By BEN GOSS
Despite the Houston Oilers brand’s retirement in 1996, its helmets remain iconic pieces of pro football history.
Over the Oilers’ 37 seasons in Houston, the franchise employed five basic helmets designs, most of which had some slight variations in striping patterns and decal colors.
Each iteration employed some variation of the distinctive derrick oil well that remained virtually unchanged after its 1966 appearance in a Columbia blue hue, trimmed with white and red.
However, one additional Oiler lid was created but never quite made the field of play.
This version also included a derrick, but of a different design than the one used for 39 seasons, including the two in which the franchise played as the Tennessee Oilers in 1997 and 1998.
In January 2019, Dr. Kenneth E. Leistner of helmethut.com conducted a focused investigation about the helmet, combing through newspaper files from Detroit, New Mexico, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Houston, and several small Texas towns.
According to Leistner’s research, Oilers founder and owner Kenneth Stanley “Bud” Adams chose Columbia blue and white with a dash of red trim in 1959 as the hues for his fledgling AFL franchise to mimic those utilized at that time by the University of Kansas football team.
Adams had played one season of varsity football for the Jayhawks, following in the footsteps of his dad, Kenneth Stanley “Boots” Adams, who had played football, basketball, and baseball at Kansas.
Faced with many of the same challenges as any other startup business, Adams and the Oiler office staff worked feverishly throughout Houston, eastern Texas, and Louisiana to develop public interest in the new league and the Oilers.
Part of Adams’ dog-and-pony show included public appearances by identical-twin Rice University cheerleaders Jane and Joan Ryba.
Exceptionally popular with fans and known as “The Oiler Twins,” the siblings were the frequent focus of television and radio commercials, many interviews, and numerous public appearances, often holding a prop Oilers helmet that, according to Leistner, featured “…the spouting oil well tower, complete with gushing oil, [and] was an immediate and easy to relate to symbol of the new Oilers team.”
Leistner also uncovered other riveting findings about the Oilers’ helmets and just how close the dispatching derrick-decaled dome defender came to the field of play:
“Like most professional football teams, the non-decaled and usually unstriped versions were worn during camp and often through the exhibition season to both reduce expenses and the time needed to apply replacement decals and stripes.
“However the Oilers did maintain a set of white camp helmets and the question arose if these were indeed the ‘base layer’ for what was an earlier version of the Oilers ‘oil tower decal’ helmet that was worn during the exhibition game and regular seasons.”
Leistner further noted the Oilers and all the new AFL teams invited a large number of players to camp in an effort to find and field talent.
As a result, on July 31, 1960, in Baytown, Texas, the franchise staged a Blues-versus-Whites intrasquad game, which would be the Oilers initial public playing appearance that served the dual purpose of helping finalize the inaugural roster and promote the new team.
Leistner wrote, “The Blue squad wore what would be the Oilers Columbia blue in-season game helmets with white center stripe and oil tower decals, Columbia blue jerseys, and white pants while the White squad wore white helmets lacking decals.
“They also displayed rather plain white jerseys with blue numerals and white pants.”
Leistner made no reference to any decal whatsoever on the helmets of the White team, and a lone grainy photograph of that game fails to reveal one, either.
Therefore, we can conclude that the Gushing Derrick helmet likely never became a game-worn part of the Oiler legacy, but its place remains secure as the franchise’s first helmet.
To commemorate this piece of pro football’s history, Miss Ya Blue! has partnered with our friends at 417 Helmets to bring you the opportunity to purchase this distinctive piece of Oiler memorabilia.
Experts in all things related to gourd guards, these folks either stock or can make most any kind of football helmet you could imagine, short of leather lids like Jim Thorpe wore!
Authentic down to the dual-bar facemask, shell-shape, and properly scaled Columbia blue decals, this full-sized replica of Oilers history is just a few clicks away from adorning your mancave, mantle, or museum!
And we’re fairly certain that special Oiler fan on your Christmas list doesn’t have anything like it–and may not even know it ever existed–making it the perfect holiday gift that also gives you the freedom to scratch one more thing off your to-do list!
Ben Goss is the founder and publisher of the Miss Ya Blue! media outlet, part of his Red Seat Strategy conglomerate, along with his Long Ball City baseball brand. The Mississippi native has been a college professor for more than 20 years and teaches in the area of sport business, something he did as a child before he knew it was an industry or field of study. Among the highlights of his life and career are publishing a baseball card newsletter in fourth grade before Beckett’s did, building an entire cardboard multipurpose domed stadium in sixth grade, perfect scores on every paper he ever wrote on the Boston Celtics in high school and college, sports editor of his middle school and high school newspapers, part-time sportswriter for his hometown newspaper, associate sports editor of his college newspaper (the only journalism minor to hold an editorial position at that time), serving as a color commentator for two college baseball teams and an arena football team, and adopting a pit bull that had been rescued from euthanization.
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