By Dr. Ken 


Whenever I write one of the monthly Helmet News/Reflections columns for the HELMET HUT site, I make the assumption that those who take the time to read the article have a strong interest not only in football, but in team uniforms and of course, helmets. My wife and daughter intermittently but frequently remind me that there can’t be as many self-admitted “helmet nuts” walking the streets as they believe me to be, but if there is a point of focus for those of us of similar ilk, it would be HELMET HUT.  I also assume that many if not most readers have a helmet, and perhaps more than one helmet, in their collection of football “stuff.” I personally do not see what I have accumulated as memorabilia so I don’t use that term though some collect specifically to enhance a collection, or add monetary value to a collection of football related items specifically for the purpose of having items of material value. In my house, that explanation would at least be acceptable and understandable. My personal collection is built upon memories that the items stimulate, all pieces of a personal history that remind me of specific events, games, periods of time or place. With a lot of helmets, it equates to a lot of memories but “each to their own” and I never question the motivation that one might have for saving, purchasing, or collecting anything. Believe me, I get it!


Because my collection is in the truest sense of the word, “mine,” others cannot fathom the “rhyme or reason” in the display when viewing the helmets that line the wall of our office/rehabilitation facility. Certainly it makes sense to me only because of the deeply personal sense of the collection and the manner in which it is arranged and I will at regular intervals, rearrange the two hundred- plus helmets for a multitude of reasons. Some don’t always easily accept that one grouping might be based upon a specific collegiate conference “from 1965” or that the many game worn professional league helmets are from patients who have played in various leagues leading to a mixture of NFL, AFL, my beloved WFL, CFL, WLAF, and Arena League for example. A grudge that I harbor for some specific teams or colleges, usually based upon a relationship that one of my sons or I have had with that institution or franchise, might eliminate their individual helmets from my collection. This causes more confusion and requires explanation for those who view or attempt to view the shelves with a sense of logic. Thus, one can say that if nothing else, the helmets, their arrangement, and the exacting nature of the choice of helmets is quite personal.


Young or old, contemporary who played during the same period of time I did or a current high school student, one observation does seem to be prevalent; “How come many of the helmets are so plain?”


I’m not offended by the query because in comparison to many of the helmets, with a preponderance of reproductions from HELMET HUT, those which are of a one color shell with or without a center stripe or striping, with “just a number on the sides,” are quite “plain.” If our reader takes the time to go to the “College” section of the site and look through the many beautiful reproductions that trace the seasonal history of so many wonderful teams, they will in fact view great striping patterns, and traditional and clearly defining logos or decals. “Why then,” comes the question, “would you want a plain helmet with just numbers on the sides?” First there is beauty in “simple.” The timeless consistency, tradition, and legacy of Alabama’s uniforms for example and especially the helmet, provides a clear example. A crimson helmet with a one-inch white center stripe and white player identification numerals on each side could be one of a large number of universities from Division 1 through NAIA colleges, yet most of us would look at a photo and immediately know or at least suspect, “Alabama.” Obviously, if the iconic helmet is atop the head of Joe Namath, who would be immediately recognized, the point is lost.

However, for the knowledgeable fan, “its Alabama” just sort of comes immediately to mind from the color combination and the fact that we are ingrained to think of the helmet as “an Alabama helmet” rather than a New Mexico State football helmet.

On a personal note, I enjoyed watching the Alabama teams of the early to mid-1960’s, all of them in fact from 1958 through the end of Coach Paul Bryant’s reign because they represented hard work, relentless physical and emotional preparation, and a symbol of Bryant’s struggle to move forward from a hardscrabble life of poverty. Both Bryant’s story and that of Alabama’s resurgence under his leadership were and remain inspiring and it only takes one glance at the “plain Alabama helmet” to serve as a reminder. LSU was a favorite team, one first seen on a black and white television that left me wondering what color the uniforms were, especially the helmets. Although I had seen the Louisiana State University Chinese Bandits in action in 1958 and immediately felt captivated by them, it wasn’t until October of 1959, over a year later, that I saw the cover of two different magazines, both dated November 1959, that I was able to finally see the uniforms in color.



Both Sport Magazine and Strength And Health Magazine carried photos of Billy Cannon on their respective covers. S&H showed Cannon posed alone, while Sport Magazine showed him with his head coach Paul Dietzel. Inside the magazine was a larger photo of the two together. Finally I saw the Green Bay gold and purple combination that to my young eyes, looked somehow, elegant and different. Cannon, being among the first of the successful weight trained gridiron heroes of the day, caught my imagination as I was one of the only twelve year olds in our town, in our area, that actually lifted weights to help propel me to greater gridiron heights. With Cannon’s Heisman winning exploits to motivate me and the great LSU uniform, I became an immediate fan of both the team and the uniform. Thus, the “plain” LSU helmet, a bit more “striped” than that of Alabama yet adorned only with player numerals on each side, became the standard of excellence for me.


I can still look at the specific LSU helmets, and immediately note the differences in the numeral size and styles among those from 1957, 1959, and 1966 for example. I can think of the backs that in my young eyes were “great” and at times seemed larger than life though many were perhaps stars or well known only within the state of Louisiana or the SEC. As a high school player I was motivated by thoughts of Cannon and Johnny Robinson of course, but also of Earl Gros, Jerry Stovall, Bo Campbell, and Danny LeBlanc. I can look around me during the course of a day’s work and still “feel” the reminder that there is excellence to be attained on this specific day, work that can be approached with purpose and enthusiasm, goals that can be captured with the same type of focus and dedication that brought success on the football field. The “plain” numbered helmets are just as effective in providing these feelings and memories as the more decorated ones and this of course, is why each individual’s collection is so surely their own, plain or not.