As many of you know, the Rams fired longtime equipment manager Todd Hewitt back in January. Today we have an extensive interview with him, but it wasn’t conducted by me. It was done by football historian Robert Harvell, whose photo archives have been featured here on the site many times.
Robert interviewed Todd last month, and the resulting transcript was recently posted over on Helmet Hut. But Robert and Helmet Hut honcho Curtis Worrell both felt that the interview deserved to be published here at Uni Watch as well. After reading it, I wholeheartedly agreed.
As you’ll see, the interview has nothing to do with Todd’s firing. That’s another topic for another day. This is all about the work he did with the Rams, the team’s uniform history, and so on. It’s really good stuff — enjoy.
Robert Harvell: Todd, when did you start working for the Rams?
Todd Hewitt: Well, my dad was hired by the Rams in 1967. I was 11 years old at the time and helped out in the locker room and was a ball boy. In 1978, I was officially hired by the Rams as Assistant Equipment Manager and continued to work with my dad until his retirement in 1984. In 1985, I took over as Rams Equipment Manager, although my dad remained with the team as Equipment Manager Emeritus through 1994, the Rams’ final year in Los Angeles. In 1995, the Rams relocated to St. Louis. My dad joined us there for one final year. So all told, I was with the Rams for 44 years and have worked under 14 different Rams head coaches! Funny, I still remember when the Packers came to town in 1967, my first year with the team. I walked down the Coliseum tunnel flanked by Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr!
RH: How many hours per week would you put in once camp began?
TH: Let’s put it this way: Once camp started I definitely spent more time at work than at home. In at 5am, leave at 7pm, seven days a week. The only day I’d take off during the season is the Sunday of the bye week. The players’ day off was a treat, because I’d “only” work from 5am to 4:30pm. But I made up for that on game day, especially when we returned from road games, often working very late. It wasn’t unusual for me to spend the night at work after road games. During the off-season I typically worked five days a week, from 6am to 4:30pm.
RH: Like most teams, the Rams have changed their uniform color schemes over the years. Do you have a favorite?
TH: Honestly, I like them all. For sentimental reasons, I really like the blue and white. But I would have to say that my favorite color scheme was what we wore from 1973-1999, the blue and yellow, what we wore when we won the Super Bowl. In fact, when we wore those colors again for a throwback game, I realized just how much I missed them, they were just so vibrant. I really like the current uniforms as well, but they are so much darker than what we wore before. When we changed our color scheme in 2000, we actually considered many different possibilities, 15 to 20 combinations or so.
Mrs. Frontiere’s [team owner Georgia Frontiere] favorite color was powder blue, think UCLA, a color she used to wear all of the time. She thought the Rams would look great in this color and wanted to see some examples. So we made up some powder blue helmets with gold horns and gold helmets with powder blue horns, which she loved. But being someone who was very much into astrology, Mrs. Frontiere agreed to the current color scheme because, actually, she liked the names of the colors we used: new century gold and millennium blue. She thought it made cosmic sense if you will, given the year was 2000.
Speaking of Mrs. Frontiere, not many know this because she was very private about it, but she was an extremely generous woman who often helped out many ex-Rams players in their hour of need. She was a wonderful owner and a wonderful person to work for.
RH: Speaking of the Rams’ color schemes, why did the Rams change from blue and yellow to blue and white in 1964, which they wore for nine years, until 1972?
TH: Kind of a funny story. Before the change, the Rams often wore yellow home jerseys, which, as it turned out, didn’t look particularly good on black-and-white TV — a consideration that became increasingly important at the time. So the Rams experimented with different shades of yellow until they found one that actually showed up well on TV. The problem was the shade of the yellow that worked well for TV was called “buttercup yellow.” When Mr. Reeves [Dan Reeves, Rams owner from 1941-1971] found out about that, he said that there was no way his team would ever wear a color called “buttercup yellow.”
Also, the yellow horns on the Rams’ helmet at the time didn’t show up very well on TV either. So Mr. Reeves decided to remove yellow from the uniforms altogether, opting for a simple blue and white, which as it turned out looked great on black and white TV.
RH: Sticking with the Rams’ blue-and-white uniform era, I always wondered why the Rams rarely wore their navy jerseys when playing at home during that time, much like the Dallas Cowboys do today. Did the Rams do this because the white jerseys offered relief when playing under the hot California sun?
TH: Another interesting story. Actually, there were years during the blue-and-white era when the Rams never wore their navy jerseys at all, not during the preseason or the regular season. It had nothing to do with the sun. In fact a lot of those home games we played were quite cool, especially since we played a lot of night games at home. Wearing white jerseys at home was the brainchild of Mr. Reeves, an extremely smart owner and businessman with a talent for promotion. He felt that if the Rams wore their white jerseys at home it would make for a better gameday experience for the fans by giving them a chance to see the colorful jerseys of visiting teams, which most Rams fans would not otherwise get a chance to see. So rather than Rams fans seeing the same thing each and every week, which would be the Rams always in navy and the visiting teams always in white, Rams fans instead got to see different colors each week. And Rams fans loved it — it was a smart decision by Mr. Reeves.
RH: Why did the Rams change back to blue and yellow uniforms in 1973, after wearing blue and white uniforms for nine years?
TH: This was Mr. Rosenbloom’s [Caroll Rosenbloom, Rams owner 1972-1979] idea, something he decided to do when he took over as the Rams’ owner in 1972. He felt the blue-and-white uniforms were somewhat bland and wanted a uniform look that better reflected the glitz of Hollywood. Horns were added to the jerseys, at the shoulder area, and we went to white shoes and blue shoes. The new jersey numbers were also pretty snazzy — they had a white trim. But we quickly discovered that the white trim made the numbers very tough to differentiate on TV, so they were scrapped after the 1973 preseason.
RH: So many teams have gone through different helmet designs over the years — not only color but logos as well. Have the Rams ever considered doing away with their helmet horns in favor of another logo?
TH: Never. Not once. The Rams have always been very proud of the horns on their helmet and fully understand how iconic they are and what they represent in terms of NFL history. The Rams’ helmet horns were so important to the Rams that, unlike many other teams, the Rams have always ensured that they were always applied to the helmets even for scrimmages, mini-camps, camps, and practices. You won’t see a Rams player wearing a Rams helmet without horns!
RH: Those horn decals must be a pain to apply. How often are they applied during the course of a year, and how many equipment staffers are involved in applying them?
TH: I imagine they would be a challenge to apply for someone new to it, but I can pretty much do it in my sleep. We actually got to the point of using three different types of horn decals in recent years, because of the different shapes and ventilation holes found on the new helmets. Applying decals to some of these newer helmets is, even for me, a bit of a challenge!
We’d go through about 800 sets of decals per year. Lots of pulling off and applying new ones goes on each year. Although I had a small staff — two full-time assistants and one intern — I’m the only one who’d apply the horn decals. And when my dad was Equipment Manager, he and I were the only ones that applied the decals. So for the last 38 years, from the time the Rams switched from painted horns to decals, only a Hewitt has applied the horns, something I kind of take pride in.
RH: Up until the mid-1970s or so, the Rams were a team that pretty much wore only Riddell helmets and Schutt facemasks. Many other teams of the era wore Riddell helmets as well as helmets made by other manufacturers, and they used facemasks made by other companies as well, such as Dungard. Why didn’t the Rams typically use helmets and facemasks made by other manufacturers?
TH: My dad knew John Riddell, inventor and owner of Riddell helmets, and was always very happy with the helmets he made and the service Riddell provided. He was always very happy with Schutt facemasks as well and the service they provided, plus Schutt was nearby and we could get things from them quickly if needed. My dad was a very loyal person, and when he was taken care of by a supplier like he was by Riddell and Schutt, when a supplier was loyal, my dad always returned the loyalty, always, even when the competition would inevitably try to undercut on prices. That’s just the type of guy my dad was.
In fact, there was a gentleman that did the lettering for our jerseys for many, many years, who always went out of his way to help my dad and the Rams. Bigger, more modern companies would come in and offer slightly lower prices for the lettering, but my dad wouldn’t be swayed, he stuck with our lettering guy.
I’ll never forget when we drafted Dennis Harrah in the first round of 1975. Dennis wore a helmet made by Bike in college, not a Riddell. When he reported to the Rams, he didn’t want a Riddell, couldn’t be talked into one, he wanted a Bike. My dad fretted to no end thinking that he would be letting Riddell down, that he would be disloyal if he purchased a Bike helmet for Dennis. But of course we did get Dennis a Bike helmet. I mean there was no way we were going to put the team in a position where a player got a head injury and it was later discovered that we gave him a helmet he didn’t want, no way. But until Dennis came to the Rams it never really came up, everyone was happy with Riddell. But after Dennis got his Bike, other players wanted one too, especially kids coming out of college where Bike helmets had become very popular.
RH: Did traded players usually want to take/bring their helmets with them to their new teams? How about college players, did they often bring their helmets with them, wanting to continue wearing them in the pros?
TH: Traded vets would sometimes want to take their gear with them to their new team, but more often than not teams could fit them identically as before, so there was usually no need. College players usually don’t bring their equipment with them. In fact, college kids often end up wearing equipment when they reach the pros that they didn’t wear in college. For example, when Sam Bradford arrived, I fitted him with a full girdle pad. Sam said he didn’t want to wear one, that he never wore one in college. I told him that he wasn’t going to be facing Baylor at the pro level! In his first preseason game he was quickly sacked three times or so. He was happy that I fitted him with a full girdle pad.
RH: How many helmets does a player usually go through each season? How many helmets are issued to each player each season, are they issued a backup and a practice helmet?
TH: Players are issued one helmet each year and, except for rare occasions, use it for the entire season. A supply of helmets is kept on hand, in stock, in case a player’s helmet needs to be replaced during the course of the year. Game helmets are the same ones used in practice. During Coach Robinson’s time with the Rams, we used to use two helmet shells for each lineman, one for games and one for practice, because the horn decals on the linemen’s helmets would always get so damaged during practice. In this case, we would simply pull the padding from their game helmet shells and put it into their practice helmet shells, back and forth, throughout the year.
RH: Are players allowed to keep their helmets or uniforms when traded, cut or when they retire?
TH: Always a case-by-case situation. If you have a vet — say Marshall Faulk — then of course the Rams would probably give him whatever he wanted. But if it’s a guy that hasn’t been here long, or a guy that didn’t make the team, then he would most likely have to pay for anything he was interested in taking with him.
RH: How involved, if ever, were coaches, management or ownership in the team’s appearance, what they wore on game day?
TH: As mentioned earlier, Mrs. Frontiere, Mr. Reeves, and Mr. Rosenbloom all offered input. As far as coaches are concerned, one year Coach Malavasi decided that he wanted to wear white jerseys at home — he felt it made the Rams look bigger. But we ended up winning only one or two home games that year, I believe, so that was scratched! Coach Vermeil was concerned about winning games, not about what we wore on game day. Coach Robinson had a thing about comfortable pants, wanted to make sure that we purchased and used the most comfortable pants available. Coach Martz decided to go with the white pants one year (he didn’t like the blue pants), and we got a bunch of calls from fans who loved the white pants, loved the look, wanted us to keep wearing them. They reminded fans of the blue-and-white days, but John Shaw couldn’t stand them. Coach Spagnuolo wanted to make all of the uniform decisions but eventually handed the job off to Steven Jackson and Oshiomogho Otogwe, the team captains.
RH: What sort of budget were you responsible for as the Rams Equipment Manager?
TH: About half a million dollars per year, which is about $10,000 per player. That includes helmets, pads, uniforms, tape, gum, everything. I took our budget very seriously and in my entire time with the Rams, I never once came in over budget — not an easy thing to do! Helmets, depending on the manufacturer and facemask used, run anywhere from $200 to $500. The new Xenith helmet alone is $450. Shoulder pads can run $350 to $450. Football equipment is expensive!
RH: What would you say was the most important aspect of your job?
TH: First and foremost, player safety. Making sure players are fitted properly with the best equipment available. I always told the young kids that come in that they’re not going to make any money in this league sitting on the bench nursing an injury, that they need to be on the field playing, getting seen and noticed by the coaches. And that it was my job, to help them stay out on the field, not on the bench, and to protect them the best I could by fitting them with the right equipment.
Another important aspect of my job was earning the players’ trust, letting them know that the locker room is their sanctuary and what is said there doesn’t leave, isn’t leaked. It’s important to the players’ morale to know that they have a safe haven and can trust those around them.
And of course there’s also doing what the coaches ask, helping the best I can to make their jobs easier by doing my job well.
RH: Not that you got much of it, but what did you do with your free time?
TH: Spent it all with my wife and kids. I coach my boy’s baseball team. Obviously, my wife is a saint, having put up with the long hours I spent at work. She has pretty much raised our children herself; I missed the birth of one of my sons during an away game. Fortunately, I was able to spend time with my sons, who were able to come to work with me and help out in the locker room, it’s great. My daughter was actually allowed to be the water girl for a few years, which was great and a lot of fun, but that ended a couple of years ago.
RH: What was your favorite part of your job?
TH: The players. And the fact that no two days are the same, always something different going on, always a new challenge, not being chained to a desk. Locker room chemistry, it can be incredible. The Greatest Show on Turf years were awesome in the locker room and on the practice field. Everyone wanted to be there, everyone couldn’t wait to go to work. Practices were awesome, so fast, there were many days when the ball never hit the ground, just unbelievable. The friendships. I’m great friends with Vince [Ferragamo], Irv [Pankey], Dennis [Harrah] and Jack [Youngblood] to name a few. Fifty Rams players and wives attended my wedding, just awesome.
Let’s have a tip of the sideline cap to Robert Harvell for conducting such a great interview, to Helmet Hut’s Curtis Worrell for generously sharing the interview with Uni Watch, and of course to Todd Hewitt for all the great stories and information.
And there’s more: Very soon (possibly as soon as tomorrow) we’ll have an interview with Todd’s dad, Don Hewitt.
Collector’s Corner, by Brinke Guthrie
Another week, another batch of great eBay finds. Let’s take a look:
• I always liked ringer-style T-shirts, even before I knew that’s what they were called.
• Really nice set of Gatorade NFL caps, right here.
• You say you can’t afford game-worn? Then how about movie-worn?
• Can’t say I’ve seen this 1978 NFL lunchbox before.
• I used to store all my Tudor NFL teams in a plastic fishing tackle box. Never knew there was an “official” box for them.
• Here’s one from Paul: “Yo, Jim Vilk and Vince Grzegorek, you’ll want to check out this Cleveland Browns night light.”
• Here’s one from Mike Hersh: a set of amazing 1972 NFL pins with very unofficial logos. The Chargers guy using a credit card is particularly good.
• Another one from Mike: a set of Dairy Queen CFL gumball helmets.
• And here’s the primo find of the week (submitted by Alan Borock): an Expos logo Jell-O mold!
Seen something on eBay that you think would make good Collector’s Corner fodder? Send your submissions here.
No sleeve patch until we hit 10: It was five years ago today that this site made its debut. And in keeping with a suggestion that was made last year at this time by reader Tim Cox, I’m using the site’s anniversary to extend a one-day purple amnesty to new Uni Watch Membership Program enrollees. Today — and only today, at least for the next year — you can sign up and request a Rockies design, a Vikings design, or any other purple-inclusive motif, and I’ll be happy to say, “Coming right up!”
In addition, the first nine people who sign up today, whether their design requests include purple or not, will get a free pair of Uni Watch stirrups, based on the one that hangs at the top of each entry. These were generously donated to the cause by Comrade Robert Marshall. If we get fewer than nine sign-ups today, the remaining stirrups will be rolled into the reader-appreciation raffle at the end of the year. We now have more than nine sign-ups for today — no more stirrups!
As always, my sincere gratitude to the many of you who’ve helped to make the site such a fun project. Never would’ve guessed it would evolve and grow the way it has. Thanks, gang.
Uni Watch News Ticker: Here’s the interview that the guys from Cards Diaspora conducted with me during the St. Louis Uni Watch party. ”¦ New uni number assignments for the Ravens (with thanks to Andrew Cosenntino). ”¦ Wade Copic notes that the Iowa Cubs have a fun, Mr. Met-esque mascot character. ”¦ Reprinted from yesterday’s comments: The Twins aren’t the only ones saluting Harmon Killebrew. Since Killebrew began his career with the Washington Senators, the Nationals have hung a jersey in their dugout for him — nice. ”¦ Here is by far the thinnest crotch extension — or “diaper,” as Joe Skiba likes to call them — I’ve ever seen on a football jersey. ”¦ Rugby news from Caleb Borchers, who writes: “Digby Ioane of the Queensland Reds recently wore an interesting headgear setup. Never seen anything like this before. Not sure if it makes me think more of Batman or a handlebar mustache.” ”¦ Very nice striped stirrups being worn by the Tufts Jumbos baseball team, which just won its second straight New England Small College Athletic Conference title and a bid to the NCAAs (with thanks to Mark Sullivan). ”¦ The Rangers are inviting fans to design a memorial logo for Derek Boogaard (with thanks to John Muir). ”¦ Here’s one of the best examples you’ll ever see of a baseball jersey with button-on detachable sleeves. The really interesting thing is the cuffs, with the perpendicular pinstripes — more like a dress shirt than a sports jersey (big thanks to Bruce Menard). ”¦ As many readers informed me yesterday, the leaked Senators logo in yesterday’s Ticker was not legit. ”¦ Can anyone explain the shoulder yoke on this photo of Wade Wilson? (As submitted by Jordan Brandon.) ”¦ New kit for U.S. women’s soccer. “Who designed that — Sepp Blatter?” asks Mark Coale. ”¦ Lacrosse news from MJ Kurs-Lasky, who writes: “The Terps have been wearing purple ribbon decals on their helmets this season to honor Maria Young — player Ryan Young’s mom — who died of pancreatic cancer a few weeks back. In Sunday’s Maryland/UNC game, the Maryland coaches wore purple shirts and at least one player went with a purple lacrosse stick.” ”¦ Ever wonder what how today’s new-media brands would translate to vintage propaganda- and advertising-poster style? Right, me neither. Fortunately, someone else did. ”¦ Still more Rockies undershirt shenanigans. “It says ‘Sweet T,'” says Alex Higley. ”¦ Here’s the official ball for the 2011-12 Bundesliga (with thanks to Kenny Loo). ”¦ Check out this great vintage L.A. transit pass featuring a minor league ballplayer. It’s part of a big set of similar L.A. transit passes, although most of the others aren’t sprots-themed (great find by Marc, who didn’t give his last name). ”¦ Here are the helmets for the participants in the upcoming International Federation of American Football World Cup. From left to right: Japan, Germany, Canada, IFAF (a placeholder for the USA helmet), Austria, Australia, Mexico, and France. “Interesting that only one team, Japan, uses stripes on the helmet,” says Stefan Schubert). ”¦ Apparently there’s an ongoing controversy about doctored bats in high school baseball. ”¦ You know, I think we can allow a monochromatic dark baseball uniform if it’s accessorized like this. That’s the Hanshin Tigers, and boy do I love their look (big thanks to Richard Musterer).