Bill Austin 1955
(Authentic Reproduction)

A number of years ago, this author who had occasionally listened to local “sports radio” stopped doing so based on a singular comment made by a broadcaster with the reputation as “the most knowledgeable in the market.” This experienced broadcaster was expressing his displeasure with the New York Giants alternate jerseys, red in color with white numerals. He threw a five minute “hissy-fit” over what he determined to be inappropriate Giants game attire because “they’re Big Blue, their color is blue, they wear red numerals on their away jerseys but they’ve never worn red jerseys.” My assumption that every Giants fan knew that the Giants favored home jersey was red decades ago was immediately viewed as flawed. The assumption of most Giants fans that “the Giants were great in the 1950s and ‘60s” is also not accurate with the more precise statement being that the team was in fact great for a block of time that spanned but part of each decade. The Giants team that Oregon State guard Bill Austin joined in 1949 was a 4 – 8 contingent in 1948, that improved a bit to 6 – 6 in his rookie season. They were terrific in 1950, finishing at 10 – 2 but could not unlock the secret to toppling the new-to-the-NFL Cleveland Browns in their division. Austin, secure as a starter, missed the Giants gradual slide headed by coach Steve Owens who refused to give up his Single Wing Offense while the rest of the league moved forward with variations of the T, Split T, and pass friendly attacks because he was in the United States Army, joining many professional athletes who were called to service during the Korean War.



Having missed the 1951 and ’52 seasons, Austin, a 6’1”, 223 pound dynamo returned from his service commitment on time for the ’53 season, a 3 – 9 disappointment that saw Owens’ introduction of his “Swing T” formation. This hybrid of the Single Wing that was to transmute into a variant of the T Formation on the move after the snap of the ball proved to be an ill-advised innovation and ended Owens 1930 – ’53 reign as Giants head coach. Austin remained a part of improving Giants teams through the glorious 1956 season, one that ended as World Champions after clubbing the Chicago Bears on an icy Yankee Stadium field 47 – 7. This proved to be a bigger thrill for the “ultimate team player” that Austin was, than his All Pro nomination and Pro Bowl appearance of 1954. 1956 began a run of excellent Giants teams with championship game appearances through 1963 against the Colts, Packers, and Bears but Austin, expected to return for the ’57 season, retired as a player after ’56. He began a respected coaching career, first as an assistant at Wichita State and then joining the Giants’ former offensive coordinator Vince Lombardi at Green Bay when the Packers turnaround would begin in 1959. The truly great teams that featured the famed Packer Sweep came under the tutelage of Austin. He nurtured and pushed offensive linemen Forrest Gregg, Jerry Kramer, and Jim Ringo into the Pro Football Hall Of Fame, Fred Thurston to multiple All Pro selections, and team captain Bob Skoronski to an All Pro honor.  In ’65 Austin moved to the Rams, again teaching offensive line skills and received a head coaching job, many believed an impossible one, with the woeful Pittsburgh Steelers. He held the top spot from ’66 through 1968 where his records slipped from 5 – 8 – 1 to 4 – 9 – 1 to 2 – 11 – 1 that cost him his job.

Austin rejoined Lombardi when the latter took charge of the Redskins in 1969 and when the great head coach succumbed to cancer prior to the start of the ’70 season Austin became the Interim Head Coach and did well to guide the emotionally wracked team to a 6 – 8 mark. Bill Austin, a solid, dependable player at both Oregon State where he played well enough to enter the Oregon Sports Hall Of Fame, and as an All Pro with the Giants, served the role of the solid, dependable assistant coach, teaching offensive lines for many years with the Bears, Redskins, Giants, Jets, and the New Jersey Generals of the USFL. Austin could comfortably be described as solid but not unique as a player or coach. The helmet he wore in the 1955 season however, was in fact a bit unique and different.    


Giants’ equipment managers Charles Cordero and Richard Flaherty like most of their era were resourceful and innovative, frequently customizing or altering the limited available equipment to meet the needs of their players. This wonderful authentic reproduction of Bill Austin’s 1955 helmet features the Lucite mask that was worn by many NFL and collegiate players during the 1954 and ’55 seasons until removed from the field of play by the NFL. In very cold weather such as seen in Green Bay or Chicago for example, the Lucite masks would become brittle and shatter upon impact, posing a danger of eye and facial injury to the involved players. This Austin Riddell RK 4 helmet displays the thick, Lucite single bar which Cordero and/or Flaherty enhanced with a standard plastic single bar, positioned parallel to the Lucite bar, and placed at approximately eye level. Perhaps neither as noticeable nor as well known among helmet history aficionados as the angled, double single masked helmet worn by Giants teammate, linebacker Bill Svoboda, this Bill Austin 1955 helmet is a beautiful representation of a by-gone era and a period of time of creative innovation in the National Football League.