Throwback helmets to pay homage to soldiers

November 9, 2018

One of my very favorite photos is of Tom’s dad and my dad at around age 16 standing together wearing their Madison High School practice football uniforms and helmets.

They had no idea in 1947, when someone snapped their picture on their way to Hume’s field for practice, that their children would be married 25 years later.

I thought of this photo when I read that the Huskers will be wearing leather-look retro helmets this Saturday for the Illinois game in honor of the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I and Memorial Stadium.

The helmets our dads —Don and Buster — wore were typical of those used in Nebraska high schools in the 1940s. They were made mostly of leather and were supposed to absorb the blows incurred on the field.

These helmets looked more like you were an airplane aviator than a fierce football player. I’m not sure they were much better than not wearing a helmet. I read somewhere they mostly protected their ears.

By 1950, most teams were wearing the plastic helmets that were less likely to rot away when they got wet, as the leather helmets were prone to do. Now the football helmets are very high tech, with special foam inserts, and designed to protect the head from about anything. It’s said that wearing a helmet decreases the chance of getting a concussion by about 30 percent. Having had a son who played football, I was hoping the chance of getting a concussion would be reduced by about 90 percent.

That makes me wonder if the leather helmets our dads wore really protected them at all against concussions. Who knows? Back then, if you passed out because of a hit to the head, you laid down on the sidelines until you came to and then went back onto the field once you recovered from “having your bell rung.”

That’s all changed now. There are strict rules concerning concussion risks with players not going back into the game if they show any signs of trauma. That’s good. Lots of high school football is going to be played in the next few weeks — big games between the top teams of the state. They’ll all be depending on the plastic shell on their heads to protect them from hits that are compared in studies to “hitting a head against a wall at 20 miles per hour.”

Then I think of the photo of the two gangly boys in the 40s who buttoned a leather helmet under their chin and went at it. It’s a wonder people weren’t falling to the ground right and left. Maybe they didn’t hit as hard back then. I don’t see any padding underneath their jerseys in the photo.

I’ll be anxious to see the new/old helmets the Huskers will be wearing that just look like leather, but are some of the highest rated for safety ever.

Our dads would smile if they saw them, I’m sure.

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