Winged Helmet Turns 75!

Submitted by Everyone Murders on September 17th, 2013 at 8:42 AM

Michigan Today has nice story on the 75th anniversary of Michigan's iconic winged helmet.  It includes the stuff we know (e.g., Crisler brought the wing concept with him from Princeton) along with a lot of stuff many of us didn't.

Introduced to MIchigan in 1938, this marks the 75th year of the winged helmet.  The article has some curious assertions such as:

(b)ack then the headgear looked like the leather biking helmets favored by today's Tour de France riders

telling us the author (none other than FOB John U. Bacon) does not spend a lot of time watching professional cycling, but overall it gives a nice history of one of Michigan's defining symbols.

In a case of function defining form, the author relays that at the time helmets

typically consisted of a leather bowl with an extra pad to protect the forehead, from which three strips of padding ran to the back—all of it painted black. To help his Princeton quarterback identify his receivers downfield and give his team a little style in the process, Crisler simply painted the extra padding Princeton orange and—voila!—the winged helmet was born.

Princeton dumped the design in 1937 (before Crisler left), so I'm guessing Crisler did not feel bad about taking the innovation with him.

So rather than subjecting ourselves to more "Akron ... grumble, grumble" (I'm sure the UFRs can get us right back in that mood), enjoy a bit of Michigan football history.

1938 helmetFrom MI Today article.

Crisler favored the FH5 model, with three straps running front to back. (Image courtesy of U-M's Bentley Historical Library.)




September 17th, 2013 at 8:54 AM ^

At the end when he's talking about how intimidating it is for opposing teams to see Michigan's helmets in the tunnel before running out to touch the banner  ....buuuuuuut Michigan always runs out first and then the opposing team comes out??  Some odd things in this article.


September 17th, 2013 at 10:08 AM ^

Don't even have to go back that far.


(Excuse the crappy Buckeye music...he posted it.)

I don't think it really became as structured as it is today until after 9/11 when they wanted to get both teams out there for the National Anthem, and the band stayed on the field while the opposing team comes out (blocking them from running all over the place, which I like).  

Now a lot of teams still wouldn't come out till after so they wouldn't have to see Michigan come out and the crowd reaction, but it wasn't always that way.

Everyone Murders

September 17th, 2013 at 10:21 AM ^

Oriental Andrew offers a plausible explanation.  Alternatively, when an opposing team waits for Michigan to take the field they still see the winged helmets (from behind) and the team pouring onto the field and touching the banner.  Like this (instead of the familiar TV angle where the team is running toward the camera):

Overall, though, I agree.  There are a few odd things in Bacon's article (none, to me, odder than the reference to the "leather biking helmets favored by today's Tour de France riders" - which, like ... whoah). 


September 17th, 2013 at 8:54 AM ^

"The effect can be so intimidating that at times several Michigan opponents, including Notre Dame and Indiana, have taken to taping the design over their helmets during practice to lessen the shock of seeing the Maize and Blue helmets come flying out of the tunnel, and setting up across the line."

This passage made me smile for some reason. 

In any case, happy birthday to the best helmet ever conceived.


September 17th, 2013 at 9:16 AM ^

Fun trivia:  The helmet in not blue with yellow wings painted on it.  It is actually yellow with blue painted around an outline of the wings.  

When you see a game-worn halmet after a tough game, the gashes in the blue part of the helmet where the paint chiped away are yellow.


Everyone Murders

September 17th, 2013 at 10:02 AM ^

Did you just accuse me of "Michigan-ness"?!  Did you?  Did you!?!  Oh ... cool.  We have a program and tradition that is defined by much more than the last data point, so it seems there's little harm in recognizing some of that history.

Although I sort of doubt Michigan Today timed the story with the Akron semi-debacle* in mind - the story's timing was probably more driven by the 75th anniversary of the winged helmet at Michigan. 

*We shouldn't forget that Michigan did win the Akron game, so the nonstop whinging about the game around here has been a bit much for some of us.  On my part, before Saturday I was "worried" that the football season would not be interesting until the B1G season began.  Akron taught me that my worry was ... misplaced.  Now I'm very curious to see how the team dispatches itself against UConn.


September 17th, 2013 at 11:10 AM ^

i have a user name of a player of over 25 years ago, so i care as much about michigan's football history as anyone else. perhaps because it is so rich it comes up frequently and everybody gets teary-eyed. it does get to be a bit of a drunk uncle around the thanksgiving day table though: "did i ever tell ya about the time the michigan football team TAUGHT notre dame how to play? i did? well, i'll tell you again..."

figured i would take some time during the non negging period to rattle some chains.


September 17th, 2013 at 9:35 AM ^

Some, including football's all-time rushing leader, Jamie Morris, even claim their desire to wear the famous winged helmet was their motive to come to Ann Arbor.

Cmon now JUB...




September 17th, 2013 at 12:50 PM ^

Michigan Today probably should've noted this, but that article from Bacon is almost 20 years old—hence Morris as the all-time leading rusher and leather helmets for Tour De France riders. Click the link now and you'll see that the article has been updated.

Everyone Murders

September 17th, 2013 at 4:40 PM ^

I see that they added this to the bottom of the article (which carries today's date at the top by the byline):

A version of this article appeared in the Fall 2009 issue of LSA Magazine.

That would suggest the article is four years old, not 20.  It also has a 2013 quote from Tom Brady, so some updating was done.

And even if most of the article is 20 years old, nobody on the pro tour was wearing leather helmets in 1993.  Leather helmet (the "hairnets") have not been worn with any frequency since the 1970s.  That's Breaking Away technology at best.

The ubiquitous - and cinder block-heavy - hard shell Bell V1-Pro was pretty popular by the mid 1980s, and leather hairnets were relegated to museums before then.  By 1990, helmets used the in-mold microshell with which we're all familiar; i.e., the ones with the thin shells and the dense foam underbody.  Around that time, many of the riders were using Giros and similar helmets - in part for light-weight protection, and in part for the aerodynamic benefits - at least during some stages of the major cycling tours. 

Regardless, if it is a recycled article that is 4 years old, the criticisms still hold.  And if it is a 20 year-old article, Michigan Today really might want to edit the article to bring it up to date.

Ace - I know from your writing that you're careful about this stuff.  What am I missing?


September 17th, 2013 at 8:04 PM ^

According to the man himself, the article is originally from Michigan History Magazine in 1996 or 1997—so it's a reprinting of a reprinting. I won't bother to check and see if TDF riders wore leather helmets in those days because I can't possibly bring myself to care.

Long story short, Michigan Today probably should've noted that the article was, in fact, written nearly two decades ago with a couple of minor updates.

Everyone Murders

September 18th, 2013 at 9:16 AM ^

Your first reply made it seem like the 20 year information was in the article.  It isn't, at least as of this time.  But fair enough - you confirmed it with Bacon.  Thanks.

But you might mention to JUB that these sort of errors erode his hard-earned credibility.  To write in 1993 of leather bicycle helmets currently appearing on the Tour de France is akin to saying, in 1993, that "the fur coat that LL Cool J wore to the Grammys* is similar to those raccoon coats so popular on today's campuses."  It's the sort of reference that makes an author look silly.  And while you can't bring yourself to care about whether TDF riders wore leather helmets in those days (and have every right to that view), he should.  Because caring about such things increases readers' confidence and improves the quality of the writing.

Long story short, the leather bike helmet reference makes him look silly.  And he's too good for that.  For the record, I'm a big fan of Three and Out and Bacon in general.  He's a huge asset to the University, and I hope he's tearing the folks at Michigan Today a new one for regurgitating text that was silly in 1993, and incrementally sillier now.

*And no, I've got no record of whether LL Cool J wore a fur coat to the Grammys.  And while I could possibly bring myself to care, it seems immaterial to making the point.


September 17th, 2013 at 10:24 AM ^

Good read.  Happy birthday to the best helmets in football. 

And to think Jeff Goldblum's character in 'The Big Chill,' who is a Michigan alum, actually says they are the ugliest helmets in football.  Still the most shocking line of that movie...and that includes the part where Glenn Close's character asks her husband to impregnate her friend. 


September 17th, 2013 at 12:40 PM ^

Although we call it the "winged helmet", I've always felt that the three stripes were the defining feature of the Michigan football helmet. If you guys had to pick between wings or stripes, which would you choose (yeah, it would be weird either way, but which would you choose)? Wings or stripes?