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Helmets Make the Team
by Randy Snow
Originally posted on ArenaFan.com, Thursday, July 13, 2006

Football is a fan favorite for many reasons. The tailgating, the spectacle surrounding the games (especially in college football) and the fact that every game matters are just a few of the reasons. The appeal to fans goes way beyond the game itself. It also has a lot to do with the look of the teamís uniforms, and more specifically, the teamís helmet.

Is there a more recognizable icon in all of sports than the football helmet? How many times have you found yourself hating (or loving) a particular team simply based on what their helmet looks like? Iíll bet itís more often than you want to admit!

It is important for every team to have a unique identity and that uniqueness comes, in large part, from the design and color of the helmet. This is true at every level of football, from the NFL to the Arena league and even on down to the high school football level.

The Los Angeles Rams are credited with being the first team in the NFL to have a design on its helmets way back in 1948. Thatís when Rams halfback Fred Gehrke painted the familiar ram horns on his helmet that the team still uses to this day. Most of the other NFL teams didnít begin using helmet insignias until the 1960ís. Today, only the Cleveland Browns are bucking the trend.

In college football, the winged maize and blue design of the University of Michigan helmet has got to rank as the most recognizable football helmet, ever. It was the brainchild of Coach Herbert "Fritz" Crisler when he was coaching at Princeton University. Crisler wanted his quarterback to be able to spot his receiver more easily on the field. When Crisler came to the U of M in 1938, he brought the helmet design with him.

However, several major college football teamsí helmets still remain naked and boring today. They include Army, Navy, Syracuse, Ohio State, Penn State, Boston College and Notre Dame. In my opinion, the only team on that list that I can understand having a plain, solid color helmet, is Notre Dame. The golden dome atop the schoolís main administration building on campus was the inspiration for their helmets.

Then there is the University of Alabama, which puts the playerís number on the side of its red helmets. Even though itís not officially a logo, it does make them unique and instantly recognizable to anyone who sees the helmet, so Iíll them slide also.

While some college teams are getting away with having plain helmets, it is especially important for high school teams to have some sort of helmet insignia. A high school team with a plain helmet is really doing a disservice to its fans as well as the entire community. A unique helmet design will set each high school team apart from the other teams in the surrounding area.

Many local newspapers often include pictures of team helmets when previewing Friday night high school football games. If the helmets are plain and boring to look at in the paper, imagine how they look on the field. They say that first impressions are everything and a good-looking football helmet definitely gets peopleís attention.

A generic helmet just doesnít inspire the kind of fan support that high school teams need or deserve. But a unique helmet could be used on all sorts of sellable school merchandise such as T-shirts, hats, pennants, coffee mugs and a multitude of other things.

Mini Helmets

One collectible that is gaining in popularity these days is the replica mini helmet. Many local sports memorabilia shops, as well as many more on the Internet, will customize mini helmets for local high school teams, but what good is having a mini version of a teamís helmet if it has nothing on it? Something as simple as the schoolís initials on a helmet is all thatís really needed to set them apart and create a distinctive identity.

I have been collecting mini helmets for several years and have well over 100 helmets on display in my home as well as another dozen or so in my cubicle at work. Each one is unique and special in its own right. From the USFL to the CFL, XFL to NFL Europe, Arena to college, it makes me smile just looking at all of them. Mini helmets are a great way for fans to show their support for a team. I use mine as a way to chronicle the history of football. It is a tangible way to keep alive the memory of teams and leagues that have come and gone over the years.

My point is this; a good helmet design is essential to a football teamís persona, but it is even more important at the high school level. It helps set the tone for the whole schoolís identity. A football helmet is a powerful symbol that the entire community can rally around in supporting the schoolís many activities throughout the entire year.

So donít let your favorite local high school team wallow in football helmet obscurity for another season. Take the initiative and see if you canít get them to make those plain old helmets more distinctive. That way, the whole community will be proud to stand up and say, "Thatís out team!"

Some Unique Football Helmets Through the Years

For my money, the Michigan Panthers of the United States Football League (1983-84) had the classiest helmet in the league. The champagne colored shell and panther head were truly unique at the time and it is still one of the best looking helmets of all time. Of course, winning the 1983 USFL championship didnít hurt the Panthersí helmet popularity either.

Also in the USFL, the Jacksonville Bulls (1984-85) also had a pretty unique helmet design. It had a bullís head on the sides and the rest of the logo wrapped all the way around the helmet where the name "Bulls" appeared across the back, sort of like the NFL Seattle Seahawks helmet logo.

The USFL Boston Breakers (1983) had a white helmet with blue and gray waves encircling it. The helmet remained the same even when the team became the New Orleans Breakers in 1984 and the Portland (Oregon) Breakers in 1985.

In the Arena Football League, who can ever forget the 1996 Minnesota Fighting Pike? The helmet was gold with the logo of a jumping fish with evil looking red eyes. The Toronto Phantoms (2001-2002) not only had a logo on the side of the helmet, but they also had a winged skull right on the front of the helmet, just above the playerís eyes. That must have been very distracting to the opposing players.

The Iowa Barnstormers helmet (Arena Football League 1995-2000 and arenafootball2 in 2001) had a design featuring old fashioned style pilotís goggles while the Miami Hooters (1993-95) helmet logo looked suspiciously like that of the restaurant chain. That was probably because they were both owned by the same person. (You can imagine what their cheerleaderís uniforms looked like!)

The arenafootball2 Quad City Steamwheelers helmet (2000-present) has two billowing riverboat smokestacks going straight over the top and down the back of the helmet. In the XFL, the Birmingham Bolts (2001) had lightning bolts that started on the front of the helmet then ran across the sides, over the top and down the back.

What will they come up with next?


If you want see some of the helmets Iíve mentioned in this article for yourself, here are a couple of links. MisterHabs.com contains current and past helmets from all the many professional indoor and outdoor football leagues, some you may never have even heard of;


Also, check out "The Helmet Project." There you will find a plethora of helmets from college football teams in the U.S. and Canada;



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