"Every Year Gives Inspiration"



Every Year Gives Inspiration 


By Dr. Ken 


Decades of hindsight allow one to realize what events or years were more significant than others, with that significance garnered for a variety of reasons. What may have seemed typical or usual at the time often, and only with the benefit of long range perspective, proves to be a turning point or highlight in one’s development or ability to respond to a specific event. The 1962 football season was typical in many ways for me but only with the advantage of the aforementioned long range perspective, proved to have significance beyond typical. The season was approached with a great deal of anticipation and an excitement that began as early as May of the preceding spring. A disproportionate number of high school football players in our area participated in spring track and field competition. Many coaches insisted that their football players participate in track or field events to better prepare them for football. In essence, and with the absence of legal spring football practice that was commonplace in other parts of the nation, track and field allowed off-season supervision of football players, and a serviceable means of getting them into condition prior to the arduous pre-season demands of an organized running and agility program.




Some football players utilized track to stay in shape for football. Some track athletes parlayed their speed into a successful football career. Cliff Branch was a high school track star who was as heavily recruited for his football prowess as he was his outstanding track and sprinter’s reputation, coming out of Evan Worthing High School in Houston, Texas. He continued competing at both sports while in attendance at Wharton County (Texas) Junior College and Colorado University. Despite national level ability and results in track, almost every fan remembers Branch only as a vital cog in the 1970’s and early-1980’s Raiders football team.



Even at the height of track season, many of us viewed our track participation as “early football season” and maintained that mentality through the end of the high school academic year and as we began our summer employment. As has been discussed numerous times in my HELMET NEWS/REFLECTIONS columns, college football was not yet a full time, all-year-round endeavor for Division One players. Typical would be the pursuit of a summer job requiring arduous manual labor, the harsher and heavier the better. At least the coaches believed that the harder one worked at physically demanding jobs, the greater the resultant build-up of “natural strength.” For most coaches, any type of increase in muscular size or strength that occurred as a result of weight training, was still viewed as “artificial” and not as “useable” or functional as that gained through what the old-timers referred to as “an honest day’s work.” For those of us considered to be either misinformed or visionaries who combined a difficult and demanding type of summer employment with organized strength training utilizing barbells and/or dumbbells, we actually proved to be early prototypes of what would become the accepted way of preparing football players, perhaps fifteen to twenty years in the future. Although I had been involved with weight training since the age of twelve, often as part of a group of much older men and teenagers, I can recall making a very conscious commitment to become as strong and fast as possible for the ’62 season. In tandem with my summer job that consisted of carrying and lifting heavy sections of iron beams, working “high iron” while carrying pails of tools to the skilled welders and riveters, and generally performing the manual labor tasks assigned to the least experienced of employees, I was certainly covering all bases when it came to the physical preparation of my body prior to the start of August football camp.



As the 1962 football season approached, every potential Long Beach High School football candidate aspired to be the next Gerard Albert or Harmon Stromberg, stars of the most recent teams, and take over the mantle of “football hero.” In this 1961 photo against Lawrence High School, the variety of great older helmet styles is evident, with MacGregor and Wilson models widely used in the Long Island, N.Y. area. The discerning eye will also note the smaller than usual jersey numbers worn at Lawrence.


The predictions for collegiate and professional football that year were tremendously exciting, as was the potential of some of our local players. One of the fellows from a neighboring high school was going to attend and play at Purdue University, another at Miami in Florida. Kansas was in touch with one of the well-known stars preparing for his senior season and the magazines were chock full of stories and photos of a few individuals that were perhaps not well known to my teammates but whose immediate future held a lot of interest for me. The quarterback among a terrific group that spanned the nation, that I was hoping would prove to be the best, was George Mira of Miami. What many forget, especially as “The U” became highly successful and of course, notorious in so many national headline stories, was that Miami was a pedestrian program that recruited many, if not most of its players from Pennsylvania, Ohio, and the northeastern United States. The population of their own area just did not support a successful football program, although that would obviously change with the shift in the national population [see the HELMET HUT seasonal summaries and helmet displays for Miami at http://www.helmethut.com/College/Miami/miamiindex.html ]. As that ’62 season also seemed to stimulate what had been a nascent interest in football helmet and uniform design into a full-blown obsession, special attention was also paid to Miami’s on-field sartorial presentation. The Miami uniform offered observers a glimpse at one of the uniform designs prevalent during ’62, with their white, away jersey featuring a contrasting green sleeve insert with the TV number within it. Even with the conservative, one color, solid helmet shell augmented with identifying player numeral, the addition of the sleeve insert containing the TV number made the uniform style a winner. 


Miami QB George Mira was the toast of college football during the 1962 season. The Miami jersey featured the contrasting sleeve insert that gave the uniform distinction.  Mira’s Riddell helmet was very much the standard that collegiate season but Pitt’s defender displays the variety that added a great deal of flavor to the era.



Of course there were other jersey styles that were eye-catching and served to provide a variety of appearances for fans interested in such things. Shoulder stripes that unlike today’s slap-dash fashion, completely encircled the shoulder yoke, varying sizes of front and rear numerals, contrasting color knit collars and sleeve bottoms, a selection of sleeve striping, and different combinations of the jersey options made for wonderful viewing. 1962 was perhaps one of the final seasons where such a wide variety of helmet styles were also widespread. The standard jersey numeral size for all levels of play, was a ten-inch number on the front of the jersey and twelve-inch in back. A few teams still wore eight-inch numerals on the front of the jerseys and ten or twelve-inch on the back.




The difference between the jersey numerals on the front of Ohio State’s all-time great linebacker Dwight “Ike” Kelley and those worn by the 1964 Tulsa University team is evident. Tulsa’s teams were famous for their prodigious passing game, leading the nation in passing offense from 1962 through 1966. Head Coach Glenn Dobbs fielded one of the first offenses that provided a throwing quarterback with a huge, pass blocking line. He dressed the line in jerseys with the largest numerals possible in order to make what was for the era, a huge offensive line, appear to be even bigger.  


A few went to an “oversized” appearance with twelve-inch numerals for both front and back, with a contrasting outline around the numerals. This twelve-inch outlined full block number would usually fill the front or back of the jersey’s complete width, also giving the appearance of an even larger numeral. It was the belief of some coaches and equipment managers that this made the players look larger and more intimidating.



Some believed that the smaller eight-inch jersey numerals rather than the larger twelve-inch size, made the players look more imposing. Of course, Army’s great Davis and Blanchard would have been imposing wearing ballroom dresses!


The popularity of the various brands of externally padded helmets had peaked with a number of highly visible teams still outfitting their entire teams in these models. Over the course of a few seasons, the disadvantages of external padding, despite a very distinctive look and what appeared to be a “common sense advantage” over non-padded shells, became obvious and they were phased out, leaving rare pockets of teams or individual players still wearing these by the mid-1960’s [see HELMET NEWS/REFLECTIONS March 2004, http://www.helmethut.com/Dr.Ken5.html   ].     



Tackle JV McCarthy of Duke stopping All American Brian Piccolo of Wake Forest. Piccolo of course gained later fame as running mate of the Chicago Bears Gale Sayers and had his unfortunate illness chronicled in a major movie. Duke, still a top team in the early 1960’s, displays the externally padded white shell whose royal blue external pad stood out beautifully.



The variety of helmet and jersey design styles had great appeal for me. I found few friends or teammates who “saw what I saw.” The interest in jersey colors and sleeve stripes, the numeral size on the helmet or jersey front, and a change in helmet manufacturer that any specific team might have made, just didn’t prove to be interesting subjects to the typical high school student, even those who immersed themselves in athletics. The 1962 football season proved to be an awakening of sorts, bringing the realization that as hard as I thought I worked towards my goals, harder work would be necessary to find athletic success. It also brought the realization that my interest in everything related to football uniform appearance and design, just wasn’t a standard focus of interest for others. Both realizations led to a great deal of enjoyment and success.