It seems that most helmet aficionados who grew up watching football sometime
between the late 1950s and the early 1970s originally preferred the shape of
the legendary Riddell "RK" slightly flared helmet shell. As youths we cringed
at teams like the Bears who wore odd looking Wilson helmets and white face
masks. The original New York Titans (Jets) were mocked for wearing (second
division) college-like, squared panel Macgregor "geodetic" helmets.
We reluctantly gave the St. Louis Cardinals a waiver for wearing those
repulsive moon shaped Rawlings helmets because, after all, the team was only
being loyal to the local based athletic equipment company. Back then, it
seemed like you felt a bit cheated on Sunday if your favorite team's
opponents were not outfitted in those handsome and sleek Riddell suspension
helmets. It just didn't seem like they were an official NFL team without those
Decades later we find that this "baby boomer" generation of helmet
hobbyists is finally starting to exhibit certifiable evidence of true
maturity -- we now love and appreciate the "oddball" helmets of our youth with
as much gusto as when we originally cherished those sleek but conventional
"Riddells." This is a phenomenon that only a helmet guy and his psychiatrist
could relate to. It now warms our heart to see a picture of Gale Sayers
wearing that wonderful "bubble ear" Wilson helmet in his rookie season. A
young Tom Matte wearing that odd shaped Macgregor helmet with a one bar --
priceless! The feared Steeler, John Henry Johnson posed in his fully padded,
flared ear Rawlings helmet with the straight angled one bar mask -- an
Maybe what we are discovering is that just like those original gaudy tail
fins that gave so much character to those vintage Cadillacs, these "oddball"
helmets capture that the special flavor of that wonderful era of football.
Today when we examine an authentic "oddball" gamer an unmistakable image of
the players face appears, just like magic, in the shell. Look closely and you
will find that Alex's unmistakable cherubic face similarly appears inside this
early 1960s game Lion's helmet. A second look is not required by true Lion and
longtime football fans to confirm that this could only be his helmet.
It seems natural that Alex would wear an "oddball" helmet. Everything about
Alex was unique and special. In addition to his outstanding achievements on
the gridiron he was truly a Renaissance man who has led a most special life.
His storied career path includes such endeavors as car salesman, promoter of
gadget type products, saloon keeper, professional wrestler, film and
television actor, writer, and currently is owner of his own entertainment
production company. He also owns also a highly successful real estate
developer with large development projects ongoing in California and Hawaii. It
is not unusual when a helmet is "rescued" from a sports bar as this special
helmet recently was. What makes this story truly unique is the bar was
considered one of the nation's first true sports bar and CO-owned by Alex. In
1963 he actually worked full time behind the bar mixing drinks and telling
tales while being suspended from football for betting on football games (which
he immediately confessed to, in a non Pete Rose manner, when first confronted
about it by commissioner Pete Rozelle). He also found time to fit in a real
bar room brawl there with legendary pro wrestler Dick "the Bruiser" Afflis at
which several of Detroit's "finest" were sent to the hospital for repairs
after unsuccessfully trying to defuse the situation.
According to retired Lions assistant equipment manager Rip Collins Alex had
an unusual shaped head and did not like the fit of the conventional Riddell
suspension helmet. Alex's brother Teddy who played for the Bears also had a
similar shaped head (although somewhat larger) wore a Wilson padded helmet as
did most of the Bears from that era. When Alex discovered that Teddy liked the
fit of his Wilson helmet he had the Lions head equipment manger Roy "Friday"
Macklem ordered this Wilson model "F-2102" helmet with an "Etholite" type
shell for Alex to wear. Alex wore this helmet until he switched to a rounded
Macgregor "geodetic" combination padded/suspension helmet in the late
1960s. This helmet has all the telltale signs of Lions helmets from that era.
Silver paint drips are evident reflecting "Friday" Macklem's crude practice of
using a can of aluminum paint and a brush to touch up the helmets. The helmet
stripes are spaced apart almost twice the 1" standard spacing used for other
similar vintage Riddell type Lion helmets. The wider spacing, made it easier
for "Friday" to replace the striping without the need to remove the mask.
The seemingly lackadaisical equipment manager also incorrectly used the helmet
mold line as a mark to line up the top attachment bracket for the full
cage "cowcatcher" type face mask. As a result the mask is positioned almost
1/4" higher than the recommended position in which the top frame of the face
mask should rest just above the top edge of the shell.
These aforementioned nuances are not meant to be critical observations of
the somewhat "sloppy" manner in which the Lion helmets were maintained. Rather
these imperfections are fondly recalled and reveal the character and special
uniqueness inherent in those special "oddball" helmets of the past. We are
quite confident that Mr. Alex Karras would be quite pleased to find out
that his OLE football helmet still reflects a unique and special spirit just
like his journey through life.