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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The "The Evolution Of Football Wear" Story

Lancaster football players wearing team wear from the 1910/1920s.
Soft leather helmets, known as harnesses, were primarily to protect
the ears.  The player, second from the right, is wearing a full harness
that the entire head.  The jerseys were probably made from wool and
the pants were made of thick canvas with some padding sewn into them.
Click on photo to enlarge it.
It was an ordinary day.  Watching my Phila- delphia Eagles beat up on the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Carol and I were watching hit after hit and it was hard to believe that someone wasn't having permanent brain trauma due to the beating everyone was taking.  Got me to thinking what it was like when football began years ago. I did some reading and found that college football rules voted to allow tackling below the waist in 1888.
This is the first illuminated football game in Pennsylvania that
was played on October 26, 1929 at nearby Stevens, PA.  Game
was between ParkHill, Lancaster and Exeter, Reading.
Pads were deemed necessary after the rule change, but wearing a helmet wasn't made mandatory until 1939.  Helmets weren't mandatory in professional football until 1943. Before the advent of football helmets, players would often grow their hair long to help protect their head, or so they thought.  Guy given credit for the helmet was George Barclay who, in 1896, designed a headgear that became known as a head harness.
This game is being played at Franklin & Marshall College practice
field in 1944.  The team pictured here is the West End team which
won the game 76-14 and ended an 8-0 season.  Only about half
of the players sport any type of head protection.
It had three thick leather straps forming a close fit around his head that was made by a harness maker.  U.S. Naval Academy Midshipman Joseph Reeves also was given some credit for the helmet when he fashioned a helmet out of mole skin to help protect his head after he was told by a Navy doctor that he must give up football or risk death.
The evolution of the football helmet.
Eventually Reeves went to a shoemaker/blacksmith and had a crude leather helmet made to protect his head.  As the helmet evolved, they began to look like aviator's helmets.  Then, by 1915, when more padding and ear flaps were added, they began to look like the helmets that are worn today.   Painted helmets began to help team members recognize players on their team.  It wasn't until 1948 that team logos were added to helmets.  In 1917 the helmets were made to "cradle" the skull from the outside covering of the helmet.  Straps of fabric formed a pattern inside the helmet.  These helmets were known as "ZH" helmets named after the Illinois coach who came up with the design.
This photo was taken from my high school yearbook.
It shows the helmets in use in 1961.  They look to be
plastic with a single bar face masks.
Companies such as Rawlings and Spalding began to manufacture helmets soon after.  In the mid-1930s rubber-covered wire facemasks were added to the helmet.  In 1940 the plastic helmet was invented by John T. Riddell and his son.  The single molded shell was stronger, lighter and laster longer that the leather ones.  But, the plastic helmet was brittle when struck head-on by another player.  In 1956 a helmet with a single wave radio was made so the coach could communicate with the player.  Then in 1971 energy-absorbing helmets were designed.  A pump was used to add air to  the helmet to mold it to the head.  In 1976 the four-point chin strap was designed to better hold the helmet in place. In 2002 Riddell Company released the "Revolution" which is widely used today in the National Football League. At first they claimed that the helmet reduced the likelihood of concussion by 31%, but government testing proved that not to be true.  I had a student in high school who played football and after suffering a few concussions during his high school career, had a specially designed helmet made by the school to help him.
The latest look in helmets by Riddell Company.
Huge thing that had to weigh a ton with extra layers on it, but it seemed to work.  I imagine it never became popular due to its size.  Today's helmets have the capability of adding a polyurethane pad to the outside of the helmet to help prevent concussions.  The latest design, as far as I can find, is the Riddell SpeedFlex which is backed by extensive reasearch which includes 2+ million data points of on-field impacts.  It sells for $324 which, unfortunately, is  too much for many high school football programs to afford.  At least the majority of the helmets worn today are a far cry from the leather helmets that were worn when they were first invented.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

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