Saturday, October 01, 2005

Helmetology

Of all the pieces of sports paraphernalia, the football helmet is far and away the most significant and emblematic. While we may or may not be able to fully describe our favorite team's jersey, the helmet stands alone in a special area of preconscious recognition. With this great power, however, comes great responsibility, and unfortunately, many athletic directors have been derelict in this responsibility. My goal in this post is to bring some accountability into the high-stakes game of helmet design. I'm not trying to be catty or act like a fashion critic, I'm just trying to rid the world of tasteless football uniforms so that our children and our children's children won't have to have their memories of sports tainted by appalling uniforms.

I submit to you, then, the six rules of helmetry, in order of importance. These are not polite suggestions, these are codes of conduct, and those who ignore them will pay the dearest price.


Rule 1: Ban the Stripe

I cannot stress the importance of this rule. The stripe is tearing at the fabric of college football and society as well. Me must stop it now while we still have the chance. First, it is superfluous: it contributes nothing to the design of a helmet, save but to illustrate that it can be bisected transversely. Even worse than just being unnecessary, it usually involves the addition of more colors to a helmet, another cardinal sin that is outlined in rule 4. And if that isn't enough, keep in mind that when a helmet is desecrated by a stripe, it is very rare that there is only one stripe foisted upon it. Most of the time, we are forced to watch a bi-colored three-layered band several inches thick in the middle of the lid. With very few exceptions (see below) every single helmet with a stripe on it could be improved drastically by simply removing the stripe.

I hate to even mention it, but there has been a trend developing in the NFL where helmets have tapered stripes (see the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers). This is indescribably gaudy and screams Arena Football. By the grace of God, we haven't seemed to come across it in the college game, but we need to be ever vigilant against it.

Worst Offenders: Purdue, Denver Broncos, LSU


Rule 2: Less is More

I get the feeling that some schools suffer from the crippling affliction of horror vacui. Here's the rule of thumb, guys: Put a picture of a Spartan on your helmet, not a pictoral history of the three Punic Wars. This isn't an ancient Greek vase, this is football. If your logo requires 500 polygons, then it is too complicated to put on a helmet.

I belive LSU is the best case study, and certainly should be a template for what not to do when designing a helmet. We've got a kind of cool tiger logo that has been shrunken down so much that it is invisible to the naked eye from the stands and from TV broadcasts. Most of my life, I thought it was just a dark squiggle, and only recently discovered what it actually was. Next, we have an oversized "LSU", which is another rules violation I will outline in rule 3. We have a bi-colored tri-band stripe (Rule 1), a fleur-de-lis, an American Flag, the safety sticker from the manufacturer (seriously, guys, peel it off. It's not like ripping the tag off your matress), a small black box that's too small to determine its function, and a "Your Ad Here" sign. Somebody please give them some respectable helmets, because they look like a dozen NASCAR drivers out there.

Worst Offenders: LSU, Denver Broncos (again), Oregon State


Rule 3: No Duh

A lof of teams insult the intelligence of the average sports fan with their helmets. Hey Nebraska, we know that your state begins with the letter "N", we don't need any help from your helmet. This may be an extension of the "Less is More" rule, as the general phrasing is such: It is much better to put nothing at all on a helmet than something stupid and obvious. We all know you're proud of the fact that you know what letter your school starts with, but it's unnecessary to rub it in our faces.

There is also a subrule, 3b, which is for helmets that have one large emblazoned letter that seems to be only tangentially related to their name. BYU's giant "Y" comes to mind, as does Michigan State's secondary helmet, which features a large "S". If you're going to have a stupid letter, at least make sure it corresponds to the team.

Worst Offenders: Nebraska, Rutgers, BYU (3b), LSU


Rule 4: Be Economical With Colors

The easist way to make somebody vomit when looking at your helmet is to attack them with every color in your Crayola 64 pack. Listen close: You get two colors for your helmet. If I see so much as a speck of a third color on your lid, you will be penalized severely. This rule is partially an offshoot of the Stripe Rule, as a lot of the time it is the stripe which pushes teams into a violation of Rule 4. If all stripes were removed, almost all Rule 4 violations would go away as well, which makes my case for it even stronger.

Worst Offenders: Purdue, Denver Broncos, Arizona State


Rule 5: Pride Stickers

This isn't high school, there are no points for trying. If you're 22 years old and still think that everyone is a special snowflake and a "winner on the inside", you have not received a college education. Burn your diploma. This one is painfully obvious, I don't think I need to go into any more detail. I'm frustrated that I even had to say this much about it.

Worst Offenders: Ohio State, Florida State, Michigan State


Rule 6: A Fine Line Between Hideous and Tasteless

Maybe this isn't so much a rule as it is a general guideline. My campaign is not to weed out ugly uniforms, just tasteless ones. I'm perfectly fine with garish, hideous uniforms, so long as they abide by all the rules I've laid out so far. A lot of teams use their unsightly uniforms as a way to psyche out their opponent and that's cool with me. Oregon and Tennessee come to mind as examples. Each of these uniforms are as ugly as sin, but they carefully abide by the rules, so they're OK in my book.

My case study is the Denver Broncos, who happen to be my NFL team. Their "Orange Crush" uniforms from the 80's/early 90's were about the ugliest uniforms you'll ever see. But other than a few pecadillos (stripe, three colors), they were more or less inoffensive in terms of taste. When they unveiled their current uniforms, it felt as if they had read this post before it was even published, and found a way to violate every single rule in the book (I'm still waiting for the pride stickers). Tapered stripe, three colors, 500-polygon logo. The vomit flows. Just keep this in mind when you're trying to determine if a uniform is atrocious or just a mild form of ugly.


With those rules in mind, I submit to you the rankings of ND's opponents this year in terms of helmetology.

#1 - Notre Dame

Call it personal bias, but this is the best helmet in football; the benchmark for success in helmetry.

Complaince:

* No Stripes (1)

* Less is More (2)

* No Duh (3)

* One Color (4)

* No Stickers (5)

* Not Hideous (6)


Compliance:

* No Stripe (1)

* Less is More (2)

* No Duh (3)

* Two Colors (4)

* No Stickers (5)

* Not Hideous (6)

Deductions:

* Hate the Bastards (-0.1)

#2 - Southern Cal

I hate this helmet, I hate this team, I hate this school. But goddamn if I don't respect them. The logo is short, simple, and to-the-point. There's only two colors, no stripe, and no large "USC" emblazoned on it. It's a timeless classic and you gotta give it props.


#3 - Navy

Look familiar? Of course, the gold, unadorned helmet is a timeless classic, and they are free of rules violation. I'm not privy to the painting process, but it's not quite as lustrous as Notre Dame's real-gold finish, as you can observe during ND and Navy's annual tilt.

Complaince:

* No Stripes (1)

* Less is More (2)

* No Duh (3)

* One Color (4)

* No Stickers (5)

* Not Hideous (6)

Deductions:

* Ain't the Real Thing (-1)


Compliance:

* Less is More (2)

* No Duh (3)

* Two Colors (4)

* No Stickers (5)

* Not Hideous (6)

Deductions:

* Dangerously Close to Having a Stripe (-1)

#4 - Michigan

Ah, the winged helmet. A quirky, fairly unique idea (don't let them get away with claiming they invented it, though) and plain Maize & Blue. While not technically a stripe, there are three lines that run front to back and bow out, and that grates me. From the back, you're looking at a striped helmet. Still a quality lid, though. In fact, I'll go ahead and give it "timeless classic" standing.


#5 - Michigan State

Pretty solid. I'm particularly fond of it because this is the kind of helmet that lesser minds would easily ruin with a stripe. Kudos for avoiding that pitfall. Unfortunately, they dropped the ball and took the pride stickers route. That's a shame, because there's great potential for this lid. I'm dropping you to fifth place, but, as you know, everyone's a winner just for participating.

Complaince:

* No Stripes (1)

* Less is More (2)

* No Duh (3)

* Two Colors (4)

* Not Hideous (6)

Deductions:

* Pride Stickers? Are you Kidding Me? (-1.5)


Compliance:

* Less is More (2)

* No Duh (3)

* No Stickers (5)

* Not Hideous (6)

Deductions:

* Permitted Tri-Stripe, but a Stripe Nonetheless (-.5)

* Three Colors (-1)

#6 - Syracuse

You've found one of the lone exceptions to the rule. Amendment (a) to Rule 1 stipulates that a stripe is tolerable if it is the only adornment on a helmet. Penn State, Syracuse, Cleveland Browns, you can breathe easier now, I'm not gunning for you. The tri-band is obnoxious, especially since it adds a third color to the lid, but it's fairly inoffensive. I'll give it a passing grade, but don't let that go to your head: You're on double secret probation.


#7 - Pitt

Well, this certainly leaves nothing to the imagination. The whole school name is spelled out in giant letters that I'm guessing were stolen from an eye chart. A football team that brings back memories of trip the the optometrist? Weak. That being said, there's no stripe, and a pretty good economy of space and color. I'm a fan of the old-school Marino helmets with the cursive-script Pitt, but mostly because they're so tragic and affeminite.

Compliance:

* No Stripe (1)

* Less is More (2)

* Two Colors (4)

* No Stickers (5)

* Not Hideous (6)

Deductions:

* Massive Duh (-2)


Complaince:

* Less is More (2)

* Two Colors (4)

* No Stickers (5)

Deductions:

* Monostripe (-1)

* Duh (-1)

* Just Fug-Ugly (-.5)

#8 - Tennessee

Man that hunter orange is awful. Just dreadful. That being said, I can't deduct too heavily for it as hideous colors are licit in this system. The stripe is there, but thankfully it's monocolor, so it's a bit easier to stomach. The "Duh" factor is alive and well here, as we've got the big ol' "T" for (I'm just guessing here) Tennessee.


#9 - Stanford

Let's start with the positives. I like the white background. More teams need to utilize this, as it's quite easy on the eyes. Duh deduction for the S, and stripe deduction. Meh. Just doesn't do anything for me.

Complaince:

* Less is More (2)

* Two Colors (4)

* No Stickers (5)

* Not Hideous (6)

Deductions:

* Duh (-1)

* Stripe (-1)

* Painfully Boring (-1)


Compliance:

* Less is More (2)

* No Stickers (5)

* Not Hideous (6)

Deductions:

* Tri-Stripe (-1)

* Duh (-1)

* Three Colors (-1)

#10 - Washington

Yikes. Too many colors, that god-awful tri-stripe, Duh logo. Don't much care for their coach. I do like the Husky. My parents have two huskies.


#11 - BYU

Nobody has ever explained to my satisfaction why there is a giant Y on this helmet. Brigham Young University. Apparently, they're proud of their Young-ness, which is ironic as all of their players are in their mid-30's. Too many colors, too much stripe, and they ditched the pleasant white background for more unnecessary color. I'm walking off fifteen yards for a personal foul.

Compliance:

* No Stickers (5)

* Not Hideous (6)

Deductions:

* Stripe (-1)

* Way Too Busy (-1)

* Irksome Tangential Duh (-1.5)

* Too Much Color (-1)


Compliance:

* No Stickers (5)

Deductions:

* Tri-Stripe (-1)

* Duh (-1)

* Hideous (-0.5)

#12 - Purdue

Just make it stop. Monster stripe, giant P, disastrously overcolored, just plain bad. Go to your corner and feel shame.


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