Detroit Lions

Alex Karras
(Game Worn)



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 "Riddells."
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 unforgettable image.
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.