[ed. 8/15 – After a few reader comments and questions, I revised this post. Gotta love Michigan football, where questions about helmet paint get the blood pumping.]
I hope you had a chance to catch longtime equipment manager Jon Falk in a recent edition of ‘Countdown to Kick-off’, discussing reconditioning of the Michigan helmet. In the video Falk notes that there are two brands of helmet at Michigan, Schutt and Riddell (although a few varieties of styles are available for each company).
Back in May I swung by Schembechler Hall to catch one batch of helmets just as they were being scooped up from the folks from Capitol Varsity Sports, the folks who recondition the Schutt equipment. Here’s a few of the facemaskless helmets sacked up about to be loaded on the truck to Oxford, OH:
As wonderfully highlighted in the Countdown video, the man who cares for the Schutt gear once it arrives in Oxford is a man named Russ Hawkins. While the folks at Riddell use a mold to define the maize wing pattern, Hawkins sets the paint boundary by hand. To watch him work his magic is a sight to be sure:
Sorry Riddell, give me a Schutt.
This May I asked Falk about how Michigan hooked up with Capitol Varsity and Hawkins and he told me relationship goes back to the mid-1960s. Falk was the manager for his high school team in Oxford and naturally they used the local company for their reconditioning services. This relationship followed Falk to college at Miami, OH when he handled the equipment under Redskins head coach Bo Schembechler.
When he was reunited with Bo up in Ann Arbor in 1974, Falk found a few issues with the paint job on the helmets and decided to send them back to the crew back home. Hawkins and Capitol Varsity have handled the Schutt side of the headgear house ever since.
One other tidbit I caught earlier this year. While the hardcore reconditioning and painting is handled during the summer, there are a few touch-ups that occur each week during the season. Falk explained to me back in May:
"We buy them yellow and mask off the wing and paint them the Michigan navy. Then, we mask off the navy and paint the yellow wing because the helmet yellow is the same color as our maize."
"That way, when you are playing football, the maize will get scratched into yellow so it doesn’t glare out. Any scratches from the navy will be yellow. On Thursday nights, Bob Bland takes a paint brush and he fills in the grooves of the scratches from the week before. We don’t need to touch up the maize because it scratches into yellow and doesn’t show."
Speaking of tidbits, pick up your copy of If These Walls Could Talk, Falk’s new book that’s red hot and hot off the presses. It’s loaded down with factoids so go get some and watch the ladies swoon.
8/15 update: OK, based on comments below and a few emails from folks like winged helmet maven Steve Sapardanis, a clarification on the process. I spoke to Russ Hawkins himself to clarify:
1. Michigan orders helmets from Schutt, and they ship in the color of ‘Green Bay Gold’, like this one on Amazon.com.
2. The helmets are sanded to prime the base.
3. They are then painted the Michigan ‘maize’ shade and set to dry.
4. The helmets are "masked" or taped off, to form the wings as seen above.
5. They are painted navy over the tape, and set to dry.
6. Before the painted hardens, the masking is stripped off revealing the winged design.
7. They then apply two layers of a protective coating.
8. Helmets are shipped back to Jon Falk
New tidbit #1 per Jon Falk’s new book. In addition to Bob Bland’s touch ups of navy paint on Thursday nights, the helmets are polished prior to games with SC Johnson’s ‘Future Floor Wax’, now branded as ‘Pledge® Premium Finish with Future® Shine’.
New tidbit #2. I asked Hawkins if he ever shipped all navy helmets to Michigan, that is, helmets without wings. Answer? Nope. He did say that Schutt sent over 3 all navy helmets this year and that this was an oddity. They painted the wings directly onto the navy and shipped them up to Michigan.
File this under more than you ever wanted to know about the winged helmet.