"Talking Helmets with the Equipment Manager"
"Talking Helmets" with Charles "Rip"
(Detroit Lions 1952 -- 1972 / Detroit Wheels 1974)
HH -- You
were the late Roy "Friday" Macklem's assistant during your career with the
Lions. Share some memories of your relationship with him.
RC -- Unfortunately we did not get along very well and he ultimately fired me in 1972 when he thought I was trying to take his job away. I never wanted his job I was always happy being the assistant. In general the players also did not like "Friday" because he had a reputation as a snitch for management. The only player who really got along with him was Bobby Layne. Bobby would enjoy an occasional nip from "Friday's" whiskey bottle prior to practice and "Friday" also safeguarded Bobby's roll of money (Bobby, who married "well," always kept upwards of ten thousand dollars cash on him and this was in the 1950s).
HH -- In the early sixties some of the Lion's helmets looked crudely painted do you recall any of this?
RC -- Oh yes. That was "Friday's" method of touching up the badly scuffed up helmets. He actually took a paint brush and a can of silver paint and repainted the helmets in the locker room. He did not even remove the face masks so in addition to the drip marks on the helmet caused by the brush, the edges of the mask were covered with silver paint.
HH -- At the end of the season most teams sent their helmets to Riddell for reconditioning. Did the Lions also do this?
RC -- We actually sent the helmets to Rogers Co. in Farwell, Michigan for year end reconditioning. The Lion's management were always pressing us to save money and Rogers charged less than Riddell.
HH -- In 1961 the Lions introduced the "leaping" Lion logo on their helmets. What do you remember about this enhancement?
RC -- Well I remember that "Friday" insisted that he was the only one that would apply the decals to the team's helmets. I guess he considered it an art form. We had the decals made by a lithograph or printer type store in Hamtramick, Michigan. I am not sure but I believe the helmet decal was designed by modifying the existing Lion official logo (used on team stationary) that showed a Lion player, Dutch Clark, running along side a roaring lion. Unlike some other teams we made sure that the Lion' helmets always included the stripes and decals regardless if it was during preseason practice, regular season practice and of-course during all games.
HH -- Going back to the early 1950s the Lions wore solid blue helmets for night games. Did the helmets have to be painted from silver to blue and back to silver during the season?
RC -- Actually we had a separate set of blue helmets. Back then we played several games at night during the season in an effort to attract more fans.
HH -- Did the Lion players wear their same helmet all throughout their career?
RC -- Not at all. Each year when the players reported back to training camp the entire inventory of helmets, freshly reconditioned, were put in a large room along with the other equipment. Each player would be individually fitted for a helmet for the upcoming season out of that entire grouping of helmets. It would be coincidental if a player received the same helmet that he wore the previous season. Some of the helmets already had the face mask attached but a player was free to choose the style of face mask he preferred.
HH -- Can you remember any players who required a special helmet?
RC -- Well Alex Karras had a larger than normal size head and he did not like the fit of the conventional Riddell suspension helmet. His brother Ted, who had an even larger head, played for he Bears and was happy with the padded style Wilson helmets that most of the Bear team wore. We ordered Alex a similar type Wilson helmet and he was also happy with it.
Tommy Vaughn played defensive back for us during the 1960s and he kept getting concussions because of his head first tackling style. Our trainer Kent Falb modified his helmet by gluing a wide strip of padding to the exterior surface of the shell. In the late 1960s Tom was one of the first players to use the Riddell air inflated-fluid filled helmet.
HH -- Were the Lion players ever allowed to keep their helmets after the season ended?
RC -- "Friday" kept close tabs on all of the equipment and helmets were seldom, if ever, given to a player to keep. Players who went to the Pro Bowl in California at the end of the season were sometimes able to sneak their helmet from "Friday" but even some of those helmets were returned. When the equipment got too old it was donated to a minor league team in nearby Pontiac but even this required sign off by the Lion's general manager.
HH -- Can you share some equipment related memories as the head equipment manager of the short lived Detroit Wheels of the WFL?
RC -- Sure. First of all someone in the league designed the colors and logos for all of the teams. Prior to the start of the Wheel's first (and only) season all of the equipment was furnished directly from league headquarters. They sent us brand new yellow Riddell helmets that were complete with a wide red stripe and a "d" shaped logo. A funny thing happened when I took a helmet to the same place where we had the Lion's decals made. I asked them to make up some spare Wheel's decals that I could use for future repair needs. When they came back from the printer the decal for the right side of the helmet was perfect but the decal for the left side had a "b" instead of the correct "d" because they simply reversed the right sided logo.
In addition to modern new helmets and uniforms the league also furnished us with new shoulder pads and all the other general equipment that we would need to outfit a team. The problem was that although all of this other equipment was new in the box and never used it was actually over 30 years old and outdated. The shoulder pads were the old heavy type that had been used in the 1950s and early 1960s. Someone who evidently didn't know what they were doing at league headquarters must have purchased a warehouse of "new" equipment from a sporting good company thinking that he was really saved a bunch of money for the individual teams. This stuff was useless. To outfit the team I ended up buying used, but more modern, equipment from small colleges who had recently canceled their football programs.
Late in the season I packed equipment bags for each of the 40 Wheel players for a road game in Chicago. Prior to the trip the Wheel's management informed the players, but not me, that the team was folded and the season was over. When I showed up at the locker room the next day 32 of the 40 bags were missing. The remainder of the equipment in inventory also vanished. I was supposed to have the only key to the storage room but I was the only one who did not get to keep something before the banks locked up the team headquarters.