By Phil Hecken
Weekend readers of Uni Watch know that Leo Strawn, Jr. has a column that periodically appears on here called “Leo’s World,” in which he documents strange and unusual uniform happenings from the past. Today’s lede was actually submitted for “Leo’s World,” but it’s simply too good not to be given top of the blog status. This is a really excellent piece of historical research, so I will now turn it over to Leo as he examines…
Gehrke’s Helmet: Setting the Record Straight on ’48 and a Question about Crazy Legs
By Leo Strawn, Jr.
I’m sure everyone who frequents this site knows who Fred Gehrke was and his legendary status in the Uni World. I have two bits of info regarding his hand-painted leather Rams helmets that I want to share.
Legend usually comes with a bit of exaggeration. I noted on websites and even the Professional Researchers Association writings that the reported circumstances around the debut of Gehrke’s helmets are exaggerated and/or flat-out wrong.
For example, Wikipedia says, “The newly painted helmets debuted during a pre-season match-up between the Rams and Redskins at the Los Angeles Coliseum before a crowd of 105,000.” There are no footnotes for a reference, but perhaps that information came from this PRA Coffin Corner article on Gehrke, which states, “The first game of 1948 was an exhibition, (as pre-season games were called back then) versus the Redskins — a night game at the Los Angeles Coliseum before a crowd of 105,000. Up to game time, only Gehrke, Coach Bob Snyder and the equipment manager knew of the ‘new’ helmets.”
It’s true the first Rams game of 1948 was an exhibition, but not against the Redskins; it was against one another. Several days before the September 2 game v. Washington, the Rams played an intersquad game on August 25 at Gilmore Stadium in front of 11,205 fans, and for what it’s worth, Golds beat Blues, 47-28.
Here’s a photo of Gehrke and Glenn Davis, reportedly from that night. And, as you can see in this LA Times article from the following day’s paper, this August exhibition was the debut of Gehrke’s helmets. Another photo of that intersquad game is seen on this program cover for the matchup with the Lions on September 22. Running across that particular program cover online was what motivated me to investigate the circumstances surrounding the photo.
The truth beyond the legend is that the Rams players, 11,205 in attendance at Gilmore for the intersquad game and the multitude who saw the subsequent LA Times article were all aware of the helmets in addition to Gehrke, Snyder and the equipment manager prior to that September 2 exhibition game.
An additional fish story is found in the attendance figure of that preseason game v. the Redskins. Bill Schaefer from Gridiron Uniform Database shared these newspaper reports and photos of that game. Apparently the attendance wasn’t 105,000, but more like 77,622.
(Note: After writing this, I ran across an article written by Todd Radom that explains the same thing regarding the August 25 intersquad game at Gilmore Stadium, citing an SI article instead for the inaccuracy of the first appearance of Gehrke’s helmets. Two of the images I ran across on Google image search and linked here apparently came from Todd’s article, though I hadn’t looked for the source at the time. Even though I just discovered that Todd deduced this before I did, rather than just scrap the piece I wrote after uncovering the same evidence, I decided to leave it as it is for UW readers who, like me, may not have been aware of Radom’s discovery.)
Now, on to Crazy Legs.
As most (if not all) Uni Watchers know, LA abandoned the 1948 leather helmets that Gehrke hand-painted (and was forced to touch up after games) for hard shell helmets the following season. And thanks to research from the guys at GUD, we know those 1949 helmets were red.
Additionally, if you are a die hard Rams fan, you probably know that Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch started playing for Los Angeles that season. In 1948, when the Rams wore Gehrke’s hand-painted leather helmets, Hirsch played in the AAFC with the Chicago Rockets.
So, what’s up with this photo?
I asked the guys at GUD for any info they may have had as to why Crazy Legs was wearing a leather helmet for the Rams, thinking it may have been a 1949 preseason game and LA hadn’t changed to the red hard shell helmets yet. But, it turns out it was a regular season game played at Shibe Park on November 11 and I only had part of the photo.
In the course of conversation, Larry Schmidt from GUD indicated that Hirsch suffered a skull fracture during his AAFC days and, after signing with the Rams, Riddell made a custom helmet with “extra padding” inside the helmet that protected the back of his skull for 1949. Notice in the linked photo that the horns are smooth edged, below ear style as the 1948 helmets had been painted, not the 1949 notched, above ear style. That conversation left both him and me wondering if Crazy Legs wore a blue leather helmet like the ones worn in 1948 or if it was, like the rest of the 1949 Rams, red.
It turns out Fred Gehrke was still playing for the Rams that season. Interestingly, I found a Sporting News article that says of Gehrke, “His versatility extended to the maintenance and care of the Rams’ helmets ”” he said that ‘for two years I touched up the bonnets after every game. I kept a can of blue paint and a can of gold paint in my locker, and even took them along on road trips.’” Considering Hirsch wearing a leather helmet in ’49, his comment “for two years” makes perfect sense. However, he said nothing about red paint, only blue and gold. Nevertheless, it seems reasonable that he may not have noted a third color simply for the confusion mentioning red paint would have caused.
Larry supplied some great shots of the 1948 leather helmets worn by Gehrke and the Rams…
…and a 1949 photo of Hirsch in a helmet identical to those worn in 1948. That photo may have been a training camp photograph with Crazy Legs wearing the ’48 uniform. Compare the helmet in that photo to the helmet he wore in that Rams/Eagles game photo. The horns on front of the helmet he wore in games during the ’49 season did not touch one another in front nor originate a couple of inches above the bottom of the front.
If indeed the helmet Riddell made for Hirsch was a leather exterior with the “extra padding” underneath, it would have still required Gehrke to touch it up after games, thus explaining his “for two years” comment and making it understandable why the horns were smooth, rather than notched, possibly in an effort to make it easier to be painted, and touched up, by hand.
So, I downloaded this black & white photo of the Rams playing the Packers at City Stadium on October 2, 1949 and colorized it two different ways:
…One version with Hirsch’s helmet painted blue (based on Gehrke’s comment in SN “for two years” keeping “a can of blue paint and a can of gold paint in my locker”)…
…and the other colored red to match the rest of the 1949 team. [Is that a wedding band on the tackler? — PH]
Not sure which is correct, but the red leather helmet looks much, much better with those uniforms. In spite of Gehrke’s comment about paint colors, this seems the logical choice, especially when considering that the horns are laid out differently than those on the 1948 helmets, suggesting this one was painted specifically for Hirsch in 1949 by Gehrke.
If anyone comes across any info on Hirsch’s 1949 helmet, let us know to set the record straight!
Till next time…
Fantastic stuff, Leo! Great research and one mystery ‘solved’ and another one just begun…
Just a quick update to yesterday’s post on the Angels’ throwback from Friday night. I had asked the Angels if they could send me some photos from the game, but they arrived (unfortunately) after I’d already set yesterday’s post to go live in the morning. I did want to share these as they provide some good high quality looks at the uniforms from Friday evening.
Credit to Angels Baseball
Click on any photo to enlarge
Uniform Tweaks & Concepts…
…from Uni Watch readers
For years, Uni Watch readers have been sending in their redesigns, concepts and tweaks for current (or future, or past) uniforms for all sports.
You can click on any images below to enlarge.
Just one set today, and it comes from reader Joe O’Bryan, who has some MLB concepts for the San Diego Padres and the Colorado Rockies.
Absolutely love Uni Watch, especially when you do write ups about old baseball uniforms from the days of flannels and cream jersey everywhere, so keep up the good work! I have noticed you sometimes share uniform concepts/tweaks, so I thought you may be interested in seeing and possibly sharing a couple uniform concepts that I have made for fun. I chose these two clubs because they both currently sport uniforms that I find sort of boring and uninteresting.
First up would be my San Diego Padres uniform concept. It is heavily inspired by old baseball uniforms that utilized the thick braided piping on jerseys such as the Homestead Grays’ 1935 Home unis. For the colors, I was torn on navy and gold, or brown and yellow. I ultimately chose navy and gold because I wanted to keep some of the current Padre’s identity and give it an older but different feel. The cap logo was heavily inspired by old St. Louis Brown cap logos. The word mark on the home jersey is actually taken from the script on the bat of the 1969 “Friar” primary logo.
Second up are the Colorado Rockies uniform concepts. These have a more modern feel to them and are bold, colorful, and a bit different. The color scheme and cap logo are derived from the state flag. I also matched the jersey number and word marks to the font of the “C” on the state flag. I always liked the mountain motif in the Rockies’ logo, so I went with a simplified mountain design as a huge part of the uniforms’ identity. The home and road jerseys have a subtle mountain image that is created by varying shades of grey and white. The alternate “Pride” jersey on the other hand is very colorful and quite different. The multicolored jersey style was inspired by the 1952 Denver Bears home uniform which had a royal upper half, and a cream lower. For the cap logo, I chose to include the mountain image again, because I didn’t want the logo to be the exact same thing as the Chicago Cubs. The similarity still bothers me, but I really want to use the “C” from the flag. For the stirrups, I went with yellow sani’s because who doesn’t love yellow sani’s.
I hope you enjoy these even though they are plastered with Nike logos. When I made this template, I was really into Nike’s vapor uniforms, so please excuse the excessive branding.
Thanks for taking a look!!
Got an e-mail from Comrade Robert Marshall this week — he’s still making fantastic bobbleheads. Said he finished these a while back and wanted to share them with me. And I, in turn, want to share them with you — these (as are everything Comrade creates) are AMAZING.
Click on the images to enlarge
Tremendous stuff, Robert!
UW’s Friday Flashback
In case you missed it Friday, the anniversary of the White Sox hosting the first throwback game in pro sports history was earlier this week, so Paul’s weekly Friday Flashback column on ESPN takes a look at that game ”” including recollections from some fans who were there at Comiskey ”” and also looks at some of the first throwbacks worn by the other Big Four leagues (including the NFL’s diamond anniversary throwbacks from 1994, shown here).
Uni Watch News Ticker
Baseball News: Reader Tamaro Benz points out that the Oakland A’s are having both a Jewish Heritage Night as well as an Italian Heritage Night. … In yesterday’s Ticker, Jimmer Vilk noted the Nationals’ vendors have numbers on their backs. P. Costello notes the Phillies vendors have numbers as well. Many have very high or triple digit numbers. … “(Yester)day, at a New Hampshire junior American Legion game, the plate ump was wearing what I take to be football forearm pads,” says Tris Wykes. “Quite thick. Makes sense, I’ve seen a lot of arbiters get nailed there by foul balls.” … “Odd” caps pt 1: Overload Skate Shop in SD with SD logo wearing a sombrero (from Danny Forrest). … More “odd” caps pt 2: dealers an Urban clothing company’s take on the Diamondbacks 1st logo “cut em off” cut off snakes (from Jorge Cruz). … More “odd” caps pt 3: Olympic BMX rider at last night’s SD game, similar hat. “Knife handle in the SD logo?” (also from Danny Forrest). … ATTENTION METS FANS (especially those of a certain vintage): Check out this tweet from Wayne Randazzo, where he indicates the team “might break out the road gray racing stripes on Wednesday” (h/t Brian Erni). … Speaking of the Mets, would you like to watch their 1977 Old Timers Day game (which took place on July 16, 1977)? Now you can (thanks to Bruce Menard). … The Omaha Storm Chasers hid themselves on the field last night. … Speaking of awful jerseys, the Kalamazoo Growlers wore these breakfast cereal jerseys last weekend (from OT Sports). … John Turney likes the uniforms shown in this Greg Gutfeld Show ad. …. If you go to the Norfolk Tides game on August 12, you’ll see these jerseys (from OT Sports). … Today is apparently “Swing State Night,” so the Akron Rubber Ducks will be outfitted in these. I’d love to know what Jimmer Vilk and Scotty Rogers think of these (h/t Nathan Burdette). … The Peoria Chiefs will wear these jerseys next Saturday (OT). … Chris Palmquist notes, “Target Field using Chief Wahoo on the ribbon board instead of the Block C.” … Not sure when these “good burger” jerseys were worn, but OT wanted us to see them anyway. … The Snyder, TX Little League stirrup game is on point. Says BCH Sports, “Not so sure about the number font.” … Lee Wilds says, “Now that’s a flag desecration jersey.” … I’m not quite sure which New York Mets affiliate (could be the Cyclones) is wearing this Safari Adventure Night jersey, and I don’t know if I want to know (from Dick Holbrook). … Here’s one Jimmer Vilk is really gonna love: Spotted last evening at Nats Park, in full stirrups and spikes! (from Joel Layman). Best. Cap. Ever. … Matt Shoemaker was pitching yesterday with his wedding band on (from Kevin Gahalla).
NBA/WNBA/College Basketball News: The Seattle Storm retired Lauren Jackson’s No. 15 jersey — it’s the first number retired in the Seattle Storm’s 16-year history. … The tweet from Boeheim’s Army reads, “The one time when what’s on the back of the jersey is more important than what’s on the front. #Pearl #31″ Submitter Michael Alper would rather we “Check out the design inside the numbers.” … Jimmer Vilk will like this one from Cleveland Rocks: “A moment frozen in time. Here Nate Thurmond’s uni hangs in his locker. #42 forever displayed in #CAVS rafters.” … New court design for the Northern Arizona Suns (from Sam).
Soccer News: Norwich city (The Championship) have new uniforms that feature a new advertiser: Community Fund (from Josh Hinton). Also from Josh: AFC Bournemouth (EPL) have a horrible new third kit. … Mike Nessen asks, “Does @UniWatch have an award for ‘Stripey-est Fans of the Year?’ I’d like to make a nomination.” (Those appear to be Tampa Bay Rowdies fans.) … Here are some behind the scenes photos from the recent West Virginia Soccer kit launch (via Stephen Campbell).
Grab Bag: You know how Phil Mickelson has been using a binder clip to secure his golf cap? Well, as Jack Crabbe points out, let no logo creep opportunity be left behind. … New Zealand’s All Blacks will unveil a new jersey. The current version of the jersey was marketed as the “blackest ever” when it was launched in November 2014, when the white collar was dropped and gunmetal silver adopted for numbers and logos. … The Trump campaign seems to have gotten the thrust of the merciless Internet giggling that greeted the unveiling of its new logo on Friday. “The logo, rolled out shortly after presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump announced Indiana governor Mike Pence as his running mate, is comprised of Trump’s ‘T’ ramming into Pence’s ‘P,’ a softcore messaging malfunction that sent Internet commentators straight to stroking their keyboards.” It seems to be gone now (thanks, Paul). Speaking of the Trump/Pence logo, it’s great when someone notices the bad kerning or spacing (h/t Former Dirt Dart). … Here is a mash-up of BC Lions and Kansas State logos used by Boise (pronounced Boyce) City HS (from Matt Newbery). … The University of Cincinnati Bearcats white helmets now have white facemasks (from Nick Colosimo). … Tweeter Seth Stratton notes that Cam Newton was rocking some Steph Curry kicks at his 7v7 tournament. … It was cold, wet and windy at yesterday’s Open, so Rory McIlroy was wearing this puffy vest which THE Andreas A. thinks looks like body armor.
And that’s going to do it for today. Everyone have a great Sunday and I’ll catch you next weekend (my last weekend until after Labor Day!), but until then…
Follow me on Twitter @PhilHecken
“Don’t go mess up the joy of shoveling a salty piece of processed pork or beef between day old bread with topping of my choice into my mouth. I don’t want to have to think ”˜son of a bitch, what AM I eating here,’ any more than I already do.”
— Brad Susany