This months helmet is nothing special - however it has a story - which is a bit special. We will get back to "special" helmets next month - I promise.
The email came in. "I hear you buy Packers helmets. I have one that I'd like to sell." The owner had received the helmet straight from the team - for being the "fan of the game." To make a long exciting story short and boring, this would be the third such helmet that I bought with the same story - the owner was the fan of the game, received a helmet from the Packers, and wanted to sell it. The Packers do not release many helmets to the public. Gordon "Red" Batty, the Packers equipment manager runs a tight ship. Helmets do not leave 1265 Lombardi Avenue often - but when they do, I attempt to buy them.
After purchasing the helmet, the hard work begins. Photo matching the helmet to a particular player. The Packer use a decal to identify the player that the helmet was issued to and upon releasing the helmet from the equipment room or storage room, those identifiers are always removed. Additionally, the Packers equipment staff takes great pride in keeping their helmets looking new each and every game. New masks are installed whenever game wear is evident - the same with the logos and striping. Occasionally when a helmet is released, a completely different style of mask is installed to the helmet than what that player wore. Finally, Batty can often times be seen on the sidelines during a game removing opposing facemask marks from Clay Matthews or other players helmets with a rag. Yes, he is a bit anal about the appearance of the Packer helmets - about as anal as I am about collecting and photo-matching them. All of these factors make photo matching a modern Packers helmet very difficult, but not impossible.
The two previous helmets purchased from "fans of the game" were both photo-matched. James Jones and Jeremy Kampinos - a horrible punter. Might have been better if the time and effort put forth on that one was put to better use - like raking the yard! The Jones was a bit easier to do than the Kampinos. The team had removed the identifier from the exterior rear of the helmet, but ha - under the interior padding of the AiR Advantage helmet was a "JONES 89" identifier sticker. An easy task to match it to the 2012 season. The owner had received the helmet in 2014 when Jones was in Oakland. I can hear it now, "...here is one we can get rid of, we will never see Jones again."
I had asked the seller for some photos of the helmet. Without receiving the helmet and examining it up close, it is much more difficult to match, however I enjoy the challenge that it presents - no idea of the year or where to start with a few grainy low res photos. Ok, Schutt AiR Advantage, what appears to be an XL size, four quarter-turn clips, and a titanium RJOP-DW mask. Was the mask original to the helmet or replaced by the Packers equipment staff prior to releasing it. Well, with it being the higher cost titanium and not a carbon steel mask, I was quite certain that it belonged to this helmet. Lineman or linebacker. Got it. In and attempt to narrow the search, I asked the seller to provide me with the three letter datecode on the inside of the mask or better yet, to remove the interior padding, secured by Velcro and provide the date of the helmet. Within a few minutes a photo came back of the interior manufacturer decal, July 2010. Nice, the Superbowl season. A quick check of the roster narrowed my search from 53 down to 28 possible candidates. I could further narrow this search by quickly eliminating those players that wore a Riddell helmet, checking facemask styles and facemask hardware clips - eliminating those players that wore conventional clips or stabilizer clips that the Packers preferred to use during this time period. Another way of narrowing the search is the type of chinstrap on the helmet. With Packer helmets, this is more often not possible because for whatever reason the team removes the chinstrap from almost every helmet that is released to the public - which was the case with this helmet - as well as the other two "fan of the game" helmets purchased.
A few days later, the helmet arrived. As I unwrapped it, I noticed that it was indeed a massive XL shell size even though it has a "regular" sized facemask attached. This would narrow down the search tremendously. I noticed some deep gouges right side front of the helmet as well as some marks in a distinctive pattern above the right ear hole. These are the "fingerprints" of the helmet - the marks that can/will be used to positively identify the helmet as to which player wore it. Now the only thing remaining to do was to find photos of high enough resolution to show these marks. That is easier said then done.
I started with 2010 Packer photos that I own as well as photos on the internet, as that was the date of both the helmet as well as the facemask attached. Looking over the Packers roster, I quickly sorted out linebackers and linemen. Removing all of those players that wore Riddell reduced the herd considerably. Eliminating those players wearing anything but XL helmets led to just a handful of candidates: Cullen Jenkins, BJ Raji, Howard Green, Ryan Pickett, and CJ Wilson. Jenkins was easy to eliminate as he wore the Schutt AiR Advantage during the Superbowl season of 2010 and then was sent packing to the Eagles in 2011. I already own a Jenkins helmet, so this was no loss to me. A quick check of CJ Wilson showed that he did indeed wear a Schutt XP helmet with a titanium RJOP-DW, however I could not tell if it was a large or XL size. After searching photos of both years, I determined that Wilson wore conventional clips to secure his facemask instead of the 1/4 turn clips on my new helmet, so I eliminated him as well. This left Raji, Green, and Pickett.
A quick search on Raji showed that he wore conventional clips in 2010 however switched to the 1/4 turn clips in 2011. Additionally, Raji changed from a stainless steel mask to the titanium mask late in the 2011 season. My search for Raji in late season games intensified, however I was never able to match the gouges and marks on the two helmets. I set him aside to pick up later with more searching if needed. I turned to Howard Green.
Howard Green was a monster of a defensive tackle who had bounced around the league. Green Bay was Green's 8th team after signing with the Packers mid-way through the 2010 season to help the injury-riddled Packers go to and win the Superbowl. He was a journeyman specialist, who's sole purpose was to clog up the middle during running downs. He can be remembered for his hit on QB Ben Rothlisberger during the Superbowl - which caused the interception that Nick Collins returned for a touchdown.
Like most journeymen linemen in the NFL, the photos of Howard Green from the 2010 season are few and far between as were the photos from 2011. However during the search of the 2011 photos, I was able to match the marks on the helmet. Below are the photo-matched results of a long but rewarding process. Enjoy the photos.
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"Howard Green, one big hit!"