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The Bengals’ Odd History of Handwritten Helmet Messaging

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We’re used to seeing an MLB player inscribing someone’s initials or uni number on his cap. But we don’t see NFL players doing that with their football helmets.

Except, that is, during the late 1980s and early ’90s, when handwritten messaging was a bit of a thing on the Bengals’ helmets. I should say at the outset that I didn’t know about or discover this myself — reader Chris Hickey let me know about it. He deserves all the credit for what you’re about to see.

Let’s start here: When a late-1988 injury forced offensive lineman Joe Walter to miss the postseason (which the Bengals rode all the way to Super Bowl XXIII), Cincy players wrote his uni number, 63, on their helmets. Offensive lineman Anthony Muñoz had it on the side and above the nose bumper, as you can see in this shot from the AFC Championship Game against the Bills:

I haven’t seen any other pics of players who wore the “63” above the nose bumper, but many Bengals — perhaps most Bengals — wore it on the side of the shell throughout the postseason. Here are some additional examples:

Note the stripes flaking off of the jersey.

A few years later, after team founder Paul Brown died shortly before the start of the 1991 season, the Bengals didn’t add a memorial patch or decal for him (a bizarre omission), so several players wrote a little “PB” on their headgear. Here it is on both sides of Muñoz’s helmet:

The “PB” also appears in this next shot. I’m not 100% sure who the player is, but I think it’s quarterback Boomer Esiason:

And that’s not the only thing that the ’91 Bengals wrote on their lids. After NBA star Magic Johnson revealed his AIDS diagnosis in November of that year, defensive back David Fulcher had “Magic” on both sides of his helmet (and check out his ski mask in the second shot):


Interesting, right? I know of no other NFL team that did anything like this.

Also: While researching this piece, I discovered that Muñoz himself was helmet-tributed — with a “78” decal, not a handwritten inscription — on Dec. 27, 1992, which was the date of his final NFL game. The weird thing is that the players wore the decal on the side of the helmet, not in the more traditional rear-helmet spot. Here it is on quarterback Donald Hollas’s lid:

You can see that the entire team was wearing the decal in this short highlight clip (which also features a young Keith Olbermann):

I never knew that (or maybe once knew and forgot). Interesting!

(Big thanks to Chris Hickey for sending me down this rabbit hole.)



The Untold Story Behind the Jags’ 1997 Number Font

For this week’s Uni Watch Premium article over on Substack, I have an interview with designer Eric Bodamer, who was working for Nike when they had to quickly redesign the Jaguars’ number font in the middle of the 1997 preseason. It’s a really interesting story, full of good details.

You can read the first part of the article here. In order to read the whole thing, you’ll need to become a paid subscriber to my Substack (which will also get you access to my full Substack archives). My thanks, as always, for your consideration.



Uni Watch Halloween Report

I gave out a lot of candy last night. By far the best costume I saw was the one shown above — a kid dressed up as a basketball backboard. I banked a Snickers off the white square and into his sack. Hope everyone had a happy Halloween!



Can of the Day

Oops — the black plate was out of register for the can on the right. Still a gorgeous design, though.

Comments (14)

    I remember reading after Paul Brown’s death that Brown himself insisted there be no marking on the Bengals uniforms regarding his passing & that is the reason.

    Brown may have insisted that the Bengals do nothing…but don’t you think the Cleveland Browns should have done something?

    Maybe it’s just me, but this seems a more appropriate and genuine mark of respect than a decal. Someone, maybe even the player themselves, actually took hold of the Sharpie and got involved.

    The Bengals helmet, with no team decal, is an ideal canvas for this kind of messages. Interesting that the league did not say no to this, as they did with the McMahon headbands. That kid looks so cool and he must have been hoping: please, no apples that might hit my face. The can is very good indeed. Is this the same Milton Bradley of the board games?

    The Bengals helmet…in and of itself…is ideal!

    “Is this the same Milton Bradley of the board games?”
    From Wikipedia: “In the late 1860s, Bradley…began manufacturing educational items such as colored papers and paints. Milton Bradley’s company’s involvement with kindergartens began with the production of…geometric wooden play things….Bradley spent months devising the exact shades in which to produce these materials; his final choice of six pigments of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet would remain the standard colors for children’s art supplies through the 20th century. By the 1890s, the Milton Bradley Company had introduced the first standardized watercolor sets”

    Come to think of it, the Browns is ofcourse the ideal whiteboard helmet, as is one side of the Steelers helmet with a whiteout pen.

    I’m a fan of that costume!
    When we went out Tuesday, 95% of the costumes looked store-bought. It’s rare to see something that someone actually created, regardless of the production value. Good on that kid.

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