Press "Enter" to skip to content

Happy Homecoming Weekend from the archives

First-Year Odyssey students handle Herschel Walker's helmet
First-Year Odyssey students handle Herschel Walker’s helmet

Most days, my classes go to the Hargrett Library to study medieval books hundreds of years old. Last Wednesday, however, my First-Year Odyssey students got a bonus treat. In addition to spending most of an hour with the Hargrett Hours, they got to handle “old stuff” of a different sort: football memorabilia. The Special Collections Libraries at UGA don’t only hold books, papers, and other written documents; they also house many material artifacts related to UGA and Georgia history, including the UGA Athletics Association holdings. The librarian who assists me with my classes, Jason Hasty, is also the primary curator of the athletics collection, so on Wednesday he brought out some of the football helmets in the collection for my students to see.

Football helmets held by the UGA Special Collections Libraries
Football helmets held by the UGA Special Collections Libraries

The one on the far right (sadly half cut off) is from the first decade of the 20th century; its value as protective gear is pretty minimal. The center helmet is from the 1930s, and although it would keep you from cracking your skull open, it would have been hot as blazes — it’s full leather, lined with wool. Those air holes would have helped, but it gets darned hot in on a Georgia football Saturday in September.

The one on the left, however, is the Holy of Holies: Herschel Walker’s helmet.

Herschel Walker's breakaway jersey and helmet.
Herschel Walker’s breakaway jersey and helmet.

It ain’t medieval, but even the medievalist thinks it’s pretty cool to observe the evolution of the football helmet. It’s a sport that permeates every aspect of UGA culture (even the medieval classroom, apparently!), but it’s also fraught with safety issues. Looking at how much protective equipment has changed in the last 100 years, one can hope that the gear, the rules, and the culture will continue to evolve in favor of the athletes’ physical and mental well-being.

Also – I admit it – I totally geek out over Walker’s helmet, every time I get to see it.