Posted: Friday December 10, 2004 9:53AM; Updated: Friday December 10, 2004 1:12PM
Today's lists are the 10 Spot's final word on college football helmets, though SI.com readers no doubt will have many choice words of their own. To wrap up the collection that includes the top 10 logo helmets and top 10 letter helmets, we humbly offer our top color-only and combo (letters and logo) helmets. And for those who would like to see all the helmets for themselves, check out Charles Arey's terrific Web site.
1. University of Notre Dame -- It's the longest-running completely unchanged helmet design in Division I-A (going back to 1964) for a good reason: It ain't broke. Team managers repaint the plain gold helmets each week, mixing in flecks of real gold. Laugh at the Irish all you want for their current coaching predicament. But even Notre Dame haters must concede, in their heart of hearts, that the Irish running onto the field in their navy blue (or green!) jerseys, gold pants and those gold helmets glistening in the sun is one of the classic sights in all of college football. (Our apologies to Navy's plain gold helmets.)
2. University of Michigan -- The winged maize-and-blue helmet is probably the most distinctive in the sport. The lesser-known part of the tale is that the helmet design actually originated at Princeton. Then-Tigers coach Fritz Crisler came up with the winged helmet design in 1935 to help his quarterback better identify his receivers downfield. When Crisler took the Michigan job in 1938, he kept the design but used maize and blue instead of orange and black. The helmet even looks cool on the school's hockey players.
3. Ohio State -- The unique element to this otherwise plain gray helmet with a modest center stripe of scarlet, black and white is the introduction of the "buckeye leaves" in 1968. Coach Woody Hayes and trainer Ernie Biggs decided to award stickers of a buckeye leaf to players' helmets for outstanding plays. For those not from Ohio, a buckeye is a tree of the horse-chestnut family with large capsules containing shiny, brown inedible seeds. (The nutlike seeds are also known as buckeyes.) Want to know how well an Ohio State player is performing? Just check out if his helmet is cluttered with the stickers.
4. Penn State University -- One advantage of having an old-as-dirt coach who's been there forever is that is the uniforms never change. The Nittany Lions wear plain white helmets with a blue stripe, matching the plain blue jerseys and plain white pants. It certainly could have been worse, since the school's original colors were dark pink and black. (The pink kept fading in the sun, spurring the switch to blue and white in 1890.) Penn State would get higher marks for their throwback minimalism if it wasn't for the huge Nike swoosh on each player's left shoulder pad.
5. Syracuse University -- The 'Cuse get some credit for being the only Division I school to have orange as its lone color, and the helmet certainly proclaims the squad's Orange-ness. The school picked the nickname in 1890, a year after playing its first game against Rochester. The Syracuse team wore pink and blue in that 1889 contest, so orange was a definite improvement. Evidently pink was considered a much more manly color in the late 19th Century.
1. University of Virginia -- This helmet is a stylish combination of an orange "V" atop two crossed swords on a blue background. It works better for these Cavaliers than it did for their namesakes, who were the supporters of Charles I in the English Civil War against Oliver Cromwell's Roundheads. Those Cavs surrendered in 1646 and Charles I was eventually beheaded -- yet another reason to wear a helmet.
2. LSU -- The colors (purple and gold), the school name and a rendering of the fiercest mascot in college sports might be a busy mess in the wrong hands, but here it comes together like a tasty jambalaya. The helmet has been essentially unchanged for nearly three decades while the school has gone through two tigers, Mike IV and Mike V. Fortunately, the two Mikes could have passed for twins. (Is it wrong to think that all tigers look alike?)
3. University of Colorado -- Perhaps the only live mascot that could at least fight Mike to a draw is Ralphie. The buffalo clocks in at approximately 1,300 pounds but seems a bit trimmer on the helmet. The image of Ralphie in full charge is rather cleverly broken up by a cutout of "CU," though again we're confused why the University of Colorado refers to itself as CU.
4. University of Utah -- The Utes take their name from the Native American tribe that first settled the state, and the helmet reflects that history. The feathers hanging from the "U" are those of a red-tailed hawk, a bird indigenous to Utah. The name "Ute" is typically translated as "high place," "top of the mountain" or "BCS bowl."
5. South Carolina -- A garnet representation of a gamecock inside a garnet "C" on a black background is one of the more original helmets in the game. (As an aside, why can't a team ever use plain old "red"? Why is it always garnet or crimson or cardinal?) A gamecock, of course, is a rooster bred for fighting, like Little Jerry Seinfeld. The one question: Does the "C" stand for Carolina or, well, Cocks? That's right, we said it.
Lock of the Week
The 10 Spot has somehow clinched a winning season by starting 9-4. We're as surprised as anyone. Let's go with the Eagles favored by 9 at Washington on Sunday night. Philly has mostly been clobbering teams, especially on prime time. Sunday's game may be close for a while, but we expect the Iggles to put on the afterburners.