There was a time when Phrenology was all the rage. The idea was that by studying the size and shape of various features of the skull, information could be ascertained and conclusions drawn about the person. While I am by no means offering we should start diagnosing people by the physical attributes of the head, I am suggesting that this rather dated attempt at modern science has value with respect to learning about football helmets.
The idea for football helmets is simple; are there physical characteristics that can be observed from looking at images that tell you either the manufacturer, model, or in extreme cases, permit you to spot faked or altered helmets? You have probably guessed this is a rhetorical question or where else would I be going with this article.
Helmet manufacturers over the years have introduced new and improved products. Some of these are subtle and do not lend themselves to detection by physical observation such as the composite material of a plastics. Others are very easy to identify, even if they deal with an internal characteristic such as suspension or padding. While it is a blinding flash of the obvious that this suspension or padding had to be affixed to the helmet, what may not be so obvious is how this appears on the helmet externally. In most cases this can be seen as a rivet or a pattern of rivets on the outer shell. Depending on the type of suspension or padding this will vary from manufacturer and model.
This becomes important when looking to confirm that a helmet being offered to you was actually worn by the player in question. Consider the relationship the Chicago Bears had with local sporting goods manufacturer Wilson. While I am not suggesting that all Bears helmets were manufactured by Wilson, I am suggesting that there are characteristics within a certain time period that permit you to identify a Wilson helmet from say a comparable Riddell counter part, even in the absence of a manufacturers logo. (SEE SAYERS PHOTO)
At times, the opposite of this is also true, provided you take the time to look at a picture in detail. So often our natural tendency is to look at things in a certain manner. By that I mean certain aspects of a helmet catch our eye before others do, such as a logo or facemask. Take some time to look at a helmet and the image in its entirety. If you do, you will see things like small manufacturers logos even from a profile shot. (SEE JOE GREEN PHOTO AND MAXPRO LOGO TO THE REAR OF THE HELMET)
A spin off the rivet pattern is the actual mounting/securing device itself. In some cases, the pattern alone is not the only indicator. In certain 1970s Rawlings helmets, some of this was actually accomplished not by rivets, but by crossed-tip screws. This is important to note as manufacturer names begin to make there way back onto the front of the helmet in this decade as well. While it is not uncommon to see the names Riddell, Wilson, Rawlings, Bike, and MAXPRO, what do you look for to identify a manufacturer when none is obviously annotated for advertising purpose. A great example exists in the numerous and striking photographs of Steelers Hall of Fame Linebacker Jack Lambert. The pattern and presence of the cross-tip screws indicate that “Jack The Ripper” is wearing a Rawlings Headliner helmet. (SEE LAMBERT PHOTO)
It would be incomplete to suggest that physical external characteristics only applied to being able to identify one manufacturer from another. Clearly a manufacturer would want to provide a variety in their product to accommodate individual player preference. Case in point are the Riddell RK and TK product lines. While rivet pattern may be the same as they featured a similar suspension, the shell shape and design are different. The image provided of Raider wide receivers Cliff Branch and Fred Billitenkof from the profile shows that the design around the ear hole provides a clear and visible distinction between the two. (SEE BRANCH AND BILLITENKOF PHOTO).
Although not in the same vein as the structural properties of a helmet, there is another topic that deserves mentioning while we are on the subject of helmet externals; team logos. While there is no doubt that these have changed for teams over the years, a growing number of “on-line collectors” are quick to cast dispersions on items because they tend to deal in absolutes. By that I mean statements like the helmet must be bad because this or that logo was not worn in this year. Others will want to point to a definitive time frame or game when the change was made. As it has long been said, truth is stranger than fiction. Consider this photograph of the Miami Dolphins, paying close attention to the position of the “leaping Dolphin” with respect to where it lies in regards to the surrounding orange “sun burst.” (SEE DOLPHINS PHOTO OF GRIESE HANDING OFF THE CSONKA).
The final area I would like to address deals with spotting helmets that may be problematic as they involve the possible changing of a facemask in order to support attribution to a player of greater prominence. The case that comes to mind involves a Hall of Fame quarterback whose helmets typically featured a Dungard DG 105 facemask as illustrated in the before cited Bob Griese photograph. While there where a number of things that concerned me about this helmet, to include the manufacturer, the most striking aspect appeared to involve location and number of chin strap fasteners. For the purposes of illustration, I have provided a photo of a Dolphins helmet. The red circles indicate where the chinstrap fasteners where located on this helmet. Besides not being able to find any photographic support for the player wearing a chinstrap with duel fasteners from this period, the obvious physical discomfort involved in wearing it in this manner and mask configuration are easily apparent. In addition, the green dot in the Dolphin logo represents the only side rivet on the helmet in question and the green marks over the pictured rivets only underscore what was not on the helmet. I offer this not so much as an opinion on the helmet I have mentioned, but to serve as an example of what to look for an consider when looking at facemasks. (SEE ANNOTATED REPLICA CSONKA HELMET PHOTO).
While this certainly does not cover all the external aspects of imagery analysis with respect to football helmets, it does I hope offer you a new way of thinking about a way we used to think a long time ago.