The Birth of the Browns Facemask

By Phil Hecken

I’ve never been a “helmet” guy, I’ll be the first to confess that. Honestly, I can’t tell the difference between a Riddell and a Schutt, much less the various models and straps and masks. But I do love the history of the NFL, and anytime I can learn something new (which is quite often), I’m grateful for the opportunity. Now, I was vaguely familiar with the “history” of the facemask, having really first been introduced to the topic with this little primer, written by some guy named Lukas a half-dozen years ago. And I ever so vaguely remembered something about the Cleveland Browns being the first team to make use of the facemask (although they did not introduce it into the league).

Shortly after I got my Twitter (@PhilHecken) account, I began to be followed by @sportsdesign, who identified himself simply as “Browns Designer.” Intrigued, I immediately began following his tweets. Within days, some incredible old school Browns photographs began to be tweeted, so after a few exchanged tweets (I’m still not altogether with the lexicon of the Twitterer), I decided a more formal introduction was needed.

It turns out the man on the other side of @sportsdesign is Chris Modarelli, and lets just say he’s got quite the treasure trove of Browns-related information and photographs. And I’m sure this will be the first of several articles which will feature Chris. After discussing some topics, it was decided that Chris would bring us a bit more in-depth information on the birth of the facemask on the Browns in the NFL, replete with several excellent historical photographs. So, without further ado, let me introduce you fine readers to Chris, who is kind enough to bring us this little ditty:

The Browns & The Facemask
By Chris Modarelli

The Cleveland Browns helmet is called boring by some and a classic by others. Through the years the Browns helmet has gone through some changes, most not drastic enough to make you think twice. Although the original helmet was once solid white, (they began to introduce a solid orange helmet for night games in the early 1950’s. The helmet stripe pattern has changed slightly over the years, numbers were added to the sides for a few years and the facemask has gone from grey to white, back to grey again. However, it is the facemask itself, which is the real story of the Cleveland Browns helmet.

With all the talk this past season about concussions and player safety, it’s easy to forget that players used to play football with leather helmets. In this day and age of visors and multi-bar facemasks, I’ve heard it suggested that maybe if we went back to those early days of the NFL, player collisions wouldn’t be so violent. Players would be less likely to instigate helmet-to-helmet contact if they were wearing a leather helmet without a facemask to protect themselves. Perhaps, but football is a violent game and back then an open helmet was an invitation for violence.

It was during one such game in 1953 against the San Francisco 49ers, that linebacker Art Michalik’s late hit on Cleveland Browns quarterback Otto Graham would lead to the development of the facemask. The hit came minutes before halftime and caused Graham to require stitches on the inside of his mouth. “I had this big gash on my mouth and they gave me 15 stitches, but I wanted to play,” Graham said.

In an effort to protect his star quarterback in the second half, coach Paul Brown worked with equipment manager Leo Murphy to quickly come up with a device that would offer protection to Graham’s mouth and allow him to finish the game. Graham finished the game by completing 9 of 10 passes in the second half to lead a Browns comeback and secure a 23-20 victory. He also secured a place in history as the player who was the inspiration for a permanent facemask.

Based on Otto Graham’s improvised mask, Riddell, the helmet manufacturer, made the very first Lucite mask. It was the first mask that was designed to attach to a helmet. Crude facemasks had existed prior to this, but they where only meant to offer protection for healing injuries and had to be tied onto helmets after making holes to accommodate them. The new Lucite mask was used by the Browns later in the 1953 season and is considered the first official facemask. Unfortunately, the Lucite masks could become brittle in cold weather and would sometimes shatter on impact.

Paul Brown went back to Riddell at the end of the 1953 season and described a revised facemask concept to their technical consultant: “Give me something that will fit across the front of a helmet and will be about as big as my little finger, with tensile strength. I want it so it can withstand a stray foot, or a deliberately thrown fist or elbow, and take away the inclination to punch someone. But keep it light enough to weigh less than an ounce.”

Based on Paul Brown’s description, Riddell came up with a single gray bar made of rubber and plastic. Brown soon mandated facemasks for all of his players. The other teams eventually followed, as they did with the Lucite facemask, and this first mass-produced facemask became standard in the NFL over the next few seasons.

Eventually multiple bars were introduced offering even more protection, but the single-bar facemask continued to be used by several die-hard players. Punter Scott Player, who was grandfathered in after the single-bar facemask was banned in 2004, was the last NFL player to wear the facemask in 2007. It was so loosely attached to his helmet that he would swing the bar down completely when punting. It is ironic and also very fitting that the last NFL team Scott Player played for was the team that inspired the single-bar facemask in the first place ”“ the Cleveland Browns.

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Thank you Chris. Great story, and one that I’m not sure too many people know, at least not in that depth. Yet another proof of the saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”

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Matt Powers’ ASG Shoe Revue

Who is that masked ninja sporting the MOTB (that’s “Mark Of The Beast” for the uninitiated)? Why, it’s none other than Uni Watch’s own favorite sneakerhead, Matt Powers, who is here to bring us his annual NBA All-Star Game sneaker preview/review. That’s right, the post you’ve all been waiting for all year long is finally here. So, let’s get right to it. Here’s Matt:

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Packers and Steelers? Nope! The Super Bowl of Sneakers is this coming Sunday at the Staples Center In LA. For the sneakerhead community, this is when and where the big brands break out their extra special super-duper gear. Growing up, my eyes would be glued to the tube as players like MJ and Sir Charles would preview their playoff edition kicks.

Times were different then. Back in the day there were no “The East” or “The West” uniforms. Players represented the teams that they were chosen from, and we liked it that way.

Well, without much further ado:

Here’s a prediction as to what the All Stars will be wearing:

West Roster

–Starters–

Carmelo Anthony (Jordan Brand–Melo M7): Melo will be wearing a special version of the shoes that he has been wearing all season. Perhaps, Nike could begin making them in Knicks colors as a bit of motivation. All Star prediction.

Kobe Bryant (Nike–Kobe VI): The Black Mamba will be wearing the special Western All Star version of his Zoom Kobe VI, which has already been released in a multitude of colorways. Along with Lebron James and Kevin Durant, their shoes will feature lenticular pods and holograms on the tongue which are designed to make the player seem as if he is that much faster. All Star prediction

Chris Paul (Jordan Brand–CP3 IV): CP3 will be wearing the AS version of the JB kicks that he has been wearing all season. In the past, he has strayed from plans and worn the flagship Jordans. All Star prediction.

Kevin Durant (Nike–KDIII): The First time All Star will be wearing his very popular KDIII, another example of the Motion pod group. All Star prediction.

Yao Ming (Reebok–Omni Pump?): Hey, if I could have a billion countrymen vote for me, maybe I would be starting too! This is what he will probably be wearing this Sunday. All Star prediction.

–Reserves–

Tim Duncan (Adidas–Big Fundamental): Much like the game of “the big fundamental”, the shoes he wears are very pedestrian, yet effective. Big man shoes are never sexy, sorry! Look for a red version of his Frankenstein boots. He should have stuck with Nike and the Total Foamposite Max. All Star prediction.

Manu Ginobili (Nike–Air Max Closer IV, Air Max Fly By, Air Max 360 BB): Manu has been wearing the Air Max Fly By as well as a Player Exclusive pair of the Air Max Closer. If I were a betting man, I would guess that he will be wearing the Air Max 360 BB which has flown under the radar. All Star prediction.

Pau Gasol (Nike–Hyperdunk 2010): Gasol has worn the Hyperdunks exclusively this year in both home and road colors. Look for him to either break out Red HD’s or the Air Max 360 BB in his home gym. All Star prediction.

Blake Griffin (Nike–Air Max Fly By): I’m guessing that we’ll all get a good glimpse on what this kid is wearing considering that they’ll so often be at eye-level. The Air Max Fly By has been his shoe-du-jour of late, but can see him going with the AM360BB as well. All Star prediction.

Kevin Love (Peak): Love is in the stable of NBA players who have decided to join the Chinese company Peak alongside Shane Battier and Jason Kidd. Don’t know much about them, don’t care to. If they could help me to pull down rebounds like Moses Malone maybe I’d think about wearing them! He will most likely wear a pair similar to the PE’s that the Warriors Dorell Wright wears. All Star prediction.

Dirk Nowitzki (Nike–Hyperdunk 2010): Dirk, like Gasol has been wearing the HD all season, and will likely break out a very tame, red based pair for the ASG. All Star prediction.

Russell Westbrook (Nike–Air Max Fly By): This ASG newcomer has been rocking the AMFB in Thunder colors, so look for him to don a red edition for The West squad or possibly go with the stock AM360BB. All Star prediction.

Deron Williams (Nike–Air Max Fly By): As of late, the point guard extraordinaire has been wearing the AMFB in Jazz colors. In the past, he has been a Hyperdunk fellow whose color combinations never disappoint, so I am looking forward to what he shows up in this Sunday. All Star prediction.

East Roster

–Starters–

Lebron James (Nike–Air Max Lebron 8): He brought his wonderful shoes to South Beach as well. Another shoe that is widely produced in many special colorways, the Lebron 8 will feature the fast pod and a hologram on the tongue. The 8 is much more of a big man shoe than his previous sigs, thus it doesn’t interest me at 5’10” too much. All Star prediction.

Amar’e Stoudemire (Nike–Air Zoom Huarache TR, Hyperfuse, Air Max Fly By): My favorite non-specific basketball shoe of the season so far has been the revamped Bo Jackson that Amar’e Stroudemire has been wearing. Besides the fact that he has single-handedly revived basketball in NY, his choice of kicks has been interesting. From the Durants to the Hyperfuse and the AMFB, the Knicks colorways with his logo are always a treat. I would love to see him in the Air Max 360 BB this Sunday, considering that is what he once wore almost exclusively in Phoenix. All Star prediction.

Dwyane Wade (Jordan Brand–Air Jordan 2011): DWade has become the face of Jordan Brand. He will be wearing the AJ2011 in a blue colorway. Since Christmas day, he has been wearing similar versions to match both his home and road uniforms. Jordan purists/sneakerheads have been praising the look of this shoe for the obvious nod to the beloved AJ XI. All Star prediction.

Derrick Rose (Adidas –adiZero Rose 1.5): Not as cool as the TS Heat Check or anything that Raymond Felton wears but pretty neat nonetheless. This guy could wear Jimmy Choos and still light it up. All Star prediction.

Dwight Howard (Adidas–Super Beast East): Howard”¦big man”¦shoes with support”¦ a few ASG bells and whistles”¦doesn’t do it for me. Perhaps if I was his size, but alas I’m not. All Star prediction.

–Reserves–

Ray Allen (Jordan Brand–Air Jordan 2011, Evolution 85): Newly crowned, King of the three, Mr. Shuttlesworth has been with the Jordan Brand for some time now. He has worn a variety of models of late, including a PE version of the XIII, the Evolution 85, as well as the XI and IX in a bit of tomfoolery. He will most likely be wearing the AJ2011 along with Mr. Wade. All Star prediction.

Chris Bosh (Nike–Nike Air Max Hyperdunk 2010): Being a big man, Bosh follows suit and keeps his shoe choices pretty close to the vest. This season , he has been wearing an air max version of the popular Hyperdunk. Look to Bosh to wear my All Star prediction.

Kevin Garnett (Anta–KG1 ASG): KG is somewhat of a sneaker mercenary. Mind you, he’s no Gilbert Arenas but he’s got potential. First, he was with Nike wearing very iconic shoes. Then he left for the three stripes and we just sighed. Then, when he left the Dassler brand and chose to sign with Chinese Anta, we sat scratching our heads. I am not the first and definitely the last to say that these shoes are actually pretty cool. Anta understands the special edition craze and has outfitted Garnett in some great shoes this season. The kicker is the forefoot Velcro strap which makes any shoe a keeper, in my book and also means that every one of the Boston big three is wearing a shoe with them. All Star prediction.

Al Horford (Nike–Air Max Fly By): This lunch-pail player has been spotted wearing the AMFB in both home and road colors and probably won’t hit us with too much of a surprise this Sunday. All Star prediction.

Joe Johnson (Jordan Brand –Evolution 85, Air Jordan 2011): Another JB guy, JJ will most likely be sportin’ a pair of the AJ 2011 as well although, he too has been wearing the Evolution 85 in the wonderful Valentine’s edition. All Star prediction.

Paul Pierce (Nike–Air Legacy 2): One would think that a Paul Pierce signature shoe would appeal to the masses and sell well. If so, one would be mistaken. Unless of course, you wear a size 6.5 or below. For years, Nike has maddeningly refused to release the Pierce shoes for adults. This has got to stop because, I for one LOVE his shoes. Look for a blue version of his latest kicks this Sunday. All Star prediction.

Rajon Rondo (Nike–Hyperfuse, Air Zoom Kobe VI): One of the more interesting personalities in the league right now, Rondo has been wearing home and road versions of Nike’s Hyperfuse since last year’s playoff run. However, he has been spotted wearing Kobe’s sig in the Rice HS makeup. Look for him to go with a blue ASG version of the Hyperfuse or the AM360BB. All Star prediction.

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And thank you Matt. We always enjoy the annual ASG preview. If only the game can be as good as your research.

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Benchies

Of course, we have football and basketball today, so of course today’s Benchies is about … hockey:

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And of course, here is the full size version. Enjoy!

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Uni Tweaks

Lots and lots of tweaks keep pouring in, so obviously this is a popular feature. A bunch new to get to today. If you have a tweak, change or concept for any sport, send them my way.

Remember, if possible, try to keep your descriptions to ~50 words (give or take) per tweak. You guys have been great a keeping to that, and it’s much appreciated!

Got a nice of tweaks today…so lets get right into it:

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Starting off the show is Bryan Hathaway, who opens with this updated FSU Seminole football concept:

Ok.. so this is version 2.0 of my design for new every game uniforms. I had numerous and numerous good responses from the first time, however people didnt read and couldnt tell what the difference in them was.. so i did a little graphic with a table. Again ***Disclaimer*** I think we have the best unis in college football. However, I think they could use a tad bit of an upgrade. We arent alabama we havent had the same uniforms for years, ours have gone through numerous changes and tweaks.. and this is just the same. Enjoy, and feedback is appreciated. I’m also working on a throw back design as well. stay tuned.

1. The Pro Combat Feather design shoulder pads which are consistant with the Nike Pro Combat design.

2. FSU logo n the sleaves. Old school people arent going to like the number being removed… but i designed it, and i like it.

3. Number gone back to more of a block style rather than the rounded look now.

4. Seminole Head moved from side to front of pants.

5. Feather added to side of pants.

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Next up is Dan Taylor who has a new look for the T-wolves. Jim Vilk would be proud:

Here is my idea for a new and improved Wolves jersey. its lo-Tech, but awesome. It’ll be next years must have item when the wolves are on their way to a perfect season in these stylish new jerseys.

-Dan Taylor

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Moving along, we have Justin Kline, who isn’t quite happy with the new Tampa Bay Lightning kit:

Hi I’m Justin Kline, and after seeing the new Lightning unis I felt that there was room for some improvement. To bring a little more energy to the new look, I made a few tweaks here and there, adding extra striping and bringing back the black and silver into the color scheme. Without it, they just look like the Maple Leafs with talent.

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And closing out the tweak show today is TJ Cunniff, who has four NFL (well, three plus the “Gamblers”) for us:

Rams — Used the current colors with the old unis And just for fun, gave them about 500 combinations because there is always a team in the league that does

Texans — Darkened the blue, tweaked the shoulder stripes and changed the helmet to white and used another logo

Seahawks — got rid of the god-awful green and used just one blue and used a lot of gray

Gamblers — Got bored and created a new team — colors are based on the Las Vegas city flag Named Gamblers because what else are you gonna name a team from Vegas

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And that will do it for this week’s tweak show. Check back next weekend for more.

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Because this will be…

…probably the only photo ever of Bieber on Uni Watch…that’s why.

So, the Celebrity & the Rookie/Sophomore game was played last night, and really, who cares? But…the Rooks/Sophs were actually wearing some pretty interesting socks. They’re a little difficult to make out here in this portrait, but it looked like almost each player was wearing socks with some kind of “checkerboard” pattern on them. Depending on the sneaker colorway, the socks’ colors varied as well. They were almost all awful. Actually, the socks by themselves don’t seem too bad — but when combined with the garish sneakers they didn’t look so hot. Sideshow Craig Sager held up a couple pairs, but they’re not on the NBA store site, so I’m not sure where they came from. Wonder if the regular ASG will have more of the same.

UPDATE: More views of the socks here, here, and here.

But, it was good to see that Dirk Nowitzki can still pass the rock and Scottie Pippen can still take someone to school.

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OK, boys and girls — that’s a wrap for today’s post. Webmaster John Ekdahl will take the reins tomorrow as he brings us a guide to the Daytona 500, and Paul will be back for Presidents’ Day on Monday. Special thanks to Chris Modarelli for that wonderful bit on the birth of the Browns facemask, and Matt for the ASG rundown. No “Colorize This!” for this week, but there will be a special one next weekend — I’ve already received one fantastic colorization (from George Chilvers, natch) of “The Single Most Amazingly Awesome Photo in the History of Ever”, but I’d love to see a few more of you try your skills at it.

Everyone have a fantastic Saturday and a great long weekend. See ya next Saturday!

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I want to live in the alternate universe where that 1985 World Series pennant hangs on every Toronto fan’s wall. Sox fans have Bucky Effing Dent, we have Jim Effing Sundberg. — “Ben G.”

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