"Talking Helmets with the Equipment Manager"
"Talking Helmets" with Bobby
Yarborough (Part 2)
(Dallas Texans / K. C. Chiefs 1960 -- 1983)
HH - Describe how a player was issued his helmet when he reported to camp.
BY - First of all the player could request a special helmet otherwise he was sized for a Riddell helmet. Unless a player wore a different type helmet in college that he still preferred or had a fitting problem they usually were content with the Riddell helmet. I had a table stack full of different style face masks and the player picked the style he wanted to wear. I would immediately have him show me exactly what position he wanted the mask mounted on the helmet and right there I would drill the attachment holes accordingly. Each individual player's mask was custom mounted to meet his specific preference as far as the slant angle and distance from the face. The players were also allowed to choose the type of chinstrap (Riddell or Adams) or jaw pads (leather or vinyl) to use. I would recommend the Adams four point padded chinstrap because it held the helmet in place better than the standard Riddell two point chinstrap. I also preferred the Adams vinyl jaw pads because the Riddell leather jaw pads retained more bacteria. I personally adjusted the chinstrap clips so the chinstrap cup was centered to the players chin. This seemed like a minor detail but the players liked the fit of their chinstrap so well that I would have to write their name on it so they could keep the same one from game to game. I also fitted the jaw pad thickness to insure that the helmet would remain stable on a players head. Len Dawson stubbornly wore size small Riddell leather jaw pads for most of his career and his helmet wobbled from side to side. I finally persuaded him to switch to a set of medium Adams jaw pads later in his career and the wobbling problem was eliminated. Late in his career he complained to me how hard it was for him to remove his helmet off head. I showed him how to correctly pull through each hole and the helmet would easily slide forward. He tried it himself and the helmet came off his head without a problem. Len just stared at me and exclaimed with his dry sense of humor "after all these years and now you show me!"
After the helmet fitting was completed I would use a black marker and write the player's number inside the shell above the ear hole. The player would wear that helmet for two years (unless it cracked early) and then it would be replaced without exception. During the season we would clean the helmets (interior and exterior) each week, replace any soiled jaw pads and replaced the logo if needed. At the end of the season I would ship the helmets to Riddell for reconditioning and repainting. They would also replace the face mask if needed using the same holes I had custom drilled for each player. Riddell would scrap the helmet after it was used for two seasons.
I kept a detailed book, which I still have in a closet, to kept track of all equipment information for each player. It included for each player type of helmet, helmet size, type of chinstrap, type and size of jaw pads and face mask style that they used. I even kept track of the players leg length so that the stock striping was uniformly centered on each player's calves.
HH - How about a special helmet like Willie Lanier's how was that different?
BY - Willie was tackled head first when he was a rookie. Consequently he knocked himself out and suffered a serious concussion making a tackle during that first year. When he returned to play we switched him to a fluid filled Gladiator helmet. I also customized a strip of center ridge padding on the exterior surface of the shell. I got this idea from the old padded Macgregor helmets who offered this as a standard product in their catalog. I cut a four inch wide strip of shoulder pad type foam padding and glue it down the center ridge. I glued a second layer of three inch padding on top. I covered the foam padding with tightly stretched wide red vinyl tape. I finally repainted the entire helmet with a the dark scarlet spray paint which I got from Riddell. You could hit the helmet with a baseball bat and it would not hurt the player wearing it. The ironic part is that after his rookie season injury Willie learned to not tackle head first anymore. In fact he was nicknamed "huggy bear" by his teammates because he would effectively use his chest and shoulders to crush opposing runners. I told him his special helmet was just a "security blanket" for him. Willie admitted to me later in his career that he kept using the padded helmet primarily because it gave him a unique and menacing look.
HH - How did you position the arrowhead logos on the helmets? It appears that rather than centering the logo on the side of the helmet it is positioned a few inches higher.
BY - That is a correct and astute observation. I intentionally placed the logos higher up so that they could be more visible when a player was in his stance prior to the snap. It seems like a small detail but with Lamar so interested and involved we were inspired to keep thinking of ways to improve the appearance of the uniform. We used the helmet rivets and top air holes as guide marks to position each logo uniformly.
HH - In the late 1960s the team primarily shifted from Schutt to Dungard face masks what can you tell us about this?
BY - Every year I attended the National Sporting Goods Association show in Chicago to learn about new football equipment. I met Dr. Dunning, owner of Dungard, and he impressed me with his new line of face masks. They were appeared lighter, stronger and offered more range of protection than the masks we were using. He provided me with samples to test and they proved far superior to our existing masks and we converted most of the players over to the new Dungard masks.
HH - In the mid 1970s the Chiefs switched from standard gray to white colored face masks. Who made the decision to make this change?
BY - Dr. Dunning told me that he could produce the face masks in various colors. This was not available from Schutt at the time and I started to think about it. I thought we should change to white masks for two reasons. One reason was that I thought it would just look better and again we were always focused on ways to improve the look of our uniforms. The second reason was more strategic -- I felt that it would be much easier for a referee to spot a face mask grabbing violation in the interior line because an opponents hands could be seen more clearly against a white mask versus the less visible gray mask. This phenomenon was later confirmed to me by more than one referee. I passed the suggestion on to Lamar and he liked the idea and gave me permission to make the change. At that time there was no need to get league approval for such a change and we immediately ordered the new white masks.
HH - Were the players allowed to keep their helmet?
BY - Generally most players back then did not care that much about keeping their helmets and they would eventually get turned back in to Riddell for replacement. Willie Lanier asked to keep his helmet and of course we gave it to him. The helmets along with the other equipment was collected immediately after the last game of each season and when the players came in the next day to clean out their lockers for the off season their helmets had been already removed by us to be sent to Riddell for reconditioning. Once in a while I was asked by management to pull a helmet for a charity event or other promotional use. I do remember a funny incident involving Jim Tyrer. I believe Jim had the largest head in the league and Riddell made him a special size 8 plus helmet to wear. The helmet actually collapsed on the top of the shell during a game when he butted heads with an opponent. Jim was somewhat frantic and did not know what to do with the crushed helmet knowing that he could not borrow a teammate's helmet because it would not fit. He was amazed when I took a hammer and popped the helmet back into its original shape. After the game he asked if he could take the helmet home and keep it as a souvenir. I gave him the helmet knowing that I always kept at least three of his special helmets in stock because of his unusual head size.