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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Best College Football Helmets

The tOSU Uniform Change Crisis has forced many college football fans to confront what has for too long been its most shameful secret: Bad Game Day Garb. However, while our despondant adversaries in Columbus continue to lament being unfairly forced to bid adieu to the gray on their team's unifrom sleeves, I choose to look higher--to the helemts--that adorn and protect the heads of college football players across America.

In this Part One of a three-part MZone special examination on helmets, I submit this list of the best college football helmets, complete with a totally subjective and half-assed analysis explaining each helmet's placement on the list. (thanks to Charles Arey of the "Helmet Project" for the images.)

Michigan-Clearly the leaders and best when it comes to helmets. Even tOSU fans who have "Fuck Michigan" tattoed across their chest will concede this point if they're being honest.

Texas-You remember how Prince adopted a symbol to represent his name a few years ago? I think the state of Texas should drop the T-E-X-A-S and replace it with the unique simplicity of the perfectly-designed burnt orange longhorn head.

Florida State-Politically incorrect? Perhaps. Striking color combination, distictive design, and three decades of winning tradtion? Definitely.

Clemson-You've got to admire the bold decision by some past Clemson big shots to go with the orange and purple color scheme. I'm picturing a few Strother Martin looking fellas drinking Wild Turkey straight out of the bottle growling, "Fuck it! Let's make the helmets orange and purple. And we'll have giant goddamn paw prints on each side!"

Arkansas-How could anyone not love that rampaging piggy? Seriously, look at that feisty little guy. I imagine he's solid yet slippery and it doesn't seem like he's much in the mood to have hands put on him--traits that are very beneficial for a football player.

Any glaring omissions? Unworthy inclusions? Let us know what you think.


Yost said...


Lordfoul said...

Yeah, really. Arkansas?

Anonymous said...

Michigan is nothing but a poser.

You stole the Princeton helmets long ago, so you need to rightfully give credit (echoes of ESPN and Wonderlic) to the "Princeton helmet" you borrowed.

Also, I agree that BCS Era means one championship game and one champion.

once crapped in a Hormel Chili can said...

I will admit that Meechigan's helmets are the most recognizable in college football. But I have never understood what that design is supposed to be. I looks kinda like a swimsuit featured in Sports Illustrated from the late 80s.
Clemson? That damn print on their helmet reminds me that I need to scoop out my cat's litter box.

IC said...

Yes, Arkansas.

True, I could have included honorable mentions tOSU (late-in-season version with plenty of buckeye decals), Alabama, and USC.

But I'm standing behind the Razorbacks at #5. I urge you again to study the free-for-all instensity of that animal. And shouldn't Arkansas get points for being the only team with a pig for a mascot?

I also urge you to read the clear disclaimer in the post, that my list is "totally subjective and half-assed." I welcome other MZone readers' lists, which though also totally subjective, may benfit from whole-ass treatment.

BaggyPantsDevil said...

I think the keys to a great helmet are simplicity and uniqueness. Some designs are just too intricate to be identifiable 20 rows up in the stands and lots of schools use either a big block letter or just a plain helmet.

Texas's use of an easily recognizable silhouette is simply perfect. Michigan’s helmets do indeed set the standard and we just wouldn’t be Michigan fans if we didn’t want to reminisce about college football some 75 years ago which the design allows us to do.

The paw print is a great symbol, but severely handicapped by that orange and purple color scheme. Clemson’s orange unitard look with purple accents is just dreadful.

The Helmet Project just rocks, I even have it bookmarked.

IC said...

Once Crapped:

Is there a problem with SI swimsuits in the 80's? I have no problem with Michigan Football being associated with Paulina Poriskova.

On second thought, maybe that isn't such a good thing if it means our best days are behind us and we're having sex with the human Adam's apple that used to be lead singer for The Cars.

IC said...

One more thing, Once Crapped:

Your name reminds me of a guy I knew in the dorm, who somewhere in the blogosphere is probably calling himself "Once Had Sex with a 2-Liter Bottle of Pepsi"

Doug said...

I've always thought that Virginia had the classiest uniforms in college football overall, and I especially like their letter-V-over-crossed-sabres logo that appears on their helmets.

And I know I'm biased here, but the fire-breathing-dragon logo on UAB's helmets is pretty cool. I also like the goofy-ass pitchfork-wielding Disney devil on Arizona State's helmets.

COWolverine said...

anon, I think there is a difference between outright theft and one coach choosing to create the same helmet design at two different schools for which he coached. Did Notre Dame steal the Patriots offense last year too?

What if we just call it the Crisler helmet? UM has no problem with Princeton using it and vice versa. Generally if a school was stolen from, they would be the ones being upset, not random passers-by looking for some way to crap on UM.

IC said...

Re. Anon's (6:26am) comment: "Michigan is nothing but a poser. You stole the Princeton helmets long ago, so you need to rightfully give credit..."

(can't believe this hasn't been written yet...)


Anonymous said...

Clemson's tiger paw is a print from a real tiger that lived in the area. Frank Howard commissioned a marketing firm out of Greenville SC to come up with a new identity for our football team. One that could uniquely identify us. The story goes that the firm came in to make the pitch for the tiger paw and coach Howard didn't think much of it at first. Then they pulled out that orange helmet with a white tiger paw and coach Howard just grinned. We have had orange helmets with the white paw ever since. We are right proud of our orange here in Clemson, and we consider the orange helmet with white tiger paw sacred (as sacred as any physical thing can be).

trojan mike said...

Ok, I have to add USC (what can I say?) and also Kansas State (just like the look of the wildcat logo) and Air Force (lightening bolt is very cool). My honorable mentions would be AZ State (with the porno star faced devil) and Fresno State (bulldog).... ok and maybe Louisiana Tech (like how they incorporate the state of Louisiana with the big red T).

The King said...

First of all (even though I'm second to say it), we didn't "steal" our helmet design, you moron. Crisler designed it at Princeton, then got hired at Michigan, and brought it with him. Since it was HIS intellectual property, and not Princeton's, it's just a matter of him bringing with him one more possession. Both teams benefitted from his vision and appreciate his contribution to their legacy.

Hey ding dong, if you write a paper on your laptop and then transfer it to your desktop computer, did your desktop steal the paper from your laptop?

As for my nominations (which are not limited to D1)...The Dartmouth "front D" is ridiculous and wonderful, and the Emporia State "Concentric Rings" are also lovely. Come on, you remember those from 1998 when Brian Shaw broke the all-time NCAA rushing record? Just me?

And you would put Arkansas ahead of Alabama? You crazy!

Yost said...


I've heard your desktop is a thief. I'm just saying.

Talisman said...

Hey King, Michigan's claim to the winged helmet is merely abetting Crisler's theft of a design created for Princeton. Unless you prove that he owned the copyright and licensed the design to Princeton, I will forever believe that he absconded with their property when he left Princeton in the dark of the night.

Jeremie said...

Well, I was going to get on here and start raising a ruckus, but then ic gave an 'honorable mention' to my Buckeyes and so its cool. I do love the way that the silver helmets look in a bowl game, full of leaves. It just sucks to be the punter-at the end of the season you've only got a quarter of your helmet full.

I would also nominate Texas A&M and Tennessee, schools that have simple yet distinct and bold helmets.

Alabama and Penn State get the vote for helmets that desperately need a redesign.

I also found it interesting that there are 4 independent schools that don't play in a conference. 3 of them have essentially the same basic helmet-Army, Navy and Notre Dame.

cottoncandy said...

Leave my tatoo out of this. I don't have to admit anything. Well, okay, if you want to claim the best helmets, since you still have Tommy Amaker and Lllloyd Carr, you can have best helmets.

Wholesome Goodness said...

I couldn't help but think: This is a brilliant topic, someone must have covered it before. And sure enough, Google, the internet fuhrer, provided a SI article on the topic:

SI helmet list

Among the list, in case your finger is too tired to click the link above, are:

The Southern Methodist Horse That's Too Drunk To Run. (It's funny because Methodists typically don't drink)

The Iowa Old Woman With A Goiter.

And the Arizona State Guy Pretending He Has A Three Pronged Wang.

No mention of our beloved Wolverines...for shame, SI, for shame.

Benny Friedman said...

Wholesome, good catch. I'm sure there are plenty more of these lists.
We covered the Iowa logo last week. I wouldn't want a sideways Fred Flintstone on my helmet.
But the SI article has Wyoming ranked high, as they should. But it's really the logo that's great. The helmet should be brown.

Zany said...

Wholesome - the SI list is a list of the top "logo" helmets. Michigan's winged helmet is many things, but not a logo helmet. Not sure it would fit into any category, but unless you'd rather a fluffy cartoon Wolverine replace the beautiful simplicity of the wings, then be thankful M was left off the list! A couple links below - first is the official Princeton site which explains the origins of the winged helmet and next is the link to the Helmet Project - look up Princeton and you'll see they abadoned the winged helmet for decades before finally going back to it recently.



Wholesome Goodness said...

Thanks for straightening me out, zany. I didn't catch that. Maybe we should make a list of the top ten winged helmets.

HailJoepa said...

Where's Penn State?

Talisman said...


That would be in Pennsylvania. Hope this helps.


What is it about those stripes that qualifies them as 'wings?'


IDONTGETIT formerly (andsoonagain) known as capbuck

Jeremie said...

lol, i just noticed what three letters in my fake name stand out the most......

Anonymous said...


Another resource website for this discussion. They've compiled almost any helmet you can think of. I'm thinking the Emporia State helmet has been changed though because I see nothing resembling "Concentric Rings" on there, King.

Talisman said...

Hey CapBuck,

The "wings" is that big blotch of yellow in the front that looks like the upper part of Betty
Boop's lips. The stripes on the UM helmet make no sense at all and are just a carryover from Princeton's helmet.

On Princeton's helmet, the blotch in the front represents the fighting tiger's ears, pinned back, and the stripes represent the tiger's stripes.

As you can see, the UM helmet is just a ripoff of Princeton's helmet and isn't based in Wolverine tradition at all. Go figure.

BaggyPantsDevil said...


Actually, the "wings" and the "stripes" coincide with pieces of leather used to provide extra padding on 1930's football helmets. Fritz Crisler simply had the raised parts painted. It was football helmet construction that dictated the "wings" and "stripes" more than the Tiger mascot of Princeton.

Since Princeton played the first collegiate football game ever--a greater accomplishment than having a helmet design first—I guess everyone is ripping off Princeton.

And, it's their own fault for abandoning the design and not having it immediately associated with them. Their current uniforms--however--are excellent.

Of course, you could always put up a billboard. Or have you already done that?

Kirbdaddy said...

Clemson and Arkansas' helmets suck ass. Better helmet inclusions would have been Penn State, USC, or LSU.

Talisman said...


I won't be financing the billboard since my school was "inspired" by UM to do a funny little thing called Script Ohio. The billboard would just be too hypocritical, even for me.

I notice that you have ties to Ft. Huachuca and have an affinity for parachutes. I trained as a navigator, in the Grumman OV-1, at Huachuca in the late 60's and had an opportunity to use the Martin Baker ejection seat in Vietnam. Not much else to do when your plane is on fire and spiraling out of control.

Thanks for your take on the helmet :)

BaggyPantsDevil said...


The Mohawk?!?! Good Lord you've got guts. They still have one sitting out as a display here at the fort.

At least you had the good sense to wait until your aircraft was disabled before resorting to a parachute. Still, climbing into a Mohawk is questionable.

As for the billboard, there sure are a lot of causes for them to go around (I thought you might be one of that crowd that tends to troll here, my apologies for that assumption). We won't do one for the script Ohio if you won't for the helmets. Perhaps we need some sort of Strategic Billboard Limitation Treaty?

now_a_hoo said...

I'm with Doug. The UVa V-Sabre is one of the great logos in higher ed.

It started with Coach Welsh's son, as I understand it. They added them to the helmets in the mid-90's. Since then, it's become the go-to symbol for anything UVa-related. It's as instantly recognizable as any university symbol, and captures perfectly the pretentious attitude here at Mr. Jefferson's University. It can also be used in non-athletic contexts, unlike, say the Sun Devil or the Razorback.

Chris of Dangerous Logic said...

Didn't Hayden Fry design Iowa's logo so that it looked like a caricature of him when rotated 90 degrees (rotating the logo, not Fry, although I 'spose it wouldn't matter)?

That's what I always heard. 'Course, I used to drink a lot back then, too.

Anonymous said...

Simplicity folks:

#1. Notre Dame
#2. Navy
#3. Army
#4. Penn State
#5. Alabama

BaggyPantsDevil said...


Although I agree that all those teams have attractive helmets--to which you can add Ohio State, Boston College, and Syracuse--they're a little too simple--read plain--to be considered great in my totally subjective opinion.

I do like Alabama using the players' numbers on their helmets. I think Syracuse made a good move by following suite. It's simple, still fairly unique, and has a nice old school--read smashmouth--feel to it.

I do have a couple of only slightly smart-assed questions about your rankings. What makes Notre Dame's plain gold helmets superior to Navy's plain gold helmets? And, why didn't Boston College's gold helmet with a stripe make the list while Army's gold helmet with a stripe was #3?

Huskerfan said...

Homerish, I know...

but if you are going by distinctiveness, simplicity, and to some extent history then I would think Nebraska's helmets have to get at least a shout out.

Anonymous said...

Huskerfan is right! That 'N' for nowledge is indeed classic.

Talisman said...


The Mohawk was actually a pretty good plane. Reliable, maneuverable, and quiet: all the things you want in a good surveillance aircraft. Since our imagery could be interpreted quickly, we were able to plot targets and inform local units of enemy targets in a matter of minutes. As a result, its passing overhead was shortly followed by a rain of fire. The enemy called it "Whispering Death". We only lost one other plane during the year that I was over there, but we lost 2 good men in that one.

Our ilk has formed an organization that meets annually so we can swap lies, er stories, of our days with the Mohawk. I wouldn’t trade my Army experiences for anything but I wouldn’t want to take the risks I took when I was young and foolish, now that I’m old and foolish.

My cohorts tell me that Huachuca has become the home of Army Intelligence. Gee, I wonder if I still have that secret decoder ring I found in a box of Wheaties. Would that help?

As for helmets, I do like the Buckeye's helmet, especially later in the season when they are covered with Buckeye leaves.

And as for the Strategic Billboard Limitation Treaty, when you draw it up, put on a line for my John Hancock. No sense expending undue effort arguing about a helmet that UM obviously "owns" and a band formation that tOSU obviously perfected.

eddie, eddie said...

I am surprised no one has mentioned UCLA's helmet's - I have always liked those.

Anonymous said...

Arkansas and Clemson, you must be kidding! Clemsons color scheme is Fugly. I'd put in a vote for Wazzu's silver helmet , its a great color (cardinal logo on silver helmet) and their WS forms a cougars head, really unique and sharp looking.

Some other posters summed up Meechegans helmets, Princeton ripoff.

Yost said...

Penn State? Those look like practice helmets. I'll vote for them when they get different stuff for Saturdays.

Anonymous said...

Arizona State Sun Devils, unique name and color scheme. Not to mention a very cool logo.
UWs Gold hemet with the Purple W it tight as well. The temporary purple helmet the Huskies switched to for about 3 seasons was hideous.

Jeremie said...


PSU as boring is just not mean enough. I'll go ahead and say it-we're all thinking it...PSU players in their white away-unis look like a bunch of athletes playing in their full-body underwear.


I like Bamas

nico said...

I was working on a Top 10 and planning to post it in a few days. Oh well. However, all of your Top 4 were in my Top 5. I didn't have Arkansas ranked.

I did my Ten Worst about three weeks ago.

Nicole said...

Near the top of this barage of comments was a comment about UAB, and I have to say that I cannot stand that stupid cartoon dragon that looks way too much like Trogdor. Add a beefy arm and you're in.
Seriously, name me another helmet that looks straight out of a Disney flick?

Anonymous said...

I like Arkansas' helmets too.

I'd say:

1. Michigan
2. Texas
3. Alabama
5. Arkansas


Hobnail_Boot said...

Gotta chime in, taking one from each major conference then ranking them:

1) Georgia
2) Washington State
3) Michigan
4) Texas
5) Miami
6) West Virginia

Anonymous said...

Longhorn Here:

1. Penn State

2. Notre Dame

3. Alabama

4. Texas

5. Michigan

jay said...

One thing we can agree on is everyone disagrees a little...but most of the above mentioned all have legit helmets. As a uniform analyst, here are my votes on just helmets.

1. Texas -great simple logo with white facemasks on white helmets

2. UVA - V-logo with crossing swords is topdrawer

3. FSU -smooth spear logo coming from back of helmet and good colors

4. Clemson -tiger paw is classic and stands out on orange...nice!

5. Wyoming (sleeper! hardly ever seen). white helmets with never used Chocolate brown facemask and logo with gold outline...very smooth.

6. Michigan - just plain cool

7. Ohio State -great color scheme with the stripes...stipulation is it has to have alot of buckeyes!

8. Oregon - ONLY the White helmets with the green O...kind of has a Texas feel to it.

9. Georgia Tech (another sleeper) - the white lettering on Gold looks nice.

10. Arizona State - Unique colors with the deep mustard and a cool devilish logo.