Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hell Bent for Leather

This is an amazing find - a 1940s Rawlings VM1 leather helmet, size 7¼, worn by Charley Brock.

It's a real beaut, painted in Packers gold.

Brock's number 29 is stenciled on the back in green.

The Rawlings style is emblematic of the Packers in the 1940s. Here we see legend Tony Canadeo wearing one of these helmets in action:

It's suprisingly solid. Like many, I've always thought of the idea of a leather helmet as scant protection against collision. But this is really strong and firm. The same difference, I suppose, between a real horsehide motorcycle jacket and the cheap fashion version.

Charley Brock was a center who played 90 games for the Packers, from 1939-1947. He was selected out of Nebraska by the Packers with the 24th pick in the third round of the 1939 draft. In his rookie year, he played eight games for the squad on its way to the World Championship.

He was one of eight players to pick off nine passes against the Lions on October 24, 1943, setting an NFL single-game mark. The record was tied in 1965 by the Philadelphia Eagles against the Steelers, a record which the teams share to this day. After missing the last half of the 1943 season due to appendicitis, he returned to play all ten games in 1944 on the way to his second (and the Packers' sixth) title. In nine years with the Packers, he only missed seven games, all in either his rookie season or the illness-shortened 1943.

In this photo with Lambeau, Brock is holding a similar helmet:

After his playing career ended, Brock coached at St. Norbert College in DePere and at Omaha University before returning as an Assistant Coach under Curly Lambeau in 1949.

A five-time All-Pro, Brock was named to the NFL's 1940s All-Decade Team and in 1973 was elected to the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame.

I'm afraid that there isn't a lot of available information on Rawlings's leather helmets, but the VM1, or a variation thereof, was worn by the Packers for most of the 1940s. There's no mistaking the elongated padding on the side or the distinctive arc across the forehead.

Some of the helmets of this period were stamped with the word "PACKERS" in the leather, as can be (faintly) seen here on these photos of Canadeo and Don Hutson:

It's a little clearer in this Hall of Fame card illustration:

The Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton has a Canadeo helmet which appears to be a similar type:

A handwritten number on the front seems uncommon but not unprecedented for the Packers.

The days of the leather helmet are long gone, lost in a wave of technological innovation, but they remain a defining image of the early decades of professional football. The VM1 stands among them, immortalized as one of the three helmets featured in the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame logo.

A fitting tribute to a great football icon.


Jeremy said...


Do you know if Arnie Herber would have worn this style of helmet when he played? I have a commission for an Arnie Herber figure and finding "helmeted" photos of Arnie seem to be scarce.

4Star Customs

Chance Michaels said...

Good question. So many of the player photos of the period are posed shots without helmets. Let me check and see what I can find for you.

Herber's career with the Packers spanned a decade - in which uniform were you going to depict him?

Jeremy said...

Thanks for the response Chance. I'm actually making to Herbers - one for my collection and the other for my client. My client has not decided on the uniform yet.

For mine, I was planning on the blue/yellow with yellow yoke like Hutson is wearing on your homepage. I love that uniform and it will match the Hutson in my collection.

The pose I'm replicating is actually one of those staged (helmetless) photos you speak of. You've probably seen the photo too. It's the one of Herber jumping with his armed cocked back and ready to throw.