"Talking Helmets with the Equipment Manager"

"Talking Helmets" with Don and Todd Hewitt, the father and son Equipment Managers for the Los Angeles / St. Louis Rams who for the last 44 years have presided over the Rams locker room. The portion of our interview with Don Hewitt, Todd's father, took place just prior to his passing in 2007.

HH - Todd, when did you start working for the Rams? 

TH - Well, my dad was hired by the Rams in 1967. I was 11 years old at the time and helped out in the locker room and was a ball boy. In 1978 I was officially hired by the Rams as Assistant Equipment Manager and continued to work with my dad until his retirement in 1984. In 1985 I took over as Rams Equipment Manager although my dad remained with the team as Equipment Manager Emeritus through 1994, the Rams final year in Los Angeles. In 1995 the Rams relocated to St. Louis. My dad joined us there for one final year. So all told, I've been with the Rams for 44 years and have worked under 14 different Rams Head Coaches! Funny, I still remember when the Packers came to town in 1967, my first year with  the team. I walked down the Coliseum tunnel flanked by Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr!

HH - How many hours per week do you put in once camp began?

TH - Let's put it this way, once camp started I definitely spent more time at work than at home! In at 5AM leave at 7PM, 7 days a week. The only day I'd take off during the season is the Sunday of the bye week. The player's day off was a treat because I'd "only" work from 5AM to 4:30PM instead of 7PM. But I made up for that on game day, especially when we returned from road games, often working very late. It wasn't unusual that I spent the night at work after road games. During the off season I typically worked 5 days a week, from 6AM to 4:30PM. Actually my dad used to keep a daily journal where he recorded how many hours he worked per day over 8 hours, not including travel time, it worked out to about 170 or so 8 hour days per year!

HH - Like most teams, the Rams have changed their uniform color schemes over the years. Do you have a favorite?

TH - Honestly, I like them all. For sentimental reasons I really like the blue and white. But I would have to say that my favorite color scheme was what we wore from 1973-1999, the blue and yellow, what we wore when we won the Super Bowl. In fact when we wore these colors again for a throwback game I realized just how much I missed them, they were just so vibrant. I really like the current uniforms as well but they are so much darker than what we wore before. When we changed our color scheme in 2000, we actually considered many different possibilities, 15-20 combinations or so. Mrs. Frontiere's favorite color was powder blue, think

(Georgia Frontiere, Rams owner 1979-2008)

UCLA, a color she used to wear all of the time. She thought the Rams would look great in this color and wanted to see some examples.  So we made up some powder blue helmets with gold horns and gold helmets with powder blue horns, which she loved. But being someone that was very much into astrology, Mrs. Frontiere agreed to the current color scheme because, actually, she liked the names of the colors we used: new century gold and millennium blue. She thought it made cosmic sense if you will, given the year was 2000. Speaking of Mrs. Frontiere, not many know this because she was very private about it, but she was an extremely generous woman who often helped out many ex Rams players in their hour of need. She was a wonderful owner and a wonderful person to work for.

HH - Speaking of the Rams color schemes, why did the Rams change from blue and yellow to blue and white in 1964, which they wore for 9 years, until 1972?

TH - Kind of a funny story. Before the change the Rams often wore yellow home jerseys which, as it turned out, didn't look particularly good on black and white TV, a consideration that became increasingly important at the time. So the Rams experimented with different shades of yellow until they found one that actually showed up well on TV. The problem was the shade of the yellow that worked well for TV was called "buttercup yellow". When Mr. Reeves (Dan Reeves, Rams owner 1941-1971) found out about this, he said that there was no way his team would ever wear a color called "buttercup yellow". Also, the yellow horns on the Rams helmet at the time didn't show up very well on TV either. So Mr. Reeves decided to remove yellow from the uniforms altogether, opting for a simple blue and white, which as it turned out looked great on black and white TV.

HH - Keeping with the Rams blue and white uniform era, I always wondered why the Rams rarely wore their navy jerseys when playing at home during that time, much like the Dallas Cowboys do today. Did the Rams do this because the white jerseys offered relief when playing under the hot Southern California Sun, was it a strategic advantage decision?

TH - Another interesting story. Actually there were years during the blue and white era when the Rams never wore their navy jerseys at all, not during the preseason or the regular season. Also, it had nothing to do with combating the Southern California sun. In fact a lot of those home games we played were quite cool, especially since we played a lot of night games at home. Wearing white jerseys at home was the brainchild of Mr. Reeves, an extremely smart owner and businessman with a talent for promotion. He felt that if the Rams wore their white jerseys at home it would make for a better game day experience for Rams fans by giving them a chance to see the colorful jerseys of visiting teams, which most Rams fans would not otherwise get a chance to see. So rather than Rams fans seeing the same thing each and every week, which would be the Rams always in navy and the visiting teams always in white, Rams fans instead got to see different colors each week. And Rams fans loved it, it was a smart decision by Mr. Reeves.

HH - Why did the Rams change back to blue and yellow uniforms in 1973, after wearing blue and white uniforms for 9 years (1964-1972)?

TH - This was Mr. Rosenbloom's (Caroll Rosenbloom, Rams owner 1972-1979) idea, something he decided to do when he took over as the Rams owner in 1972. He felt the blue and white uniforms were somewhat bland and wanted a uniform look that better reflected the glitz of Hollywood. Horns were added to the jerseys, at the shoulder area, and we went to white shoes and blue shoes. The new jersey numbers were also pretty snazzy, they had a white trim. But we quickly discovered that the white trim made the numbers very tough to differentiate on TV so they were scrapped after the 1973 preseason.

HH - So many teams have gone through different helmet designs over the years, not only color but logos as well. Have the Rams ever considered doing away with their helmet horns in favor of another logo? 

TH - Never. Not once. The Rams have always been very proud of the horns on their helmet and fully understand how iconic they are and what they represent in terms of NFL history.  The Rams helmet horns were so important to the Rams that, unlike many other teams, the Rams have always ensured that they were always applied to the helmets even for scrimmages, mini-camps, camps and practices. You won't see a Rams player wearing a Rams helmet without horns!  

HH - Speaking of the Rams iconic horns, those horn decals must be a pain to apply. How often are they applied during the course of a year and how many equipment personnel are involved in applying them? 

TH - I imagine they would be a challenge to apply for someone new to it, but I can pretty much do it in my sleep. We actually use 3 different types of horn decals these days because of the different shapes and ventilation holes found on the new helmets. Applying decals to some of these newer helmets is, even for me, a bit of a challenge! We go through about 800 sets of decals per year, lots of pulling off and applying new ones goes on each year. Although I have a small staff, 2 full time assistants and 1 intern, I'm the only one that applies the horn decals. And when my dad was Equipment Manager, he and I were the only ones that applied the decals. So for the last 38 years, from the time the Rams switched from painted horns to decals, only a Hewitt has applied the horns, something I kind of take pride in. 

HH - Up until the mid 1970's or so the Rams were a team that pretty much wore only Riddell helmets and Schutt facemasks. Many other teams of the era wore Riddell helmets as well as helmets made by other manufacturers, and they used facemasks made by other companies as well, such as Dungard. Why didn't the Rams typically use helmets and facemasks made by other manufacturers?

TH - My dad knew John Riddell, inventor and owner of Riddell helmets, and was always very happy with the helmets he made and the service Riddell provided. He was always very happy with Schutt facemasks as well and the service they provided, plus Schutt was nearby and we could get things from them quickly if needed. My dad was a very loyal person, and when he was taken care of by a supplier like he was by Riddell and Schutt, when a supplier was loyal, my dad always returned the loyalty, always, even when the competition would inevitably try to undercut prices. That's just the type of guy my dad was. In fact there was a gentleman that did the lettering for our jerseys for many, many years, who always went out of his way to help my dad and the Rams. Bigger, more modern companies would come in and offer slightly lower prices for the lettering but my dad wouldn't be swayed, he stuck with our lettering guy. I'll never forget when we drafted Dennis Harrah in the first round of 1975. Dennis wore a helmet made by Bike in college, not a Riddell. When he reported to the Rams, he didn't want a Riddell, couldn't be talked into one, he wanted a Bike. My dad fretted to no end thinking that he would be letting Riddell down, that he would be disloyal if he purchased a Bike helmet for Dennis. But of course we did get Dennis a Bike helmet. I mean there was no way we were going to put the team in a position where a player got a head injury and it was later discovered that we gave him a helmet he didn't want, no way. But until Dennis came to the Rams it never really came up, everyone was happy with Riddell. But after Dennis got his Bike, other players wanted one too, especially kids coming out of college where Bike helmets had become very popular.

HH - Did traded players usually want to take/bring their helmets with them to their new teams?   How about college players, did they often bring their helmets with them, wanting to continue wearing them in the pros? 

TH - Traded vets would sometimes want to take their gear with them to their new team, but more often than not teams could fit them identically as before so there was usually no need. College players usually don't bring their equipment with them. In fact college kids often end up wearing equipment when they reach the pros that they didn't wear in college. For example, when Sam Bradford arrived I fitted him with a full girdle pad. Sam said he didn't want to wear one, that he never wore one in college. I told him that he wasn't going to be facing Baylor at the pro level! In his first preseason game he was quickly sacked 3 times or so. He was happy that I fitted him with a full girdle pad. 

HH - How many helmets does a player usually go through each season?  How many helmets are issued to each player each season, are they issued a backup and a practice helmet? 

TH - Players are issued one helmet each year and, except for rare occasions, use it for the entire season. A supply of helmets is kept on hand, in stock, in the event a player's helmet needs to be replaced during the course of the year. Game helmets are the same ones used in practice. During Coach Robinson's time with the Rams we used to use two helmet shells for each lineman, one for games and one for practice, because the horn decals on the linemen's helmets would always get so damaged during practice. In this case we would simply pull the padding from their game helmet shells and put it into their practice helmet shells, back and forth, throughout the year. 

HH - Are players allowed to keep their helmets or uniforms when traded, cut or when they retire? 

TH - Always a case by case situation. If you have a vet, say Marshall Faulk, then of course the Rams would probably  give him whatever he wanted. But if it's a guy that hasn't been here long, or a guy that didn't make the team, then he would most likely have to pay for anything he was interested in taking with him.  

HH  - How involved, if ever, were coaches, management or ownership in the team's appearance, what they wore on game day?

TH - As mentioned earlier, Mrs. Frontiere, Mr. Reeves and Mr. Rosenbloom all offered input. As far as coaches are concerned, one year Coach Malavasi decided that he wanted to wear white jerseys at home, felt it made the Rams look bigger, we ended up winning 1 or 2 home games that year I believe, so that was scratched! Coach Vermeil was concerned about winning games, not about what we wore on game day. Coach Robinson had a thing about comfortable pants, wanted to make sure that we purchased and used the most comfortable pants available. Coach Martz decided to go with the white pants one year (he didn't like the blue pants), we got a bunch of calls from fans that loved the white pants, loved the look, wanted us to keep wearing them, they reminded fans of the blue and white days, but John Shaw couldn't stand them. Coach Spagnuolo wanted to make all of the uniform decisions but eventually handed the job off to Steven Jackson and Oshiomogho Otogwe, the team captains. 

HH - What sort of budget were you responsible for as the Rams Equipment Manager? 

TH - About half a million dollars per year, which is about ten thousand per player. That includes helmets, pads, uniforms, tape, gum, everything. I took our budget very seriously and in my entire time with the Rams I never once came in over budget, not an easy thing to do! Helmets, depending on the manufacturer and facemask used, run anywhere from $200-$500. The new Xenith helmet alone is $450. Shoulder pads can run $350-$450. Football equipment is expensive! 

HH - What would you say is the most important aspect of your job?

TH - First and foremost, player safety. Making sure players are fitted properly with the best equipment available. I always tell the young kids that come in that they're not going to make any money in this league sitting on the bench nursing an injury, that they need to be on the field playing, getting seen and noticed by the coaches. And that it was my job to help them stay out on the field, not on the bench, and to protect them the best I could by fitting them with the right equipment. Another important aspect of my job is earning the players' trust, letting them know that the locker room is their sanctuary and what is said there doesn't leave, isn't leaked. It's important to the players' morale to know that they have a safe haven and can trust those around them. And of course there's also doing what the coaches ask, helping the best I can to make their jobs easier by doing my job well. 

HH - Not that you get much of it, but what do you do with your free time? 

TH - Spend it all with my wife and kids. I coach my boy's baseball team. Obviously my wife is a saint, having put up with the long hours I spend at work. She has pretty much raised our children herself, I missed the birth of one of my sons during an away game. Fortunately I have been able to spend time with my sons, who have been able to come to work with me and help out in the locker room, it's great. My daughter was actually allowed to be the water girl for a few years, which was great and a lot of fun, but that ended a couple of years ago.

HH - What is the favorite part of your job? 

TH - The players. And the fact that no two days are the same, always something different going on, always a new challenge, not being chained to a desk. Locker room chemistry, it can be incredible. The Greatest Show on Turf years were awesome in the locker room and on the practice field. Everyone wanted to be there, everyone couldn't wait to go to work. Practices were awesome, so fast, there were many days when the ball never hit the ground, just unbelievable. The friendships. I'm great friends with Vince (Ferragamo), Irv (Pankey), Dennis (Harrah) and Jack (Youngblood) to name a few. 50 Rams players and wives attended my wedding, just awesome. 

HH - Don, How did you outfit the players for the 1960s era NFL Pro Bowls which were held at the Los Angeles Coliseum?


DH - Back then the players arrived on the Tuesday before the game which was held on Sunday afternoon. We would furnish only their game jersey, pants and socks. Once in a while a player would arrive and find that he was missing something and I would try to substitute for it from my regular Ram's equipment inventory. One of the first things I did on Tuesday was to gather the players helmets and send them to a local reconditioner, Hub Athletic Service, to have them painted gold. There was very little physical contact in practice and the players wore sweat pants rather than padded football pants. When their helmets came back from the painter I would stripe and decal the helmets with NFL logos. After the game ended I set up a table just outside the locker room. Glen Davis, the former great running back from Army, would sit there with me and distribute game paychecks to each player but only after they had handed over their game issued jersey, pants and sock to me. Unlike today where the Pro Bowl players get to keep everything, we reused those uniforms year after year. In those days the jerseys did not have the player names on them so they were easy to reuse the following year.



HH - Can you recall any instances at the Pro Bowl where you had to improvise because there were problems with the normal equipment routine as described above?

DH - Well I worked 14 Pro Bowls so as you would expect not everything went perfectly. I remember one year Dick Butkus showed up with broken shoulder pads and a cracked helmet. When I showed him the defective equipment he just shrugged and said not to worry about it and that he had worn it like that all season. There was no way I would allow him to wear that stuff in a game that I was responsible for the equipment. I sent his shoulder pads off for repair and I pulled a similar sized helmet from my regular Ram's inventory for him to wear -- I'm not sure if he even noticed or cared. Walter Payton had a quite different attitude than Butkus. In the 1989 Pro Bowl he played into the third quarter of the game and then sat on the bench for the remainder of the game. After he sat down he removed his helmet and called me over to ask me if I could safeguard it. It was a rare Wilson padded helmet that was no longer produced and could not be easily replaced. He really loved that helmet and was worried that it might get lost or taken by someone as a souvenir. I had my son Todd take it immediately to the locker room and had him lock it up in a special locker. After the game I repacked it myself and made sure it was delivered back to the Bears. One year in the late 1960s I was not so fortunate. The Pro Bowl players were using the UCLA locker room and facilities during the week prior to the game. Each night before I left the locker room I made sure that the heavy steel entrance door was not only double locked but I also had a padlocked heavy steel chain threaded through the door handles for extra security. You can imagine my surprise when I arrived early the next day to find seven helmets were missing. I can still remember some of the missing helmets -- Tommy Nobis, Paul Krause and Deacon Jones. I had no idea how anyone could have gotten into that locker room and then after a few hours of scratching my head I noticed something not quite right with the bottom of the steel door. Upon closer inspection I discovered that someone had actually used a blow torch to cut out a small entry hole. What was so unusual was that they also took the time to weld the cut out piece back so that it looked almost untouched! I guess it sounds somewhat funny now but back then I was really mad.

HH - Bob Brown who was recently inducted into the Hall of Fame played for the Rams and wore a padded type helmet. Can you tell us about this unique helmet?


DH - Bob originally played for the Eagles and while there he wore a helmet made by Macgregor. The model that he wore included an exterior strip of padding attached to the center ridge of the shell -- it was about four inches wide. Ohio State wore these type of helmets in the early 1960s. Irv Cross also wore a similar helmet when he played for the Eagles although he switched to a conventional Riddell suspension helmet when he was traded to the Rams. When the Rams acquired Bob from the Eagles the helmet was no longer being produced by Macgregor. He actually wore the same helmet for the Rams that he had worn for the Eagles. Of course the helmet was originally Kelly green (Eagle's colors) and I painted it navy blue. I hand traced the ram horn logo from a regular Riddell helmet and made a template. I put the template over Bob's Macgregor helmet and actually hand painted the white ram horn logos on each side of his helmet. I remember that it was a very difficult trying to paint those horns on because the wide padded area down the ridge of the helmet overlapped a large portion of the side of the helmet (creating an uneven surface) where the horn was normally applied. Being a lineman his helmet was subject to many bumps and scratches and I had to carefully touch up both the navy shell area and the white horns after each game. Whenever someone like Bob wore an unusual or non standard piece of equipment I always kept a back up for it in my inventory. I kept 3 extra pair of prescription goggles for Eric Dickerson and I even kept an extra custom made kicking shoe for Tom Dempsey that cost $1000. I was never able to keep a back up padded Macgregor helmet for Bob because they were not available. If something would have ever happened to that helmet I would have had to talk him into wearing a more conventional helmet but fortunately we never had to deal with that.


HH - How did you determine what type a mask a player should wear?

DH - I would hang the different style masks on the wall and the player would pick out the type of mask that he wanted to wear. I was never able to persuade Tommy McDonald to wear a mask -- all I would tell him is that "it's your teeth." Vince Feragamo wore a Dungard mask and when he left our team to play in Montreal in the CFL he called me and asked if I would send his Dungard mask to him which I was happy to do. When Joe Namath was traded to the Rams at the tail end of his career he brought the old bolt-on cage mask (from the late 1950s era) that he wore with the Jets. Most linebackers wore some type of cage face mask but I remember that our great linebacker Maxie Baughn insisted on wearing only a plastic Riddell two bar mask. I drilled face mask attachment holes for every helmet. For most of the helmets I drilled the holes in the conventional mounting position, depending on the type of the mask, as recommended by Riddell. A few players requested that I position their mask in a slightly unconventional position or angle. Roman Gabriel wore a one bar mask and he requested me to change the angle of the mask where it protected more of his nose area to where it protected more of his mouth area. Whenever I had to change the attachment position of a player's mask I would usually have to also replace the helmet with a new one because the required new drill holes combined with the existing holes would dangerously weaken the old helmet shell.



We thank Todd and his late father Don for sharing a small portion of their day to day operations with us.  We wish only the best for the Hewitt family.