"More on Simplicity"



By Dr. Ken


There may not be a lot of individuals concerned enough about the inaccuracies of the NFL Legacy and Throwback uniforms I mentioned in the November HELMET HUT Helmet News/Reflections column, but we are all making similar comments and I certainly appreciate the e mails I received about this matter. The UNI WATCH site [ http://www.uniwatchblog.com/ ] does a wonderful job of describing and discussing the uniform vagaries of all sports and did a particularly excellent November 14, 2009 column about the early 1960’s AFL uniforms. My wife recently commented on the unadorned externally padded MacGregor helmets I wore in high school and this sparked further conversation in our facility about the garish new designs seen at every level of the game. As a reminder that simple is in fact better, I took yet another look at a wonderful photo of legendary Wyoming, Ohio High School coaching legend Bob Lewis.



I have, in many past columns, noted that upon my arrival at Cincinnati in the mid-1960's, I learned quickly that Ohio high school football ranked at the top of the list in the 1950’s and ‘60’s. The province of tough steel and coal industry youngsters, there was a great mix of big and strong, small and strong, and always tough players to fill most rosters within the state’s borders. The arguments raged as to where the best high school football was played. Today, its clear, as reflected in the number of Division 1 and overall number of football scholarships given, that Florida, California, and Texas are far ahead of the rest of the country. The weather, summer passing leagues, emphasis upon football, and primarily the shift in population centers are all legitimate reasons for this. Fifty years ago, evening long arguments discussed the merits of Ohio and Pennsylvania high school ball and how it stacked up against Texas. Florida as a recruiting center wasn’t even a pipe dream as the relatively under populated state’s football powers traveled to Ohio and Pennsylvania for the majority of their players. Louisiana and Mississippi would have the right to pipe up about having the most NFL players relative to population numbers and density but overall opinion, no matter where a fan lived, always left Ohio at or near the top of the heap. Bob Lewis built a dynasty at Cincinnati area Wyoming High School, earning a first year mark of 8-1 in 1956, and then tacking together six undefeated seasons in the seven years between 1958 and 1964. His 1962 squad was still a hot topic of conversation among the UC coaching staff and quite a few of the players two and three years later. Scoring 446 points and giving up zero (that’s a 446-0 advantage) in their 10-0 season, Lewis obviously had a powerhouse in what was then the best high school football area in the nation. Wow, I was impressed.


The photo above of Lewis handing out equipment to one of his players, makes the simple white helmet of Wyoming, appear to be the transference of a sacrament. To the players Lewis coached, I have no doubt that it truly was an honor to be able to wear that white headgear and be able to represent the school on Friday nights through the late 1950’s and 1960’s. Lewis did in fact coach through the 1978 season when he spent the year defending his 1977 Ohio State AA championship. Unfortunately, the convoluted system used to select playoff teams incredibly left Wyoming out of the hunt and off of the playoff list, despite the fact that they had secured the state’s Number One ranking and defended their title with an undefeated 10-0 record and maintained an average margin of victory of 39-5! Disgusted with the system, Lewis took his incredible record across the Ohio River to Conner High School in Boone County, Kentucky where not surprisingly, he shortly thereafter won the Kentucky State Championship. One might think that the Wyoming helmet, especially after charging through the 1960’s with eight league championships in ten years, would reflect their greatness with all kinds of “bells and whistles” but Lewis kept it simple, never gaudy.

Paul Brown’s 1949 Cleveland Browns of the AAFC in their “plain” white helmets drag down Chicago Hornets great Elroy Hirsch


This was “the style” of the day. Not only in high school, but in college too, the helmets were rarely “over decorated” and the emphasis remained on the team, not on the individual. Paul Brown once made the statement that there was nothing worse than a bad team dressed in a loud, attention-attracting uniform and at all levels, from Massillon to Ohio State, to the Browns and Bengals, Brown opted for simplicity.


The great Jim Brown in another rather straight forward Cleveland Browns helmet; non-stylized and to the point, just like his running.



Paul Robinson of the Bengals in another “Paul Brown Production.” The simple yet beautiful Cincinnati Bengals uniform


Interestingly, in a discussion that centered upon this season’s Throwback and Legacy uniforms, the commentators, almost all former NFL players of recent vintage, ridiculed the attire. The criticism ranged from the “terrible colors” to the “lack of imagination” to designs that were “too simple.” To those commentators and current players I would succinctly note that as a glaring example of emphasis mistakenly and yes, stupidly placed upon the “sizzle” rather than upon “the steak,” just look at the NFL’s special teams play. Most of the special teams members are the players on the bottom of the rosters in a league whose inflated numbers have already caused a serious dilution of talent. These are the guys just hanging on. They are playing special teams because they are expendable. Barely “making it” they run down under a kickoff and make a tackle or are in on a tackle. They arise from the pile, rush to separate themselves from every other player on the field in order to grab the camera’s spotlight, and do some bastardized version of a shake and bake dance that is strangely reminiscent of a severe neurological disorder. They did no more than the required job and often, forgetting to wrap up on the tackle, did the minimal job, one they need to do in order to remain on the team for another week. Yet, like their uniforms and helmets, they are jumping around begging for attention. I know that I will remain hopelessly outdated but I long for the days when the helmets provided immediate identification of one’s favorite team and players, one that made the appropriate statement. If nothing else, the helmets of today, for the most part, unfortunately are reflective of the values that the rest of the game gives to its audience.