One Great KC Helmet
Buchanan / Ladd

There are some football helmets that are considered to be “great.” They could earn that superlative for no reason other than the fact they were part of the official game uniform of a player recognized as one of the game’s greats. Any helmet worn onto the field by Johnny Unitas for example, would be considered a “great helmet” and a “great find” if only because it was a possession of Johnny U. Some helmets are “great” because they were worn in one of the significant or meaningful games of the past, a Super Bowl, a momentous championship game like the 1958 Colts versus Giants clash that altered our culture’s “take” on professional football, or games that have been memorialized with names such as “The Heidi Game” or “The Ice Bowl.” There are helmets that are from a previous era of football that are well enough preserved that one can identify the team, the type of mask that adorned it, and perhaps a select few players that could have been assigned the specific headgear. When a helmet is discovered and eventually authenticated that has a pedigree that incorporates a number of the qualities that deem it as “great,” it is indeed a wonderful piece of memorabilia.


A helmet and especially one from the 1950’s and ‘60’s before safety standards evolved to their present state, was often worn by numerous players, and utilized until the equipment staff decided that it just would not hold up to another hard impact. Budgets were tight, concerns for player protection were commensurate with the limited knowledge of injury causation, and most suspension helmets from the high school through professional football levels were handed down until structural failure prevented further use. One of the recent “great” helmets began its existence with the original Dallas Texans franchise of the American Football League, and remained in on-the-field use into the 1967 season. Having apparently been worn from 1961 through the team’s shift to Kansas City, during the very first Super Bowl game, and by two players who hold significant stature in professional football’s history certainly marks this in many ways, as an absolutely great helmet.


Using inscriptions inside the Riddell suspension helmet shell in conjunction with photographic research has led experts to identify the users of this very helmet as Danny House, Junious “Buck” Buchanan, Dennis Biodrowski, and Ernie Ladd. As a twenty-sixth round choice in the 1961 player draft, unheralded Danny House did not make the final cut for the regular season and thus for Texans or Chiefs fans, remains little more than a name on a spreadsheet noting the long list of collegiate players in that year’s draft process. However House remains “a name” in Davidson College football history, a receiver and halfback who was an integral contributor to the November 5, 1960 upset of a vastly superior Virginia Tech team in a classic David versus Goliath sports scenario. Any Kansas City Chiefs helmet with the inscription “Buck” written on the inside of the shell could and arguably should refer to the Pro Football Hall of Fame great defensive tackle Buck Buchanan.

The great Buck Buchanan, #86, dominates the middle of the field, wearing the protection of a Cowcatcher style facemask


 The first selection of the entire 1963 American Football League draft, Buchanan was a dominant “All Everything” force. With his 6’7”, 270 pound athletic body aimed at opposing offenses, he became an unforgettable leader on the Chiefs mid-to-late-Sixties defenses, earning entry to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.


The number “61” also noted on the interior of the shell has been linked to offensive guard and special teams contributor Dennis Biodrowski. Not as well recognized as so many of the other KC Chiefs from the Super Bowl I years, Biodrowski was a standout fullback and defensive end at William Wirt High School in Gary, Indiana who became an important part of the “Northern Influx” of players collected by Memphis State University head football coach Spook Murphy in the late-1950’s.  


Like Danny House, Biodrowski, despite rostering and contributing to the Chiefs success from 1963 through ’67, remains little-known to most Chiefs fans yet still holds the distinction at Memphis of being one of their all time greatest two-way ends. Biodrowski adds to the helmet’s pedigree having worn it in Super Bowl I against the Packers.


“Big Cat” Ladd wearing what has become an historic example of Chiefs memorabilia


The helmet inscription “Ladd” immediately identifies the final user of this historical item by Ernie Ladd, the unforgettable San Diego Chargers, Houston Oilers, and Chiefs defensive tackle so well remembered for his tremendous size, quickness, and big play ability. Adding to his reputation as an intimidating player, Ladd’s highly successful and visible professional wrestling career sealed his AFL participation in a veneer of greatness among fans and his peers. Thus, having been part of the uniforms of four talented players whose professional abilities spanned the spectrum from greatness to lesser-light, this well worn, well used, and well cherished piece of football history lasted as a game worn item from at least training camp of 1961 through November 5, 1967 when a structural fracture forced the equipment staff to remove it from service.


The Riddell RK Extra Large Husky shell demonstrates holes drilled for the “Cowcatcher” style of facemask although other masks, most notably Ladd’s, was also worn with this specific helmet.