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Talking NFL Helmets with Poster Designer John Williams

For all photos, click to enlarge

When I recently did the 2019 year-end raffle, one of the prizes was an NFL helmet poster, which was eventually won by reader Charles Drake. That poster was designed by a guy named John Williams (that’s him above). In case you don’t remember the poster, here’s another look:

John originally shared his poster design on Facebook. From there, someone tweeted it at me, and then we mentioned/linked to it in the Ticker. At each step along the way, people asked, “Where can I buy that?” But John’s not an NFL licensee, so the poster has never been for sale — he just had a few printed for himself and to give away to family and friends (and in our raffle — thanks, John!).

Since the poster raised a bit of a stir, I decided to interview John about it. Here’s an abridged transcript of a phone conversation we recently had:

Uni Watch: First, please give me a bit of information about yourself. How old are you, where do you live, and what do you do for a living?

John Williams: I live in the Nashville area — Franklin, Tenn. I’m 49, and I’m a pharmaceutical rep. A drug-pusher, so to speak.

UW: You’re obviously very into NFL helmets. Are you strictly a helmet guy and an NFL guy, or are you also into other sports and other uniform elements?

JW: I’m into a little bit of everything, but first and foremost I’m an NFL guy. Growing up in Kentucky, the closest team was the old St. Louis Cardinals. One time my dad brought me to a Rams/Cardinals game, and I really liked the Rams’ helmets. I said to my dad, “Those helmets are cool! What are they supposed to be?” And he said, “Those are ram horns.” And that’s how I got started — there’s just something about a football helmet. I actually went to work for Riddell in 1996. I was living in Louisville, trying to finish grad school, and Riddell hired me to do some special-market stuff, working with teams and sponsors.

UW: How did you get the idea to do the poster showing all of the NFL helmets?

JW: Going back to my Riddell days, there was this poster for the NFL’s 75th anniversary, called “Evolution,” which showed uniforms for every NFL team, from the earliest days to the present. I still have it — in fact, I’m looking at it on my wall right now.

So I realized that the league’s 100th anniversary was happening and they didn’t seem to have any similar poster to mark the occasion, so I figured I’d make one myself, only with helmets, just to see how much history I could get in there.

The next thing I know, I’m dealing with all these questions, like, “Well, this team wore this helmet for only two years — do I include it?” Or “They only wore this facemask color for one year. Do I include it?” So I had to make some judgment calls. Frankly, it turned out better than I thought.

UW: Did you intend for it to be strictly a digital graphic, like computer wallpaper, or did you intend to print it out for yourself?

JW: A buddy of mine, he said, “Listen, man, I’ll print it. Don’t go selling it and getting me in trouble, but if you wanna put it up in your house, I’ll print it for you.”

UW: How many helmet images did you end up including?

JW: About 165. With Google Images, there’s a lot of stuff out there! But looking back, there’s a couple I missed.

UW: All of the helmets are just shown by themselves, not being worn by anyone. Was that your plan all along?

JW: I found that if I included the player’s face, it just looked a little too busy. And as you know, the helmet by itself looks really good aesthetically. So I just went for the helmet by itself.

UW: What software did you use?

JW: I used an app called Pages, which makes it easy to eliminate the background, so you just have the helmet by itself.

UW: Once you decided where to position a helmet, did you stick with it? Or were you constantly rearranging things as you went?

JW: The rearranging was almost nonstop. The 49ers are a good example. I did include the one-day helmet [actually six-day — PL] from 1991 — the one everyone went nuts about. But I sort of hid it, since it was never worn on the field, so there was some rearranging there.

UW: Did you ever use photos of mini-helmets, instead of full-size helmets?

JW: Yeah. I think the Buccaneers one at the top is a mini-helmet, and I know the white Texans design [another prototype that never made it onto the field — PL] is a mini-helmet, because that’s all I could find. Actually, I think that one-day 49ers helmet is a mini-helmet reproduction too, because it looked a lot better than the photos from the press conference. As you know, if you get up close to a mini-helmet, you can’t really tell the difference.

UW: How did you decide what to include or not include? For example, it appears that you didn’t include the Eagles helmet with the black tape on the wings as a memorial for quarterbacks coach Doug Scovil, but you did include a rear view of the Cowboys helmet, presumably to show their blue Dymo Tape label…

JW: Yes, that’s right. That was a must.

UW: … so what went into your thinking for those and other choices?

JW: For that Eagles helmet, I had plenty of photos of players wearing it, but I didn’t have any photos of the helmet by itself. I was actually thinking of just creating it [digitally], because it would be pretty easy to just add the black stripe. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought how there have been so many memorial decals and logos — if I do it with one, I have to do it with all of them. Although that one was unique, because they did it on the wings, on the team logo, but I just decided not to include it.

Two that I wasn’t sure about, but I did end up including them, were the Bills and Jets from 1994.

UW: Oh, the two fauxback helmets?

JW: Right, the Jets’ green fauxback and the Bills’ red fauxback.

UW: Well, those were both worn on the field, so of course you included them!

JW: Right, they were worn on the field, but everyone always says how lazy they were. There wasn’t even a one-shell rule back then, but they didn’t even bother to use the proper helmet colors. So I did include them, but I kinda hid them a bit.

UW: Are there any Easter eggs hidden in the poster? Any little surprises or secret codes that you baked into the design?

JW: My nickname is Jinx, and I think I buried that in the Dickerson Rams helmet.

UW: Lately you’ve been doing team-specific versions, right?

JW: I did the Rams one for myself, and then I posted it and had a few people ask for other teams. And since I had all the helmet photos, it was basically just a matter of pulling them from here and putting them over there.

I also created a player-based version, sort of like the original “Evolution” poster, showing the teams’ old logos and then their current uniforms:

UW: None of these are for sale, right?

JW: Right. I post them on Facebook, and I’ve had some printed for for my nephew, for my sons, but I don’t have an NFL license, so I can’t sell these. But I’ve reached out to a company that does have a license to see if they’d be interested. Haven’t heard back yet, but we’ll see. It could be a fun side hustle.

———

And there you have it. After we spoke, John sent a video in which he discusses some of the smaller details within the poster. Enjoy:

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Pin Club update: Very nice project from reader Craig Holtzclaw, who’s made himself a display board for his Uni Watch Pin Club pins. Nicely done, Craig!

The January pin is available here, and additional info on the Pin Club is here. I’ll unveil next month’s pin design on Feb. 4.

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The Ticker
By Paul

’Skins Watch: Here’s a good thread from a Native American journalist and former sports editor about the problems with the Chiefs’ team name and iconography (from Michael Rich). … A Utah state legislator has introduced a resolution discouraging high schools from discontinuing the use of Native American mascots without first determining consensus among local Native tribes. “This is like a bizarro-world reverse version of the NCAA policy requiring consensus among local tribes before a school can use Native-themed names and imagery,” says Kary Klismet. … Cheerleaders at McLaughlin High School on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in South Dakota wore red handprints on their faces on Tuesday night in memory of the Native American teenager Selena Not Afraid, whose dead body was recently found after she she disappeared on New Year’s Day. The red handprint has become the symbol of the MMIW movement, which stands for missing and murdered indigenous women (from Sara Klein).

Baseball News: New uniforms for Oregon baseball (from Jakob Fox). … Gross: The name of the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp’s ballpark, which until now has been the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, is changing to become an ad for a credit union (from Griffin Smith). … Looks like the Rocket City Trash Pandas’ new ballpark will have a dirt path between the mound and plate. I always like that detail — it’s like the fastball is so crackling-hot that it scorched the grass on its way to the plate. … The Pirates are unveiling some new uniforms tomorrow afternoon. I can tell you that the home uni is unchanged. As for the rest, you’ll see tomorrow! … New uniforms for GWU (from Kevin Burke). … The Jamestown Jammers, a summer collegiate team, will henceforth be known as the Jamestown Tarp Skunks. Additional info here (from many people). … The Triple-A Louisville Bats are holding a jersey-design contest (from Caleb Jenkins). … Here are newly elected Hall of Fame members Larry Walker and Derek Jeter in those miserable Hall of Fame jerseys. Walker’s jersey also had a lot of space after the first letter — weird. … New uniforms for Clemson softball (from Spencer Monroe). … A New Jersey high school is getting a red baseball field (from Joe Lombardo). … Great job by Arthur Vint, who used his Uni Watch seam ripper to remove the maker’s marks from his Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers caps.

NFL News: I’m pretty sure we featured these when they came out back in August, but with the NFL’s centennial season coming to a close, it’s worth taking another look at these two very good articles that show the league’s history in 100 objects and 100 photos (from Kary Klismet). … Meanwhile, the newly revealed logo for next year’s Super Bowl, which will be played in Tampa, is about what you’d expect. … Great article about the famous photo of Chiefs QB Len Dawson smoking his way through Super Bowl I (WaPo link) (from Mike Rosenberg).

College Football News: Florida State coach Mike Norvell says he’s open to mixing up the team’s uniform combos and is also considering restoring the white numbers on the garnet jerseys.

Hockey News: New cancer-awareness uniforms for Stevenson University’s men’s and women’s teams. … A new TV ad for Dunkin’ shows Bruins RW David Pastrňák with a Bruins-style “sweater” on his cup of coffee (from John Cerone). … Philly police are investigating whether the Flyers’ mascot, Gritty, punched a 13-year-old fan in the back (from @walbergLines). … You can see two late-’70s shots of NHLers protecting their broken jaws with fairly awkward-looking football-style facemasks by clicking here and then scrolling down for the second photo. … If you scroll way down to item No. 23 and 24 on this list, you’ll see that the NHL will be test-driving a new system to create digital ads on the boards during the All-Star Game, with an eye toward implementing the system league-wide in a year or two (from Jerry Wolper). … G.I. Joke cosplay is even extending to French hockey teams. “Cripes,” says Mike Lucia. … This is fascinating: I’ve read before that if court officials at Guantánamo think classified information is about to be revealed during a proceeding, they flash a red light and cut off the audio feed to the gallery where reporters and visitors are sitting. According to the third-to-last graf of this story, the red light is referred to as a “hockey light.” “Seems spot-on and out of place at the same time,” says Tris Wykes. … “The SJHL/MJHL Showcase is an annual tournament pitting the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League vs. the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. The teams basically wear uniforms like at an all-star game — SJHL in blue/yellow league colors and MJHL in black/red. However, the fourth game yesterday was different and featured lots of pink — a nod to event sponsor/advertiser Sasktel’s ‘Be Kind Online’ initiative.”

NBA News: Lots of new uni number assignments yesterday on Etienne Catalan’s Twitter feed. … Here are the uniforms for Space Jam 2. Additional info here (thanks to all who shared). … The Knicks and Raptors apparently have custom logos for Star Wars Night (from NBA Lakers Blog). … Every time the Timberwolves scored during last night’s game against the Bulls, their scoreboard momentarily flashed the Knicks’ logo. Weird (from @Tinger_3). … Thanks to a new deal between the NBA and the fashion brand Louis Vutton, the O’Brien Trophy is getting a new carrying case (from @ParisinDC).

College Hoops News: New space-themed “Citronauts” uniforms for UCF (from Jeff Sharon). … There’s something even grosser than usual about the Nike logo appearing on Butler’s dog mascot’s jersey/harness thingie (from Nicholas Neilling). … Timmy Donahue had a lot of observations about the color matchup, the score bugs, and and a very long NOB in last night’s Mississippi State/Arkansas game. … Iowa and Rutgers went mustard vs. ketchup last night (from several contributors). … Syracuse coaches wore pink ribbon pins for Coaches vs. Cancer last night (from Jakob Fox).

Soccer News: New kit for the LA Galaxy (thanks to all who shared). … New Lunar New Year warmup shirts for Tottenham Hotspur (from our own Jamie Rathjen). … Also from Jamie: DC United is the latest MLS team to tease a new kit. … Oh, and the Vancouver Whitecaps have teased their new kit as well (from Wade Heidt). … The San Jose Earthquakes’ uniforms were ad-free last season, but of course that was too good to last. … ” The star player clause in Derby County’s contract with shirt sponsor 32Red (which led to the signing of Wayne Rooney) has left other clubs sponsored by the same company furious,” says Josh Hinton. “One of these clubs — Preston — is actively seeking a new sponsor.” … … New home kit for Argentine side Estudiantes de La Plata.

Grab Bag: Pushing back against grossness: A proposed bill in Florida state legislature would prohibit state universities from signing naming rights deals without legislative approval (from @VictoryCB). … New logo for Eau Claire, Wis. … Maryland has become the first NCAA wrestling program to adopt the the new two-piece wrestling uniforms in place of traditional singlets, as allowed by new rules (from Kary Klismet). … Also from Kary: Iowa State University design students have teamed up with the school’s police department to develop new service gear and functional uniform components for the force’s officers. … Galveston College, whose teams are called the Whitecaps, has a new logo that looks a lot like Tulane’s angry wave (from John Ferguson). … Pro tennis star Naomi Osaka had a new “no” logo on her bag at the Aussie Open yesterday — presumably a new personal logo (thanks, Brinke). … Love this vintage pennant-themed lunchbox (from our pals at Oxford Pennant). … With the Tokyo Olympics upcoming, here are the opening ceremony outfits for the technical officials and the Paralympics (both from Jeremy Brahm).

41 comments to Talking NFL Helmets with Poster Designer John Williams

  • Martina | January 23, 2020 at 9:03 am |

    Regarding the new Tune Squad Space Jam uniforms, I’m surprised there was no mention of how there is now an NBA ad patch-like patch on the left shoulder that reads “that’s all folks.” It’s not an ad but the way that it is acknowledging that this is now part of the typical iconography of basketball jerseys is gross to me

    • Padday | January 23, 2020 at 9:48 am |

      I had the same thought. Gotta go back in time to let child me know that I actually support the Monstars now because they resist the normalisation of ad patches on basketball uniforms.

  • Wade Heidt | January 23, 2020 at 9:11 am |

    In the Hockey Ticker, we need to make a correction to my quote about the SJHL/MJHL Showcase. My bad. The game featuring the pink uniforms was actually the fourth game of the six games. Not the third.

    This was the first game on day two. MJHL Team White went 2-0 in the games they played.

    • Paul Lukas | January 23, 2020 at 9:13 am |

      Fixed!

  • Rainbow Guts | January 23, 2020 at 9:17 am |

    Re: hockey ticker:

    The thing to note in the Pasternak commercial is the fact that Kendall Coyne is wearing a bizarro USA jersey (unbranded, looks like the Winnipeg Jets from the 1980s, number on front).

    • Wade Heidt | January 23, 2020 at 12:37 pm |

      USA jersey same template as what the Jets started wearing in 1990. However, this USA jersey using the navy blue looks just like the current template of the WHL’s Regina Pats (instead of royal like the Jets used).

      Speaking of the Regina Pats, missed this back on Jan 18. Pats were on a western road trip and played in Spokane that night. Spokane Chiefs were wearing the G.I. Joke uniforms that night so this required the Pats to wear their white uniforms and bring them along on the bus.

      The Pats did not bring the white helmets that they would usually wear with white uniforms. So it was the unusual look for them of navy helmets with the white uniforms.

      https://twitter.com/spokanechiefs/status/1218791396125003776/photo/2

  • Nestor Chylak | January 23, 2020 at 9:17 am |

    I like the Hall of Fame jerseys. They remind me of a 50s bowling shirt.

    • Wally1912 | January 23, 2020 at 11:18 am |

      Is the Hall of Fame lettering based on the uniform script of the Phillies? I see a lot of similarities.

    • Scott | January 23, 2020 at 12:41 pm |

      Everytime I see the awful baseball HoF jerseys I think of what a miss it is that they aren’t using the unique baseball sweaters from the Uni Watch design contest a few years ago.

  • Eric | January 23, 2020 at 11:01 am |

    The placement of the trophy within next year’s super bowl logo makes it look like 54 (LIV), rather than 55 (LV).

    And considering those numerals and a new stadium coming to Vegas, wouldn’t that have been a perfect site for the game?

    • ThatRodneyGuy | January 23, 2020 at 11:31 am |

      NFL has a rule that a stadium can’t host in it’s first year.

      • Eric | January 23, 2020 at 11:42 am |

        I didn’t know that (though my “suggestion” wasn’t really a serious one).

        • Joe P. | January 23, 2020 at 4:40 pm |

          They did that after what happened at the Cowboys stadium when they hosted it the first year it was open. Had too many problems. Super Bowl 50 was the firs new stadium to have the one year wait. That is also why the swapped Tampa and LA for next season since the Rams Stadium is a year behind.

  • The Brad | January 23, 2020 at 11:04 am |

    I wish the Kansas City Chiefs would change their name to “The Kansas City Polacks”. Hopefully I would see a non Slav wearing Hussar wings and toting a bottle of Vodka. Then, being of Polish descent, I could pretend to be harmed too.

    • Julie S | January 23, 2020 at 11:21 am |

      Such a dumb comment. Soooooooooo dumb. Really dude? Why is it so hard for humans to understand the concept of racism?

      • The Brad | January 23, 2020 at 11:34 am |

        Explain please. Sooooo dumb is not making a point, understand?

        This is exactly the “gotcha question” asked to those of my group by privileged whites (who happen to be the ones most concerned about this faux controversy) “what would you think if there was a team named the Polacks?”

        The answer: “where can we buy gear?”

        BTW: working near the San Jaun res in AZ, student groups always borrowed and often wore the native imagery that shocks and appalls their white moral betters.

        It’s not as big of a deal as you’d like to think and nobody is clamoring for a white savior to solve this “problem”. First hand.

        • John P | January 23, 2020 at 11:45 am |

          Brad, you mistakenly left out, “I’m not racist but…” in your comments. But I am glad your fake anecdote about students makes you feel better about your racism.

        • Paul Lukas | January 23, 2020 at 12:00 pm |

          I was away from the site for the past 90 mins and wasn’t aware of this thread until now.

          As always: Debating ideas is fine; insulting other commenters is not fine.

          That standard has already been violated multiple times, so this thread is clearly toxic. Let’s please move on. Thanks.

  • Jeremiah | January 23, 2020 at 11:05 am |

    Ugh. More things to compete for your eyes while watching a game. I’ve noticed that the NHL already does digital ads on the glass during broadcasts. Now this. I hope that we as consumers will get this stuff to stop before it turns into European-league style.

  • Nester Shaddock | January 23, 2020 at 11:45 am |

    I love how the poster contains the plain silver Seahawks helmet from 1976!

  • John P | January 23, 2020 at 11:49 am |

    Someone please tell me where the “Jinx” in buried in that Rams helmet section. I feel like I’m taking crazy pills.

    • d | January 23, 2020 at 2:22 pm |

      It’s not in the Rams poster but you can see it in the main poster just below the 4th helmet.

      • John P | January 23, 2020 at 3:05 pm |

        Thanks!

  • jean coffinberry | January 23, 2020 at 11:56 am |

    Hail Franklin, TN!

  • Ian Lee | January 23, 2020 at 12:07 pm |

    How does UCF always do such a good job with their space themed alts?! Football has nailed it year after year and now basketball too?! These people are like an alternate uniform Masterclass! (I would say uniform Masterclass but that honor will always go to the Hartford Whalers since c’mon the Whalers have the most beautiful uniforms ever, period, end of story.)

  • drew | January 23, 2020 at 12:28 pm |

    Less ads or sponsors anywhere on the uniform, or playing field/playing surface would be great. Olympic hockey is awesome because the ice and boards are ad free.

    • Oakville Fennel | January 23, 2020 at 12:35 pm |

      Isn’t it (the hockey boards) really just replaced by a more subtle self branding of the Olympics?

      • Robbie | January 23, 2020 at 1:24 pm |

        It is self-branding, but it’s so clean. My wish for NHL is not empty boards like in the old days, but for team self-branding. If the rink was ringed by the colors and logos of the home team it would look fantastic. Maybe even digital graphics to change during breaks in play.

      • drew | January 24, 2020 at 7:23 pm |

        Correct, but branding is different than ads. The Olympics wont have ADS for beer/insurance/food/insert anything else here.

  • Jeff | January 23, 2020 at 12:40 pm |

    So, Super Bowl LIV is followed by Super Bowl….LIV. If you see the Lombardi trophy as an “I”. Which unfortunately I do after someone else pointed it out on the Chris Creamer board.

  • TIm | January 23, 2020 at 12:43 pm |

    1) Interesting that the Evolution poster has the somewhat-modern Jets helmet blank. All the other semi-recent ones have logos. Wonder why?

    2) The feed about how the Chiefs got their name is really interesting. I knew the “Chief” was H Roe Bartle and his part in KC football was connected to the name, but many don’t seem to have heard that part of the history.

    • Jack Harlington | January 23, 2020 at 5:11 pm |

      I think the Jets wore those blank helmets in the preseason one year.

  • Jakob F. | January 23, 2020 at 1:21 pm |

    This interview shows that the Rams CAN NOT get rid of their iconic horns with their new uniform/logo/color reveal. They are such a unique and powerful piece of their identity that should not be removed!

  • Pedro N | January 23, 2020 at 2:11 pm |

    What if you gift some of us printed posters then we randomly gift you a certain amount of money shortly thereafter?? Jk, really cool project man.

  • Fire Goodell | January 23, 2020 at 3:25 pm |

    NFL blew such an opportunity with the 100th anniversary:

    – Little to no league-wide throwbacks

    – Dumb, one helmet shell color rule

    – Restricting the teams that do have throwbacks from wearing them on a whim

    Also, the continuing lame generic super bowl logos…lazy, lazy, lazy

    FIRE GOODELL

  • Oakville Fennel | January 23, 2020 at 8:12 pm |

    The Lakers / Nets game tonight looks quite weird. It’s like the game is in black and white, with the exception of the Lakers extra vivid looking yellow/athletic gold uniforms – which have never popped more than they do tonight.

  • Patrick in MI | January 23, 2020 at 9:54 pm |

    I hope Mr. Williams does get a license from the NFL. I would buy that print in a heartbeat! I also have the NFL 75th anniversary poster referenced. Now I just need to get it framed

  • Brett | January 23, 2020 at 9:57 pm |

    Can someone explain how the helmets/teams in both posters are arranged? I can’t figure it out. Alphabetically? By division/league? Year teams were established? It’s bothering me way more than it should.

    • Rokengr | January 23, 2020 at 10:21 pm |

      The helmets are ordered based on when each of the teams were established.

  • Ralph from Windfall | January 24, 2020 at 5:51 am |

    Pushing back against grossness – the cynic in me asks: is it possible that the Florida legislature’s bill about naming rights isn’t about protecting the innocence of Florida’s universities? Maybe it’s more about making sure that the right people get a cut?

    • Paul Lukas | January 24, 2020 at 7:01 am |

      That may be a good argument for campaign finance reform; it is not a particularly good argument against this bill.