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Talking Helmets with Curtis McClinton

Super Bowl IV is not generally regarded as a good game. The score was lopsided (Chiefs 23, Vikings 7) and the outcome was never in doubt. These days the game is remembered primarily for Chiefs coach Hank Stram’s sideline chatter and for being the final game before the AFL/NFL merger. For those of us who care about uniforms, it’s also notable because both teams wore league anniversary patches.

But it turns out there was another uni-notable aspect to Super Bowl IV. It was brought to my attention by reader Michael Taylor, who recently pointed me toward some rare Kodachrome footage of the game that had never been broadcast but was posted to YouTube earlier this year. The footage is spread out over three separate video links — Reel One, Reel Two, and Reel Three — and the third one includes some isolation footage of Chiefs running back Curtis McClinton as he ran downfield to cover a kickoff. Check it out:

As you can see, McClinton had a very interesting modification made to both sides of his helmet. Here’s a closer look, via a pair of screen shots (click to slightly enlarge):

I’d never seen that before. Was he wearing straps, or tape, or bars, or what? I did some photo research, hoping to find additional shots, but came up empty.

My go-to guy for old-school helmet knowledge is Curtis Worrell of Helmet Hut, so I emailed him to see if he knew about McClinton’s helmet. “Oh, sure,” he wrote back, attaching the following photo for good measure:

That photo is definitely from a different game, because is doesn’t show the AFL 10th-anniversary shoulder patch, which was worn only in Super Bowl IV. So McClinton wore this customized rig for at least two games.

Curtis said McClinton’s modification was for extra protection, like the mods seen on Y.A. Tittle’s “kitchen sink” helmet or Roosevelt Brown’s helmet. He then told me to stand by while he tried to get more info. About half an hour later, he emailed once again, as follows:

Just got off the phone with McClinton. Fred “The Hammer” Williamson of the Raiders gave McClinton the forearm and broke his cheekbone and eye socket in 1964. He always had problems [with the injury] over the years and [Chiefs equipment manager] Bobby Yarborough devised different setups to help him.

Those are strips of metal dipped in rubber to protect everyone from the sharp edges. This was standard procedure with all masks and all brackets. We still use the exact same rubber-dipping process on our line of masks. See these shots of Joe Namath with the tape around the corners of his mask? That’s because the rubber would get torn off and the sharp or rough edges of the welds could easily lacerate someone (and sometimes did).

Interesting! But I still had some questions, so I made arrangements to interview McClinton myself. He’s now 77 years old and has led an interesting life. He went to college at Kansas, where he studied classical voice. His football career included being named the 1962 AFL Rookie of the Year and scoring the second touchdown in Super Bowl history (that was in Super Bowl I, which the Chiefs lost). When Muhammad Ali refused to fight in Vietnam, McClinton was one of several black athletes who led an effort to support him (that’s McClinton in the center of the back row, with the light-colored tie). After his playing days, he was involved in a variety of development initiatives, most of them centered on bringing economic opportunities to the black community, and also served as Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Economic Development Administration in Washington.

When I spoke with McClinton last week, the first thing he said to me was, “You’ve got the same first name as my hero, Paul Robeson” — not necessarily the kind of thing you expect to hear when you’re interviewing a former football player. Here’s an edited version of the key part of our conversation:

Uni Watch: I’ve watched a lot of old football footage over the years, but I’ve never seen anything quite like the helmet and facemask you were wearing in Super Bowl IV. What was that all about?

Curtis McClinton: That was the follow-up on the basic medical protection of my cheekbone. My cheekbone was broken and I had an orbital blowout, which means my eyeball came all the way out of the structure of my face and just kind of hung there. There was a guy by the name of Fred Williamson, they called him the Hammer, and he brought the hammer down on me. The way he played was very, very detrimental, both to players and to the game itself. He was a thug, to be quite frank about it, in terms of hitting players in order to hurt them, not just to bring them down. It’s a rough game, a game of hitting — that’s why you’re on the field. But there are rules and regulations, and he deviated from that, and he did it with cruelty and intent to injure.

UW: I’m very sorry you were on the receiving end of that intent. So that helmet modification was a reinforcement to provide greater protection to your face?

CM: Yes, yes. It was basically another faceguard on my cheekbone, to provide greater protection and spread the force of the blow.

UW: It looks like you actually wore this extra protection on both sides, not just on one side.

CM: It’s interesting that you bring that up. Originally, they just had it on one side. But when I got hit, the helmet would end up leaning to that side and would often come off, even though I was wearing a chinstrap, because it was heavier on that side, the side with the extra faceguard. So they put it on the other side to help balance the helmet, so it wouldn’t be heavier on one side. We also thought it would be good to put it on both sides so the opposing team wouldn’t know which side I’d been injured on. In other words, it wouldn’t be as much of a target.

UW: Who rigged this up for you — the Chiefs’ equipment staff?

CM: Yes, and from the trainer and team doctor. One thing about the injury is that it ended up changing the position I played. I stayed in the backfield for a while, but then I went to playing defense — I was a strong safety. [This is apparently why McClinton’s stats show him playing all 14 games but having no rushing attempts in 1969, his final season. ”” PL] Part of that was so that to protect my head and my eyes. It enhanced my career, because I was hitting, rather than being hit.

———

We talked a bit more. He discussed his injury in fairly graphic detail, and also had some very choice words for Fred Williamson. I didn’t realize until after we spoke that Williamson actually played for the Chiefs from 1965 through ’67, which means he and McClinton were teammates for three seasons. If I had known that, I would have asked McClinton about it. Poor interview preparation on my part.

One thing that’s still unclear is for how many games, or seasons, McClinton wore this customized helmet. Based on his recollections and Williamson’s career path, the injury he’s describing must have happened in 1964. But after we spoke, I found an AP story indicating that he’d sustained another broken cheekbone during a preseason game against Minnesota in 1968. (AFL and NFL teams played preseason exhibition games against each other in the three years prior to the merger.) Was this the same cheekbone that Williamson had broken years earlier? Was the helmet modification more of a response to this second injury, rather than the first one? Had he somehow gotten confused about his own injury history, with the two incidents blurring together?

I didn’t have the heart to call him back and ask him those questions. Like, “Hi, could you please clarify exactly when, and how many times, your face was shattered, and by whom?” The whole encounter was a sobering reminder that there’s often a human story behind a uniform story.

It seems more likely that the custom helmet was a response to the second injury. That, combined with McClinton’s shift to defense in 1969, would explain why I haven’t been able to find any other photos of him wearing the customized helmet — the only photos of him I’ve turned up all show him as a running back. Perhaps he wore the custom rig throughout the ’69 season, or maybe he only wore it in the games leading up to Super Bowl IV. He definitely never wore it after that Super Bowl — it turned out to be the final game of his football career.

(My thanks to reader Michael Taylor for bringing the Super Bowl IV video footage to my attention, and to our own Mike Chamernik for his invaluable assistance on this one.)

•  •  •  •  •

Important T-Shirt Club update: As I mentioned a few days ago (and as most of you have discovered for yourselves by now), the Uni Watch T-Shirt Club’s most recent offering — the soccer design — was mistakenly printed without the jock tag graphic.

I’m happy to report that our shirt supplier, Represent, has agreed to reprint the whole production run — this time with the jock tag — at their expense. The new shirts should ship out no later than next Monday (and some may ship by this Friday), so you should be seeing them soon. And, obviously, you don’t have to return the first shirt — keep it with our compliments.

A few of you have told me, “I didn’t mind that the jock tag wasn’t there” (or even “I liked it better without the jock tag there”). That’s nice, but you’re getting a new shirt anyway!

My thanks to everyone for their patience, and my apologies for the hassle. We’ll have news about our next shirt — the football design — soon.

• • • • •

So this happened: The big thing is that you should all get a flu shot. The little thing is that we left-handers are forced to suffer such indignities!

• • • • •

The Ticker
By Paul

Baseball News: Interesting look into the machinations of MLB’s postseason merch machine and the Nats’ preparations to sell more product if they beat the Dodgers (from David Goodfriend). … The Astros, as promised, are removing Tal’s Hill. … We’ve all seen T-shirts that look like jerseys. But how about a T-shirt that looks like a jersey and the upper part of the pants? Not sure I’ve ever seen that before. … Longtime reader Doug Brei has been submitting Ticker items for many years. Last night I got an email from his 11-year-old kid, Maddie Brei, who noticed that Cubs SS Javier Baez was wearing customized KD shoes, completely with Kevin Durant’s logo on the sole — a good spot! Maddie signed off with, “Don’t tell my mom that my dad let me stay up late just to watch baseball!”

NFL News: “The character ‘Pittsburgh Dad’ is locally popular caricature of your typical good-natured yinzer,” says Chris Weber. “His attention to detail when describing the Steelers’ uniforms is deserving of an honorary membership, don’t you think?” … Lots of chatter about Panthers QB Cam Newton riding a scooter around Charlotte without a helmet.

College Football News: LSU’s seldom-used purple jerseys will be worn this weekend (thanks, Phil). … Oklahoma will be wearing their “rough rider” alts this weekend (from Chris Corbaz). … Story on why Indiana QB Richard Lagow wears No. 21, which is unsuual for a QB (from Ted Chastain). … New uniforms on tap tonight for Louisiana-Lafayette and Appalachian State (thanks, Phil). … Buried within this story is the news that this wekeend’s Boise State/CSU game will feature Boise wearing white at home and CSU wearing green on the road. … Keiser University in Florida is getting a football team (from Ross Lent).

Hockey News: Now that the World Cup of Hockey is over, here’s an assessment of how some of the high-tech innovations — including electronic chips inside jerseys and pucks — performed. … New throwbacks for the St. John’s IceCaps (from Stan Capp). … The Niagara IceDogs will wear the OHL’s first-ever LGBT pride jersey tomorrow night (from Timmy Shannon). … Man, look at the Maple Leafs’ sensational season ticket package for their centennial season (from @Means1974). … Blues G Carter Hutton has a new mask with separate designs on the left and right sides (from Erik Spoonmore). … University of Minnesota G Nick Lehr’s new mask has a Minnesota pride theme (from Tony Tengwall).

NBA News: NBA teams have taken a variety of number and NOB approaches when giving a jersey to President Obama (thanks, Mike). … Also from Mike: Someone has come up with Halloween-ified versions of NBA team logos. … Cross-sport memorial by the Heat, who saluted Marlins P José Fernández on their shooting shirts last night (thanks, Phil). … Holy cannoli, check out this vintage Bucks shooting shirt. The red collar and lettering, the oversized NBA logo — can’t decide if it’s appealing or appalling, but it’s definitely an eye-catcher. … The Magic will raise a No. 49 banner on Opening Night, in memory of the 49 victims of the last summer’s Orlando nightclub shootings (thanks, Mike). … Twelve of the Nets’ 15 players are now living in Brooklyn. … James Marion spotted this 1992 Dream Team windbreaker in a thrift shop in Japan.

College Hoops News: New road jerseys for DePaul (thanks, Mike). … Looks like UNC has that new Nike tailoring cut. Here’s a good before/after comparison, which also shows the changes to the shorts. … New uniforms for Colorado State (from Joey Campbell). … New uniforms for Columbia (thanks, Phil). … New uniforms for Houston Baptist. That crazy throwback has been used for a few years in a row now (from Chris Mycoskie). … Here’s a video that shows you how 36 college teams, including their uniforms, logos, etc., can be imported into NBA 2K17.

Soccer News: “Dynamo Dresden play in the second division of the Bundesliga,” says Bern Wilms. “Their city has struggled with right-wing tendencies and neo-Nazis. One of the things they’ve done to keep that away from the club is to wear a jersey with the slogan ‘Love Dynamo – Hate Racism.'”

Grab Bag: Ever notice that Apple product shots always show the time as 9:41? Actually, I hadn’t noticed that myself, but here’s the reason for it (from Jim Brunetti). … Four San Antonio police officers violated departmental policy by wearing Donald Trump baseball caps while in uniform. … A health advocacy group in New Zealand had come up with a “No Sugary Drinks” logo, but now they’re revising it after complaints that the bottle shown in the logo design looked too much like Coca-Cola’s distinctive bottle shape.

• • • • •

Good yontif to all who are observing Yom Kippur today.

41 comments to Talking Helmets with Curtis McClinton

  • Scott Palmer | October 12, 2016 at 8:23 am |

    *Tal’s hill.

    • Paul Lukas | October 12, 2016 at 8:29 am |

      Fixed.

  • MJ | October 12, 2016 at 8:31 am |

    The new cut of the Nike/Jordan basketball jerseys has made basketball jerseys – pretty tough to wear respectably for most men – basically unwearable. Seems like this will backfire. Making them tighter and going with a racerback cut across the back are bad moves, and probably don’t improve performance on the court either.

    • Paul Lukas | October 12, 2016 at 8:45 am |

      The new cut of the Nike/Jordan basketball jerseys has made basketball jerseys — pretty tough to wear respectably for most men — basically unwearable.

      I assume you’re referring to retail merch. That’s not our concern here. We care about what the players wear on the court.

      • MJ | October 12, 2016 at 4:06 pm |

        Paul, that’s suprisingly disingenuous coming from you of all people. I’ve been reading site this long enough to know you comment frequently on the “uniform-industrial complex” and the effects of marketing on uniform design. To ignore it is to willfully overlook a huge component of modern uniform design. And as I said, the new cut will have negligible effects on the performance of the athletes wearing telhe new uniform.

        • Paul Lukas | October 12, 2016 at 4:59 pm |

          I’ve been reading site this long enough to know you comment frequently on the “uniform-industrial complex” and the effects of marketing on uniform design.

          But you didn’t say the marketing had an effect on the design. In fact, you were suggesting that the design didn’t have ENOUGH of a marketing consideration. In other words, you said the design doesn’t take retail customers into account. And I really don’t give a shit about that, because I don’t care what fans wear. I only care about what the players wear. If they created something DESPITE the design not having retail appeal, that’s a plus.

          It’s similar to Majestic’s “diaper” panels on MLB jerseys this season. Retail customers don’t like the panel, but I don’t care about that — I only care about how it looks on the field. And on the field it’s tucked in, so it’s a non-issue. (If it keeps fans from buying more overpriced polyester shirts, I actually count that as a bonus, but that’s ultimately neither here nor there.)

          In other words: Yes, I’m aware of (and lament) the extent to which the merch tail wags on the on-field dog. But this is — according to you — a case where that DIDN’T happen. They DIDN’T base the design on increasing merch sales. Good! So now we’re free to assess the design on its own terms, without worry about bullshit retailing calculations.

          And as I said, the new cut will have negligible effects on the performance of the athletes wearing the new uniform.

          That’s actually an assertion on your part, based on zero knowledge. I don’t have that knowledge either. But whether it increases performance or not, all I care about is how it looks on the court. If fans don’t want to buy it (or any other jersey) because it’s not flattering to their physiques, that doesn’t matter to me one way or the other.

          Incidentally, I’m not saying I like this tailoring cut. I’m just saying I only care about how it looks on the players, not how it looks on fans.

        • MJ | October 13, 2016 at 7:46 am |

          Fair enough. Good talk.

  • David T | October 12, 2016 at 8:40 am |

    Hey Paul,

    Very cool that you could get to talk with someone like Mr. McClinton, who was actually present and a part of crucial sports and culture events such as two pre-merger Super Bowls and the Ali news conference. Well done.

    RE: Injection sites — I received a flu shot and donated blood in the last couple of weeks, and both times requested my right arm, even though I’m right-handed. I always used to do the left (for the same reason you prefer the right), but after my son was born, I found I almost always carry him with my left arm so I could have my dominant (right) arm free. I’d rather have a tender spot on the arm that isn’t holding a squirmy toddler (who, it would appear, is left-hand dominant himself, unlike his parents).

  • arrScott | October 12, 2016 at 8:43 am |

    Today’s lede is Uni Watch at its finest. That is, it’s great old-fashioned journalism. Thanks for the story and the interview!

    Flu shot: Got mine yesterday, and I had the same problem but for a slightly different reason. I’m right handed, but I do basically everything other that writing and sports lefty. So the nurse went for my left arm and I had to redirect her to my right.

    • Joel K | October 12, 2016 at 9:19 am |

      Very interesting story on McClinton and that helmet. Thanks for sharing.

  • Rob S | October 12, 2016 at 8:51 am |

    Those St. John’s jerseys would look better if they weren’t cream. I’ve always hated this type of artificial aging, and it’s worse when it’s the dominant color.

    Re: the Leafs’ ticket package… nice of them to have a typo on the first line of the first page. “To bare our badge is an honour” should be “To bear”.

    • arrScott | October 12, 2016 at 9:07 am |

      I like cream as an alternate to white just fine. But I agree that the St. John’s unis are too much. Since cream is a primary team logo color, the cream jersey makes the whole thing look washed out. It would look fine if the team used white logo elements on a cream jersey, or cream logo elements on a white jersey, but the cream on cream ruins the effect for me and just looks drab.

  • Scott Palmer | October 12, 2016 at 9:21 am |

    The McClinton lede was indeed great stuff – however, I had to tap out. Some people are trying to eat breakfast over here!

  • Joe W | October 12, 2016 at 9:22 am |

    The reference to Pittsburgh Dad made my day! And here I thought I was the only Uni-Watcher who is also a devout follower of the Pittsburgh Dad series. Curt Wootton and I actually went to high school together, although I will admit that I did not know him back then, but still take pride in the fact that we were contemporaries at the same alma mater.

  • walter | October 12, 2016 at 9:30 am |

    The Niagara IceDogs will wear the OHL’s first-ever LGBT pride jersey tomorrow night (from Timmy Shannon).

    You know, that looks pretty nice. Perhaps it makes them seem affiliated with the Denver Nuggets, but nobody owns the rainbow.

    • Name redacted | October 12, 2016 at 11:39 am |

      Betting this would not have happened if Don Cherry still owned the team.

  • Rob Ullman | October 12, 2016 at 10:03 am |

    Between the McClintock story and that Leafs’ ticket package, I feel like I’ve died and gone to Uni Watch heaven! Fantastic work.

    • Rob Ullman | October 12, 2016 at 10:04 am |

      McClinton, of course.

  • Manuel | October 12, 2016 at 10:14 am |

    Did anyone notice that Javier Baez of the Cubs has an MLB logo tattooed on his neck? There was one shot in the game last night with the tattoo above the MLB logo on the jersey and the MLB logo on the back of his hat.

    • Paul Lukas | October 12, 2016 at 10:18 am |

      There was actually a camera shot that showed *four* MLB logos at once: cap, undershirt, jersey, and tattoo.

      He’s had the tat since he was in the minors.

  • Hank-SJ | October 12, 2016 at 10:36 am |

    That Leafs Centennial ticket package is amazing. A work of art.

    • Jet | October 12, 2016 at 11:16 am |

      Simply astounding. I need to set aside some time just to drink it all in.

      -Jet

    • Winter | October 12, 2016 at 11:39 am |

      That’s one of the best things I’ve ever seen a professional sports team produce.

  • Taylor Nicolaisen | October 12, 2016 at 10:43 am |

    Paul,
    I also noticed that the flu shot in the logo is being “administered” by a lefty! Did that nurse take a “hypocritic” oath!?

  • Wafflebored | October 12, 2016 at 10:47 am |

    Got my flu shot yesterday. Since I’m cross-dominant had a conversation with the person administering the shot on which side to do. I write left but mouse right, and since I was at work figured getting the left side done would make sense since I’m on the computer all day.

    No sidedness on the paperwork here, however.

    Outstanding piece today on the helmet.

  • Eriq Jaffe | October 12, 2016 at 10:52 am |

    I’m right-handed and I always get my flu shot in my right arm. I’ve had nurses tell me that it’s a good idea because, since you wind up using the arm more, the inflammation is less. Not sure if that’s true, but I’ve never had a problem with the shot in my dominant arm.

    • Paul Lukas | October 12, 2016 at 11:03 am |

      I’m sure it would’ve been fine to have gotten the shot in my left arm. But I’m in the habit of always having any medical-related needle work (injections, drawing blood, donating blood, etc.) done in my right arm. At this point it’s more ritualistic for me than anything else — just One of Those Things I Doâ„¢.

  • mike 2 | October 12, 2016 at 11:08 am |

    The IceDogs have come a long way since they were owned (and coached) by Don Cherry and wouldn’t even sign European players.

  • Ryan | October 12, 2016 at 11:50 am |

    Today’s article is some top notch stuff and what makes UniWatch a staple of my morning reading. Well done Paul

  • Scott Criscuolo | October 12, 2016 at 11:57 am |

    I love how Neo-Nazis had to have the “Right Wing Tendencies” attached to it.

  • rick f | October 12, 2016 at 12:31 pm |

    By looking at the markings on Namath’s facemask, it looks as though he took the facemask with him from NY to LA.

  • BvK1126 | October 12, 2016 at 12:34 pm |

    “Story on why Indiana QB Richard Lagow wears No. 21, which is unsuual for a QB.”

    While it may be unusual, some of the most accomplished QBs in college football history have donned jersey numbers in the 20s, including Bernie Kosar at Miami, Heath Shuler
    at Tennessee, and, of course, Doug Flutie at Boston College.

    • Mike Engle on iPhone | October 12, 2016 at 2:17 pm |

      Not to mention John Hadl, who actually wore #21 professionally!

      • BvK1126 | October 12, 2016 at 4:33 pm |

        Well played!

  • David Goodfriend | October 12, 2016 at 1:44 pm |

    great interview! I remember the first Super Bowl. Freddie Williamson was talking lots of trash in the lead up. I’m pretty sure it was the 2nd or 3rd play of the game that the Packers broke his leg and he was carted off the field. Bye Bye Freddie!

  • Matt | October 12, 2016 at 2:31 pm |

    I love LSU’s purple jerseys. But I thought they only wear them for one non-SEC opponent per year. Why vs. Miss State this year?

    • Scott Palmer | October 13, 2016 at 10:20 am |

      They’re playing Southern Miss, not Miss State.

  • Donnie | October 12, 2016 at 3:36 pm |

    Not a Canadiens/Ice Caps fan by any means but wow. I NEED to add that jersey to my collection