Mike on America

Joe Namath And Me: The One Thing In Common

Joe Namath

What do Joe Namath and I have in common? Our face masks. At one time both Broadway Joe and I have worn a football face mask made right here in Litchfield, Illinois. Of course Joe wore his while winning Super Bowl III against Baltimore. I wore mine while playing against Kalamazoo.

Neither Joe nor I play football anymore, but you won't be able to watch a football game this weekend, whether it be Pee Wee, High School, College or Pro and not see someone wearing a piece of Schutt Sportsfootball gear. It's made here at the Schutt Sports manufacturing facility in Litchfield. It's a place that started out making basketball rims 82 years ago, started making face masks in 1935, and when they became mandatory in 1963 business really took off. And then Joe wore one in the Super Bowl and everyone in the game knew about Schutt. No such spike in business was noticed when I strapped mine on in 1965.

These days Schutt has turned into the largest maker of football helmets in the world. And with every level of football in full pads this weekend it's worth the stop to see what's new. The answer is simple---more protection.

With heightened concern over the concussion rate, particularly in major college and the pros, the focus has been turned squarely on the helmet. No matter who makes it, each helmet has to meet certain base standards. And each is tested against these and needs to pass before it can be sold. In the leather helmet days (yes, I even wore one of those for a few weeks) they fit tight to the head. Then came the suspension or straps. Then foam, and then air cushioning was added. I can remember 'blowing up' my son's helmet for the first time and thinking, 'What the hell is this about?'

Each step a major improvement in protection. Except with each step the players felt a little more comfortable about leading with their heads, which in turn added to the concussion problem. Schutt now has something it calls it's DNA helmet which uses a combination of items that have gone before, and a new material straight out of the space program. I tried one on. It's comfortable, which is a part of the 'sell'.

'We want the helmet to be comfortable, in fact, so comfortable that the player doesn't even think about it. It needs to fit right, but not be something that the player is concerned about.', so says Schutt Sports President Eric Ashelman.

Ashelman has an interesting job because the whole sporting goods category is what's referred too as a 'mature' business. Only so many customers. Only so much money to be made. So it becomes a 'share' game. You taking share away from your competitors. Schutt has done that with innovation and with the development of a wide ranging dealer network. Dealers who trek to every college, high school and pee wee league team around the country trying to convince them that their product is the best. It's very much an 'old world' kind of business.

Very much like that leather helmet I used to wear.

Down, Set, Hut..Hut..Hut....

Enjoy the weekend games. Go Bills, Go Tigers, Go Britons, Go Barons.

MOA is off to Wyoming and Idaho. Go deep and we'll see you along the road.

Questions?  Comments?  mikeonamerica@nbcuni.com