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DIY Helmets and a WFL History Lesson

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By Phil Hecken

I’m joined today by a longtime Uni Watch favorite, Leo Strawn, Jr., who has graced these pages with many great things, including some terrific DIY projects (although he may be better known these days as the guy who gets a lot of “Too Good For The Ticker” entries). Not today, though — today Leo gets the lede, as he’s here with …

. . . . . . . . . .

DIY Helmets and a WFL History Lesson
By Leo Strawn, Jr.

I’m back with a couple of DIY projects and a WFL history lesson!

It’s been quite a while since I’ve been able to spend time just being creative. Going through such periods is anathema for artists. Throughout the years I’ve been involved in numerous forms of art and design. Here are a few (with examples): colored pencil (Dale), acrylic on canvas (Art of Creation), signs and murals (Rocky Boots), logo design (Columbus Horizon, CBA), uniform design (Cleveland Cannons, USAFL, and yes, that’s Cavaliers guard and fellow AFL Collingwood Magpies supporter, Matthew Dellavedova in that photo). By having a love of sport to go along with my love of art, it’s no surprise a portion of my portfolio is sports-related.

Although I’m basically retired from commercial ventures these days, artists work from and for the heart so I will never retire from creating. A few years ago, a relative who is associated with a local HS football program asked if I had any use for helmets that could not be properly reconditioned for the upcoming season. As a result, I’ve created replica Buckeyes, Browns and Bengals as gifts for family members. Also, some time ago, I used one of the shells to create an original Steelers design.

Without getting into details, I had to take a bit of a hiatus from normal routines while overcoming health-related issues, but I’m slowly getting myself back into living life again. Among other things, that means creating again and includes recently finishing two helmets that were started a couple of years earlier.

~ ~ ~

One of them I had originally designed years ago for the Cleveland Browns. I wanted to keep the traditional look while merging it with some innovation. The front of the helmet looks essentially the same but the sides and back have morphed into something quite different. [Click on any images below to enlarge — PH]

helmet front

The idea for the sides was based upon an abstract “C”, though I think that’s pretty much lost on the actual shell.

helmet side

I also wanted to use the brown around the ear hole…

helmet three-quarters

…to be reminiscent of the leather additions on helmets in the 1940s and 50s worn by the Browns and other teams. The design on the sides created a large white space on back. I thought about adding #32 (Jim Brown) in that area to break up the white space a bit, but settled on #46 to represent the Browns’ first season, 1946, when they debuted in AAFC.

helmet back

~ ~ ~

The painting process started with painting the shell and facemask white. Then I masked the helmet to paint the orange portion, allowing it to cover a part of the area that would become brown.

helmet mask1

Once dry, I then removed the mask and penciled the area containing the brown stripe onto the helmet.

helmet mask2

I’ve discovered through trial-and-error that electrical tape works best for not allowing spray to bleed past the area I want to cover.

helmet mask3

The remainder of the helmet is always covered with paper to protect it from over-spray, then given sufficient time to dry after several light coats for proper coverage.

helmet mask4

The finishing touches were added before a spraying with a clear coat and reassembling the helmet.

helmet full

~ ~ ~

The other helmet, a Portland Storm reproduction, I had decided to create for a myriad of reasons. (Well, maybe not a myriad, but”¦)

First, I love ambigrams, e.g., the logo for the 1970s glam rockers, Angel. Second, I love hidden items in logos and artwork like the Whalers logo. The WFL Portland Storm logo was a combination of those; an ambigram with a hidden image (the letter “S” twisting like a storm inside the shape of a football that is the same when upside down).

Additionally, and most importantly, I wanted to address a way-too-common misunderstanding regarding accurately rendering the team’s helmet that is a direct result of the logo being an ambigram.

Unlike Gary Davidson’s other ventures, the ABA and WHA, the WFL dealt with horrific financial problems early in its inaugural season of 1974 because of the Philadelphia Bell “papergate” scandal in which the club gave away massive amounts of free tickets to fill the stands leading to immediate credibility issues for the fledgling league. New York moved to Charlotte and Houston left for Shreveport during the season while still others were looking for greener pastures. Jacksonville and Detroit ceased operations long before season’s end, followed by several other clubs soon after the season was over. Players on numerous teams (including the Portland Storm) played for weeks without a paycheck. The league champion Birmingham Americans had their equipment seized by creditors immediately after the World Bowl victory over Florida. And so on.

With Chris Hemmeter as commissioner in 1975, the league restructured under the “Hemmeter Plan” and a number of cities with bankrupt 1974 teams were given a new life in the second season. One of those was Portland, rechristened the Thunder for 1975 under new ownership. The Thunder kept the same colors of blue and green (albeit a darker shade of green on jerseys) and white helmet shells, so it’s possible those are the same helmets worn the previous season by the Storm, but with a different logo on the sides.

Portland used a wide blue center stripe surrounded by two green stripes in 1974 as the Storm and also for the single preseason game they played in 1975 as the Thunder, a July 12 game versus the Vulcans when they debuted the new logo.

However, Portland used a green/white/blue/white/green striping pattern for the 1975 regular season very possibly by cutting part of the blue stripe away to make white stripes. (Note regarding the legitimacy of that helmet: Once upon a time I owned a game worn 1974 WFL Sun helmet and because of that I know the league used those puffy type of logo stickers for the sides.) I have never seen a legitimate game worn Storm helmet aside from game photos and the recycling of the Storm helmets by the Thunder franchise seems the most logical reason why.

Therein lies the problem. The Storm logo was half blue and half green. Without any existing game worn helmets for proof, the question is: How was it positioned on helmets? The overwhelming majority of photos of WFL games are in black & white, making it difficult to determine which color is which.

If you go by printed material from 1974, even WFL’s own publications, green should have been on the upper left if the helmets reflected the team logo as it was commonly seen in print. However, that’s not the only misrepresentation on that program cover (for example, the Grizzlies helmet was actually white and the Fire logo went below the ear hole on their helmet).

If you look at Storm t-shirts that can be seen or purchased online, along with other items, you could assume the same about Portland’s 1974 helmets. Numerous websites show the helmet with green on the upper left, as do publications on the league’s history.

Mini helmet reproductions are similar. One full size reproduction shows a distorted version of the logo with blue on upper left of one side and on lower right on the other. No wonder there is so much confusion about it. Yet, none of those images accurately portray the team’s helmets.

Thus, I wanted to make as accurate of a reproduction as I could. That being said, a couple of websites I’m aware of do represent the helmet correctly. Additionally, Gene Sanny makes his electric game players’ helmets correctly.

The green was bright, but not fluorescent/neon as shown on some websites. (The Thunder would use a darker shade, forest green, in 1975 for their jerseys.) It was common practice in 1974 WFL for the center stripe to be wider than the seam on the middle of the helmet, as it was for the Sharks and some others.

That wide stripe can be seen in this black & white photo of Ben Davidson. Not only can you see the relative width of the stripe, but the logo on the player next to him gives a good indication that the darker color (blue, matching the interior helmet stripe) is positioned on the upper left, though the contrast is a bit difficult to see on Davidson’s helmet.

However, that contrast is clearly visible in this photo of Rufus Ferguson rushing the ball against the Florida Blazers, this pic of Bob Schmidt attempting a tackle v. the Bell, as well as this photo of Pete Beathard preparing to take a snap.

Although rare, there are some surviving color photos of the Storm. As in all of those black and white photos, this color shot of Pete Beathard shows the left side of the helmet, confirming blue in upper left. The right and left side can be seen on this 1974 program cover, however that image is not particularly crisp, making it much more difficult to confirm and can’t be used to make a solid determination without having the program physically in front of you, although it does appear that the lower right side of both helmet logos are greener than the upper left.

I have also located two crisp color photos online of the Storm game against the Stars at New York’s Downing Stadium on August 14. This one again shows the left side, while this one looking down the Portland offensive line shows the right, also with blue on upper left. The right side of the helmet is also visible on the runner in this image (either #38 Marv Kendricks or #28 Leon Burns) and is obviously green on lower right side of the logo, even though the photo of this game v. the Sun is not particularly detailed.

Whew! Sadly, I didn’t take enough “in progress” photos of my Storm helmet to justify posting them, but the process is essentially the same as with the Browns, so, now that a bit of WFL history has been correctly settled, here’s my reproduction:

Thunder repro

That’s all for now…and probably more than you bargained for! Hope you enjoyed.


. . . . . . . . . .

Thanks, Leo — awesome stuff (as always). Looking forward to your next project(s) — Always be sure to take enough “in progress” photos — I would have loved to see how that Storm helmet was created!

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Those Gray Facemasks…

Got an e-mail from Joseph Bailey, who writes,


As a follow up to the Ken Anderson facemask story, I remember Reggie Rucker of the Browns had a 2 bar mask that was grey (for a while) even though the rest of the team was white. Here’s a shot (in black and white) from a ’79 game where Rucker caught a td pass from Sipe to beat the Dolphins in OT. This is the catch. I was 12 and at that game. He eventually got a painted mask.


Also, Don Cockroft, the kicker (and subsequently, other Browns kickers Matt Bahr and Mark Mosely) had a one bar mask that was always grey.




Joseph A. Bailey

When that whole gray/white facemask thing was going down on Twitter, a couple people chimed in with similar thoughts:

Interesting. It seems (at least in the case of kickers) that some players were grandfathered in with their gray masks, even if the team wore a masks in a different color. Of course, Ken Anderson did have a black mask (the same as his teammates), but the paint had worn off as the season progressed.

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UW Friday Flashback

UW’s Friday Flashback

In case you missed it, Paul’s Friday Flashback on ESPN took a look back at the NBA’s first sleeved jerseys, which were introduced by the Golden State Warrior only three years ago. As Paul says, “Feels longer than that, doesn’t it?” His latest FF column explores how what began as a one-team experiment has grown into a league-wide blitz.

Great read, so be sure to check it out if you didn’t catch it on Friday!


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Uni Watch News Ticker

Baseball News: The Mets’ Class AA affiliate has been located in Binghamton, N.Y., since 1992. Throughout that time it has had a logical, informative and slightly bland name: the Binghamton Mets. That will soon change. Next year at this time, the team could well be the Binghamton Stud Muffins (from Tommythecpa). … Memorial Day weekend is next weekend, but it’s never to early to sell merch that totally conflates the meaning of the Day. “Just received this from,” notes Jerry Kulig. “I’m sure you’re getting the Mets version of this blast, but I HAVE TO VENT — Sorry.” He continues, “You’re right again. This has gotten worse. At least they seem to be aiming at a closer meaning of the Day. Interestingly, the hat company calls it ‘stars and stripes,’ but there’s not a star nor stripe in sight.” (And yes, I did get the Mets’ version of this blast). … Tweeter Pandora’s Dad had similar sentiments. … Also sending in his thoughts was David Teigland, who wrote “And the most ridiculous subject line in history goes to (MLB)” which read “This is the cap of respect and remembrance.” … Casey MacDougall thinks the Nashville Sounds throwbacks are some of the best in the league, and I’m wont to agree with him. … Mike Chamernik saw this on Reddit: Of the seven MLB players who wore No. 69, four played for the Pirates. … The Fort Wayne TinCaps special varsity jacket-style jerseys are ready for High School Spirit Night (via Fort Wayne TinCaps). … What if the Northwest Arkansas Naturals were known as the Thunder Chickens? (from Minor League Promos). Here’s how they looked last night (from Greg Warren). … New camopander cap for USA baseball (from Jake Binggeli). … The Blue Jays’ affiliate, the Buffalo Bisons (yes, it should be “Bison” but whatever) are going to dress in powder-blue, Blue Jays-esque uniforms for Blue Jays weekend (via Minor League Promos). … As you may have heard, former Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum has signed with the Angels, so he was shown on the LA Angels facebook in his new uni. Brian Clark asks, “What in the name of Photoshop is up with the alignment of the G?” … No bat knob decal for Jeff Francoeur, just an engraved nickname (thanks to Chris Brueckner). … The Inland Empire 66ers are giving away a “Disney-esque” cap on June 3rd (from Kristopher Sharpe). And in case you couldn’t tell — the 66ers are an Angels affiliate — last evening they wore Angels ‘alternates’ (from Adam Vitcavage). … Jacksonville State softball wears batting helmets reminiscent of old San Diego State lids (from Clint Richardson). … Here’s a beautiful 1966 Mets Yearbook, and it’s 50 years old, just like yours truly (from Bruce Menard). … Last evening the St. Paul Saints wore Ziggy Stardust jerseys (h/t P McHugh). “Now *that’s* a rally cap. BYU baseball player with 23 caps on his head,” says Jimmer Vilk.

NFL/College News: Wow — check out this beautiful photograph of Al Davis of the Raiders (from Jeff Flynn). You can see the player on the left with the old black/gold helmet, while the player on the right is wearing the almost current version that Davis introduced in 1963. … Old Uni Watch friend Michael Princip checks in with this: “Dig the old school stripes on these Freak Feet socks.” He adds, “NFLPA, so no NFL logos.” … The field installation is now complete at the Vikings’ new US Bank Stadium (from Mike Chamernik). … This article contains a ton of new info about Virginia Tech’s football uniforms (thanks to Andrew Cosentino). … The Seattle Post Intelligencer has ranked the 2016 NFL uniforms (and included last year’s color rash unis in their tabulations). … “My 14 year old nephew Connor is a big Uni-Watch fan, he takes his uniforms very seriously, he had a scrimmage today and I wanted you to see how he dressed out,” writes Jimmy Corcoran. “I would have preferred white numbers but everything else looks pretty good. He didn’t like the Schutt helmet he was issued so he asked my sister if he could order a custom Riddell one, she had no idea it was going to be 500 dollars! When she got the bill she emailed it to me, she blames me for getting him into uniforms. I was laughing when I saw the bill, Connor paid an extra 15 dollars for extra glossy black paint. He is wearing the King’s favorite number 7!” … Does anyone else think the Arizona Wildcats would NOT look good in digi-camo unis? All of you? Good. … Hmmm — are the Philadelphia Eagles going with matte helmets? That’s the question asked by Phil E. Juice.

Hockey News: Memorial Cup major junior hockey championship starts this weekend. As per recent tradition, the host team wears a one-time military commemorative jersey for the opening game. The Red Deer Rebels have wore these sweaters last night (from Wayne Heidt). … “Thought you may like these two great pics of 1930s Vancouver amateur hockey squads,” writes Chris Mizzoni. “Really cool logos and unis and a strange story on how one lost the championship.” … If you were anywhere near New Haven yesterday, and you really like swooshie hockey gear, hopefully you stopped at the Yale hockey yard sale (the article doesn’t really say, but I’m assuming there was more than just hockey unis being sold). … Although this isn’t new news, we now have a date: The Florida Panthers will be revealing new uniforms and logo on June 2. … The Dartmouth Big Green will play 15 games inside Thompson Arena next season & will host the Ledyard Classic (Dec. 30-31) — says submitter Patrick Thomas, “Now that’s how you release a home schedule. Well done.”

NBA/Basketball News: “I can’t be the first person who has sent you this picture of Don Nelson from back in the day,” says Scott Moody. “Check out those socks.” … Oregon Live took a stab at imagining Blazers uniforms with ads. Submitter Kristina Cruz adds “Most are pretty grotesque but I do like the Port of Portland one. The pattern is the Blazer colored equivalent of the famous Portland Airport Carpet.”

Soccer News: I don’t read Italian, and tweeter Seth Winnie didn’t provide any details, but I think this is a new set of kits for Fiorentina. … Yellow Away Kit says “the new Middlesbrough home kit isn’t dividing opinions — it’s universally disliked.” … This is a really good idea: Everton fans can select their season seat by trying before buying, as it were. Submitter Tom Gronek thinks “North American teams should try this,” to which Chris Creamer pointed out “I know the @Bucks did this at their logo unveil event last April — it’s a fantastic idea.” Tyler Stern notes the Orioles do this as well. The Sports Snob confirms. If you follow the comments below those tweets, you’ll see many teams do this. … This is pretty cool: A visual history of Timbers FC & Whitecaps FC crests (from CDUB, Esq.). … The El Paso Coyotes have a soccer team — granted, it’s an arena team, but a team nonetheless. Here’s a look at their logo (thanks to Jimmer Vilk). … Bordeaux’s new third kits have a lot going on and not in a good way (from Yellow Away Kit).

Grab Bag: Reader John Jackson and his wife are starting a brewery and are blogging the process. “Our latest (blog) was on merchandise and part of it involved creating a mock-up uniform using our lettering and mascot. If you are interested, you can check it out.”

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And that’s all for today. Big (yuuuuge) thanks to Leo for that great DIY piece cum history lesson! Great stuff. If there is no breaking uni news, I’ll be back tomorrow with another in the “What’s Your Sign(ature)?” series, which you won’t want to miss. Until then…

Follow me on Twitter @PhilHecken.


.. … ..

“As another ”˜Skins fan who doesn’t care one way or another about the name, I just ask that they don’t change the team colors!!”

— Dumb Guy

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Comments (37)

    we had some 2 bar and one bar facemasks while I was an equipment manager at Youngstown State. we painted them with several coats…to avoid chipping. We also had to paint a few regular masks-guys wanted a mask we did not stock at the time-we would repaint them at a point in the season. We also had to sometimes paint a helmet shell-which same thing when we saw wear-we would re paint it.

    Columbus Horizon? Hey, I remember seeing them in person. Cool unis.

    Don’t remember the sash on Boro from anywhere. I can see why the fans don’t like it.

    I got to know the GM and owners pretty well while they were in Columbus. Was always fun to go to games here. But, Cbus is a football town, so the Horizon didn’t last long, sadly.

    Thanks for that! Not sure whether that would have made any difference when painting, though, since I’m limited to what I can mix or buy, but nice to know for graphic applications.

    Thanks for the shout out Leo…. yeah I took a LOT of time researching the Storm too before making my EF figures :)

    No worries! You do some amazing work with those things, great attention to detail!

    Thank you sir…. I’m actually going through and buying the old youth helmets you’d get as a kid out of the Sears christmas catalog, and redoing them all…. I have 22 of the 28 teams from back then all redone so far…. I’m buying them for no more than 25.00 if I can help it…. having a blast. Yours look awesome :)

    The Eagles helmets don’t even look matte. If anything, it’s the protective “ghost tape” placed on the front to protect them from scratches and chipping.

    The Philadelphia Bell had to replace the original stripes on their helmets before the first game with Portland. The original stripes were all even in thickness, they wore these in scrimmages with no side logo, and had them on picture day. In the game program there is a picture of John Land with one.
    Then they decided to re stripe the helmets to match the stripes on the game pants, I remember seeing the equipment guys doing this in the equipment room. I never found out who gave the order to do this, the league, the owner or the equipment manager?

    In 74 they all had the thick center stripe, thin outer stripe look league-wide (except the Stars and Blazers if i remember right). I can’t speak to why the Bell didn’t have that look originally… maybe they were supposed to and it didn’t get done right the first time. If you look at this Wheels helmet, you can see the thick center stripe was actually 2 regular center stripes side by side…. maybe they just didn’t know they were supposed to follow that pattern?


    The Bell equipment man was Bob Cologna the former Eagles equipment manager. He once told me a story while we were hanging up the Bell game jerseys that he was the one who changed the Eagles helmets to white with the green wings? I asked him why he did it? He said he just thought they would look better that way so he ordered them. I always thought you needed league approval for that?

    Probably not until the league had the teams cede the trademarks to their logos to NFL Properties, which was then followed by the explosion of deals the NFL made with all sorts of manufactures. At that point, the league couldn’t risk a “rogue” equipment manager ordering a new helmet design and invalidating the deal the league had made with whoever was selling replica helmets for kids.

    Interesting brcause for a few years the Eagleswore both the White helmets and the Green helmets during the same season for one or two years while eearing the UCLA striped jerseys, then went exclusively to the White helmrts for a few years whilr wearing the minimslist, stripeless jersey. Point being, if the NFL allowed the teams to have two rntirely different helmet styles simultaneously, then maybe at that point the Eagles getting White helmets predated the league prohibition in changes without prior approval. Remember the Steelers both added logos and switched from Yellow to Black helmets during actual seasons ….

    Maybe he was embellishing his story because that would have been 1970 and I was under the impression that the Saints ’69 black helmets were not allowed by the league so they had to change back to gold shells for regular season because NFL told them to do so.

    Side note: A friend of mine ordered one of the Bell jerseys from the team in ’75 after WFL folded. Mike Yancheff, back up to your dad. It came postage due, ironically.


    Bob Cologna embellishing a story? no way! just kidding the guy was a true character! One day I am going to share a story about the time Bob got stuffed in a trash can in the locker room. My father was never able to get through the whole story without hysterically laughing, the King would literally lose his breath when telling this story.

    Don’t suppose you have any photos of the helmet before they were restriped?

    Wasn’t aware of that story about the Bell helmet stripes. Would love to find some concrete info on that, but if I were to venture a guess, I would tend to think that was a league decision. Pretty sure Davidson & Co. were hands-on when it came to that stuff. I’m sure you’re familiar with a couple of pics that show Gary with the WFL football designs and team uniform templates and logos on the wall behind him.



    By the way, I don’t know if you saw it but one of the links has a photo of your dad. (4th paragraph under the Browns helmet, sentence that starts “The league champion Birmingham Americans…” I’m sure you’ve already seen the photo in that link, but I thought it would be pretty cool to sneak that in. :)

    Before the league ever played a game, league commissioner Gary Davidson had this idea of every team wearing similar striping on helmets pants and jerseys. The league’s opening game program has a cover photo of Davidon at his desk with a huge poster in background of each team’s jerseys helmetscand pants indicating the league hsving similst striping for each team, including the wide center stripes oneach helmet. Not certain how the Vulcans and Florida got away from yhat. I do know that Russell Athletic is in Alabama and for years Auburn resisted oothers out of regional loyalty. If I’m not mistaken the Vulcans used Russell as their suppliers. The WFL opening game programs are all over Ebay, i csny scan mine, but check out the WFL uniform specs for each team – striping identical.

    No need to scan. Links to those photos are in my post a couple of comments before yours. :)

    Exactly. I think the “S” hurricane logo is one of the most inventive in sports. And while I generally 6loathe dark pants for football, i find the Portland Storm uniform one of my favorite of all time

    Is there a site that’s been tracking what the Brewers wear this season? It seems like it’s been a while since they wore a cap other than the navy ball in glove alternate (not counting the Mother’s Day caps). Seems like they’ve just made a de facto change to that as their main cap.

    Mr. Strawn.

    Love the Browns concept. Anything that makes the current Cleveland helmet a little sexier is a step in the right direction. With respect to your desire to create an abstract “C” shape, perhaps gradually widening the brown stripe beginning at the crown of the shell to approximate the width of the brown striping below the earhole would get you closer to realizing that design concept.

    Thanks for the compliment1

    100% agree about the Brownies’ current look. Also agree with what you said about the abstract “C” on the side. It came out that way because of the way I taped it thinking I had correctly copied the concept from my graphic, but transferring it from 2D to 3D, I ended up a bit off in my calculations. It’s so much work to mask and spray these that I decided I liked it well enough the way it was, even though I lost that original concept on the actual helmet.

    There’s a definite learning curve with these. :)

    It’s been quite a while since I’ve been able to spend time just being creative. Going through such periods is anathema for artists.
    It’s pretty bad for those of us who are less than artists, too.
    Nice stuff today! You’ve inspired me to get my crayons back out and do some tweaking… I mean, concepting.

    Almost every sports franchise I follow does a seat preview event – multiple in fact. And have been for years.

Comments are closed.