making us go the “extra mile” on this one.

Dr. Del Rye


Dear Doctor Del Rye:

Thank you for your columns, the research type of material on helmets is usually not what you can find in other places. It is appreciated. I am a fan of the military academies in general and the Air Force Academy more than the others (please see HELMET HUT features on Army and Navy

http://www.helmethut.com/College/Army/armyindex.html    http://www.helmethut.com/College/Navy/navyindex.html  )


I wanted to know if the football team always wore the lightening bolt logo on their helmets. Thank you for your time on this.

Roy R.

Evanston, Wyoming


Dear Roy,

We appreciate your nice comments and it truly is our pleasure to try to find the materials that allow our readership to get the answers they seek. As a resident of Wyoming and the home of the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, it will not surprise you nor those with a military background, but it may surprise some of our readers that the United States Air Force was not established until 1947. The United States Army had what might be termed an adjunctive flight related division dating to the early 1900’s and the Army, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Marine Corps held the responsibility of military flight operations through World War II. It was not until the passage of the National Security Act of 1947 and the creation of a separate U.S. Department of Defense, that the Department of the Air Force was established as one of three distinct branches of the United States Military. Though there was a proposal for a separate military flight academy as early as 1919, the United States Air Force Academy (USAF) did not swear in its first future officers until July 11, 1955, housing them at Lowry Air Base in Denver. These men would make up the first class graduating class in 1959. From its inception however, football was on the agenda. With the entrance requirements “heavy” on physical fitness and skills, the first class had excellent athletic representation and there was the immediate establishment of an eight game frosh schedule. With a policy of wanting a faculty comprised of military men, former San Francisco Forty Niner head coach Lawrence “Buck” Shaw was brought in as a “civilian advisor” for Academy Athletic Director and Head Football Coach Colonel Robert Whitlow. In reality, Shaw was the coach and was given the full title for the 1956 season. He dressed the team in silver helmets and what came to be called “Air Force blue” jerseys.


The Falcons took flight with their first “real” game schedule in 1956


 The helmets were adorned with the same shade of blue lightning bolts. Shaw continued to guide the new program until 1958, one which saw the team, and student body move to its new home in Colorado Springs.


Air Force action from the ’56 season


The change to white helmets came in 1958


With Ben Martin named as the new head coach, there was also a change to white helmets but the distinctive Air Force blue lightning bolt on both sides of the headgear was maintained.



Throughout the suspension helmet era and beyond, the white helmet with Air Force blue bolt has been the standard helmet appearance for the Academy. Some years have seen the helmet dressed with blue striping and later, with silver adornment either outlining the bolts and/or as an adjunctive striping design.


However, from the outset, the United States Air Force Academy football program has proudly announced its presence, one that has been quite successful, first with silver helmets, then with white as the long-lasting and standard appearance, but always with their outstanding lightning bolts.     





Dear Dr. Del Rye:

I hope you don’t mind that I took this photo from your Illinois display in the College Section of the website.



This is the Illinois helmet that was worn from 1971 – 1976. I have always been an Illinois fan and always liked this helmet. I thought it was pretty unique and wanted to get an idea where the design came from. Any information would be appreciated, thank you.

Jake M.

Palatine, IL



Dear Jake,

Thank you for your question and if one goes to the HELMET HUT Illinois display for this specific helmet design [  http://www.helmethut.com/College/Illinios/UI7176.html ]   they can read the seasonal histories. Fans of the Illini can thank Bob Blackman for this very interesting and eye-catching design. Blackman was an extremely successful head coach who had played as captain of the freshman squad at the University Of Southern California. His playing career was cut short when he contracted polio. Though almost an afterthought in today’s society, polio was a feared and crippling disease until the mid to late 1950’s when effective vaccines that brought it under control were introduced. Blackman became a student assistant and then an assistant coach on the USC staff as he achieved recovery from his illness and then moved up through the coaching ranks. From the University of Denver, he became the long time head coach at Dartmouth University. Mike Brown, the current president of the Cincinnati Bengals and the son of the legendary great coach Paul Brown, was slated for the starting quarterback spot at Dartmouth for the 1956 season. Upon Brown’s recommendation, Dartmouth hired Blackman from Denver and from 1955 through the 1970 season, he put in sixteen years that included three undefeated seasons and a 104-37-3 record. Before the 1965 season, Blackman wanted to add a distinctive and immediately recognizable appearance to the Dartmouth headgear.


The white shell with parallel green striping and block letter “D” on the front was worn by the Dartmouth squad through 1986 and became as one source noted, “as much of a trademark as Michigan’s famed ‘winged’ helmet.” Certainly in any Ivy League contest, the Dartmouth helmet immediately stood out.



After the undefeated season of 1970, Blackman took the leap into the Big Ten and headed the Illinois program. He changed the helmet design to roughly mimic his Dartmouth helmet and this certainly was an effort to give the Illini a unique on-the-field appearance. One can also be sure that it was meant to give pride to what had become a rather downtrodden program. The burnt orange shell with “rainbow” style striping and “Illini” logo was truly unique to the Big Ten and enjoyed by many fans.



Unfortunately, Blackman’s six year stay at Illinois was not successful and after going 29-36-1, he returned to Cornell and coached through the 1982 season.


Defensive lineman Robert Weggler shows off Cornell helmet of Blackman era



He retired and was enshrined into the College Football Hall Of Fame but was again remembered for perpetuating a unique helmet design as his Cornell players also featured helmets adorned with a stylish arching, parallel striped look. Thus in addition to a winning record and motivating style, Bob Blackman’s legacy includes a specific type of helmet style that has been well remembered at three different universities.


Weggler, a highly successful collegiate rugby coach at Norwich University was one of the nation’s first players to model his hair style after his helmet’s stripe pattern.