Pigskin Buzz

The Five Weirdest Helmets Ever Worn In The NFL

It’s the off-season and not much is happening in the football world.

So, let’s talk about helmets, shall we?

I’m not the first to stoop to this level in an effort to find an interesting story. ESPN has already resorted to having all eight of its NFL bloggers rank the NFL’s helmets in order of attractiveness. Seriously.

Others have chimed in on the topic of how to make helmets more effective and reduce the risk of concussions. The geniuses at Bleacher Report have even suggested outlawing helmets altogether.

I’m going to take a bit of a different approach. I’m going to take you on a tour of weirdest, funniest and downright scariest helmets ever worn in the NFL.

Before I begin, I’d like to send some love to HelmetHut.com, where I found several of these images and where you can see a lot more of this stuff. It’s a tremendous resource for anyone brave enough to pore through the strange history of football helmets.

1. Otto Graham’s “Ahead Of Its Time” Clear Facemask

Before thinner, opaque bars became the norm, some players wore helmets with clear facemasks made of lucite (that weren’t unlike the visors that some players wear today). The Browns’ Otto Graham certainly wasn’t the only player to regularly sport a clear facemask–the Los Angeles Rams featured several players wearing the them at one point–but he’s the most famous. It’s curious that these didn’t catch on, as they would seem to offer better visibility than the facemasks players wear today. The issue was probably that they were more prone to cracking.

Most clear facemasks were a few inches in width and covered a straight line across the middle of a player’s face, but some were a little more unique. 49ers fullback Joe Perry looked like Hannibal Lecter in this one:

2. John Williams’ “D.I.Y. Double”

In the early days of modern facemasks, there were only a few different options for players to choose from. If you didn’t like any of the choices, you improvised.

John Williams of the Rams actually attached two different facemasks to his helmet and then taped them together to create this monstrosity. It looks like it would have provided good protection, but how the heck did he see out of this thing?

Williams wasn’t the first to attach multiple facemasks to his helmet. In the days of single-bar facemasks, it was pretty common for guys to attach two or more of them (sometimes at weird angles), but Williams gets the spot on this list because of how completely ridiculous his grill looks.

3. Harry Swayne’s “Thunderdome”

Speaking of ridiculous grills, look at that thing. Yikes. It has more bars than Alcatraz.

Occasionally, facial injuries force players to add extra protection to their helmets. That was the case with the Chargers’ Harry Swayne in the photo above and the same thing was going on with the Eagle’s Charlie Smith and the Giants’ Chris Canty and Justin Tuck below.

4. Steve Wallace’s “Helmet2″

The 49ers’ Steve Wallace liked safety so much that his helmet wore a helmet.

Seriously, though, Wallace endured many concussions throughout his career and he was forced to wear a helmet with a styrofoam cap on top to reduce the impact of collisions.

Mark Kelso of the Buffalo Bills wore a similar helmet and looked every bit as goofy:

5. Scott Player’s “Single-Bar Special”

It’s probably not fair to call the single-bar facemask “weird,” but we had to include it on this list because it’s a favorite of many football fans. Single-bar facemasks are now outlawed by the league, but they endured for many years because the kickers who wore them (and were grandfathered to the ban on them) played well into their 40s.

Scott Player and other kickers loved these facemasks because they allowed for maximum visibility. Player even angled his down so far that pretty much none of his face was protected. Not exactly what you’d want if you were at risk of being hit in the face, but it gave us all a great view of his glorious moustache.

Honorable Mention: LaDainian Tomlinson’s “Darth Vader”

Unlike many of the guys above, Tomlinson didn’t wear this unique helmet for safety reasons; he did it just because it looks cool (and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t look really cool). Unfortunately, it also made it tough for him to see and he ended up trying several different variations of this facemask before going back to a traditional three-bar running back facemask when he signed with the Jets.

Not many guys in the NFL wear this style of facemask today, but Madden cover boy Peyton Hillis is a notable exception. His facemask is reminiscent of a bulldog’s face and fits right in in Cleveland.

Honorable Mention 2: Every single early facemask

It would be easy to do a top 100 list of bizarre early facemasks, so I’ll lump them all together here. Before players adopted the current standard of rubber-coated metal facemasks, there was a lot of weird experimenting going on. Some of these things look like they belong in a nightmare.

Have a personal favorite helmet that you think we should add to this list? Leave a comment below.

David Woods is the editor of PigskinBuzz.com. You can contact him at pigskinbuzz@gmail.com.

6 Comments

  1. HaileyW

    June 24, 2011 at 11:00 am

    Great topic. No one looked as tough in a single bar helmet (albeit CFL) than the legendary Troy Westwood.

    http://geoffrobins.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/Winnipeg-Blue-Bombers/G00003hSgFSJQohI/I0000FCKq8WhqBmQ

    • HH

      May 9, 2012 at 9:41 am

      Nice picture but it is not a one bar. It is the lower section of a two bar. You can see the holes of the vertical posts removed. Many players did this when the one bar was discontinued.

  2. Dennis Venhuis

    October 6, 2011 at 7:10 am

    I remember when Broncos utiliy running back Steve Sewell wore a monstrous facemask for part of a season in order to protect his damaged jaw. It was very similar to the one pictured above on Charlie Smith. Former Falcons safety Ray Brown also wore an odd looking design for a couple of seasons in the ’70s. I’ve seen pictures of Y.A. Tittle wearing a clear mask like the one pictured on Otto Graham — but Tittle’s even had a handle affixed to the right side of the helmet, and I’m really not sure of its purpose…
    One of the strangest designs I’ve seen was worn by former Giants FB/LB Bill Svoboda in the ’50s — It was a standard single-bar model which was the norm for that era… but Svoboda’s featured a second single bar attached several inches higher and angled downward to protect his nose, making his helmet rather silly looking….

  3. Shane

    January 1, 2012 at 11:28 pm

    Norm Van Brocklin wore that clear lucite thing too. Chris Canty and Justin Tuck are rockin those crazy ones in East Rutherford now.

  4. Neek

    January 10, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    I will never forget watching Greg Lloyd plow people with his facemask. Thing was Huge!

  5. Sidelion

    April 10, 2012 at 7:33 pm

    Steve Bartkowski wore one helluva of a weird mask in ’77.

    http://i.ebayimg.com/t/1977-ATLANTA-FALCONS-NFL-FOOTBALL-MEDIA-GUIDE-STEVE-BARTKOWSKI-COVER-/00/s/MTI1OFg5MTI=/$%28KGrHqZHJ!4E7%29t%29J3+bBPDNGY6F,!~~60_35.JPG

    (He’s number 10.)

    Doesn’t look like it would protect from a helmet being rammed into one’s jaw too well.