Winged Helmets & Historical Oddities

Submitted by DoctorDave on January 14th, 2011 at 4:12 PM

Paul Lukas at has written a nice article about the Bulwark, which is industrial design engineer Michael Princip's prototype of a safer football helmet that not only reduces concussions but is "totally badass." Way to go, Michael.

In a sidebar, however, is a brief excursus on the history of the winged helmet, along with links to vintage photographs of teams that have used it. Cool. We're certainly familiar with Crisler's 1935 Princeton team that donned the fabled design we know and love. One untidy historical tidbit of which I was unaware is that Indiana (1933), Michigan State (1934), and Ohio State (1930) also wore some version of the winged helmet.

Ohio State, c. 1930:

Ohio State c. 1930

Michigan State, c. 1934:

Michigan State, c. 1934



January 14th, 2011 at 4:33 PM ^

No, its not true.  However, he did joke about changing it.  One of the first things Bo did upon arriving (according to "Bo's Lasting Lessons" is study Michigan's history and traditions.  I can't find exactly where it is in the book so I can't explain the whole story, but he joked with some people in the athletic department about changing it knowing it would get under their skin.

Bando Calrissian

January 14th, 2011 at 6:27 PM ^

In the first few weeks of his tenure, Bo spoke to an alumni group (maybe at Weber's?  that's sticking out to me for some reason) and opened with a joke that the first thing he was going to do was change the helmets.  No one laughed.

It's in Bo's Lasting Lessons and/or the Albom book.


January 14th, 2011 at 4:20 PM ^

Quite a few teams wore winged helmets back then.  Another oneI can recall is UCLA.  This was just due to the helmet's (Spaulding's?) stiching pattern which took the form of the wings.


January 14th, 2011 at 4:40 PM ^

Bo knew all about the wings and wanted to keep them.

The only minor helmet changes by Bo were maize helmet awards in 1969-1974, wolverine helmet awards in all years 1975-1989, except 1983-1984 for some reason), and helmet numerals in 1974.  Also, the helmet stripes sometimes didn't go all the way to the back bottom of the helmet.  They were sometimes abbreviated a bit more above the back cusp of the helmet starting around 1975-1976 with the newer helmets from Bike (more room for helmet award placement, I guess).

See DE/OLB John Anderson's helmet from 1977 Rose Bowl vs. USC:

Section 1

January 14th, 2011 at 4:33 PM ^

I read that article online before you posted it.  The guys at Eleven Warriors were having some fun with the idea of the Buckeyes in winged helmets.

It's a total myth that Fritz Crisler conjured up that helmet at Princeton, out of nowhere, and then personally brought it to Michigan.  Those helmets that Michigan strapped on in 1938 or whatever year it was, were out-of-the-catalog Spalding football helmets.

I have long been anticipating the day when concussions and safety concerns were going to change the entire nature of football helmets, with unknown consequences for the Michigan helmet design.  It's coming; someday.  This is a vision of the future.  When it arrives, it might actually be one change of a Michigan football tradition that no one can falsely blame on Rich Rodriguez.


January 14th, 2011 at 4:41 PM ^

The wings could still be on these new helmets. They allow for some customization but that doesn't mean that we would have to change the design of our helmets. Of course if you are talking about something else I apologize, but this is the way I took what your last paragraph was saying.


January 14th, 2011 at 4:35 PM ^

That helmet is pretty slick. Hopefully something like that comes out in the future. I understand football is a violent sport (I played in HS, I know not that great but still), but players' safety is extremely important and this helmet could pave the way to a more safe game while not changing it much.


January 14th, 2011 at 4:53 PM ^

...of Michigan's helmet at the Bentley's site. Yes, Crisler brought the concept with him from Princeton, and yes, other teams (including MSU) had winged helmets, but:

...Crisler had introduced a helmet at Princeton in 1935 that should look remarkably familiar to Wolverine fans. The winged design simply took advantage of features of a helmet the Spalding sporting goods company had advertised in the 1937 edition of the Official Intercollegiate Football Guide. Crisler's 1938 innovation at Michigan was to paint the helmet maize and blue.

Princeton HelmetSpalding helmet for catalog

1937 Princeton Helmet          Spalding FHS model helmet

 Spalding marketed a number of helmet models that featured the "wing" design. The wing provided additional protective padding and helped bind the earpieces to the crown. The FH5 model was the only one featuring three straps running from front-to-back. One model featured a single strap running front-to-back and another running side-to-side. Other models had a one-piece crown. Michigan's FH5 model came only in black and tan while those with a one-piece crown could be ordered in any school colors for an additional fee.

 Tom Harmon, MSU helmet

Michigan State had adopted its version of a "winged helmet" several years earlier. Tom Harmon, shown here in the 1939 game, breaks away from several Spartans wearing a different model of Spalding's wing design. The Spartans wore several models of the Spalding winged helmet until 1948 when they joined the Big Ten and adopted a different style helmet.

The main difference between Michigan and other winged helmet teams: Michigan kept its design when the switch to plastic helmets came about.

Regarding the Bulwark helmet, it doesn't appear that the display model's design with its five replaceable shell parts is necessarily optimized to reduce concussions, so if it's shown that the concept has merit, Michigan could easily commission a Michigan-specific version with plates that mimic the winged helmet design. It may cost more to have a winged helmet version than the more common version sold to other teams, but so what. Michigan can afford to pay the premium if there was one. Of course, the multiple college and HS teams around the country with winged helmet markings could also purchase the same helmet, albeit with a "Michigan Only" color scheme to protect its mark.


January 14th, 2011 at 5:52 PM ^

You could always just do what they did with the hockey helmets when they first went to the winged design ... yellow electrical tape.

These days, I think we're having them airbrushed or custom made.  I see no reason why airbrushing couldn't be an option for the new Bulwark helmets too.

Bando Calrissian

January 14th, 2011 at 6:30 PM ^

The hockey helmets are still electrical-taped.  Hockey helmet manufacturers don't allow helmets to be painted under their warranty, and there's some concern that with the nature of hockey, hitting, sticks and pucks nicking helmets, etc. that painted designs on helmets could chip, and the paint chips are apparently toxic when inhaled.

Thus, the helmets are electrical-taped by hand several times per season.


July 20th, 2011 at 10:19 PM ^

A guy who lived down the hall from me in the dorms freshman year was on the club team. I know they taped their helmets. From the pictures they look painted, especially when you look at the vents...


In other news were you a trumpet in the MMB? If so, what year did you graduate? I've always wondered because of your avatar.