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Football’s Weirdest-Looking Facemask Is Getting a Makeover

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Riddell introduced its Axiom helmet — billed as the most technologically advanced model on the market — about two years ago. Although a lot has been written about it since then (including a deep dive by yours truly), and although it’s now been worn on NFL and NCAA fields for two full seasons, many fans — even uni-savvy ones — are still sometimes caught off-guard by the Axiom’s unusual-looking facemask, which connects at the jawline but doesn’t have a top bar up around the forehead area like standard facemasks do. Just a few weeks ago, Uni Watch reader/commenter Jeff Stark asked me about it, and I fielded a bunch of similar queries throughout this past season.

Fans aren’t the only ones who think the Axiom’s mask looks a bit funky. When I interviewed Thad Ide, Riddell’s executive VP of Research & Product Development, two years ago, he acknowledged that the some players didn’t like the Axiom’s unusual mask design. We had this exchange:

Thad Ide: Then there are the challenges you always face when you introduce something new. For example, we heard some people object that the Axiom doesn’t work with an EG faceguard — that’s the mask with the two uprights on the sides that was made popular 30 years ago by Emmitt Smith and Deion Sanders. It’s still a very popular style.

Uni Watch: Are you saying that some people complained about that just from a cosmetic or aesthetic standpoint? Like, as more of a style thing than a performance thing?

Ide: Yes. It was a comment that we heard over and over again — “I have an EG guard,” or “But I want to wear an EG guard.” I think it’s just what they’re used to seeing when they look in the mirror.

Now it looks like those players may be getting their wish. The Riddell folks are currently attending the American Football Coaches Association convention in Nashville, and on Sunday they posted this announcement:

Interesting! Let’s compare the two masks side by side:

The new one would seem to alleviate at least some of the aesthetic concerns about the Axiom’s mask. But it also looks like it cuts down a bit on the Axiom’s field of vision, which was one of the helmet’s selling points.

I wanted to know more, so I emailed Riddell with a few questions, as follows:

  • Does the new mask offer better performance and/or safety, or is it mostly a stylistic/aesthetic change?
  • Did you find that the original mask design met with a lot of user resistance, because of its unusual look?
  • When will the new mask be available for on-field use?
  • Will the new mask replace the old one, or will both options be available?

I received the following response from Thad Ide:

As with any new helmet platform, the accessory line tends to be supplemented once field use expands and we receive additional feedback. Axiom was initially launched with five styles of new and unique cast facemasks. The cast construction allows some interesting design possibilities, like non-circular cross-sections, to improve sight lines, which have been well-received for that reason.

The new Axiom-W facemask styles use a more traditional welded wire construction and offer a different aesthetic for players, coaches, and equipment managers who prefer that type of mask. Also of note, the addition of a top wire allows us to offer the popular “EG”-style mask in the Axiom line. During the Fall 2023 playing season, we conducted a successful field test of these mask styles.

Beginning for Spring 2024 football, the new mask styles will be commercially available and then more widely available over the summer as we approach the fall season. We expect the Axiom-W face mask style to supplement the original cast styles with all models available going forward.

Okay, so that basically sounds like a long and convoluted way of saying, “We tried something innovative and different, but some people were scared off by that, so we’ve come up with an option that should appeal a bit more to the traditionalists. You know, casting a wider net.”

Nothing wrong with that. It’ll be interesting to see if this results in more players choosing to wear the Axiom this fall.

(My thanks to Christian Berumen for bringing Riddell’s mask announcement to my attention.)



Too Good for the Ticker

Who’s that in the old Little League photo? None other than future football coahes Jim (left) and John Harbaugh. That uni number placement is bizarre. Nice stirrups, guys!

As many folks have noted on various pages where this photo has been published, their distinct personalities (and Jim’s jaw) were already apparent in this photo. Or as one Redditor put it, “It’s like John just told Jim ‘By the way, you’re adopted.'”

(My thanks to David Brown for this one.)



Mascot Watch

They keep finding new incredibly adorable poses.



Can of the Day

Hey look, the daily non-sports feature is actually sports-related today!

Nice can. But can you imagine marketing anything nowadays by including a discus thrower as part of the package design?

Comments (43)

    The problem with the Axiom helmets isn’t the facemask. It is the thick, jagged, black stripe that runs across the upper sides of the helmet. It looks like the embroidered arrows on a western shirt. It looks bad on all helmets but especially on light-colored helmets, like the light silver lids Dallas wears.

    That’s not a black stripe, it’s an opening. The black is the shadow, so there’s nothing that Riddell can do about that.

    That’s not a dark abyss between the shell and Dak’s skull. That’s padding. It can be a different color.

    Poor choice of words on my part, it is in fact a gaping chasm dividing the same piece of plastic that gets unnecessarily wide at times to reveal a black canyon floor, which could easily be colored so as not to stand out. It is almost as “LOOK AT ME!” as the weird truncated shoulder stripes and off-center shorts notches on Nike basketball uniforms, except everyone in the world knows Nike, but I would bet the vast majority of people within this comm-UNI-ty wouldn’t know an Axiom helmet from another modern brand.

    Aesthetically it may look weird (until we get used to it), however from a performance standpoint I think it would be better. Simply because less bars or other points to snag, less likely to get facemask tackles. I suppose a player could still get their fingers along the side of the helmet, but my sense is that the facemask bars are more likely to get snagged that the side of the helmet.
    The new version definitely makes it look more normal, I’m guessing the change was purely for aesthetic purposes.

    So, I’m assuming that whether a player uses the original style Axiom or the new one, it offers the same protection? Wonder why they didn’t just use the welded wire face mask to begin with to get more players to use it, then go to the newer style

    Technical/proofreading: the link to the Deion Sanders photo is wonky. Probably a hotlinking issue

    So if new mask style shown for the Axiom is supposed to replicate the EG mask, it doesn’t do a very good job of it. The secondary vertical bars that connect the top horizontal bar to the part of the mask around the mouth area are in a very different place on the Axiom compared to the more conventional helmets. If the EG is what I want, I don’t think this new option would satisfy that itch.

    Whenever I see one of those Axiom helmets during a game, I instantly think of how Joe Washington looked, especially during his Oklahoma days. (Sorry, I don’t know how to attach a picture. )

    It looks like the football player on the M-L-O can is wearing Axiom’s unusual-looking facemask.

    I like the original Axion Facemask. Very sleek. Also reminds me of the old style helmets with the two-bar face masks.

    That’s why I like it too.

    So this was a case of liking something that is innovative and different that scared off the “traditionalists”… because it reminds me of an even more traditional look.

    I agree. As soon as I saw it, I was reminded of the old school two bar facemasks; especially on the helmets that with contrasting facemask colors.

    I always thought those helmets, especially when paired with a dark tinted visor, looked like motorcycle helmets, not football helmets. Something about that always turned me off. The new mask style is a major upgrade, in my opinion.

    I can kinda see the helmet changes from a few different angles.

    Yes, fewer bars allows for wider vision, but it also means more stuff can get in, namely defenders hands and fingers. I don’t know for sure, but EG might stand for “eye guard.”

    Of course, more bars means more limited vision. But there might be some guys that would rather have limited vision but get poked in the eye/face less. More bars may do a better job of keeping hands out.

    Also, in the age when drawing a pass interference flag is considered almost as good as a reception in terms of the result, I’d imagine some guys might like having something extra for defenders’ hands to potentially catch onto for facemask penalties.

    As far as metal versus plastic, [shrug]. Probably just a matter of preference. The lighter facemask might allow for easier movement, but the metal facemask might just feel more substantial and give guys more confidence that the mask won’t bend or break. Probably six of one, half a dozen of the other.

    This is huge. Problem solved. It used to not look like a facemask. Now it does. The particulars of her than that dont bother me. The jagged line others have mentioned does look intrusive, but that’s a sacrifice i’ll gladly make (especially in the name of player safety). The fake “facemask” just looked sooooo stupid before, and now it just looks normal. I’m very pleased with this change.

    Damn I am going to miss PL’s real journalism interviews on inside trends such this polarizing helmet. Love reading this stuff.

    100% agreement on both of those statements… and I think our Uni-Watch founder would want us to remember that we are all Uni Watchers now… constantly sharing links news and “insider” stuff (to think I never heard of a Spiedie until a few months ago!)
    We have learned well, imo

    Hey, I love the can of the day and I had to go look up other versions…
    stumbled upon this hybrid “NASA”-MLO logo on a recent product of theirs, complete with mimicked ” worm” font for the product name…
    I hope this was a collaboration cuz otherwise that’s trademark type stuff…but also makes me wonder if NASA cares about that with so many fans of their logos out there

    NASA is a government entity, so trademark shouldn’t apply here. We payed for that font with our tax dollars so it’s our font, correct?

    Thanks for the shout out Paul! I actually think it looks like a “modern” version of the old helmet facemasks we were used to seeing painted on the field/end zones in the 70’s/80’s.

    Surprised there was no mention of the Chiefs RB who drew the “EG” bars onto his clear shield because he used them as reference points when running.

    The Axiom still looks more like Star Wars than football to me, but if it improves player safety, roll with it.

Comments are closed.