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Uni Watch DIY Project: Our Own Gumball Helmets!

For all photos, click to enlarge

When I recently launched the new Uni Watch mini-helmet, a Twitter-er named Shane Bua had an intriguing reaction: How about a Uni Watch gumball helmet?

(I’m pretty sure everyone in the Uni Watch comm-uni-ty understands the difference between a mini-helmet and a gumball helmet, but just in case: Mini-helmets are fairly realistic-looking junior versions of real-life helmet models. They’re about the size of a really large grapefruit and typically sell for $30 to $40. Gumball helmets are little toys that fit in the palm of your hand. Many of us grew up buying them for a quarter from supermarket vending machines.)

I bought my share of gumball helmets as a kid, although I never had a big collection of them and didn’t save them like I saved some other prized mementos. In any case, I hadn’t thought of doing Uni Watch gumball helmets until Shane suggested it (just as I hadn’t thought of doing Uni Watch mini-helmets until a few people suggested that two years ago), but I liked the idea. The more I thought about it, in fact, the more necessary it seemed — how had I not thought of this before?

I asked Rocker T Collectibles honcho Casey Tierney, who makes our mini-helmets, if he dealt at all with gumballs. He said no — he’s strictly a mini guy, not a gumball guy.

So I contacted a guy in Texas named Bill Jones. Longtime Uni Watch readers may remember him as the King of Gumball Helmets, because I wrote an ESPN piece about him way back in 2007. I hadn’t been in touch with him in several years, but he responded right away and was eager to help me out.

My first question for Bill was about where I could find suitable helmet shells. There are more modern gumball helmet styles, but I was adamant that I wanted to use the old-school shells like the ones from the 1960s and ’70s. Bill told me those are no longer in production, although old sets can sometimes be found on eBay.

So I poked around and was fortunate enough to find a large lot of several dozen vintage Jets gumballs — mostly green, plus a few white (no one-shell rule here!):

That seemed perfect for what I had in mind, so I bought them. When the helmets arrived from the seller, I had to remove all of the Jets graphics, which entailed several hours’ worth of peeling, scraping, scrubbing, Goo Gone-ing, and, in a few instances, soaking. Along the way, I found that a few of the helmets were cracked, a few others didn’t have facemasks, and so on, so I set those aside and concentrated on the ones that were in good shape.

Meanwhile, I needed new stickers to transform the shells into Uni Watch helmets. Bill very generously offered to help me with that. I explained what I wanted and he created two JPGs for me to use as sticker sheets — one for the green shells and one for the white shells. I would then have to print them on Avery label sheets and cut out the individual graphics. My home ink-jet printer isn’t very good, so I had the label sheets printed at a local print shop (note Bill’s “Gumball King” logo at the bottom of each sheet):

As you can see, the side logo stickers were executed in the familiar crescent shape that will push nostalgic buttons for anyone who ever collected gumball helmets. They didn’t have to be that shape, of course (the Uni Watch logo isn’t crescent-shaped, after all), but that shape, maybe more than any other design element, definitively says gumball helmet, so that’s how I asked Bill to format them.

Unlike real gumball stickers, my DIY stickers weren’t die-cut, so I had to cut out each shape individually. The stripes were easy enough — I used a straightedge and an X-Acto for those. Bill said he also uses an X-Acto when cutting out the crescent shapes for his own DIY gumball projects (and he does it freehand, without a template!), but I found that to be a bit too clumsy. Instead, I used scissors. I botched a few of my first attempts but soon got the hang of it.


As you can see at the ends of the front row, a few of the helmets I bought came with the newer linebacker-style facemasks. For me, that style lacks the charm of the older gumballs (aside from the difference in the mask itself, I like how the older style sits with the mask pointing upward, which seems endearingly rinky-dink, while the newer style sits flat), but I figured I’d go ahead and give those the full sticker treatment as well.

You may be wondering why I opted to put center striping on the green gumball helmet, while our green mini-helmet is stripe-free. The main reason is that the classic gumball shell has a broad, flat crown that I figured would would look really empty without some sort of ornamentation. (By contrast, the mini-helmet has a rounded crown and I thought our green mini-shell didn’t need striping.)

I’ve really enjoyed this project — a nice chance for me to work with my hands instead of just tapping on a keyboard (which also involves my hands, but you know what I mean). I was pretty happy with the way they came out, so I sent a photo to Bill, who said he was impressed. He even offered to make me his Gumball Prince, but I said I was more like the Gumball Apprentice, or maybe the Court Jester.

Anyway: This project seemed successful enough for me to offer the helmets for sale to you folks. But before I could do that, I needed to check off a few more boxes. For one thing, the eBay lot included only 16 of the vintage plastic capsules that gumball helmets are traditionally packaged in — not enough for all of the helmets I’d be creating. I could have just skipped the capsules, but they seem like an integral part of the gumball experience, so I found another eBay seller with a listing for a few dozen capsules and bought those. (They haven’t arrived yet, but I’m expecting them in a few days.) And if I was going to sell the helmets, I’d also need small shipping boxes, so I made arrangements to procure some of those (ditto).

Once I get those last pieces in place, I’ll be ready to go. If you’re interested in purchasing these, here’s what you need to know:

1. Obviously, supplies are very limited. After removing the helmets that were too damaged to use, plus two for myself, here’s my current inventory:

• Green shell with old-school mask: 34
• Green shell with linebacker mask: 3
• White shell with old-school mask: 5
• White shell with linebacker mask: 1 SOLD OUT

I could conceivably get more shells, but I haven’t seen any other large lots like the Jets lot that I purchased, and smaller lots tend to have a higher per-piece price. So it’s possible that this one batch may be the only batch that I offer. But we’ll see.

2. In order to make these available to the largest number of people, I’m going to set a limit of two helmets per customer — one white, one green. Once the white ones are gone, the limit will be one per customer.

3. If you bought gumball helmets from a vending machine back in the day, they came with the mask unattached and the stickers not yet applied, so you got to “build” the helmet yourself. With that in mind, I’ve left most of the shells blank for now. If you like, I can enclose the mask and pre-cut stickers inside the capsule, so you can apply them yourself. If you’d prefer to have me do it, that’s fine too. (Worth noting: Because the stickers aren’t die-cut, it can be a bit frustrating to remove the backing paper.)

4. I’ve been trying to decide how much to charge for these. When sold one at a time (i.e., not in large lots like the one I purchased), vintage NFL gumballs appear to average roughly $5-$7 on eBay. Given the amount of time, money, and effort I’ve spent on this project, I think $13.99 sounds about right, plus $4.50 for shipping (same shipping amount whether you’re purchasing one helmet or two).

I realize that may seem like a lot for something that originally cost a quarter. But if you go back and look at the process I just described for making them, plus the fact that I’ll have to make lots of trips to the post office, I hope you’ll agree that it’s a fair price. Of course, if it’s more than you want to spend for such a small, lightweight item, I completely understand.

5. If you’re ready to purchase, please send me the proper amount — $13.99 for one, or $27.98 for two, plus $4.50 for shipping — via Venmo (use @Paul-Lukas-2 as the payee) or Zelle ( If you’d rather use Apple Pay or a paper check, contact me and I’ll give you the appropriate info.

Important: After sending payment, email me with the following info:

• Your preferred shell color(s) and mask style(s)

• Whether you want the facemask and stickers already applied or loose within the capsule so you can apply them yourself

• Your shipping address

You can go ahead and order now. I should be able to start shipping orders by next Tuesday or Wednesday. Thanks for your patience.

6. Sorry about this, but for now I’m not going to take non-USA orders, because dealing with the customs forms would be a major pain in the ass (especially for such a small shipping box — I’m not sure where the form would even fit on the package). If you’re a non-USA reader and reallyreallyreally want to get in on these, contact me and we’ll discuss. Maybe we can come to some sort of arrangement.

I think that’s it. If I’m overlooking anything, I’m sure you’ll all tell me.

(Big thanks to Shane Bua for the idea, and mega-thanks to Bill Jones, the Gumball King, for his invaluable assistance with this project. He also makes and sells trading cards for the WFL and USFL and has a fun Facebook page.)

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Click to enlarge

Not-so-special delivery: It appears that miserable-looking side panels, having already ruined so many sports uniforms, can also be used on non-sports uniforms. That’s the new UPS uni, which was unveiled yesterday. There’s additional info here, and a very good slideshow of UPS uniforms through the years (none of them with contrast-colored side panels) here.

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ITEM! New Naming Wrongs shirts: We have several new Naming Wrongs shirts to share with you, beginning with this Highbury shirt that several Arsenal fans asked us to do:

With Old Dominion’s basketball arena recently getting a new advertised name, several ODU fans asked us to do a shirt of “the Ted.” We’ve executed it in navy and in grey:

A while back with did a simple design for the Palace in Detroit, in blue and grey. Now we’ve done a script version of it, again in in blue and in grey:

All of these designs are now available in the Naming Wrongs shop, where card-carrying Uni Watch members can get a 15% discount. My thanks, as always, for considering our products.

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rafflet ticket by ben thoma.jpg

LAST CALL for the stirrups raffle: In case you missed it on Tuesday, an anonymous reader has 10 pairs of old stirrups and has generously offered to raffle them off to Uni Watch readers. You can see all 10 pairs here. Note that each pair is numbered.

To enter this raffle, Send an email to the raffle address by 10pm Eastern tonight. In the body of the email, please indicate (a) your name and shipping address and (b) your preferred stirrup choices, in order of preference, by number. If you’re only interested in one pair, just list that pair’s number; if you want to list more than one, you can do that too, all the way up to 10 choices. I’ll do my best to accommodate all the winners’ preferences.

One email per person. I’ll announce the winners tomorrow. Please join me in thanking our anonymous benefactor for doing this!

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The Ticker
By Paul

’Skins Watch: Of all the places to put Chief Wahoo, a cowboy hat seems particularly ill-advised (from @Titan4Ever2488).

Baseball News: Good article about a guy in Cleveland who makes custom-designed souvenir bats (from Jason Hillyer). … Reds P Robert Stephenson had an errant lace on his glove last night. “Caused a short delay in the game,” says Griffin Smith. … Rays P Emilio Pagán was wearing a wedding band last night. Looks like it was probably silicone, which is permissible. Metal would be a no-no for a pitcher (from Michael Miller). … Dodgers rookie Gavin Lux used teammate Justin Turner’s bat last night (good spot by Mike Chamernik). … The Pirates had their annual Roberto Clemente Day of Giving yesterday, which included putting Clemente’s No. 21 on the field and the mound. Odd that they did the field numbers in the team’s familiar number font but did the mound number in block numerals (from Jerry Wolper).

Pro Football News: The Packers will wear their throwbacks this week. … “The Toronto Argonauts will continue to wear the vintage ‘football with sails’ logo, which they’ve worn for their past two road games, for two upcoming home games,” says Wade Heidt.

College and High School Football News: Lots of info and photos on Colorado State’s “Aggie Orange” throwbacks, which they’ll be wearing this weekend. … Not sure who these high school teams are, but mono-black vs. mono-black seems pretty rough (from Brian Koperski). … Here are this week’s uni combos for Syracuse and UVA (from Jakob Fox and our own Jamie Rathjen).

Hockey News: Lightning G Scott Wedgewood wore his old Sabres mask in a preseason game (from Marc Mandin). … New mask for North Dakota G Peter Thome (from Greg Enkers). … Gigantic rear uni numbers for the Corpus Christi IceRays (from @BusLeagueHockey). … New light-blue glove cuffs for the Jets.

NBA News: The video game NBA 2 K suggests that the Nets may have a new court design (from Jonathan Vasquez). … Plenty of uni number news on Etienne Catalan’s Twitter feed.

College Hoops News: New uniforms for Troy (from Thomas Gleaton). … Maryland’s new unis have some sort of sublimated pattern “Presumably tortoise-shell,” says Matt Shevin. … New logo for the UConn student section.

Soccer News: A high school in Maine is named after the Telstar satellite that inspired the famous Telstar soccer ball. … As usual, you can keep up on additional soccer uni developments by checking out Josh Hinton’s Twitter feed.

Grab Bag: The NLL’s expansion New York Riptide unveiled their inaugural uniforms. Also, the NLL’s Rochester Knighthawks are now the Halifax Thunderbirds. Here’s a look at their new white jersey (from Wade Heidt). … Here’s an analysis of Volkswagen’s new logo. … The rapper Machine Gun Kelly is inviting fans to design his new logo. … New logo and name for the Motion Picture Association. … I still call it Philadelphia (from Charles Freeman). … After a high school girls’ volleyball team posed for a poster earlier this year, the team members’ fathers wore their daughters’ uniforms and mimicked their facial expressions while posing for a similar poster (from Jon Hollomon). … A high school wrestling ref who forced a New Jersey teen to cut his dreadlocks before competing in a match last winter has been suspended for two years. … Major League Rugby’s Austin Elite will now be known as the Austin Herd.

Comments (30)

    The sublimated pattern on the MAryland basketball uniforms isn’t specific to Maryland. It’s an Under Armour pattern that has been used on the last few templates supplied to teams. The entire body of the jersey and pants are covered in the pattern with the new uniform template.

    You can see it well on Cincinnati’s new uniforms here: link

    I loved the gumball helmets as a kid and I collected as many as I could back in the day. I also collected those slightly larger helmets that Gino’s restaurants were giving away around 1975-76. I proudly displayed both those types of helmets in my room until we moved to south Jersey in 1977…they got apparently got lost during the move.

    I like that there is the choice of green or white for the gumball helmets. Happy to see Uni Watch is not abiding by the one-shell rule! :)

    I think that black vs black football game is youth football instead of high school. High school rules dont allow that, and those would be some tiny high school kids (unless it was JV). In youth football a lot of teams have 1 Jersey for home and away and recently started to make uniform standards in some leagues. Of course all that also depends on the refs enforcing the rules.

    To provide some clarification about the National Lacrosse League Ticker item. For those who may not follow closely, there still is a team called the Rochester Knighthawks. The old Knighthawks moved to Halifax. The new Knighthawks are the other expansion team to start play this season.

    Though it is the same name, the new Knighthawks look entirely different. The traditional teal and purple left in the past. The Rochester Knighthawks (version 2.0) are army fatigue green with black trim.

    I do not know if we have seen the new jerseys yet on the website. Here is a link where you can see both the green and white jerseys:


    Paul, these helmets are awesome. Thanks for the hard work.

    When I was growing up, my brother and I both collected those gumball helmets. He had a full set; I did not. I never could get a Dallas one – they were my team growing up. So he took one of his extra Browns helmets and painted a Dallas version for me. He actually passed away unexpectedly last Monday. So I am getting these in memory of him.

    How do you decide which teams/stadiums/arenas for which to make a naming wrongs shirt? Some of them are very obscure, others are more popular. I’d be interested in a “I miss the Madhouse on McDowell” which is the nickname for the Phoenix Suns old arena – Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Given the unfortunate and poor state the once proud Suns franchise is in, not to mention the terrible naming rights the current Suns arena has (Talking Stick Resort Arena) this t-shirt would be even more poignant. Plus, the Madhouse on McDowell is a pretty cool mid-century building located on the state fairgrounds.

    Early on, we just chose the ones that seemed the most obvious and intuitive. Now that we’ve done most of those, most of our new designs are based on reader/customer requests, or when a building name suddenly goes from non-corporate to corporate, or just when we’re in the mood to create something new.

    We would consider doing a Madhouse on McDowell shirt. Might be a bit wordy — would “I Miss the Madhouse” suffice? Or would it have to be “I Miss the Madhouse on McDowell”?

    Also: What would be your preferred shirt/lettering colors? (It’s OK to ask for purple.)

    Thanks for the consideration. I personally would want it to include the whole “the Madhouse on McDowell” because that was it’s name. It was sometimes shortened to “the Madhouse”, but for the most part, it is called and remembered by the whole thing. Here’s a link the Suns put out as part of their 50th celebration for inspiration and information:

    I think a gray shirt with purple and orange lettering (if only one lettering color, yeah, it would have to be purple). The building’s roof is a saddle roof and very distinctive. So if you guys take the design further than just the lettering, incorporating the shape of the roof would be cool. A google image search of “Madhouse on McDowell” has some examples. Thanks!

    The UConn student section logo lifts directly from an old NC State logo. The UConn athletic page announcing the name and logo has been taken down. I’m guessing they got a quick cease and desist letter.


    That VW logo explanation in that link is a huge bunch of tripe. The concept of “we can’t do 3D logos anymore because Apple came out with a 2D logo”. What a bunch of bull.

    I like the side panels for one reason – you can blow out the sides and make more room for your spare tire. I wear size 4XLT and need all the help I can get.

    the maryland uniform isn’t a sublimated pattern. it’s a design thing that appears to be something of a moisture wicking thing. temple’s new uniforms also have that so it’s definitely an under armour thing.

    Man. Gumball helmets. I was so obsessed with having a complete set. I became very skilled at looking at the Bott of the machine to see what was next out. The Vikings was my albatross, which I finally got on Thanksgiving 1993. Had to make a last minute trip to the grocery store and here in North Texas, we were having an ice storm. Remember the Cowboys and dolphins game Leon Lett made famous? Even though the cowboys lost, I won the day by completing my collection.

    Then the added Jacksonville and Carolina.

    Then I shit you not, I got the Jags the day the Browns announced their move.

    I used to HATE when my friends would put that blank white sticker that you weren’t supposed to use on helmets without stripes like the Bears and Chargers.

    I have a TON of repeat helmets in my attic somewhere if anyone ever wanted any.

    I love everything football helmet related. Back in the 90s, I used to plug the bubblegum helmet machine at the local Toys R Us on my fairly frequent visits with my kids (or to look for Starting Lineup figures for myself lol). I tended to get quite a few Eagles, Chargers and Browns helmets and none of several other teams like my Vikings.

    A few years ago I purchased a couple of lots on eBay that were from the mid 60s. One of the lots was a complete 1966 15 team set that came with an original box. Very cool.

    Recently, I was at a sports card show and one of the vendors had a box full of helmets. He had most of the teams that I didn’t get in the 90s. It was the last thing I expected to find at the show, considering I live in Canada, but I was thrilled.

    Brent, if you see this, there are still a few teams that I need to complete my 90s set. :)

    My own dumb Gumball helmet story…
    I was 9 or 10, and had 16 helmets.
    Ya know how if you push on the face mask too hard, one side of the mask will pop off?

    So, being bored with too much time on my hands, I created a “tournament” where I’d randomly draw the helmets, and then smash them face mask to face mask until one face mask popped off, the ‘winner’ advancing the next round.

    After the tournament, I’d take off all the face masks and randomly apply them again to the helmets for the next tournament.
    I must have had hundreds of these tournaments, and used to keep ‘records’. Don’t recall these best teams anymore though.

    One of MANY made up games I played as a kid.

    The Naming Wrongs shirt for Arsenal Stadium reminds me of the fact that the stadium’s only kind of gone. I don’t know all the details of it, though I’m sure it’s just a quick trip to Wikipedia away, but the stadium’s four (original?) stands were converted into apartments with a sort of courtyard where the pitch used to be in the middle.


    You probably wouldn’t know it from looking at one of the numerous 360° photos on Google Maps taken from the interior, but the exterior, as seen from Street View, looks pretty cool still.


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