Bo era savant Steve “Dr. Sap” Sapardanis recently caught up with Jon Falk to get down and dirty on the decals.  And if you are wondering when this site is going to stop talking about helmet decals, the answer is NEVER.


Steve “Dr. Sap” Sapardanis (SS): Bob Ufer mentioned that there were team goals as well as individual achievements that were used to award the decals. Do you know what criteria was used to get a decal? Was that list published?
Jon Falk (JF)
: There was a notebook that Bo had that listed the goals.  It had offensive scores, defensive stops, interceptions, tackles for loss – I can’t remember all of them.  When the offense would score, every player on offense would get one. If we scored more than 30 points, the whole offense would get one.  If the defense made a goal line stand, the entire defense would get a decal.  Things like that.

SS: Who made the decision to award decals to each player?
JF: The position coaches would give me the list.  Later on, it would be the Victors Club List.  That’s where guys would wear Victors Club jerseys at practice.

Victors Club Jersey(Victors Club jerseys)  U-M Bentley Historical Library

SS: When were those decisions made? After evaluation of game film?
JF: Correct.  On Sunday each position coach would break down the game film and make a list of who would get (how many) decals.

SS: When were the decals applied to the helmets?
JF: Monday.  After I got the list from the coaches on Sunday, I would put the decals on Monday before practice.

SS: Who put the actual decals on the helmets?
JF: I did.  I would also check the helmets on Saturday to see if any were torn.

SS: Who kept track of the decals and were they locked up?
JF: I had them in my office, locked in a drawer.  I had a book that I kept a record of for the entire year of who had how many decals.

SS: Do you still have that book?
JF: Oh, gosh no!

SS: The design of the decals changed over the years. Who decided to change the design in 1975 & 1985?
JF: I did.  The original ones were crudely shaped – they were just punched-out and literally stuck to adhesive tape.

SS: Who/what company made the decals?
JF: There was a local guy in Milan, MI – gosh, I can’t remember his name – but he was the guy who made them.  They were made on cards that had 10 decals on each card.

SS: Were the decals actually a yellow football with just a clear-colored (not blue) wolverine head?
JF: Well, like I said, the first ones were cut out and applied to adhesive.  The next ones (1975-82), the yellow was adhesive with a clear wolverine head. But those were very thin and would tear and get torn, so the next ones (1985-94) were made a little thicker.  They were yellow with a blue wolverine head (with laces) and were a little more durable.

SS: The decals were not on the helmets in 1983 & 1984 but were still kept track of. Who made the decision to take them off the helmets?
JF: I don’t recall that. I thought they were always on.

SS: They came off in ’83 & ’84 and I had heard that they were still kept track of, but they were just not placed on the helmets. Evidently, Bo wanted to reinforce the TEAM element and thought removing them might help.
JF: No, I don’t remember that. Are you sure?
SS: Absolutely.

SS: Were the players excited about getting new decals each week?
JF: Oh, yeah!  Each Monday they’d say things like, “How come I only got this many decals?” And I would tell them, “Go talk to your (position) coach.”  But some of the players would move the decals each Monday and then I would move them back on Saturday before the game.

SS: You mean some of the guys would reposition them?
JF: Yes. And I would have to move them back to where I put them.

SS: I know there were left and right decals. Were they placed on the helmets in a certain way?
JF: Yes. I tried to place the decals so that the wolverine head was facing away from the (side) stripe.  So the left-facing ones were on the left side of the helmet and the right-facing ones were on the right side of the helmet. That didn’t happen every year, but that’s what I tried to do.

SS: When Lloyd Carr made the decision to remove the decals in 1995, were they still kept track of?
JF: By then we had the Victors Club T-Shirts – not the jerseys. A few years later, if we were playing a home game, they would wear a blue Victors Club jersey with no numbers on it at practice. If we were playing a road game, it would be a yellow Victors Club jersey. The Demo Squad would wear different colored jerseys for each team that we were playing on the road. The Demo Team would wear white jerseys for the road (visiting) teams.

SS: How did the players react when they were told there would be no more decals?
JF: You know what? They just took it in stride. We didn’t want anything to distract from that winged-design.

SS: I have been a big proponent in trying to bring back the decals. What’s your take, Jon? Would you like to see them again on the Michigan Football helmets?
JF: I like that Michigan helmet without the decals.
SS: :(


  • “I used to tell all the players who would go to the Senior Bowl, ‘Don’t put any (other team) stickers on that helmet of yours!’”
  • “Bo used to ask me, ‘How come these helmets are scratchy?’ Guys like (Mark) Donahue and (Rob) Lytle would have their helmets all scuffed up and Bo didn’t like that.  He liked those old (MacGregor) helmets where the design was actually inside the helmet and there was a plastic coating on the outside. So we got some touch up paint and Bob Bland would touch up the helmets every Thursday night.”
  • “Dave Brandon wanted the helmets to look shiny for each game on Saturday. So a few years ago, Bob Bland would paint the game helmets on Monday so they would look perfect for Saturday’s game.   More recently, all the game helmets have been shipped to Elyria, Ohio to have them touched up and have a heavy gloss coating applied to them so they could be nice and shiny. On Monday the helmets would get shipped to Ohio to get the gloss finish re-done. The guys would wear practice helmets all week and get their game helmets back on Thursday. This way the helmets would look nice all the time.”
  • “The first night game against Notre Dame was when we first used the speckled (yellow) paint and used it all season.”


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[Ed. Steve “Dr. Sap” Sapardanis is featured here each postgame with Dr. Sap’s Decals.  You might know that his detailed knowledge of uniform tweaks since the Bo era helped spearhead the Uniform Timeline.    Bottom line – the Sap mind blended with the Sap archives is a Wangler-to-Carter-esque combination.    Here’s another great Bo-era story from the mind of Sap.]


Guest post by Steve “Dr. Sap” Sapardanis


Nowadays it’s commonplace for quarterbacks to wear red (or sometimes orange, /wink) colored jerseys in practice. This of course is a reminder to all players and coaches that they are not to be hit or tackled in drills. Last year, former Michigan quarterback Rick Leach told me that he never wore a redshirt at practice during his four years as Michigan’s man under center. I was shocked to hear that, especially when you consider two things: 1. Bo liked to hit in practice as much as possible and; 2. Leach ran Bo’s option offense and got hit quite a bit carrying and pitching the ball.


So all this got me thinking – who was the first QB to wear a redshirt at practice for Bo?  I know it wasn’t Tom Slade shown here at practice in 1972:


And like Leach said, no redshirts here in 1976 when President Ford dropped by to see the Wolverines at practice:
Or in 1977 when the Prez popped in again:

Here’s Michael Taylor and Elvis Grbac in 1989, but I knew it didn’t start with them:

I knew Taylor & Grbac weren’t the first because I saw this on Michigan Replay:

Michigan red jersey

That’s Jim Harbaugh and Chris Zurbrugg under center wearing red tunics during Spring Practice in 1985. 


Legendary U-M equipment manager Jon Falk told me that the QBs wore the red tunics only during scrimmages in the mid 80s.   I asked Big Jon if Steve Smith wore a redshirt in 1983 after he separated his shoulder in the 1983 Rose Bowl.   He did not recall Smitty wearing a redshirt, but remembered him wearing a harness underneath his shoulder pads to keep his shoulder in place.   That was a serious injury – especially for a QB.  So I thought, if it wasn’t Smith, it must have been…..John Wangler.


“[Wangler] just came off a very bad knee injury and we wanted to make sure he could take hits,” Falk recalled. 


That injury was thanks to Lawrence Taylor, who pounded Wangler’s knee In the 2nd quarter of the 1979 Gator Bowl.  I remembered Wangs being held out of spring practice in 1980, but did he wear a redshirt when he finally rehabbed his knee and returned to practice in the fall?  


“Well, actually, I didn’t wear a redshirt during the season,” Wangler told me.  “I wore one during two-a-days in the fall of 1980. But even though I had the redshirt on, it didn’t stop my good friend Mel Owens from tackling me one time at practice!” [laughs]


Former Michigan assistant and longtime West Virginia head coach Don Nehlen told me that because Bo had his guys going all out in practice, the only way he could get them to stop, when he wanted them to stop, was to use a short whistle.  Wangler confirmed this.  “He would use that short whistle to make sure you didn’t get hit hard.  I mean there would be some contact, and guys could wrap up, but he would limit the hard hitting with his whistle.”


So in lieu of having his quarterbacks look like prima donnas by wearing different colored jerseys, that’s what the General had used for all those years to protect his quarterback – a short whistle.


After finding all that out, I had one last question for old #5– Did ALL the QB’s wear a redshirt during two-a-days in 1980, or was it just him because of the knee injury?

Wangler’s response? 


“Just me. The other guys were a lot tougher!”


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[Ed. You know I’m a huge fan of Steve “Dr. Sap” Sapardanis & he’s featured here each postgame with Dr. Sap’s Decals.  You might know that his detailed knowledge of uniform tweaks since the Bo era helped spearhead the Uniform Timeline.    Bottom line – the Sap mind blended with the Sap archives is a Wangler-to-Carter-esque combination.    Here’s another great Bo-era story from the mind of Sap.] 

Guest Post by Steve “Dr. Sap” Sapardanis

After Bo Schembechler left U-M to become the president of the Detroit Tigers he met Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finley.  Finley liked to dabble in the unique as he was the inventor of the high visibility yellow baseball as well as the green and gold tunics the A’s wore in the ‘70s.

The two talked about Finley’s new football invention – the reverse dimple football.  Its enhanced grip was supposed to improve the accuracy of throws and increase the distance it was kicked. [more on the patent here.]

The grip enhancement looked much like a golf ball’s surface and the leather looked something like this:


Bo was intrigued and told Finley to go see U-M equipment manager Jon Falk in Ann Arbor…and that’s exactly what he did in the spring of 1990.  The two hit it off and Falk agreed to try the new ball that Rawlings now dubbed the “Double Grip Football” with the 1990 Wolverines.

Everybody liked it.  The quarterbacks liked the grip and felt more accurate throwing it.  The receivers liked the tackiness and the kickers felt it sailed longer when booted. 

Falk wanted to use the new pigskin against  Notre Dame to start the 1990 season, but had to wait and use their existing ball, the Wilson 1001 AFCRT, until the new Rawlings ball was
accredited by the NCAA Rules Committee.  That didn’t happen until late October, which meant the Purdue contest on November 3rd, 1990 was the first time the Reverse Dimple Rawlings Double Grip Football was used in an NCAA game.  Michigan won 38-13 in West Lafayette that afternoon.

While U-M was the only school to use the ball during the regular season, it was used in several bowl games later that year.  Air Force defeated Ohio State in the 1990 Liberty Bowl while using the Double Grip football.  Washington would use it for the first time against Iowa in the 1991 Rose Bowl and trounced the Hawkeyes.

Of course we all know what Michigan did in the 1991 Gator Bowl.  Over 700 yards of total offense in a 35-3 beat down of Ole Miss was enough to convince everyone watching that the Rawlings Double Grip Football was no one-hit-wonder.

In the second game of the 1991 season, the Double Grip got even more publicity and exposure thanks to Desmond Howard and Elvis Grbac.
That diving catch in the endzone made by Howard against Notre Dame?

clip_image004That’s right. It was made with the Rawlings Double Grip Football.

While Grbac would become the first Michigan QB to be the nation’s most efficient passer, Howard would go on to win the Heisman Trophy that year.  Rawlings took notice and even issued a Press Release in December of 1991 saying its new ball resulted in greater accuracy, a higher percentage of completed passes, longer passes, a better grip in cold or wet weather and was the best ball for quarterbacks with small hands.

clip_image005”Howard caught 19 touchdown passes while Michigan quarterback Elvis Grbac led the nation in passing efficiency and 24 TD passes–all with the Rawlings ‘Double Grip’ ball,” it read.

Here is Howard striking another pose – this time with the Rawlings ball on the cover of Beckett football card monthly:

desmond howard beckett

But much like the old saying goes, what goes up, must come down.   And in 1992, that’s exactly what happened.

Grbac would go on and become the nation’s most efficient passer again, this time without Howard’s heroics. Michigan would win their 5th consecutive Big Ten Championship but would finish with an awkward 8-0-3 regular season record.  Three ties were strange enough, but the one tie that took all the air out of the Rawlings Double Grip ball was the Illinois game on November 14th, 1992.

The weather conditions were typical for Ann Arbor in November: 32 degrees, 65% humidity and a 10-15 mph wind blowing from the southwest. It had snowed the night before and would do so occasionally throughout the game.  There was some concern about how the ball would hold up as this would be the coldest weather it would be used in.  Even in their wildest dreams, #3 Michigan could not have expected a nightmare like this.

When it was all said and done, the 22-22 tie knocked U-M out of the national championship race and the turnover stats line read like a horror show:

  • Fumbles – 10 (12, if you include two bobbled kickoffs)
  • Fumbles Lost – 4
  • Dropped Passes – 4
  • Interceptions – 2 (1 off a muffed reception)
  • 1 botched PAT snap/hold that was bobbled by the holder (Jay Riemersma)
  • 1 kick that hit the upright (no good)

And it was not like this 1992 U-M squad was a turnover machine – quite the opposite.  In the previous 9 games, Michigan had fumbled only 15 times and lost 7 of them.  Illinois, which used the traditional pebble grain Wilson 1001 AFCRT ball, had just 1 fumble (which they recovered) and 1 interception (from a dropped pass) along with 1 missed PAT kick.  It was a damning stat line for the Double Grip and one that caused Falk to take a closer look at the ball Michigan would be using going forward.

He studied the game tape and he told me that he noticed the ball became hard when the temperature dropped. The leather lost its tackiness and it became slick and difficult to handle.  While Rawlings claimed the ball would provide better grip in cold weather, it appeared as though that might not have been the case.

With the weather the following week in Columbus expected to be in the mid-50s, Falk gave the Rawlings ball one last chance against Ohio State.  Even though Michigan would not fumble the while using Double Grip against OSU, Falk officially pulled the plug on it after the game.

The guy who gave Finley’s invention the green light a few years earlier, was now putting the kibosh on it and gave Coach Gary Moeller the cold, hard facts.

“I told Mo that we had to change it up for the Rose Bowl against Washington,”  Falk said.  He said, ‘Ya. Let’s do it.’”

Michigan would switch back to the Wilson 1001 for the 1993 Rose Bowl and would use it until Rich Rodriguez took over in 2008.  RichRod preferred the narrower Wilson 1005 for his spread offenses. It is the ball Michigan continues to use to this day.


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[Ed.  Folks, busy wrapping up my epic salute to Captain Conley and the 1964 squad for HTTV 2014.   If you love f-bombs in history pieces that don’t even include Ron Kramer stories, get your copies here now via the mgo-Kickerstarter campaign!   I’ll be back to regular business soon, including a few outtakes from the ‘64 stuff.   In the meantime, just because, how about another epic a guest post from Dr. Sap???]

1 and 7

A guest post by Steve “Dr. Sap” Sapardanis

Two of the most iconic numbers in Detroit Red Wings hockey history were determined by bunk bed assignments on the team train in the 1940s. Ted Lindsay & Gordie Howe were awarded the #7 and #9 jerseys respectively not because someone in the organization thought they’d be great, but because bunk beds #7 and #9 became available for Lindsay & Howe when they were just beginning their Hall of Fame NHL careers.   Back then, whatever bunk bed you slept in on the train was the number you would wear on the ice.

Legend has it that Old Number 98 was given his iconic number after a little dispute with his high school coach.  Years ago Mark Harmon told Sports Illustrated his understanding of what happened:

As a freshman he was once chewing gum while the coach was talking and the coach got upset. He told him to get off the field but my dad said no. So they lined him up against the varsity and they kicked off to him and he ran three consecutive kickoffs for touchdowns. The coach told him to go to the office and pick out a uniform. So he did and he was the first one there. He picked the newest jersey, newest pair of pads, newest everything. He felt good and as he came back down from the office, the rest of the team was coming up. He went down to the field and the coach told him he had the starting halfback’s uniform on. The coach said, “Go take it off and get something else.” So he went back there and everything was gone except a moth-eaten torn-up jersey in the corner. Number 98. He loved that number and it came up continually in his life. It was the name of his sports-production company.

For Michigan football, two of the more recent iconic numbers have similarly interesting stories on how and why the respective players were given their iconic numbers and who subsequently has and hasn’t worn them since.  The numbers 1 and 7 have ultimately defined two positions for Michigan Football after their respective legends first donned those now iconic numerals.

When I mention #1 and #7 at Michigan don’t you automatically think of wide receiver and quarterback?  Interestingly enough, Anthony Carter and Rick Leach were the first players to wear the #1 and #7 jerseys at their respective positions.  Before AC, Gregg Willner, a placekicker (1975-78), and David Whiteford, a defensive back (1973-1975) wore #1.  Before Leach wore #7, Mark Jacoby wore it from 1972-1974 as a defensive end and wolfman.

I asked legendary equipment manager Jon Falk why Leach, who wore #13 as a Flint Southwestern Colt, was given #7 at Michigan in 1975, he explained to me how the number assignment process worked.  During the summers, Falk & Bo would sit down and review the list of available numbers based on which players were returning each year. That list would then be matched up to the incoming freshman class and numbers were assigned to each new player based on position.

For Leach, #13 was already taken by backup junior QB John Ceddia.  Falk and Bo saw that #7 was open, so they assigned the player who would eventually become the first freshman to start at QB in Michigan Football history, lucky #7.  Anthony Carter’s story was a little more interesting.

After hearing the reports about how dynamic Carter was in high school and once Bo and Bill McCartney saw Carter play in Florida, Schembechler gave Falk this bold prediction: “This kid is going to be the next Johnny Rodgers of College Football! He is going to return some kicks for touchdowns!  We’re gonna give him #1!”

Since AC last wore #1 in the 1983 Rose Bowl, there have been a few others to don the ultimate binary jersey: Greg McMurtry, Derrick Alexander, Tyrone Butterfield , David Terrell and Braylon Edwards – all wide receivers of course.  

After Leach last wore #7 in the 1979 Rose Bowl, several other players at different positions have worn the lucky number. QB’s Dave Hall, Demetrius Brown, Drew Henson, Spencer Brinton, Chad Henne, Devin Gardner (for a couple of years) and now Shane Morris.  Kicker Rick Sutkiewicz, DB Shonte Peoples and RB Chris Floyd were a few other non-QB’s to wear #7.

So I am not the only one who likes the fact that Shane Morris, a lefty QB, is wearing #7 – it just looks right.

But since Edwards left UM, no one has worn the coveted #1 jersey. Braylon has funded an endowment scholarship for the right to wear the #1 jersey, but no one has worn it since Edwards did in his last game – the 2005 Rose Bowl.

All this now leads to a couple questions:

  • Should the #1 jersey be put back into circulation?
  • Should #1 and #7 be worn by only WR’s and QB’s exclusively?

While Leach had a stellar career at U-M (3 Big Ten Championships, three-time 1st Team All-Big Ten QB, All-American QB in 1978 and the re-writing of the UM Passing Record Book), Carter’s dossier was a notch above: (2 Big Ten Championships, three-time 1st Team All-Big Ten WR, three-time All-American WR and the re-writing of the UM Receiving & Kick Return Record Books).

One last question: The argument could be made that Carter was the best to have ever played his position at Michigan. That being said, if he wore #13, would we think #13 was the best number ever for a Michigan wide receiver?


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Straight to the miscellanea:

Honoring Falk > Postgame:

Q. For the last 40 years your equipment manager Jon Falk has been the keeper of the jug. Any last words about Mr. Falk and knowing he’s got the job one more time that concludes his tenure here?

Hoke:  “Well, we gave it to him when we got in the locker room. I just hope he doesn’t take it home. But no, very emotional, very happy. Jon, his loyalty to Michigan and Michigan football is special.”

I caught up with Falk after the game as he was heading out of the stadium.  He told me when he got the jug he told the players, “There’s no coach & there’s no player bigger than Michigan football.” 

Uniform notes >  Team wore LHS decal in honor of Lucas, son of former All-B1G tackle Adam Stenavich.  As Sap pointed out, that’s the first non-player or coach to be honored in such a way (POTUS Ford, Bo, Ron Kramer).  Timeline updated.

Mood >  Slight uptick, but that was way closer than the score of course and..well…meh:

chart Jug History slaughtered but forgiven >   At the conclusion of the broadcast Mike Patrick absolutely butchered the history of the jug, talking some nonsense about Minnesota taking the jug to Michigan and the crock being made of clay from the 1930s….Say what?   Shoe and Bando were all over it and while I didn’t hear it live, I felt a strange disturbance in the Jug if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. In 10 seconds Patrick sent jug history back to the 1930s.

All that said, ABC is forgiven thanks to Ed Cunningham who, with 2:45 left in the first half, said this:

”And they are playing of course for the Little Brown Jug, which is played for every year between Michigan and Minnesota.  And there’s was an old story that was a water bottle, and he left it at Minnesota and called and said, ‘Hey can we get our water bottle back?’, a thirty cent water bottle.   They said, ‘No, come and get it next year if you win.’”

“Well that’s not true, that isn’t actually what happened.”

Bless you Ed.  You just earned a beer or a mixtape compliments of  Glad someone out there is listening.   Best guess?  Ed caught my article in the game program as part of his prep or heard me on WTKA or WWJ driving over to the game.

Photo Oct 06, 5 31 19 PM

Hurry Up >  Ed C’s take was prompted by the answer to the Aflac trivia question:

Photo Oct 06, 3 44 58 PM

Penn broke that streak on November 16, 1907 when they took down the Yostmen 6-0 on Homecoming.  And speaking of that streak, it was a mere two wins long when on October 5, 1901 Yost delivered a 57-0 beating of Case for all-time win #100 the program.

Timeless > My “Oscar Jug” replica made it home and is chilling in my office.  A huge thanks once again to artist Jil Gordon for making it for me.  What a great spot to set another timeless possession: my MaraWatch:

Photo Oct 06, 5 40 32 PM


Maize & Blue NationOn FalkPhotos5 Takes including this on Funchess:

I don’t see any defensive backs under 6 feet being able to defend this guy. By the time Michigan is playing Michigan State, he will command a double-teams on every route.

mgoblog: Press Conference WrapPhotos.
Touch the Banner:   Takes galore.
Maize and Blue NewsRecap


More from this site:

Falk with artist Jil Gordon and the replica jug she created.  Jon makes the jug actually look “little”

What a cool event for Jon Falk held at MGoPatio last night!  Props to Wolverine Beer for running the tap and for Slow’s BBQ for delivering the food.  I dialed up WTKA this morning to talk about the night (and a little jug business) with Ira and Sam:

While I can’t recap everything, I captured a few of the quotes delivered by Jon’s longtime colleagues Coach Jerry Hanlon and longtime trainer Paul Schmidt.   Coach Hanlon started by joking about how stingy things were at Miami, OH when Falk worked there, but because of that Jon brought a certain attitude to Ann Arbor: 

“He put in our kids into a mode that not everything in this life is free, not everything that’s going to happen to you is going to be great.  He kept them on a straight and narrow program.   He brought a realistic attitude on how to handle the kids, and I really believe he’s done as well as any coach here in developing young men and having them understand that this isn’t a free ride, you have to work for what you want to get.  I have a great deal of respect for him.”

 Hanlon, in his vintage M sweater, chatting up Falk and Jon’s daughter Katie

And Schmidt shared this: 

“I’ve had the privilege to work with five head football coaches, and I’ve got to stay as we’ve gone through transitions as well.  You guys don’t know because you’re not in the locker room, but on gameday the guy with the most genuine love for Michigan is right there—Jon Falk.  Every player knows it and every coach knows it.  It doesn’t matter if we’re playing Akron, or Ohio, or Michigan State, home or on the road, he is fired up.  He gets the players fired up.  When they’re walking out that door they hear Jonny’s voice in their ear…and it’s special.”

Photo Oct 01, 8 08 16 PM Paul Schmidt

Photo Sep 30, 5 44 37 PMA Better look at the replica

Speaking of the jug….I will be out and about on Saturday talking a some Little Brown Jug Lore, first live the show with the fellers from The Wolverine between 11 and noon.  I’ll be live again in the Victors Lounge with Ira, Steve and Sam at around 12:15pm.   And maybe elsewhere – stay tuned!

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While I was with Dr. Sap visiting Capitol Varsity Sports last month we stubbed our collective toe on something.   After we witnessed Russ Hawkins execute the helmet painting process A to Z, our hosts mentioned a unique twist to the U-M helmet they made in 2012.  As prescribed by the athletic department, they added gold flakes into the maize paint…and showed us an example:

Photo Jul 12, 11 34 48 AM

Say what?  So then there was the question:  Did the team wear helmets with gold flakes nestled in the maize last season?  

Before checking with #1000SSS, I asked around and couldn’t find anyone aware of the change or a release talking about the flakes.*   I checked out some close-ups of photos and didn’t really notice anything.  Sap found one U-M collector, Dan Oles, who got his hands on a 2012 helmet that indeed had the flakes.  Oles wrote to Sap, “I contacted a few players via twitter asking if the regular season helmets had maize glitter paint. They all confirmed that they did.”  Oles even shot a note to Jon Falk who confirmed the change.

Fast forward to today.  I verified with media relations & with Falk that indeed the team had the bedazzled headgear in 2012.  The change to the paint was announced as part of the Cowboy Classic uniform reveal…but the news release didn’t call out the gold flakes:

Michigan will be utilizing a new paint technology on the maize wings on the helmet in order to better highlight the most recognizable helmet in college football and create a more durable surface.

Those highlights included the shiny flecks.  (My understanding is it’s not real gold a la Notre Dame).  I also confirmed they’ve got the same look on the helmets this year as well.  Here’s a close-up of the 2013 helmet:DSCN4502 So what does this all mean?   Not much.  For starters I need to update the Uniform Timeline, but beyond that I’d still say not much.  Whether you like it, hate it or don’t care, the reality is the gold flakes are hard if not impossible to spot unless you are standing, in person, right near the helmet.  Perhaps that’s by design.

Related: With a Bit of Practice (Photos) . . .pics from practice

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* And those of you who know about this – and I know you are out there-  didn’t mention anything!


9 Russ Smiling

It was a roadtrip years in the making.  Finally last month Dr. Sap and I headed down to Capitol Varsity Sports in Oxford, OH to visit shop owner Bob Fawley and winged helmet artist Russ Hawkins.  Uniform gurus probably know that it is Capitol Varsity that has done the bulk of Michigan helmet reconditioning over the past four decades, and it is Hawkins who’s personally created the winged design that you see on many of the helmets each Saturday.  

Of course Bo and equipment manager Jon Falk came from Oxford-based Miami, OH and that’s how the bond between the company and U-M was formed & maintained over the years.   The Wolverine tie is clearly important to the Ohio company–winged helmets, schedule posters and photos of U-M dignitaries are found around the facility.  (And no, despite being an hour from Columbus they don’t do any work for the Buckeyes.  Without saying as much, you can tell there’s some bitterness in the air about that.)   They even have a shrine to U-M and Jon Falk in their offices:

9 Big Jonny

A couple notes: As implied above Capitol Varsity isn’t the only firm that handles the reconditioning of the helmets for Michigan as the Riddell helmets are handled by Riddell in Elyria, OH.  On a disappointing note for me, Capitol Varsity did not perform any reconditioning for this season as the bulk of the helmets on the field are Riddell and U-M decided to go with one firm to handle that process.   Here’s to hoping that’s a temporary supplier adjustment but I don’t have a vote. 

Either way, especially given it’s the 75th anniversary of the winged helmet this season, Sap and I agreed it was critical to get down to Oxford to document the process that’s been such a critical part of U-M history since the Bo era.   And while I’ve interviewed Hawkins over the phone and seen video of his craft, I knew that was no substitute for a couple hours watching it happen in person.  Oh, and of course to allow us to pepper Fawley and Hawkins with nerdy brilliant questions about the process. 

It’s important to note that this process has been honed over the years.  Once Falk asked Capitol Varsity to handle the helmets in the early 1970s it took Hawkins days to figure out how to do it right.  Here’s a blow-by-blow of the process:

GB Gold helmet
New helmet shells ship from the manufacturer (most commonly BIKE in the mid-70s, then Schutt) in the color of ‘Green Bay Gold’


Michigan helmets shipped

Helmets simply requiring reconditioning are shipped from Ann Arbor to Oxford and are stripped to the shell.   The helmets are then sanded to prime the base and to remove any deep scuffs and scratches.




They are then painted the Michigan ‘maize’ shade, according to the color specification dictated by U-M, and set to dry, typically overnight.  NOTE: Hawkins confirmed that the shade has changed over the years – the goal has been to match the wings with the shade of maize in the uniform.  NOTE #2:  Hawkins had a Michigan shirt on the premises and likes the Wolverines (how could he not?).

 9 Michigan Shirt


The wings and stripes are then taped off in four substeps.  First, Hawkins forms the outline of the wings by hand using thin 1/4” tape.   Hawkins prefers to do this by hand in order to keep the wing shape in proper proportion with the size of the helmet.  He bends the winged shape with his thumb.  Worth a second shot:


masking tape

Next, the space inside the outline of the wings is covered with a thick masking tape.



The 3 stripes are laid down using 1” tape, converging at the back



A more recent innovation, Hawkins lays down a small strip of 1/4” tape across the point where the stripes converge on the back to ensure a clean termination point across the three stripes.  Note: If you are still reading this post, congrats, you are a uniform nerd.  Welcome aboard.


full tape

Hawkins then sets the taped helmet in at ventilated station and positions them for painting.


9 Best initial

Hawkins applies two coats of blue paint over the taped helmets and the shells are set to dry.  (NOTE: Hawkins always dons a mask while painting and coating…but he didn’t for this demonstration so we could hear him speak).


tape reveal 1

Before the painted hardens, the masking is stripped off revealing the wings and stripes design.  [While this seems like subtle step,watching the taped up shell tranform almost instantly into the winged helmet is </cough, /choke> breathtaking.]

tape off


final inspection

Hawkins then inspects the helmets and cleans off any noticeable paint spots.  Sap looks on approvingly.


9 Laquer

Finally Hawkins applies two layers of a protective clearcoat and the helmets are set to dry, lined up like pretty maids:

 9 Finished Product - maids

A huge thanks to Bob and Russ for indulging us on this trip.   I can tell you that these men and all the folks at Capitol Varsity take a wild amount of pride in what they do—and that’s reconditioning and outfitting and sports teams with gear. 

Related: Michigan Football Uniform Timeline

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22. July 2013 · 1 comment · Categories: 2013 · Tags: ,

Bummer.  A guy who has always been great to me personally and a critical part of my Little Brown Jug research.   One of my favorite photos, here’s Falk smiling as he’s grabbing the key for the case holding the jug at Minnesota last year:  FALK JUG

Via U-M Media Relations:

Equipment Manager Jon Falk Announces Retirement Following 2013 Football Season

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Longtime University of Michigan equipment manager Jon Falk announced Monday (July 22) his retirement effective at the conclusion of the 2013 football season. Falk will complete 40 years of service to Michigan Athletics and the U-M football program.

“I remember the day that Bo Schembechler interviewed me and said that working at the University of Michigan would present great opportunities for my career,” said Falk. “He offered me the position but I decided that staying home to care for my mom and grandmother was more important. My mom woke up at 4 a.m. and came to me with tears in her eyes and said, ‘Jon, you are going to Michigan. Bo and the University of Michigan are going to take care of you and this will be a great career move.’ As I reflect on my nearly 40 years at Michigan, I have been fortunate to work with some great coaches, administrators and thousands of players. After talking with Dave Brandon about my retirement, I realized that Bo and my mother were right. Dave and Michigan have taken care of me. I’m appreciative of all that I learned, was a part of and contributed to at Michigan. This is a special place and I will always love Michigan and Michigan Football.”

“Jon has given so much of his life to Michigan Football and we are all grateful to him for his dedication, passion and loyal service to our championship culture,” said head coach Brady Hoke. “He is a big part of this program and his colorful personality will be missed around Schembechler Hall, Michigan Stadium and on the road in opposing venues. We are happy that Jon will be able to enjoy retirement with his wife Cheri and family, but that is on hold until he helps us chase another Big Ten Championship this fall.”

“Jon’s four decades of service to Michigan Football and our department is unprecedented and has been matched by only a few former employees,” said Dave Brandon, the Donald R. Shepherd Director of Athletics. “His stories are legendary and Jon’s passion for his job and the sports equipment industry will be missed by many of those in and around our football program. Jon has been the one constant around our program when all former players, coaches and administrators come back to visit. We wish Jon a wonderful retirement … but only after he completes his 40th season helping equip our student-athletes and coaches.”

Falk is responsible for the overall budgeting of the athletic department’s equipment needs with apparel providers. He oversees a staff of three full-time assistant equipment managers and a large group of student workers.

Falk was honored for his dedication to the athletic department in 1994, receiving an honorary ‘M’ from the Letterwinners M Club. In addition, the U-M Club of Greater Detroit established the annual Hatch-Falk Scholarship for a Student Football Manager in 2000.

Falk authored a book, “If These Walls Could Talk,” with long-time Detroit Tigers PR Director Dan Ewald in 2010. Falk also made speaking engagements to U-M Alumni groups about his career behind-the-scenes with Michigan football.

A native of Oxford, Ohio, Falk graduated from Talawanda High School (1967) – where he was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 2012 – and earned his degree in physical education from Miami University (1971). He worked as a student manager at Miami in football and baseball as an undergraduate. After graduation, Falk accepted an assistant equipment manager position at Miami before head coach Bo Schembechler called and offered Falk his current position at Michigan in 1974.

One of the most respected equipment managers in the nation, Falk was executive director of the Athletic Equipment Managers Association (AEMA) for 24 years and was one of the organization’s founding members. He named the association’s 2001 Glen Sharp National Equipment Manager of the Year award and received the organization’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005.

Falk and his wife, the former Cheri Boychuck of Ann Arbor, reside in Pinckney. They have three children, Joe Winkle, Nicki Pfefferle and Katie Falk, and two grandchildren, Joey Winkle and Abby Pfefferle.

Falk will remain in a consulting role following the season until a successor is determined and transitioned into the position.

Following are additional comments from those who worked closely with Falk during his long and storied Michigan career:

Jon was an outstanding equipment manager. He was well-organized, extremely well-prepared and on game day he was an advantage for Michigan.
What I appreciated most however was his presence and his voice in the locker room. His mantra was ‘the best (championship) ring is the next one,’ and that message resonated with the Michigan teams down through the years. – Lloyd Carr, U-M Football Coach (1995-2007)

Jon has been a great friend to Ann, myself and the entire Moeller family.

I think that Jon was the most knowledgeable equipment manager in the profession. He was the person that his peers across the country would lean on and ask questions of because Jon knew the answer. Jon knew how to handle the job and his responsibilities. You only had to tell him once and it was taken care.

Jon was great interacting with all of the coaches and the players on the football team. He cared about everyone that was associated with the program, treated them with professionalism and always helped Michigan football be the best.

Jon provided 40 years of great service and will always be remembered as a great Michigan Man. – Gary Moeller, U-M Football Coach (1990-95)

Jon is the last of the Bo era, forty years is a long time to be associated with something that you love. I know that Bo thought the world of Jon. They worked so well together and were best of friends. No one told a Bo story better than Jon. I’m happy for Jon and I know that Bo was always proud of Jon. Jon and I cried when he told me but I’m happy for Jon and his family … he will be able to enjoy his retirement.  – Cathy Schembechler, Bo’s Widow

It is virtually impossible for any former Michigan football player from the past 40 years to talk about Michigan football and not have the name ‘Big Jonny’ pass their lips. He’s easily the most important guy at Schembechler Hall that you can talk to today if you want to know about Michigan tradition. One of my favorite things to do when I go back to Ann Arbor is to sit in Big Jon’s office and listen to him tell stories … Bo stories especially. Even though I think he’s softened up just a little over the years, he’s still a man whose respect you have to earn, no matter who you are … and he’s loyal to a fault. His impact on and contributions to Michigan football will never be forgotten. – Desmond Howard, U-M Heisman Trophy Winner (1989-91), ESPN College Football GameDay Analyst (2005-current)

When Jonny was hired by Bo back in the early 70’s from Oxford, Ohio … he immediately became committed to Michigan. He tells the story about his mother coming into his bedroom, late at night and telling Jon that he should take the job at Michigan because she felt strongly that Bo would take care of him. Jon was not sure he was going to take the job because it meant he would have to leave his mother in Oxford. After she told him it was the right thing for him, tearfully, he took the job and the rest is history.
In all the years I’ve been around Michigan football I’m not sure anyone other than coaches have had more impact on the Michigan football player than Jon Falk.
He is a legendary equipment guy. Not only was he great at Michigan, but across the country, his peers in the same capacity looked up to him, and sought him out for advice.
Jon loved Michigan football. When he first hired on, I can guarantee there wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do to make Michigan football better. He protected it like a mother hen. He promoted it like he was the CEO. It was his family, and he made sure he let anyone who came through the doors know it should be just as important to them.
Jon is part of the fabric of the Michigan tradition. He traces his roots back to Bo Schembechler. He is as Michigan as the winged helmet. An unforgettable character. A professional who changed the perception of the job. A good friend.
Through five football coaches and seven athletic directors, Jon has been as solid as a rock through all the change. He’s been in the engine room of Michigan football and he’s kept it running without a hitch since the day he arrived.- Jim Brandstatter, Former U-M Offensive Lineman (1969-72), U-M Radio Network (mid-1980s-current), U-M Football Coaches Show (1980-current)


Big Jon has been Michigan football for the past 40 years. He has served four decades of players and coaches at every level. From welcoming every new class of freshmen football players to Michigan to working with Bo, Mo, Lloyd, Rich and Brady, Big Jon has touched them all.
I had the pleasure of being around Jon for five years as a player and three as a young coach. Big Jon was always so much more than just our equipment manager. He was a friendly face who you could always get a straight answer from – whether it was about football or life. From playing the old Bob Ufer tapes in the locker room Ohio State week, to making sure you kept your locker clean (or you got wet clothes back the next day), Jon was always teaching. He talked to the players about championships and rings (his next one was always his favorite one) and demanded excellence in the locker room. He always had a feel for the team’s pulse and knew how to relate to all the different personalities. He had a special relationship with all the quarterbacks over the years and I was lucky enough to be part of that club. My best summer job ever was working for Big Jon the summer I was rehabilitating my knee. I didn’t get much work done but I got my Masters in Michigan football from being around him.

Big Jon has been the one constant who has always welcomed the former players back to Schembechler Hall with open arms and a big smile. It was like you never left.

Big Jon has been a legend in the locker room and a great ambassador for Michigan in the college football world. He is a true Michigan Man. Thanks for all the years and sacrifices you gave to our program. – John Wangler, Former U-M Quarterback (1977-80)

When Jon Falk retires after this Michigan football season, it will be an end of an era for so many student-athletes and friends that have known him. He is a storyteller extraordinaire that worked every day of his professional career doing his best to help Michigan win championships. Jon will always bleed Maize and Blue. – Bruce Madej, U-M Associate Athletic Director (1978-current)

Big Jonny was a welcoming presence for me and every other Wolverine that entered the locker room over the past 40 years. He was a great representative of the university and truly a Michigan man. His enthusiasm and love for the school will never be duplicated and most importantly, I consider him a true friend. Jon has the love and respect of all current and former Wolverines and he will be missed.- Tom Brady, Former U-M Quarterback (1995-99), New England Patriots Quarterback (2000-current)

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