A guest post by Steve “Dr. Sap” Sapardanis
In my never-ending quest to find out all that there is to know about the University of Michigan football helmet stickers, I tracked down the creator of the version 3 helmet sticker, Carl McKee.
If you recall, Bo Schembechler introduced the first Michigan helmet sticker in 1969. It was a crudely shaped, gold colored football. Those lasted through the 1974 season. In 1975, the second version of the helmet sticker was introduced. This time the shape of the sticker looked more football-like, but the difference was that a snarling wolverine head was added to the decal. These lasted through the 1982 season.In 1983 and 1984, while no stickers were placed on the Michigan headgear, the awards were still tracked on a board/wall inside the Michigan Football locker room. [see the Uniform Timeline for details]
That’s when Carl McKee happened to meet Michigan Football equipment manager, Jon Falk. The two struck up a friendship as Carl was a big Michigan football fan and he and Big Jon would occasionally talk and exchange some ideas and thoughts about Michigan Football.
Right around the same time, Carl had a good friend by the name of Thomas Kneff, who was a local artist that liked to draw and paint country scenes and barnyards. Carl felt the Michigan helmet sticker needed a tweak, so he asked Kneff to re-draw the snarling wolverine head and add some laces to the design to give it more of a football look and feel.
Carl then took his helmet sticker artwork to a printing company in Detroit, MI and had them print off a few samples to give to Falk. Big Jon liked the new look so much that he asked Carl if he could print off a few thousand more because Michigan was going to use these new stickers in 1985.
The rest is history, sort of.
Carl’s stickers were used by Michigan for about 7 or 8 years, until Falk realized the thin vinyl was getting torn and lacerated from all the hits and collisions the players were enduring over the course of a season. In 1992, Falk went national and had another company use the same laces and snarling wolverine head design Carl came up with and applied it to a thicker mil vinyl that was more durable and would stand up to the rigors of big time college football. That sticker would last until the end of the 1994 season. In 1995, Lloyd Carr became the Michigan Football Head Coach and he ended the helmet sticker program for a variety of reasons.
But the legend of Carl McKee doesn’t end there.
You see, Carl was, and still is, somewhat of an entrepreneur and he never met an idea he didn’t like. One of his more popular ideas was putting catchy phrases on vinyl sheets so we could all tout how proud we were of our favorite college and college football team. That’s right, bumper stickers!
Carl made a bunch back in the 80’s and had his teenage sons, Carl III, Bob and John, sell them at all the tailgates around Ann Arbor. Daughter Anne and brother Michael would literally iron out the crinkly dollar bills each weekend at the McKee household. Oh ya, Carl also drove the kids to East Lansing and sold green and white versions of his bumper stickers to the Spartan faithful as well!
For four years the McKee children would put their money they earned from selling bumper stickers in the bank to pay for college tuition. That’s right–Carl and his bumper stickers put his kids through college!
Do any of these look familiar? Back in the day they sold for $1 each, or 6 for $5:
I know I have a few of these in my collection!
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