Yesterday I ran the transcript of Robert Harvell’s interview with longtime Rams equipment manager Todd Hewitt. As many of you know, Todd was born into the job, because his father, Don Hewitt (shown above at right, with Todd at left; additional photos here), served as Rams equipment manager before him.
Helmet Hut co-founder Jim Parker conducted a short interview with Don Hewitt in 2007. Sadly, Jim and Don have both passed away since then, but Helmet Hut’s Curtis Worrell was willing to share the interview transcript for publication on Uni Watch (he also posted it on Helmet Hut). It isn’t as wide-ranging as Robert’s interview with Todd, but it addresses some really interesting points, especially about the Pro Bowl’s pre-Honolulu days. Check it out:
Jim Parker: Don, How did you outfit the players for the 1960s-era NFL Pro Bowls, which were held at the Los Angeles Coliseum?
Don Hewitt: Back then the players arrived on the Tuesday before the game, which was held on Sunday afternoon. We would furnish only their game jersey, pants, and socks. Once in a while a player would arrive and find that he was missing something and I would try to substitute for it from my regular Rams equipment inventory.
One of the first things I’d do on Tuesday was to gather the players’ helmets and send them to a local reconditioner, Hub Athletic Service, to have them painted gold. There was very little physical contact in practice and the players wore sweat pants rather than padded football pants. When their helmets came back from the painter, I would stripe and decal the helmets with NFL logos.
After the game ended, I set up a table just outside the locker room. Glen Davis, the former great running back from Army, would sit there with me and distribute game paychecks to each player, but only after they had handed over their game-issued jersey, pants and socks to me. Unlike today, where the Pro Bowl players get to keep everything, we reused those uniforms year after year. In those days, the jerseys did not have the player names on them so they were easy to reuse the following year.
JP: Can you recall any instances at the Pro Bowl where you had to improvise because there were problems with the normal equipment routine?
DH: Well, I worked 14 Pro Bowls, so as you would expect, not everything went perfectly. I remember one year Dick Butkus showed up with broken shoulder pads and a cracked helmet. When I showed him the defective equipment, he just shrugged and said not to worry about it and that he had worn it like that all season. There was no way I would allow him to wear that stuff in a game where I was responsible for the equipment, so I sent his shoulder pads off for repair and I pulled a similar-sized helmet from my regular Rams inventory for him to wear — I’m not sure if he even noticed or cared.
Walter Payton had a quite different attitude than Butkus. In the 1989 Pro Bowl, he played into the third quarter of the game and then sat on the bench for the remainder of the game. After he sat down, he removed his helmet and called me over to ask me if I could safeguard it. It was a rare Wilson padded helmet that was no longer produced and could not be easily replaced. He really loved that helmet and was worried that it might get lost or taken by someone as a souvenir. I had my son Todd take it immediately to the locker room and had him lock it up in a special locker. After the game I repacked it myself and made sure it was delivered back to the Bears.
One year in the late 1960s, I was not so fortunate. The Pro Bowl players were using the UCLA locker room and facilities during the week prior to the game. Each night, before I left the locker room, I made sure that the heavy steel entrance door was not only double-locked but I also had a padlocked heavy steel chain threaded through the door handles for extra security. You can imagine my surprise when I arrived early the next day to find seven helmets were missing. I can still remember some of the missing helmets — Tommy Nobis, Paul Krause, and Deacon Jones. I had no idea how anyone could have gotten into that locker room, and then I noticed something not quite right with the bottom of the steel door. Upon closer inspection, I discovered that someone had actually used a blow torch to cut out a small entry hole. What was so unusual was that they also took the time to weld the cut out piece back so that it looked almost untouched! I guess it sounds somewhat funny now but back then I was really mad.
JP: Bob Brown, who was recently inducted into the Hall of Fame, played for the Rams and wore a padded type helmet. Can you tell us about this unique helmet?
DH: Bob originally played for the Eagles, where he wore a helmet made by MacGregor. The model that he wore included an exterior strip of padding attached to the center ridge of the shell — it was about four inches wide. Ohio State wore these type of helmets in the early 1960s. Irv Cross also wore a similar helmet when he played for the Eagles, although he switched to a conventional Riddell suspension helmet when he was traded to the Rams. When the Rams acquired Bob from the Eagles, the helmet was no longer being produced by MacGregor. He actually wore the same helmet for the Rams that he had worn for the Eagles.
Of course the helmet was originally Kelly green (Eagles colors), so I painted it navy blue. I hand-traced the ram horn logo from a regular Riddell helmet and made a template. I put the template over Bob’s Macgregor helmet and actually hand painted the white ram horn logos on each side of his helmet. I remember that it was a very difficult trying to paint those horns on because the wide padded area down the ridge of the helmet overlapped a large portion of the side of the helmet, creating an uneven surface where the horn was normally applied. And since he was a lineman, his helmet was subject to many bumps and scratches, so I had to carefully touch up both the navy shell area and the white horns after each game.
Whenever someone like Bob wore an unusual or non-standard piece of equipment, I always kept a back-up for it in my inventory. I kept three extra pairs of prescription goggles for Eric Dickerson, and I even kept an extra custom-made kicking shoe for Tom Dempsey that cost $1000. But I was never able to keep a back-up padded MacGregor helmet for Bob because they were not available. If something had ever happened to that helmet, I would have had to talk him into wearing a more conventional helmet, but fortunately we never had to deal with that.
JP: How did you determine what type of mask a player should wear?
DH: I would hang the different style masks on the wall and the player would pick out the type of mask that he wanted to wear. I was never able to persuade Tommy McDonald to wear a mask — all I would tell him was, “It’s your teeth.” Vince Feragamo wore a Dungard mask, and when he left our team to play in Montreal in the CFL, he called and asked if I would send his Dungard mask to him, which I was happy to do. When Joe Namath was traded to the Rams at the tail end of his career, he brought the old bolt-on cage mask that he wore with the Jets. Most linebackers wore some type of cage facemask, but I remember that our great linebacker Maxie Baughn insisted on wearing only a plastic Riddell two-bar mask.
I drilled facemask attachment holes for every helmet. For most of the helmets, I drilled the holes in the conventional mounting position, depending on the type of the mask, as recommended by Riddell. A few players requested that I position their mask in a slightly unconventional position or angle. Roman Gabriel wore a one-bar mask and he requested me to change the angle of the mask to it protected more of his mouth area instead of the nose area. Whenever I had to change the attachment position of a player’s mask, I would usually have to also replace the helmet with a new one, because the new drill holes combined with the existing holes would dangerously weaken the old helmet shell.
My continued thanks to Helmet Hut’s Curtis Worrell for his generosity with these interviews. If you haven’t poked around his site, I strongly recommend doing so — there’s a huge trove of information to be found there.
Surprise ESPN piece: The NFL writers and editors at ESPN.com just voted on their top 10 current NFL helmet designs. Then they asked me to do a companion piece on helmets that are no longer being used (at least not as primary designs), so that’s what I did.
Uni Watch News Ticker: I scored this nifty Durene warm-up top on eBay yesterday. More pics when I receive the item from the seller. … How cold was it in Chicago on Monday night? So cold that Alexei Ramirez was wearing a Fudd cap — on May 16! (As noted by James Huening.) … Third item on this page postulates that the Padres’ newfound offensive prowess coincided with the team getting new BP jerseys (with thanks to Brian Hilemon). … Kyle Mackie was at a recent A’s/Chisox game and spotted someone with an A’s chest protector backpack. ” It’s got Suzuki’s name on the bottom corner, so maybe it was a giveaway involving him, or maybe it was something sold in the team store,” says Kyle. “Either way, never seen something like this before.” … The Lehigh Valley Ironpigs will wear hockey-themed jerseys on Saturday (with thanks to Thom Dennis). … Interesting trademark case involving the NHL (with thanks to Jay Winkler). … New football uniforms for Purdue. I don’t have a Rivals subscription, and most of you probably don’t either, so Scott Misner helpfully provided the text of the article, which I’ve worked up into this page. The most interesting thing is the repeated reference to Nike’s “Speed Machine” uni line — hadn’t heard of that before. … Interesting to see that UConn gave the Prez a jersey with an initial. “Did Michele get one too?” asks Tyler Kepner. Not sure about that, but at least UConn is being consistent — look at this shot from last year. … Latest team to go BFBS: FC Barcelona (with thanks to Chad Jorgenson). … What’s even better than an old uniform made by Wilson? An old uniform promoting Wilson. I’m gonna be bidding on this one, so hands off! … “These LaDainian Tomlinson cleats are already three years old,” says Matt Powers, “but I just found an interesting feature: LT’s boss facemask is on the sole. … Bob DeLano notes that Edinson Volquez had some major underbrim stickerage going on last night. … And here’s a great one to go out on: Someone on the Chris Creamer board found a video clip of the Bengals’ 1981 uniform unveiling. Check it out: