The Basics of Football Facemask Design and Terminology

With the NFL draft coming up tomorrow night, I’ve been trying to feature football-related content this week. On Monday we had a deep analysis of the 49ers’ 75th-anniversary patch, and yesterday we had an interview with an investment manager who was instrumental in getting the Washington Football Team to change its name.

Today we have a guest entry from reader Bud Parks, who’s going to school us on the ins and outs of football facemasks. You probably know that there are different mask styles out there, but do you know what they’re called, or how they were developed? Read on — Bud has all the info.

A Primer on Football Facemask Basics
By Bud Parks

Paul has published a series of entries about how various Uni Watch readers first Got It™. For me, football facemasks were definitely my introduction to the world of uniform minutiae. It was something that could help distinguish one player from another, like a jersey number, but also had a function and could serve different purposes depending on the style.

As a facemask-obsessed kid, I assumed that choosing your mask was one of the most important decisions a player could make. Since it went right in front of your face, it was the main way your persona was presented. I also then assumed that if a player switched masks, that was done with the utmost thought and consideration. But when I brought these topics up with my friends and parents, I was surprised by the blank stares I received in response. They said they had never bothered to notice the variety in facemask styles.

With that in mind, here’s a look at some of the basic modern facemask styles. It’s by no means meant to be a comprehensive look at football facemasks (especially since so many masks are now unique to specific helmet models, not to mention all the custom masks players design for themselves these days), but it addresses most of the basic designs, using the terminology by which they’re known in the industry.

OPO (Oral Protection Only)

This is what many people consider to be the “default” look for masks. It serves as the starting point or foundation for most major facemask designs. Did you know it was called OPO? Now you do! It features two bars wrapping horizontally around the nose: the top bar (which will henceforth be known as the “home” bar in the rest of this article) and another roughly one inch below it.

Fun fact: Riddell actually tried to retire this style officially with their release of the Speedflex helmet. But after Colts quarterback Andrew Luck placed a custom OPO order after switching from his Revo Speed to the Speedflex, it became popular enough among NFL quarterbacks that Riddell gave it an official designation, rather than just calling it a “custom mask.”

OPO-2

This style offers the same protections and field of vision as the standard OPO, but with a third vertical bar added down the center of the mask.

OPO-SW (Oral Protection Only — Single Wire)

Currently the most popular look among QBs and other skill positions, this style takes the standard OPO look and omits the extra bar below the home bar. Some models will begin the extra bar but cut it off at the start of the vertical sidebars.

KOP (Kicker-Only Protection)

Sacrificing protection in return for an expanded field of vision, this style takes the OPO mask and actually removes the home bar, keeping the lower bar, so it’s the inverse of the OPO-SW variation. Punters and kickers notwithstanding, this mask is generally considered inadvisable from a safety standpoint, unless you can augment the protection through the use of a visor.

OPO-DW (Oral Protection — Double Wire)

A style that looks very similar to the OPO-2 (and is confusingly named to boot), this style actually puts its second horizontal bar across the nose ABOVE the home bar rather than below, offering a little more facial protection. The trade-off? A slightly more restricted field of vision.

JOP (Jaw and Oral Protection)

The bread and butter of a great number of pocket passers from the 1980s and ’90s (and a few scramblers as well), this style offers the same vision profile as the standard OPO masks, but with some added jaw protection. Once available in both standard and single-wire versions, it is now largely extinct, as hardly any of the newer model helmets offer a variant of it that isn’t a custom order.

JOP-DW (Jaw and Oral Protection — Double Wire)

A longtime favorite of linemen and long-ago favorite of linebackers, this style combines the facial protection of the OPO-DW (with the horizontal bar above the home bar) and the jaw protection of the JOP.

NOPO/NJOP (Nose/Jaw and Oral Protection)

Another style that’s largely disappeared these days save for a few custom requests, these masks come with a single vertical bar right down the middle providing some extra protection for the nose and the eyes. It came in all possible combos of both a single-wire variant and the extra jaw protection of the JOP.

Fun Fact: Washington Football Team defensive lineman Jonathan Allen wears a more protective NJOP-DW variant. He switched to it two seasons ago specifically to have an old-school look.

EGOP (Eyeglass and Oral Protection)

This started out as a custom mask for Eric Dickerson (to help give some extra protection for his Rec-Specs). But it became so popular in the 1990s due to another NFL star that many players simply know it colloquially as the Deion. A version of this mask with extra jaw protection also existed for a time.

EGOP-2

First introduced in the early 2000s, this style is similar to the EGOP, but adds a lower bar below the home bar and an extra vertical bar down the center.

There’s more — a lot more — but that should be enough to give you a basic working knowledge of contemporary mask style. Big thanks to @helmetstalker on Twitter/Instagram for research and fact-checking assistance.

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Paul here. How much of that stuff did you know? I knew very little of it — a good reminder that there are endless sub-niches within the uni-verse.

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Tape job: Check out these shots of Dr. J wearing a jersey that appears to have a makeshift “6” fashioned out of athletic tape. They’re all from a game against the Nets, circa 1980, but I don’t know the exact date.

There’s a Twitter account devoted to Dr. J, called @DrJStuff, so I got in touch with the guy who runs it, Greg Faragher, and asked if he knew the backstory. “I’ve seen those photos but can only assume that they had to customize a blank at the last minute,” he said. “Funny thing is, I’ve never found a photo showing the back of the jersey. But I’ve seen some footage from that game, and the back is no better.” He provided a screen shot to show what he meant. It’s blurry, but you can get the idea:

Greg also informed me that one of the photos from that game was used on a book cover! Check this out:

Out of all the Dr. J pics they could have chosen, how did they decide on that one?

(Big thanks to Phill Stroman for bringing this one to my attention.)

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Too good for the Ticker: This photo of Steelers defensive back Marv Woodson comes from a poster that I spotted on eBay. Gorgeous shot, no? Man, I love the Batman uniforms — really wish they’d revive them as a throwback. Such a sharp-looking design!

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ITEM! Another membership raffle: A longtime reader/supporter who prefers to remain anonymous has generously donated funds for two memberships to be raffled off, so that’s what we’re going to do today.

This will be a one-day raffle. No entry restrictions. To enter, send an email to the raffle in-box by 8pm Eastern tonight. On entry per person. I’ll announce the two winners tomorrow. Good luck!

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The Ticker
By Lloyd Alaban

Baseball News: Dodgers P Trevor Bauer, who won the 2020 Cy Young Award while pitching for the Reds, was presented with the CYA trophy/plaque prior to last night’s game. Since the Reds were the opposing team, several of his former Cincy teammates joined him for the presentation. … Bauer has also been supporting former Reds teammate Nick Castellanos, who was suspended for his role in a recent Reds/Cardinals on-field brawl, by wearing Castellanos-themed cleats (from Bill Fenbers). … Orioles P Jay Flaa has a Bible verse cited on his glove (from Marcus Hall). … The Trois-Rivières Aigles and the Québec Capitales of the Frontier League are merging for this season under the “Équipe Québec” moniker (from @Dante_X). …  The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers will have six alternate jerseys this season (from Chris Vandeyacht). … The Pensacola Blue Wahoos will debut a Pensacola Crabzillas alternate identity, inspired by a gargantuan sandwich (from Benjamin Hill). … NESN used SNY’s feed for the Red Sox/Mets game yesterday. NESN’s score bug was overlaid on SNY’s scorebug (from @Finerific). … Georgia P Nolan Crisp had his stirrups on backwards last night (from Timmy Donahue). … Also from TimmyNew advertiser for the Visalia Rawhide’s home stadium. … The Yankees Photoshopped newly acquired P Wandy Peralta into a Yanks uni but left his beard intact, even though the team has a strict no-beards policy (from Nicklaus Wallmeyer). … The Dodgers presented a World Series ring to one of their clubbies (from Lee Wilds). … MLB’s “Players Weeekend” gimmick is now being used by Florida State softball (from @VictoryCB). … A Red Sox fan who stopped wearing their Curt Schilling replica jersey for political reasons has found a fun way to modify the jersey (from our own Anthony Emerson).

Hockey News: Looks like the spouses and partners of Lightning players received championship necklaces with the same design as the team’s championship rings (from Ryan Cotter). … Montreal Canadiens F Cole Caufield got pranked by his teammates who stole his helmet, forcing him to start pregame warm-ups without his bucket (from our own Phil Hecken).

Basketball News: Montreal’s expansion team in the Canadian Elite Basketball League is looking for public suggestions for the team name, colors, logo, and mascot (from Wade Heidt). … Etienne Catalan has the latest NBA uniform number updates.

Soccer News: Tons of shirt leaks from big European clubs (from our own Phil Hecken). … Leicester City’s women’s team, who just won the English second tier, will become the latest team to play at their men’s team’s stadium for the first time (from our own Jamie Rathjen). … Also from Jamie: The NWSL’s Washington Spirit’s captain’s armband was cherry blossom-themed yesterday. “I’m not sure if this was a one-time thing or not,” says Jamie.

Grab Bag: There was a Ticker item on Sunday about some of the female German participants at the European Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Basel wearing full-length bodysuits, which prompted a question in the comments along the lines of whether they had to wear the normal leotards or whether that was a choice. Turns out they are required to be that short, but there is an exception for religious reasons (from our own Jamie Rathjen). … Aussie rules football team Port Adelaide is waiting for the AFL to decide whether the team will be permitted to wear a heritage jersey commonly known as the “prison bar” design (from Shawn Hairston).

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A reminder: I’ll be participating in an online panel discussion about Native imagery in Connecticut sports today from 10am-noon Eastern. You can register to view the event here. If you can’t watch live, the video of the event will be archived for later viewing. I’ll post that link once it’s available. — Paul

53 comments to The Basics of Football Facemask Design and Terminology

  • Julian | April 28, 2021 at 8:13 am |

    Heads up, the Castellanos-themed cleats link in the Ticker is bad. As for the football helmet face mask primer, excellent stuff, great introduction…

  • TomInNJ | April 28, 2021 at 8:42 am |

    Great stuff about the facemasks! I’ve alwsys been fascinated by the various styles players chose to wear but never knew all of the terminology. When I was in high school back in the late ’70s, I was a lineman and started out wearing a JOP because I thought it looked cool, until a teammate poked me in the eye during practice, after which I switched to a NOPO/NJOP. Today, with all the new helmet styles and visors, it looks weird to me to see the majority of defensive and offensive linemen wearing the EGOP masks, which look like they should be worn by skill position players.

  • Marc-Louis Paprzyca | April 28, 2021 at 8:59 am |

    Oh how I hated the NOPO in grade school football. That bar right in the middle of your eyesight was so annoying but it was the only type of face mask the team had. Even our QB had to wear it.

    I was so excited when I went to high school and got to pick and of course went with the “Deion” and I wore that one into college. I was certainly one of those players/fans who always paid attention to the face masks being wore on the field.

    Cool piece!

  • Justin Black | April 28, 2021 at 9:09 am |

    When I played running back/defensive back in high school, my facemask was the OPO-SW. We always referred to that as the “monkey jaw.”

  • Silver Creek Dawg | April 28, 2021 at 9:15 am |

    Anybody else refer to the NOPO as a full cage (Bruce Smith) or a half-cage (Thurman Thomas)?

    It’s what we called it growing up in the 80s.

    • David Cline | April 28, 2021 at 11:44 am |

      YES! And I loved that Jim Braxton – a fullback for the Bills – wore the full cage!

    • TomInNJ | April 28, 2021 at 3:16 pm |

      We referred to them as the “six-box” and the “four-box” cages.

    • superfly | April 28, 2021 at 10:51 pm |

      Yes, we called them that in the 70s too.

      I was obsessed with facemasks as a kid, had several helmets I painted regularly, but they only came with the old 2 bar Roger Staubach style. The first time I saw OPO-SW (70’s version of it) I was ecstatic. Unfortunately, they only came in gray, and they couldn’t be painted, the paint wouldn’t dry. My uncle’s friend worked at a paint shop, and even he couldn’t get the paint to dry, tried several different paints and processes.

      Eventually I found a white one, which was used on an Oklahoma helmet, by the time I could regularly find colored ones, I was kind of over painting helmets, but I think one or two of those helmets are in a box in a storage unit somewhere…

  • Mike | April 28, 2021 at 9:15 am |

    I was a pop warner and then high school football player that always looked forward to helmet day in early August when you’d get fitted for your helmet and got to choose the face mask you wanted. The choice you made said so much about you as a player.

    I was a CB, but I wore an OPO always (just like the one Brady is wearing in that pic, but on an AIR helmet, not a Riddell). I actually wore rec specs (same exact type as Dickerson) but could never wear the EGOP as many of my DB brethren did back then to be like Deion. I just couldn’t see with the rec specs and the extra bars. I also would rig the rec specs strap to remain under the blue air thing inside the helmet so that my rec specs would remain in the helmet and would come off whenever i took the helmet off. I wish I had a pic. It’d be very “uni.”

    I have watched closely how face masks have changed over the years along with the helmet changes. I hated the Peyton Manning years with that doofy facemask he’d wear.

    Great stuff Paul, as usual!

    • StLMarty | April 28, 2021 at 2:39 pm |

      I hated Peyton’s mask so much. It reminded me of those ball returners you sometimes find on basketball hoops.

  • WFY | April 28, 2021 at 9:17 am |

    I’m fairly confident the “Deion” predated Eric Dickerson. I think James Brooks was wearing it for San Diego before Dickerson played for LA

    • Bud | April 28, 2021 at 10:10 am |

      Wow interesting, looks like you might be right here. I wonder if it was a custom mask made for him specifically, and then Dickerson copied it, or if it was a case of parallel thinking somehow with multiple custom orders. Thanks for the info, I had no idea!

  • SKOTT SCHOONOVER | April 28, 2021 at 9:23 am |

    This reminds me of the article I wrote for the site last summer (lede August 18, 2020) but great stuff!

    • Bud | April 28, 2021 at 9:29 am |

      Your article was actually a big influence on getting me to write mine, to delve a little more into some of the specific styles and details of each. So thank you! :)

      • SKOTT SCHOONOVER | April 28, 2021 at 9:30 am |

        I can’t imagine how many hours it took to find all those pictures! Great job!

        • Bud | April 28, 2021 at 9:58 am |

          There was actually a whole ‘nother section of notes about some of the smaller details to masks that got cut for length (understandably so haha). Maybe I’ll re-pitch it to Paul around the time training camp starts as sort of a 201 class, today’s being the 101. If Paul is interested, maybe he could connect us via email and we could tag-team that article together!

  • Josh B | April 28, 2021 at 9:36 am |

    Awesome article today!! As a retired football player, I’ve also always been fascinated by face masks and I took much pride in choosing my through the years! Even changed some out the years where the one I was issued from school I didn’t like

  • Jason Hillyer | April 28, 2021 at 9:57 am |

    Loved the Gutman books when I was a kid. Especially this one as I was a Sipe fan:
    https://www.amazon.com/Signal-Callers-Jaworski-Ferguson-Bartkowski/dp/0448172682

  • Chris Weber | April 28, 2021 at 10:04 am |

    Speaking of facemasks, was Bird wearing one on the cover of that NBA book or was that just the lighting? If he was, how coincidental! -C.

  • Karim | April 28, 2021 at 10:27 am |

    I love this post because it reminded me that noticing players’ facemasks as a young kid was once of the first time I “got it.” To this day I can still remember which facemask style many players from the mid 90s and onwards wore on the field. My least favorite was the one Dan Marino wore. Several pocket QBs (AKA slow, immobile, old QBs) wore that style that I began to associate with players who were boring. Not exactly true, but at 8 years old the child’s mind thinks what it wants.

  • Dustin | April 28, 2021 at 10:42 am |

    Thank you Bud for a great primer on facemask naming. I will echo the sentiments of those for whom facemasks were part of their “I got it” moment. The only year I played football was in 8th grade and all I cared about was what facemask I would get. I chose a helmet that was slightly too large so I could have a classic facemask. I connect different facemasks with positions and it is still slightly weird in today’s NFL to see a linebacker wearing a facemask I associated with a quarterback.

  • T.J. Gregson | April 28, 2021 at 10:47 am |

    Excellent article on the facemasks.

  • Mike | April 28, 2021 at 10:58 am |

    Gotta admit, I miss seeing quarterbacks wear the JOP facemask. I think either Duante Culpepper or Chad Pennington were the last to wear it.

  • StLMarty | April 28, 2021 at 11:17 am |

    I played one year of high school football as a frosh in ’86. I was a 4’11’ cornerback, and I just had to have a Marino mask. Needless to say, I looked ridiculous. Fortunately, I had a sizable buddy playing defensive end that looked equally ridiculous in the Brady OPO. Midway through the season, we swapped masks. Already an established uni-freak, I put black electrical tape vertically in the middle to give the appearance of an OPO-2. I wanted to look like Darryl Green and Frank Minifield.

    • Paul Lukas | April 28, 2021 at 11:27 am |

      I heart this comment so much!

  • Matt Beahan | April 28, 2021 at 11:28 am |

    I’ve never seen those pics of Dr. J before, which surprises me considering the wealth of early 80s NBA stuff I have in my files.

    It reminds me of a 1984 game against the Knicks where Doc’s jersey was misplaced, resulting in him having to wear a hastily-purchased replica:

    https://twitter.com/toddspehr35/status/1077898193663229953?lang=en

  • dave robb | April 28, 2021 at 11:33 am |

    Great find. Awesome question – really the only question that arises from the DR J pics. How was THAT pic of DR J selected for the cover of the book? One day we’ll find out.

  • Pedro N | April 28, 2021 at 11:45 am |

    Was anyone else “bothered” by the fact that Trevor Bauer wore a hoodie to receive his Cy Young?

  • walter | April 28, 2021 at 12:15 pm |

    The Trois-Rivières Aigles and the Québec Capitales of the Frontier League are merging for this season under the “Équipe Québec” moniker (from @Dante_X)

    That’s too bad. The Capitales had cool uniforms, evocative of Negro Leagues’ style.

  • Justin B. | April 28, 2021 at 12:26 pm |

    Anyone know what the purpose of the second cross bar at the top of a facemask is for? &/or what’s up with some of those that are touching or welded together with the first bar?

  • Phil P | April 28, 2021 at 12:28 pm |
  • hofflalu | April 28, 2021 at 1:26 pm |

    Over the weekend I made the matzo brei recipe from a month ago — my mom had made matzo ball soup recently, and simultaneously I was intrigued by the matzo brei recipe, so I gave it a go. It was quite delicious (my wife and I had leftovers this morning) — thanks for posting it!

    • Paul Lukas | April 28, 2021 at 1:38 pm |

      Nice — glad it was a hit, and thanks for letting me know!

      • hofflalu | April 28, 2021 at 1:42 pm |

        You’re welcome!

  • Lindsay Resnick | April 28, 2021 at 1:32 pm |

    Not sure if it’s too late to add this note but the person who modified the Curt Schilling jersey uses the pronouns “they” and “she,” according to their twitter profile, not “he.”

    • Paul Lukas | April 28, 2021 at 1:38 pm |

      Didn’t catch that — thanks! Will adjust working accordingly.

      • Lindsay Resnick | April 29, 2021 at 5:43 pm |

        Thank you!

  • James W Spears, IV | April 28, 2021 at 2:58 pm |

    That Dodgers clubbie isn’t just some kid. That’s Rodney and Holly Peete’s kid!

  • patrick raven | April 28, 2021 at 3:23 pm |

    Hello Uni-verse! The weather is starting to warm up here in the pacific northwest… I’m just wondering if there are any readers in seattle that are interested in getting together for a catch? I’m also gauging interest in a baseball/softball team, either pick-up or league. Thanks in advance!

  • Coyne | April 28, 2021 at 4:34 pm |

    Seems that any facemask with the home & lower 2-bar design gives the player a nice place to rest his mouthpiece.

  • Graham Clayton | April 28, 2021 at 4:49 pm |

    In regard to the Port Adelaide “prison bar” jersey, that is their original jersey, which their team in the SANFL wears.

    When Port Adelaide joined the AFL in 1997, the prison bar jersey would have clashed with Collingwood’s similar jersey, hence their current teal, white and black jersey.

    http://footyjumpers.com/porthome.htm

  • Jasper | April 28, 2021 at 5:45 pm |

    If Nike had a sense of humor they would create a number font based on the Dr. J athlete tape job and dress the whole team in them for a throwback game…

  • Peter | April 28, 2021 at 5:47 pm |

    Kind of off-topic, but has anyone had any issues purchasing an item from Tokens & Icons?

    Let me be specific, I rec’d an item I purchased and there was a holographic “authentication” tag.

    I followed the steps and the information that I got from that was wildly inconsistent with the item.

    *It was a Mets-based item, however, it stated it was from a TOR v SF game on 6/5/14.

    And the pitcher, wasn’t even a Met until 2015.

    Just curious if anyone else has run into a similar issue / knows that this happens.

    Thank you

  • Jim Vilk | April 28, 2021 at 8:03 pm |

    I miss the single-bar mask…

    Good article today. Extremely informative!

  • Matthew Ramos | April 28, 2021 at 9:40 pm |

    Two questions about Patrick Mahomes’ facemask:
    1) Why no nameplate with Chiefs on it?
    2) It looks to me like his facemask is shmushed up against his face…it does not seem to stick out as much as the others.

    Is that right? I guess it is related to the make and style of his helmet?

    Thanks!

    • Bud | April 29, 2021 at 8:29 am |

      1) The lack of logo on the nose bumper is just something the Chiefs do/have done the last several years, I’m not really sure why. I would certainly prefer a wordmark there of some kind haha

      2) The mask being closer to his face is mostly due to the fact that people just have differently-shaped heads from one another, I’m pretty sure. I’m sure part of his look specifically has to do with all the hair he has to fit underneath, which sets the helmet a bit higher on his head than it would otherwise and pushes the crown of the helmet forward, pushing the bottom of the mask in towards his chin. Some helmet styles have masks that stick out further than others; the original Revo Speed comes to mind (like Jared Goff), but I don’t think Mahomes’ helmet/mask model is especially truncated compared to others, it’s just how it fits his head shape.

      Terrell Suggs is another player that comes to mind where his face seems super close to his mask, and even the larger style masks with extra jaw protection don’t really seem to give his face full coverage, but he just has a massive, massive head that just doesn’t fit into helmets the same way others would fit.

      Glad you liked the article!

  • EOJ | April 29, 2021 at 7:54 pm |

    Marv Woodson poster looks like a preseason game from 1968 with the Bengals.