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Putting the ‘Gumball’ in NFL Gumball Helmets

For all photos, click to enlarge

[Editor’s Note: Today we have a guest entry from reader Michael Rosenau, who’s going to tell us about a sensational project he’s been working on. I know you’ll like this one — enjoy. — PL]

By Michael Rosenau

One of my passions as a kid was collecting gumbail helmets. Whether it was convincing my parents to take me to IHOP for their weekly helmet releases or emptying my piggy bank of quarters to drain the local vending machine, I had to have my helmets.

I’m 56 now and I still have my helmets. For a long time they were sitting in a box in my basement and I wanted to bring them back to life, so I bought an old Victor 77 gumball machine on eBay. Here’s how it looked when I bought it:

I refurbed it, which involved stripping all the paint and repainting it, removing rust and tarnish from all metallic parts, and replacing the plastic windows with glass. (Unfortunately, I didn’t take many photos showing the refurb process.) I also got an original “50 Cents” sticker on eBay and found a guy who was willing to part with an old display card. Then I loaded it up with my helmets:

The gumball machine now sits on my bar. When people come over, they can take a helmet (as long as they have 50 cents). Rather then hold onto them, I thought it would be more meaningful if my friends experienced some of the joy I did every time I went to the supermarket.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had a project related to my gumball helmets. Back when I was a kid, I wanted to display the helmets on a standings board that I could adjust every week, so my dad and I used one of my mom’s baking sheets as the board then glued magnets on the sides of the helmets:

This was a true father/son project. We covered the baking sheet with contact paper. The lines are pinstripe tape from an auto parts store and the lettering is rub-on Letraset lettering from a crafts store. (This was circa 1974, so the options were limited!) It hung in our kitchen during football season from about 1975 until 1984, when I went away to college. I would update it as helmets changed. It has held up amazingly well over the decades and now hangs in my office.


Paul here. Man, what sensational stuff! Big thanks to Mike for sharing it with us.

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Axiom reminder: In case you missed it on Thursday, my latest Bulletin article is a deep dive on Riddell’s new Axiom helmet, which launched last month and is being touted as the latest leap in football helmet engineering. I tried to get beyond the press release hype by doing a lengthy interview with some of the higher-ups at Riddell. I learned a lot along the way and I think you will too.

My premium subscribers can read the article here. If you haven’t yet subscribed, you can do that here (you’ll need a Facebook account in order to pay). If you want more info on what you’ll get for your money, you can find that here. And if the Facebook requirement is a dealbreaker, email me and I’ll let you know about non-Facebook payment options and possible workarounds. Thanks!

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Photo by Sergio Estrada, USA Today Sports; click to enlarge

Echoes of war: In the aftermath of yesterday’s Russian invasion of Ukraine, all members of the Nuggets and Kings locked arms for a moment of silence prior to their game last night as a gesture of solidarity with Kings center Alex Len (that’s him in the center of the photo above), who’s one of two Ukrainian players in the NBA. Len and the league’s other Ukrainian player, Raptors guard Svi Mykhailiuk, issued a statement earlier in the day condemning the Russian aggression in their homeland. (The Raptors did not play last night but are scheduled to play tonight in Charlotte, so perhaps there will be a similar pregame gesture for Mykhailiuk.)

That was one of several ways in which the Russian invasion of Ukraine sent ripples across the sports world yesterday. Some of the developments weren’t really uni-related or visual, so I’m going to skip those, but here are some items that definitely fall under Uni Watch’s purview:


• Manchester United terminated a sponsorship deal with the Russian airline Aeroflot.

• The second-tier German club FC Schalke 04, whose main shirt advertiser is the Russian state-owned energy firm Gazprom, announced that they are removing the ad from their kits.

• Barcelona and Napoli players posed with a “Stop War” banner before their Europa League game:

• Fans of the Norwegian club Bodø/Glimt held up Ukrainian flag placards during the team’s Europa Conference League match against Celtic:

• Midfielder Ruslan Malinovskyi, who plays for the Italian Serie A team Atalanta, is Ukrainian. After scoring a goal yesterday, he pulled up his jersey to reveal a “No War in Ukraine” message on his undershirt:

• Players for Czech side Slavia Prague wore “We Stand with Ukraine” pregame T-shirts:



• The Polish men’s club Aluron CMC Warta Zawiercie, whose colors are usually green and yellow (!), showed support for Ukraine by rendering their crest in blue and yellow, the colors of the Ukrainian flag:

• The Polish women’s team KS DevelopRes Rzeszow, whose color scheme is usually dominated by red, also switched to the Ukrainian colors:


Formula 1

• The American-owned Haas team, whose paint scheme is usually patterned after the Russian flag and includes the logo of the Russian fertilizer company Uralkali, announced that it will run a plain white livery for today’s final test session at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.


We’ll continue to report on uni-related responses to the war as events warrant.

(My thanks to Jeremy Brahm, Ed Zelaski, and our own Jamie Rathjen and Anthony Emerson for their contributions to this section.)

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Double-zero: Former NFL wide receiver Kenny Burrough died yesterday. He was the last NFL player to wear No. 00 — the league outlawed that number in 1973, but Burrough and Raiders center Jim Otto were grandfathered. Otto retired following the 1974 season, leaving Burrough as the sole double-zero standard-bearer until his own retirement in 1981. R.I.P.

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The best medicine: I went out to Long Island yesterday to see my mom. She’s turning 98 in about six weeks and it’s hitting her pretty hard. “It feels really old — much older than 97,” she said. I told her I feel the same way about turning 58 next month. We’re just a couple of fossils!

So we cheered ourselves up by going out for pizza and beer. Very restorative!

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The Ticker
By Anthony Emerson

Baseball News: In his 2002 Topps rookie card, Rays outfielder Carl Crawford posed in his home white jersey but road grey pants (from Joe Varao). … Liberty University launched new powder blue unis yesterday with a Celine Dion-inspired video (from multiple readers).

Hockey News: Two new NHL memorial decals: “E.F.” for the Rangers, for former coach Emile Francis, who died last Saturday, and “ED” for the Canucks, for Ernie Dougherty, the last surviving member of the original Pacific Coast Hockey League Canucks (from @brianspeaksnow and Wade Heidt, respectively). … Speaking of the Canucks, they also wore Black History Month pregame jerseys and flying skate throwbacks last night. … The Kraken also wore Black History Month pregame jerseys last night (from Wade Heidt). … The Predators retired longtime goalie Pekka Rinne’s No. 35 last night (thanks, Phil). … The WHA’s Minnesota Fighting Saints had an interesting way of displaying league history in their 1976 media guide. Note that folded teams’ trees end with “R.I.P.” (from Jimmy Lonetti). … The ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones will celebrate National Chili Day on March 11 by rebranding as the Cincinnati Coneys (from K.C. Kless). … The WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings wore pinkwashed unis with with a ribbon-inspired crest for cancer awareness on Thursday night (from Wade Heidt). … Also from Wade: The WHL’s Calgary Hitmen will wear one-off unis to honor team co-founder Bret Hart. Yes, that Bret Hart. … The NAHL’s St. Cloud Norsemen have unveiled a GFGS third jersey.

College/High School Hoops News: Indiana men wore Honoring Black Excellence uniforms for last night’s game against Maryland (thanks, Phil). … Iowa State men wore warmup shirts earlier this week to honor John Crawford, the team’s first Black player (from Kary Klismet). … Also from Kary, Keyano College in Alberta, Canada, has new uniforms designed by a First Nations artist to reflect the region’s Indigenous heritage.

Soccer News: FootyHeadlines has a rendering of what Manchester United’s 2022-23 third kit will look like. … The following are all from Kary Klismet: New third kit for Paraguayan side Club Olimpia. … New uniforms for the Rio Grande Valley FC Toros of the USL Championship. … ESPN has created a “power ranking” of MLS jerseys.

Grab Bag: Our own Jamie Rathjen sends along another AFL Women Indigenous design, for Melbourne. … Here’s Ferrari Formula 1 driver Charles Leclerc’s 2022 helmet (from Kary Klismet).

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And that’ll do it for this week. Enjoy Phil’s weekend content and I’ll see you back here on Monday. Oh, and happy early birthday to Todd Radom, who’ll be celebrating another trip around the sun on Sunday! — Paul

Comments (35)

    Michael, your piece got better and better! Great job! I love the standings board too. I had a magnetic one from JC Penny’s I used to do the same with and seeing those helmets makes me want to head out to the garage and make something similar.

    Interesting WHA tree, when I opened it I was wondering if I would learn anything I didn’t know. And sure enough Dayton Aeros, San Francisco Sea Hawks and Calgary Broncs – all were news to me.

    On the NBA’s support of Ukraine, the NHL is in a more awkward spot. One of their star players Alex Ovechkin is a supported of Putin, he would not speak yesterday. Don’t blame him, while this week’s events have harkened back to the 70’s, the one big difference – a huge amount of Russians are physically located in North America.

    “the the Russian invasion of Ukraine” — delete one “the”

    Chilling photo of NBA players wearing Black History warmups, lined up acknowledging their Ukrainian teammate’s anguish.


    Awesome feature today. The gumball machine has a wonderful vintage look to it.

    Going out for pizza and beer will always make you feel younger!

    That Victor gumball machine takes my back to my childhood. We had a red Victor and filled it with M&Ms or peanuts, depending on my mom’s mood. We left a tray of pennies next to it.
    I hope I will be able to get pizza and beer with my mom on the cusp of her 98th birthday. That is phenomenal. You’re a lucky man to have that.

    It’s my fervent hope that one of my kids can take me out for pizza and beer on my 98th! Best wishes to the UW Mom!

    Today’s lede is terrific, btw. When my kids were growing up a local burger place we visited frequently had a games/vending area and it drained every bit of change I had on every visit. When my guys moved out they left me a huge stash of helmets and pro team stickers. Lots of memories wrapped up in those.

    It’s mentioned in the link about the Haas F1 team, but one of their drivers is Nikita Mazepin, the son of Dmitry Mazepin, who chairs the fertilizer company that sponsored the team. Dmitry was in a meeting with Putin on Thursday, so will be interesting to watch going forward if Nikita keeps the seat on the team.

    I know it’s not visual, and one that you probably omitted, but the UEFA Champions League final is being moved out of Moscow, and the Russian Grand Prix F1 race scheduled for September is being “monitored”. A few drivers have already said they will either boycott that race or would prefer not to race there this year.

    Yeah, I didn’t mention any of that because it isn’t really uni-related, but it’s definitely part of the sports world’s larger response to the invasion.

    Oh man, that Eagle “V” door on the machine is something I haven’t seen in a while. Really awesome project!

    I came for the $0.50 ($0.25 in my time) football helmets and the Eagle V gumball machine. What made me smile though, was the photos of Paul’s Mom. Beer, pizza, and family will brighten anyone’s soul. Thanks for the share!


    “The link for the Calgary Hitmen item in the Ticker goes to Sunday’s Uni Watch post instead.”

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that ;)

    That magnetic helmet standings board looks great, and to know that it was made with things that were readily available in 1974, makes it even more impressive. Honestly, other than the word “conference” being misspelled, I would have thought it was something you bought commercially. Very nice job!

    Paul: Your mom is looking great! Glad you two got to enjoy some time together over pizza and beer yesterday.

    Great job on the gumball machine. It reminded me of this bit, which starts at the 4:30 mark: link

    Also, I’m glad to see that your standings board survived for so long.

    Happy birthday to your Mom, Paul. My Mom just turned 79 a few days ago.

    Excellent job on that restoration, Michael!
    One minor quibble on your standings board…the Bengals helmet decal may be on the wrong side.

    Watched that YouTube video on Ken Burrough…never knew that the Chiefs sideline yard markers were red and yellow during the ’70s. And I long for the Bears white-over-white road look to return. Surely the Titans will have some sort uni-memorial for 00 next season.

    Great to see your mom getting out more, Paul!
    Cheers to you both!

    Further to last night’s Canucks-Flames game, Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko absolutely nailed the throwback to 1990s Kirk McLean. Down to the puck marks on the blocker.



    The Canucks are such a weird team. They’re one of those teams that fucked up their visual identity (Flames, Sabres, Islanders) and then realized they got it right the first time went back to their beloved “original” identity. But unlike those other teams they have ANOTHER beloved visual identity in the middle of all that. If they ditched the current look for the 1994 look I don’t think anyone would complain.

    Love seeing the black Flying Skate uniforms on occasion as it creates excitement with the fan base. Calgary back in the traditional whites was the perfect opponent to have for this occasion.

    It would have been suitable if they kept Skate uni as a primary uniform but I will always prefer the Canucks in blue and green. I’m on team blue and green in the great Canucks uniform debate.

    The more I think about it, with all the love for the Flying Skate uniform, it seems silly that they ever changed it in favour of the navy, dark red, silver, sky blue Orca unis that new owner Orca Bay was so keen on. Not sure any fans are clamouring to see that back.


    I don’t detect any love for the Canucks’ third rebranding. Part of the problem was an ill-advised trade for Mark Messier, leading to Vancouver hero Trevor Linden’s exit. Plus, the team was awful. Two beloved uniforms is plenty.

    Ahh the gumball football helmets! I think at my parents house my box of them is still there. I used to line them up on top of the tv to show the matchups of the day

    The new Ridell helmets are another step in the wrong direction in terms of the sculpting. I know that certain elements are (supposedly) in service of concussion and impact tracking functionality, but we have reached a point where logo and graphic design will either have to be dictated by the helmet to an unfortunate degree or simply suffer. So many aggressive holes and slots and slits and sculpted edges make it almost impossible for most teams to apply their helmet logo and stripes without them spanning empty space or being cut up to accommodate empty space. These helmets look super cool when they are blank, or maybe when artwork is designed specifically around their sculpting, but most helmet graphics were not made specifically for this helmet.

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