Oakland Raiders

Ben Davidson
(game worn)

Every now and then HELMET HUT will “get lucky” and discover a rare, unusual, and highly prized helmet. When that specific helmet was worn into battle by what can only be described as a rare, unusual, and highly prized player, it is the equivalent of the gambler’s classic trifecta. This Riddell RK husky helmet with a one-and-one-half-inch width center ridge belonged to the great Ben Davidson, one of the very best American Football League players and certainly, one of the foremost “characters” to ever play the game. As he dominated many AFL offensive linemen while dominating the dimensions of most television screens, it was assumed that he was a collegiate star and walked into the AFL already formed as an all star performer. The truth naturally, was as unusual as the man himself.



Big Ben was a product of Woodrow Wilson High School in Los Angeles and pursued his higher education at East Los Angeles College, a local junior college where he planned to also continue his successful basketball career. At 6’8” he certainly had the requisite height but was convinced to give football a try. The University Of Washington believed that the untapped potential of the giant sized Davidson was worth a scholarship and both Ben and future Washington All American Willie Fleming became cogs in what would be Head Coach Jim Owens’ two-time Rose Bowl squads. Almost unbelievably, while Davidson eventually earned Honorable Mention All West Coast honors, he did so while being named a starter only twice in two varsity seasons, no doubt a singular oddity in college football. Davidson himself noted at times that he had the disadvantages of being very young as a sixteen year old high school graduate, and relative to his teammates, he had missed an entire high school football career. Despite his lack of starting time, of his numerous outstanding Husky teammates he was the highest draft choice, being chosen in the fourth round by the N.Y. Giants and was selected to the College All Star Game roster. He was traded to the Packers and appeared in every game of his rookie 1961 season. He spent 1962 and ’63 with the Redskins, again playing in every regular season game. Jumping to the Oakland Raiders of the AFL for the 1964 season, Davidson became “The Big Ben Davidson” all fans so fondly recall. He was named as an AFL All Star in 1966, ’67, and ’68 as he literally terrorized opponents, taking what appeared to be a special delight in tormenting Len Dawson and most of the other Chiefs and the Jets Joe Namath. The Davidson file of highlights appear to many like a “how to” manual on physical mayhem as he punched, slapped, toppled, and jumped over hapless pass protectors to bury the best quarterbacks in the league. The November 1, 1970 bench clearing brawl precipitated by Davidson’s spearing tackle on Dawson remains stamped in the memory of all long time Raiders and Chiefs fans.    



Utilizing his trademark handlebar mustache, rugged good looks, and intimidating 275 pound physique as his entrée to Hollywood, Davidson appeared in an array of films that varied from the action packed M*A*S*H and Conan The Barbarian to the X-rated Behind The Green Door, though it should be noted that as a bouncer in the latter production, he did remain clothed! He was regularly seen on a variety of television action series and his Miller Lite Beer commercials were a long running hit. Davidson played well for the Raiders and very much symbolized their “plunder and pillage” defense until packing it in after the 1971 season. Part way through the 1974 World Football League season, he was convinced to come out of retirement but fans would, after his brief stay with the Portland Storm, have to settle for their football related memories of this unforgettable player.



Davidson’s Raiders helmet in addition to having the distinction of being quite large, like its owner, also had an awful lot of character. This wonderfully worn and battered helmet typified the mask placement preferred by Ben, drilled to sit lower than the standard mask position. The early, rounded style Raiders identifying numerals on the rear, as well as the additional “83” noted on the inside of the shell, mark this not only as Davidson’s headgear but also to the era where the many greats of the AFL roamed the gridiron. A gentler Ben Davidson basks in the glow of retirement with real estate investments and the knowledge that in his day, he took his distinctive appearance, distinctive physique, distinctive attitude, and distinctive helmet and gave it all he had in every game he played.