In late July I got a note from longtime reader Richard Craig, who’d stumbled upon an interesting uni-related attraction in an unlikely place:
Last weekend I was cruising through the wine country out here in California, doing a few tastings but mostly just enjoying the scenery. Driving along the Silverado Trail in Calistoga, I was just about to sail on past the Silver Rose Winery when at the last moment I noticed a little sign near the driveway. I did a double-take, hit the brakes and went inside.
It turns out that the guy who runs the winery has a private collection of football helmets that he’s recently put on display in the lobby of the winery. He’s got old leather helmets and NFL “helmet evolution” sets (check out the Redskins, Eagles, and Giants progressions at left). He also has helmets from the USFL, the CFL, the Arena league, even the XFL.
It was a surprise to find this in a winery (though if you own a winery, I’m sure you can afford a helmet collection). I got the guy’s contact info in case you’re interested in talking to him.
And that’s how I recently found myself speaking with Derrick Dumont, who, I think it’s safe to say, is the only vintner in America who also has a world-class football helmet collection. Here’s how our discussion went down:
Uni Watch: You’re obviously a football fan. Did you play football when you were younger?
Derrick Dumont: I did play Division II college, back I the early ’80s. Always loved the sport.
UW: What position?
DD: I was a receiver. Even after college, I was always looking for flag football leagues to play in. I think the last time I played in an organized flag league was about 12 years ago, when I was 37.
UW: How long have you been in the winery biz?
DD: We’ve had the property since 1985, and I joined the family business in ’93. We’re what you call a resort winery — we have a small hotel on-site with 20 guestrooms, as well as a small winery where we produce less than 2000 cases a year.
UW: And how’d you get into the helmet thing?
DD: Prior to joining the family business, I had another job that involved a lot of travel, and — well, actually, to tell the story properly, you have go back to fourth grade, when I was on my first team and my dad helped me paint all the helmets so they all matched.
UW: A Pop Warner team?
DD: This was actually just organizing our own little group to play against another elementary school. Even in our pick-up games when I was a little kid, I’d paint my own jersey out of a T-shirt so I could pretend to be a particular player.
UW: So you were thinking in uni-related terms very early on. Was that important to you, to have your helmet be just so?
DD: Yes, definitely.
UW: And when your dad helped you paint your team’s helmets, did you ask him to help you, or was it his idea? Like, was he saying that you kids needed to look good out there?
DD: No, it was me asking for his help, because I wasn’t very good at spray-painting. I designed a little “A” for our logo, because our school was called Addison. So we made a stencil, sprayed it on, and sprayed a stripe. He showed me how to do that.
UW: It must have killed you when the paint got chipped or got dirty during the game, right?
DD: No, it held up fine. Our collisions weren’t that intense.
UW: Do you still have that original helmet?
DD: No. But that’s how I got started.
UW: Did you also collect the little mini gumball helmets?
DD: Yeah, I had those for a while. And football cards. I don’t know what happened to all that stuff. Then, a few years after I got out of college, I went to visit one of my old roommates. And he had his high school helmet, plus our college helmet. And I said, “Wow, how did you get that? That is so cool!” And I thought, “I’ve gotta do that. I need to make replica helmets for all the teams I played for.”
UW: So he had made these helmets himself? He hadn’t gotten them from the schools?
DD: Exactly, he did it himself. And I thought that was the greatest thing, so I started with that, making my Pop Warner, high school junior college, and college helmets, and from there it just kinda went crazy.
UW: So all the helmets that you have displayed at the winery — you made all of those?
DD: A few of them were bought. But 95% of them I’ve made. Some of them were beat-up old helmets I found garage sales and flea markets. And when I was traveling for my old job, whenever I was in a town I’d look up the oldest sporting goods store, tell them about my project, and we’d go down in the basement and find these brand-new helmets that were 20, 30 years old.
UW: And you’d buy those?
DD: Sometimes they just gave them to me! Most of the time they’d charge me a little, almost nothing, because they didn’t know what to do with ’em. And they knew I wasn’t going to be using them on my head, or on anyone else’s head, so they felt comfortable letting them go like that. So then I’d sand them down, repaint them, and then I either painted the logo, made the logo, or was able to obtain the logo.
UW: When you say “obtain,” you mean you got a decal?
DD: Yeah. Because those are usually pretty readily available. And I’ve always tried to keep things matched up, so that I’m using the right helmet for the era of a particular logo.
UW: In other words, you wouldn’t use a 1990s Riddell helmet for a 1960s Redskins design.
UW: And I can see from the photos that you obviously keep the facemasks era-appropriate as well.
DD: Yes. So, slowly but surely, I’ve been able to keep the collection growing, adding the USFL designs, and then the WFL from the ’70s, and the XFL. And since I was born in Canada, I’ve added the Canadian Football League, back to the ’60s. Now I’ve gotta look at this new UFL. I haven’t done any of the girls’ leagues yet.
UW: I’ve gotta get you talking with Bill Jones. He’s this guy in Texas who’s the king of gumball helmets — he makes them himself, and he’s found every obscure league you can imagine. Like, if there’s a women’s over-50 league in Australia, he’s done their helmets. And he’s always looking for more — it’s like an addiction with him. I think that’s where you’re headed.
DD: Possibly, yeah.
UW: How many helmets do you have displayed there at the winery?
DD: About 250. And I have a few hundred helmets on hand that I can make into new designs. I still have some gaps to fill — I don’t have all of the 1960 designs from the AFL, for example, and I’ve only done about half of the arena league. So it’s still a work in progress.
UW: What’s the story with the leather helmets?
DD: Those aren’t replicas — those are old, original helmets that I’ve managed to acquire. I’ve got one for every decade that leather helmets were used.
UW: When did you start displaying your helmets at the winery?
DD: In early June.
UW: Oh, so it’s a very new thing.
UW: So up until now, you’ve just been pursuing this privately, in your basement or whatever.
UW: Did you have them displayed, like in your rec room or something like that?
DD: Some of them. But most of them were just sitting in boxes until we decided, “Well, we need something to attract people to our winery.” You know, we’re a small operation here in Napa Valley, and we need a reason for people to come to our tasting room instead of all the other ones out there.
UW: So you saw a way for your collector obsession to be put to use as a bit of marketing.
DD: Yeah, that’s what we’re hoping. Actually, we’re going through a bit of a transition here, because our goal is to become more of a wine sports bar.
UW: Does your helmet museum have an official name?
DD: Right now we’re just saying, “Silver Rose Presents 100 Years of Pro Football History.”
UW: You don’t charge admission for this, do you?
UW: Have you tried to promote via the local media?
DD: One of the local papers wrote something, but I haven’t really had a chance yet to publicize it. But we’ve updated our sign out front — originally it just said, “Football Helmet Museum,” but now it includes a blue helmet.
UW: So how has the response been so far? Has anyone come in specifically to see the helmets?
DD: There have definitely been people who’ve come in because they saw the sign. And a few of the locals came by when that article ran in the local paper.
UW: What about people who were coming for the wine and didn’t realize that they’d be surrounded by all these football helmets?
DD: It’s been amazingly great. People are pretty impressed — they think it’s cool. Some of them are a bit confused, they’ll say, “Why football helmets?” And we’ll just say, “Well, we want to be different than everyone else.” Other wineries might have some fancy artwork or Ansel Adams photos, but we’re kind of bucking the trend with our sweaty football helmets.
UW: I guess it really is bucking the trend, or even somewhat counterintuitive, because the standard perception is that the intersection of football and alcohol begins and ends with beer. You think of football fans drinking beer, sports bars serving beer, and obviously there’s lots of beer advertising during NFL games. When you think about football fans, you don’t usually think about wine. For that matter, when you think of wine, you don’t generally think about football.
DD: We haven’t had any problem in that regard. When people see how many helmets we have and the history behind them, they appreciate it. And I’ve put together a catalog that has a picture of every helmet on our wall, the story behind it, what style it is…
UW: Oh, you’ve put together a guide to the museum, sort of a program?
DD: Right. I’ve put together a catalog, in a binder, so people can take a look and get more information about the helmets.
UW: What about women? I’d think that the wine demographic has a higher concentration of women than you’d normally find among football fans. If a couple comes in, does the guy get all excited when he sees the helmets and then the woman is sitting there rolling her eyes?
DD: Not really. I mean, maybe a couple of times, but overall it’s been really well received. A lot better than I expected, in fact. That’s what’s been so exciting.
UW: You were worried it might not go over so well?
DD: I wasn’t 100% sure how people would take it. But I’ve been very pleasantly surprised. It’s made me proud of what I’ve accomplished.
UW: You should be! What about your family, what do they think? Are you married?
DD: Yes, and I have four boys. They all play football. In fact, everyone in the family is a football fan, including my wife.
UW: And what has she thought of your hobby over the years?
DD: She’s been pretty supportive. She’s just glad to have a little more room in the house now that I’ve moved the helmets over to the winery.
UW: What about your kids? Do they share your passion for getting a uniform just right?
DD: Yeah, when they’re getting ready for game, they have their little rituals, just like I did when I played.
UW: What sort of rituals did you have?
DD: When I was in high school, I always had to tape my shoes so they looked nice and white. I’d tape ’em up and then repaint the stripes on ’em. And I always used knee pads for my hip pads, before they got a little stricter about the padding. If I could’ve gone without padding, I probably would have.
UW: How much money would you estimate you’ve spent on this hobby over the years?
DD: Hmmmm… [Long pause.]
DD: I’d say I average about $30 a helmet. So that figure, times 250 helmets, means about $7500. Actually, it could have been a lot more — I’m kind of a stickler about price, so I’ve turned down some helmets that I’ve seen for sale, because I thought they were overpriced.
UW: And do those helmets now haunt your memory?
DD: Yeah. I passed up some beat-up old Riddell helmets, and now you don’t see those anymore, even on eBay.
UW: What about college football helmets? You have lots of pro leagues represented in your collection, but not much in the way of college.
DD: I’ve done a few college helmets, but only ones were I really liked the logo or the history, like the Michigan and Texas. Air Force, too. But I’ve really concentrated on pro football.
UW: What if you want to expand the museum? How much more room for on the walls do you have?
DD: I still have some open hooks…
UW: Yeah, how’d you come up with that hook system? It looks ingeniously simple.
DD: I saw something similar somewhere — where was that? Anyway, I saw something where they just had the hook in the earhole, and it gives it just a little tip especially when you’re looking up, so it works really well. I haven’t counted exactly how many open hooks I still have, but my guess would be about 20 or so.
UW: And you mentioned that you wanted to have a wine sports bar. Would that be in this same space, where the helmets are now?
UW: And do you envision expanding that concept, where you’d have maybe a chain of these wine sports bars or something ike that?
DD: That is a possibility — replicating this concept. Especially when you have companies like Helmet Hut creating such amazing helmet product. I think I’m pretty fussy, but I think the Helmet Hut product is absolutely perfect.
UW: Do you know those guys personally?
UW: They’re really amazing people, and they’re such sticklers for historical details.
DD: Yeah, I’ve bought some of their helmets and have really been blown away by how authentic they are. And it’s great that they sell the old facemasks, and even the old clips for the facemasks, because those can get brittle and break, so it’s great to have a place to buy those. For someone like me, it’s a dream come true. And, actually, it’s helped me start my own custom-helmet business, which is called Your Helmet Your Way.
UW: And how is that different from Gridiron Memories?
DD: They aren’t taking the logo thing as far as I am. If someone wants to do a replica of their high school or Pop Warner helmet, I’m willing to do just one, as long as they can get me a photo. No one was really doing that, so I’ve got a little niche there. I started that a little over a year ago.
UW: And how has that gone?
DD: Surprisingly well, considering how the economy has gone. Some corporations have actually hired me to do helmets for them.
UW: You mean, like a company’s logo on a football helmet, as a promotional item, even if they never had anything to do with football?
UW: Wow, you’re gonna be way past the wine business before you know it. That’s really interesting. And do you promote this operation of yours within the museum at the winery?
DD: I do have one small display for the business, yes.
Faaaaascinating. Big thanks to Derrick for sharing his collection, and to Richard Craig for tipping me wise to this great story. But I’m still sticking with beer.
Uni Watch Stirrup Club Update: Comrade Robert Marshall has just returned from the front lines of the stirrup revolution. He offers this report of the proceedings:
1) Our third-party supplier fed me some misinformation. Turns out the cardinal stirrup is not a “standard” design but a special order, and as such it takes four weeks to produce, not two. When this is coupled with the upcoming Uni Watch vacation, we need to offer up the next selection before our current order arrives in order to stay on our monthly schedule.
2) My disappointment with our previous dealer (for numerous reasons) has led me to take steps to ensure we have a direct connection with Twin City Knitting. How will that affect things? First and foremost, it means cheaper hosiery for all, and I should also be able to accommodate a wider variation of size requests. But most importantly, it means I now have TCK’s ear, and I am already trying to work on new offerings to better satisfy the people. No matter how abstract the message may sometimes be here, do not doubt my commitment to the spread of right proper hosiery through direct action.
3) This months choices are pure chicago, with four separate offerings. That’s right, we were able to handle two, so I am going to try to offer four per month from now on. So what with the increased choices, and the previously stated changes, I beg of you, even if you think you know what to do, please read the abbreviated instructions carefully, and follow the directions precisely.
Raffle Results: The 10 winners of the Bill Henderson MLB jersey guide are Brennan Barber, Eric Buettner, Bryan Duklewski, David Frost, Rob Ullman, Chris Stoppel, Bill Sour, Chris Milea, David Jackson, and Jerry Meyerowitz. All of you should contact me asap with your shipping addresses. Thanks!
Uni Watch News Ticker: A New Jersey politician doesn’t like the Nets’ new road jersey (with thanks to Timothy Collins). … Oooh, check out the cool cartoon on the cover of this year’s Patriots media guide (with thanks to Yancy Yeater). … New Bobcats unis visible in this video clip. Apparently they’ll have pinstripes. … New logo for the 2009 FIVB Men’s Club World Volleyball Championship, to be played in Qatar in November (with thanks to Jeremy Brahm). … The Red Sox had to buy a vowel over the weekend (great find by Tom Mulgrew). … More slop from the UFL here (with thanks to Marc Altieri). … It’s tough to see for sure, but Gabe Greenbaum says this minor leaguer is wearing stirrups with no sannies! … Are you an artist? Wanna create something for the Marlins’ new ballpark? Then you’ll wanna take a look at this page (thanks, Kirsten). … Ray Emery’s new mask is a tribute to Philadelphia boxing (with thanks to Enrico Campitelli Jr.). … Great article saluting single-bar facemasks here (big thanks to Larry Kurtze). … Here’s one guy’s assessment of the best Steelers by uni number (with thanks to David Potter). … The saga of the A’s helmet decals continues. Looks like Adam Kennedy is back to the old helmet style, plus his decal appears to be sitting a bit low (good spot by Brandon Davis). … The Massachusetts lottery has introduced a new Patriots-themed scratch-off ticket, and Bob Kraft presented a jersey to Massachusetts State Treasurer Timothy Cahill with a “Massachusetts” NOB and the number 351, for all of the cities and towns in the state (with thanks to Scott Davis). … Excellent spot from Brent Hardman, who notes that Bengie Molina appears to have a small pocket, or something like that, sewn into the chest of his jersey. … Brent also sent along this great shot of himself and his son at Falcons training camp. “One fan dressed in full uniform (old logo) in the 90-degree heat, while the actual team was practicing in helmets and shorts,” he says.
Nineteen days isn’t so long: Beginning tomorrow, Uni Watch will go on summer hiatus through the end of August. We’ll be open for business again on September 1st. No need to send Ticker contributions during this period, although college football news is very welcome. I’ll have at least two ESPN columns running while the blog is inactive. If you want to stay up to date, sign up for my mailing list, which will keep you in the loop.
Enjoy the break — see you in a few weeks.