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Solved: The Mystery of BYU’s Red Dot

[Editor’s Note: Today we have a guest entry from longtime reader and fellow journalist Cork Gaines, who found, and then solved, a good college football helmet mystery. — PL]

By Cork Gaines

While I was watching a recent BYU football game, a discussion came up about how the Cougars have mostly resisted the college football trend toward alternate uniforms and helmets. Outside of the occasional black or navy helmet, the BYU uniform has been mostly unchanged through the years.

I was curious if BYU helmet history included any wild designs that I might have missed, so I checked The Helmet Project, and something jumped out — the Cougars once wore a helmet with a large red dot.

According to the note on The Helmet Project, the dot replaced the standard decal on the left side of the helmet for one game on the road against Hawaii on Oct. 28, 1989. Sure enough, highlights from the game are available on YouTube:

Interestingly, nobody seemed to know the reason for the red dots with any certainty. According to The Helmet Project, visitors to the site proposed three explanations. All three seemed plausible, but also had problems:

1. One visitor claimed they got info directly from BYU that the red dot was “to support a Hurricane Food Drive.” It’s true that the game was played about a month after Hurricane Hugo caused extensive damage and killed 61 people on the east coast and in the Caribbean. But why the red dot, and why for one game on the road in Hawaii?

2. Another reader noted that there was an anti-drug campaign going on in Utah at the time, called “Red Ribbon Week.” According to newspapers at the time, there was such a campaign and at least some BYU players were involved. But why would the team wear a red dot instead of a ribbon?

3. A third visitor, noting the Mormon church’s ties to Hawaii and the South Pacific, suggested that the red dot was “a gesture of friendship towards the large Japanese immigrant population of Hawaii.” In general, this seemed plausible. But to wear what was, in essence, the Japanese flag on the side of the helmet in Hawaii seemed like a bad idea.

Additional research confirmed that the red dot was indeed a one-game occurrence. BYU wore their standard helmets the week before, against UTEP, and the week after, against Oregon (both home games).

Attempts to gain information from current staff at local newspapers came up empty, and BYU did not immediately respond to a request for information.

The game was played at night in Hawaii, so it was not on the national radar at the time. Newspaper accounts leading up to the game and immediately after the game do not mention any changes to the uniforms. There is even a University of Hawaii radio broadcast of the game, but there is no mention of the helmets in the first 30 minutes.

A participant in a BYU message board thread claimed to have solved the mystery via a chance encounter with former grounds crew members. According to the thread, the red dots were a prank by Hawaii students and were supposed to simulate a sniper’s laser. But even if that were true, why would BYU leave the red dots in place once they discovered them before the game?

Searches did turn up one interesting newspaper story published a month after the game that delved into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ close bond to Hawaii and the Japanese. According to The Deseret News, there is a legend that a Japanese bomber who was part of the raid on Pearl Harbor tried to bomb a Mormon temple when his trigger failed:

According to the story, one of the Japanese pilots attempted to bomb the Mormons’ Hawaiian Temple. But when he tried to release his bombs, they would not drop from their racks. However, when he flew on to his assigned military target, they fell without a hitch.

Supposedly, after the war the pilot learned what the building really was, and the apparent miracle so impressed him that he became a Mormon.

There is no mention of the BYU football game, but that story was published less than two months after the game — hmmm.

But that turned out to be a head fake. I finally struck gold in a Provo Daily Herald story that was published two days after the game. It included a random quote from BYU running back Matt Bellini on how poorly they played that day:

“We wore those red dots on our helmets that said ‘Say No to drugs’ but you wouldn’t know it. The way we played, it was like we were on drugs.”

And there it is. Interestingly, Bellini’s quote suggests that the red dots may have included text. No words are apparent in any of the close-ups from the highlight footage, however, so he may have been speaking in general terms about what the red dots represented.

There are some additional lingering questions here. Was the anti-drug campaign the same as the Red Ribbon Week initiative, or was it something else? And why the use of a red dot? Why didn’t Hawaii wear the dot? And so on.

Still, at least the most basic mystery — what was the red dot for? — has been solved, even though most of us weren’t aware of it in the first place.

Epilogue: After this piece was written, but before it was published, BYU PR rep Duff Tittle responded to my inquiry. He said, “We’ve had this question asked before and haven’t been able to find a detailed answer. What we’ve been able to learn is that the patch had to do with some sort of disaster relief effort at that time.”

This seems to explain the Helmet Project reader who said a BYU staffer described the red dot as part of a hurricane relief effort. The reader sounded confident in the answer, but BYU probably spoke with less confidence.

Ironically, if BYU had responded right away to my inquiry, that probably would have been the end of my research and reporting, and we would have been left with an inaccurate story. But because they took a while to get back to me, that gave me time to find the Provo Daily Herald story with the real explanation.

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MH closing in on Uni Watch Lifetime Achievement Award: I’ve written many times over the years about longtime St. Louis-based Uni Watch reader and all-around swell guy Marty Hick — his notebooks filled with amazing uniform artwork, his jersey-themed birthday cakes, his penchant for painting NBA and ABA team logos onto thrift store artwork, his Christmas tree toppers, and of course his croquet league.

Marty’s devotion to uniforms also extends to his job as a public school teacher, as evidenced by this note I received from him yesterday:

We’re doing this new thing at our school called Crew Time. Students are able to sign up and participate in activities once a month with a teacher other than their own. We had to make Flipgrid vids for the students so they could choose which crew to be in. You’ll dig my crew. Here’s the vid:

I think it’s safe to say that with Marty at the helm, our nation’s young minds are in very good hands. Well done, sir (and say hi to Holly for me)!

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The Ticker
By Lloyd Alaban, making his Uni Watch debut

Baseball News: Braves 2B Ozzie Albies wore a red elbow guard in last night’s Braves/Mets game because he wanted to match his best friend, OF Ronald Acuña Jr. (from Mike Chamernik). … Rays P Blake Snell is donating the jersey he wore for his 21st win — a Rays record — to the Hall of Fame. … Then-White Sox C Carlton Fisk had an unusual NOB during spring training in 1981 (from @MBDChicago). … Interesting ball-in-glove logo for the NYPD’s rec league team. Look familiar?

Pro Football News: The Packers will wear their 1930s-era throwbacks for Sunday’s game against the Bills. … Not only did Jets C Jonotthan Harrison visit a local school wearing a NNOB jersey, it also had no maker’s marks (from Steven Woj). … Here’s an interesting piece about the Eagles’ equipment manager (from Greg Shemitz). … An Atlanta apparel and merchandise agency will provide 10,000 Super Bowl LIII volunteers with uniforms. … The Chiefs have issued personalized thigh pads for each player, complete with number and team logo (from @powerandfinesse). … This writer thinks there’s one flaw with the Rams’ throwback uniforms — other than their not being worn full-time, of course (from Phil). … A fan envisioned concept branding for the Titans (from Robert Twomey). … Here’s a good shot of the NFL East Pro Bowl team’s unis as they faced the Rams in 1966 (from Pro Football Journal). … A great Goodwill find: Take a look at these retro NFL glasses! (From @treyj1234.) … A UW reader wants to know why cars used to be parked on the edges of NFL fields. Paul says he has no idea. Maybe the local dealership was running a halftime contest or something? Anyone know more? … The Calgary Stampeders of the CFL will debut a new jersey combo for Friday’s game against the Argonauts.

College and High School Football News: On Monday, we noted that Virginia RB Jordan Ellis had an “X” on his nose bumper instead of the usual ACC wordmark. UW Reader Mark LaFountain notes that Ellis’s nose bumper is actually a maker’s mark for helmet manufacturer Xenith. … Iowa State will be wearing a green dot on its helmets for the rest of the season for ISU’s Be Well ISU Student Wellness campaign (from Sean Jankowski). … Awesome superhero-themed gameday poster for John Carroll University. Proceeds from this $2 work of art go to the MaxCure Foundation to help fight childhood cancer (from @JCUFootball). … The Foster Farms Bowl is now the Redbox Bowl (from @NotHotTakes).

Hockey News: The Hurricanes and Predators went color vs. color in last night’s preseason matchup. Some video highlights here. … Hockey goalies are often referred to as brick walls, and Bruins G Jaroslav Halak is using that metaphor for his new mask design (from Moe Khan). … A writer envisioned an alternate jersey for the Golden Knights (from Tim Dunn). … The University of Minnesota, Duluth women’s hockey team will be wearing a camo jersey Saturday night (from @Biddco). … New jersey template for the Hershey Bears. … Singer Keith Urban wrapped up a tour of Canada by wearing a bunch of Canadian NHL teams’ jerseys (from Noah Kastroll).

NBA News: Lakers forwards LeBron James and Lance Stephenson both wore No. 6 at practice this week (from @king_ryan_james). … Hornets exec Mike Cristaldi had the privilege of meeting the designer of the team’s original uniforms (from @GameplanChicago).

College Hoops News: New uniforms for Florida men’s basketball (from Hunter G.). … UNC’s Dean Smith Center has new video boards (from James Gilbert). … New uniforms for Kansas.

Soccer News: There was a benefit match in Cork, Ireland, for Irish midfielder Liam Miller, who passed away from cancer earlier this year, between Manchester United and a combined Ireland/Celtic side. Ireland/Celtic wore Celtic’s kit in the first half (at right) and Ireland’s kit in the second half (at left) (from our own Jamie Rathjen).

Grab Bag: 2018 US Tennis Open winner Naomi Osaka’s record-breaking endorsement with Adidas might not be a done deal yet (from Brinke). … New look for Japanese Women’s volleyball team Denso Airybees (from Jeremy Brahm). … Also from Jeremy: 2018 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship Japan’s National Team added a white jersey. … The European Ryder Cup team will wear yellow ribbons this week in memory of Spain’s Celia Barquin Arozamena, the former Iowa State player who was killed last week on a golf course in Ames, Iowa (from Karey Klismet). … This bike helmet can fold down to the size of a water bottle. … New logo design for CNN Business. … The US Air Force will begin handing out its new Operational Camouflage Pattern combat uniform on Oct. 1.

Comments (63)

    My questions to the Calgary Stampeders and their Red Rush uniform combo for Friday. Why are you hanging on to those gimmicky alternate 3rd Outlaw helmets? How did you look go so far astray?

    You used to have a great look when it was just red and white some decades back:


    Even the 1990s look was good and better than today:


    Hopes are that New Era will help fix things when we can expect a redesign in 2020.

    “A UW reader wants to know why cars used to be parked on the edges of NFL fields. … Anyone know more?”

    Sponsorship, er, advertising.

    Did it happen anywhere beside Three Rivers?

    As a Western PA native and lifelong Steeler fan, I also remember seeing these cars parked along the edge of the field at Three Rivers.

    The Steelers web site has a feature called “Asked and Answered”, and this question came up there a while back. Unfortunately I can’t the particular installment of A&A where this was asked (or I would share a link), but I recall that the answer was just as BurghFan suspects, advertising. I believe that the cars in question were Mopar products, as the Steelers had a deal in place with a Chyrsler-Dodge-Plymouth dealership (or dealerships) at the time. Interestingly, I seem to remember that the person asking the question in A&A was wondering if those cars belonged to the Rooneys, and that they maybe got to park right inside the stadium!

    I never saw cars on a football field other than Three Rivers-although other “Cookie Cutters” such as the Vet and Riverfront might have had room.

    Dodge was the official car of the USFL, so those are probably what’s parked on the sidelines of the Vet and the Gator Bowl:



    Three Rivers had room to park cars on the field!!
    Lots of dead/open space when football was being played.

    Have seen a motorboat parked along the side of a football field – which then happened to be available for a touchdown celebration!



    It was advertising. Before the games at Three Rivers, there would always be an announcement that “Chrysler Plymouth is the official team car of the Pittsburgh Steelers”. They had demo cars parked in the space that the baseball stands vacated when they moved for the football configuration. There was also an ad in the program for the official team car.

    I recall seeing them on the field in San Diego as well. And I believe they were Chryslers as well.

    So we get taken on a wild goose chase when the writer knew the answer because the school told him. What a waste of time.

    Actually, the writer says that what the school told him differs from what a player said in a contemporary newspaper account.

    So we are assuming that what this kid said regarding “Say No To Drugs” is accurate with no other support? This seems far from solved in my opinion. Why is what the player said taken as gospel and what the school said is just dismissed?

    Personally, I’d give a first hand account a lot of weight. “I was there. I was on the field. I was on that team. We did this.”

    What the player said was two days after the game, by someone who actually PLAYED in the game, and was published in a newspaper; what the school said was years later and stated without much certainty.

    If you’d prefer to believe the school, be my guest. But by any reasonable standard, the player’s statement is the more credible one.

    Disregarding that there’s no evidence of a red dot ever being representative of “Saying no to drugs”. If we only believe those that PLAYED in the game, why not ask one of the other dozens of players who PLAYED in that game for corroboration?

    You are misrepresenting my position. I never said we should “only believe” those who played in the game. I said a contemporaneous first-hand account from a player is more credible than a decades-later quote from a spox who admits that he hasn’t been able to find solid info and has only a fuzzy idea of the answer.

    If you choose to believe the latter, that’s up to you. I’ll go with the former. Let’s please move on. Thanks.

    Might the cars along the side of the football field just be ads for the cars themselves?

    Never seen that outside of hockey before. Every year at the world championship there is a car – Czech carmaker Škoda is one of the world championship’s big advertisers – displayed behind the glass at one corner of the rink.


    This can also be seen at the Barclays Center (for now), which is the only NHL arena that does it: link

    If BYU was trying to get a message across (ANY message!) to a TV audience (or any audience from a distance) with those decals, they certainly failed. Horrible design.

    I like the Tennesse Titans rebranding a lot more than what they actually released. They should hire him.

    No way. The opposite side helmet decal is a mirror image making the state of Tennessee backwards! – And who is this old dude with the beard anyway? Zeus?

    In Greek mythology, the Titans and Titanesses were members of the second generation of divine beings, descending from the primordial deities and preceding the Olympians. — Wikipedia —

    Must be one of them.

    The rams helmet color being navy appears to be historically accurate. If you look at all pictures of the Rams, it looks like they were navy then with the lighter blue jerseys. But yes, it does look better with a lighter blue and helmets. The Giants used to have the same issue; a navy blue helmet with a lighter blue on their jerseys. The thing that used to bother me about the Rams Wasn’t a mismatched blues, but was the fact that the horn sticker on the front didn’t go to the bottom of the helmet. It used to stop at the top of the nose bumper; always bugged me. Appears to be remedied with the new helmets.

    I agree. I think this was addressed on here before, and the reason that blue teams such as the Giants and Rams had navy blue helmets had something to do with the manufacturers not being able to create a standard blue helmet, they could do navy or they could do a lighter shade of blue that the Broncos had, which was a little brighter/lighter than the jerseys of the Rams and Giants, so they opted for the navy blue helmets.
    Ideally the Rams will go back to the blue and yellow when they move into their new stadium, and with newer technology the helmet can be blue and not navy.

    That’s correct. Back in the early 1970s Riddell and some other manufacturers started molding the helmet shells in colored plastic instead of painting all colors over a kind of gray/off-white color. Equipment managers loved not having to touch up the helmets, but Riddell didn’t make that many colors; they had the navy blue and a kind of light blue. The Rams and Giants went with the navy while the Broncos eventually went with the lighter blue.

    Also if you go back to the first years after the Rams went back to the blue/yellow they did still paint the yellow horns on the shell, and the horns did go down to the lip of the shell under the bumper. They went to the decals that were above the bumpers a bit later in the 1970s.

    To my eye the lighter (royal?) blue helmet mock up looks odd–even though it matches the jerseys better. It’s just a weird color for a modern Rams helmet, to ME.

    Yeah, I think as the writer notes, perhaps a matte finish would work better. If not that, a slightly darker shade of blue, though not navy. I think the issue is the texture of the helmet vs the jersey when render in royal blue doesn’t always perfectly match. Perhaps something along the lines of Duke football, with the slightly darker, but not navy, helmet?

    Good story. Ironic that BYU wore red dots for awareness, only the school didn’t promote whatever cause they were supporting in any way whatsoever, and no one even seemed to care except us sports uni fans 29 years after the face.

    The Cleveland Indians have a car displayed outside of right- center field. It might be an ad for the stadium naming sponsor but it’s a car.


    Not quite the same as having a car or cars on the sidelines at field level, though. That’s more like what the Tigers have at their park, with cars hoisted up to the display along the outfield fountain (which is all part of an advertisement for the company providing said cars).

    Seems weird that information just 29 years old is so hard to come by. Without the internet back then, getting information is a challenge. And with the internet now it would have recorded incorrect information without Cork Gaines digging deeper.

    That Rams vs. NFL East Pro Bowlers photo is a weird one. It’s clearly not actual game action but staged for the photo. And why would you create a photo of the Rams playing a Pro-Bowl side anyway, a game that would never happen in the real world? And for an SI cover of all places?

    My guess (and thats all I have) is that SI wanted a pic of the Rams in action for a story.
    And since the Pro Bowl at the time was always in LA, maybe the Pro Bowl uniforms were available, and would be a good look for an “opponent” on the SI cover.
    Doesn’t really explain why SI couldn’t just use a photo from a game already played though.


    In the Lakers tweet, it sure looks to me as though the gray “6” is actually a two-digit number with the second digit obscured by another player….

    Seems unlikely. Sure, Andrew Bogut wore 66 last season, but he’s gone now.

    There’s also a photo in the Lakers’ Twitter feed of LeBron in the gray 6 jersey, so it’s probably just a case of sharing those practice jerseys.

    Interesting aside in the LA Rams/Pro Bowl SI cover photo: Roman Gabriel is ‘throwing’ to Tommy McDonald, a wide receiver who was one of the few players to invoke his grand father clause and continued NOT wearing a face mask after face masks became mandatory. I’m not sure how may other players did this, but I remember McDonald not wearing well into the 60s. I went to look him up and found out he died Monday without much fanfare. Sad. His boit said he was the last non-kicker to go sans mask.

    This was noted in yesterday’s Ticker. (And the line about him being the last mask-free non-kicker is slightly off — he was the last non-kicker or -holder.)

    There is a TOP FUEL DRAGSTER on the concourse of Lucas Oil Stadium… it’s technically a car… a LONG, LONG, CAR.

    Remember the game well, BYU got waxed that night. It aired where I was on the Blue and White network, so it was the BYU announcers. Was actually with some other LDS people that night. No mention why the red dots on air, and no mention from anyone else on why. My guess was simply BYU recognizing Hawaiians of Japanese descent.

    Wonder if anyone can pull the BYU radio broadcast, maybe Paul James described the uniforms at the start.

    Other notes, remember the Oregon game the following week, when Oregon still had great looking uniform, noticed standard font NOB on back. Know font definitely changed when BYU played Miami in 1990 season opener.

    Also have to note the 1999-2003 uniform debacle, when Nike made Oregon their pet projects. Navy helmets, tan for tan’s sake added, and a home ‘bib’ design banned by the NCAA following season. Bronco Mendenhall brought sanity back to the uniforms but the navy v. royal mostly survived.

    I like the idea of a red alternate for the Vegas Golden Knights, though I’m a bit underwhelmed by the specific example in that article.

Comments are closed.