College Football’s 20 Ugliest Helmets Ever
Hawaii: Troll Rainbow Warrior (1974)
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College football has been filled with some hideous helmets recently, like Notre Dame’s “Shamrock Series” lids from Saturday. But what are the worst in the history of the game? We count down College Football’s Top 10 Ugliest FBS Helmets Ever with a big thanks to MGHelmets and Helmet Hut.
Hawaii became an NCAA Division I football member in 1974. As such, the “Bows” (short for “Rainbows”) introduced new uniforms with an emphasis on Hawaiian culture. That includes the helmet, which included a “dwarf master builder” named Kupua on each side. Kupua’s spear extended into a rainbow as a nod to the school’s “Rainbow Warriors” nickname.
Notre Dame: Radioactive Shamrock (1959)
As bad as Saturday’s “Shamrock Series” helmets were, they aren’t the ugliest helmets the Irish have ever worn. That honor belongs to the “Radioactive Shamrock” helmets the team donned in 1959.
New head coach Joe Kuharich not only ditched the traditional golden dome helmet for a goofy shamrock logo, he put the shamrock upside down in order to reportedly change the luck of the program after several down years. So much for that idea: Notre Dame went 5-5 in ‘59 before switching the shamrock to face upwards. That didn’t work either and Kuharich was fired after three more seasons at the school.
The ‘59 look itself was hideous and especially tacky for a program with so much tradition. When people are comparing your logo to the symbol for radiation, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. The similarities between the two logos is quite fitting considering the toxicity of both.
Bowling Green: Mutated Falcon (1980)
Bowling Green had spent the majority of the 1970s sporting a plain orange helmet with a stripe down the center, a la the Cleveland Browns. By the end of the decade, the Falcons felt obligated to put a logo on the side of the helmets, something that would do its bird of prey namesake proud.
What BGSU got instead was a bird with exaggeratedly large wings coming to a roost. Having the wings curve along the contours made it look even more awkward and unlifelike, almost like a tail mutation instead of wings. The helmets didn’t fly, and neither did the team, which started 0–4 en route to a forgettable 4–7 campaign.
Bowling Green switched to a neater, “conceptual falcon” design the following season and kept it for the next 25 seasons. Proof that, sometimes, simpler is better.
Maryland: Turtle Shell (2011)
2011 was a year of ugly football (2–10 record) and ugly uniforms for the Maryland Terrapins.
Exhibit A is the turtle shell design that went into one of Maryland’s helmets for the season. The gray imprints on the white background are supposed to represent the patterning on a turtle’s shell, but it really looks like a series of squiggles. From far away it looks like a player is wearing a hollowed out dinosaur egg.
And then Under Armour and the Terps had to go and put the design from the Maryland state flag down the middle. The end result: A helmet fit for a crash test dummy. Well, a crash test dummy with no aesthetic taste.
There’s more to come from the Terrapins on this list, too.
Boise State: Horse's Head (1976–1977)
The Broncos’ starting quarterback in 1976 and ’77 was Dee Pickett, who was also a first-class rodeo cowboy. So how Boise State failed to have a proper horse logo on its helmets when Pickett was at the helm is anybody’s guess.
From a distance, one has trouble determining what exactly is on the helmet. Is it a piece of chicken? A gun of some kind? Then you get closer and you see the head of a horse that looks like its packing a wad of tobacco in its jowls. Or a severed horse’s head a la The Godfather.
Perhaps discouraged by the disappointment of this design, Boise State opted for either “BSU” or “Boise” from 1977 to 2002. Fortunately, when they did go back to a horse head design, graphic design technology allowed for a much-improved bronco.
Michigan State: Cauliflower Logo (1973–1975)
Our friends at Helmet Hut say that it was especially common for newly-hired coaches in the 1970s to create a new uniform design for the team upon their arrival. In which case, thank God for the advent of marketing departments and their graphic designers to take care of those things.
When Denny Stoltz was hired to take over Michigan State in 1973, he asked receiver (and art major) Michael Hurd to design a new Spartan logo for the team’s helmet. Stoltz loved Hurd’s oversized design and moved quickly to get it on the team’s helmets.
Having a player draw your team’s logo turned out about how you would expect. From far away, its knobby appearance and shape made it resemble a piece of cauliflower. Hence, it was known as the “cauliflower logo.” Sports logos aren’t supposed to look like vegetables and we just see a splotch of white from really far away.
MSU would have been better off keeping the small Spartans logo it featured on its helmets during the Bubba Smith Era. They were a lot sharper and, oh yeah, looked more like a Spartan.
Maryland: State Pride (2011)
Gah! Our eyes!
In Maryland’s 2011 season opener against Miami (FL), a Tim Burton-like acid trip manifested itself as a football helmet. The coats of arms of two illustrious Maryland families, the Calverts (gold and black checkerboard) and Crosslands (red and white cross bottony), split the helmet down the middle. We understand the desire to honor your state flag, but not at the expense of your dignity.
The helmets split our skulls as we stared at our TV screens. Ever have one of those dreams where chess pieces come alive and try to kill you? That’s what this desperate cry for attention reminded us of. Then again, the Twitter storm that these generated ensured us seeing similarly “out there” designs again.
Pitt: Dinocat (1997–2004)
Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson is not very popular in The Steel City and his overhaul of Pitt’s uniforms in the 1990s has something to do with that.
During his first tenure with the school, Pederson did away with the classic Pitt script helmet — the one worn by the likes of Dan Marino, Tony Dorsett and Hugh Green — in favor of a “Dinocat” logo that resembles the world’s ugliest dog. Add to that a head-scratching rebranding of the program from “Pitt” to “Pittsburgh” and you have yourself an alienated fan base.
Thankfully, this only lasted seven years as Dave Wannstedt’s arrival in December 2004 ushered in the “Pitt” helmets again (though not the classic script ones). Still, seven years was a long enough stretch where the best Pitt player of this generation, WR Larry Fitzgerald (bottom), never wore any other helmet in college but the hideous Dinocat.
Colorado: Powder Blue Buffalo (1981–1984)
Normally, we can’t get enough of powder blue uniforms, whether it’s UCLA or the San Diego Chargers. But in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, the color jumped the shark as teams like the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies started wearing them without any regard to their color scheme.
The powder blue plague arrived in Boulder in 1981 when the Buffaloes ditched their gold and black scheme for gold and powder blue. The resulting powder buffalo logo and facemask was simply horrific. Unsatisfied with the abomination, the Buffs added a white and powder blue stripe down the middle from 1982-84 before mercifully pulling the plug on the whole idea in 1985 for the current look.
The Buffaloes won a combined 10 games in four years of the powder blues. The uniforms are now so reviled that the students planned a powder-blue protest in 2009 to show how miserable they felt the program was. Uniforms don’t get more infamous than that.
Florida State: Grade School Seminole (1962)
“Seminoles” is one of the cooler nicknames in college sports. And Florida State’s Chief Osceola is one of the cooler mascots in sports. The idea of cheapening this imagery with a grade school caliber drawing of a Native American is mind-boggling, yet that’s what FSU did in 1962.
Oddly enough, the Seminoles featured a triple helmet design scheme that season. Offensive players wore helmets with arrows and defenders wore helmets with tomahawks — either of which would have worked for the general helmet.
Instead, multi-purpose players got the “Indian head,” which looks like it was drawn with a bloody finger like Wilson from Castaway. Think Seminoles players in ’62 ever talked to their helmets when they got lonely? Words can’t describe how aesthetically displeasing this helmet was. If your child drew this logo at elementary school, you wouldn’t even hang it on the refrigerator.
Virginia Tech: Hokie Stone (2013)
Virginia Tech is so proud of the “Hokie Stone” that is used all over campus from a nearby limestone quarry that the school decided to make a helmet looking like actual stone.
While we appreciate the nod to the school’s history, no helmet should look like the side of a building. What’s next: A brick lid?
Connecticut: Husky Stripe (2013)
Connecticut was Oregon-ized by Nike prior to the 2013 season but unlike the Ducks, the result for the Huskies was an abomination. UConn’s helmet are blank except for a stripe down the middle that also doubles as the eyes and ears of a Husky.
The only thing uglier than these helmets on the football field is how the moribund Huskies play on it.
Notre Dame: Shamrock Series (2012)
Notre Dame has the most iconic college football helmets in the country but for some reason ditched them to celebrate the Fighting Irish’s “Shamrock Series” game against Miami (FL) in 2012.
The asymmetrical lid with a fighting Irishman on one side and a gold portion that looked like it was covered in puffy paint must have had all the Notre Dame greats of yesteryear rolling over in their graves.
Virginia Tech: Turkey Feet (2012)
Virginia Tech should just stay away from alternate uniforms and helmets as a whole.
For a 2012 game, the Hokies came onto the field wearing helmets with two turkey feet on the sides, as if an actual turkey had just stepped on the domes with paint. Even QB Logan Thomas hated the look, tweeting: “Our whiteout helmets are so ugly.”
No argument here.
Wake Forest: Backward WF (1978-1990)
Wake Forest’s helmets are currently a huge bore with the simple “WF” letters on the side that don’t even interlock. Well, it could be worse.
In the late 1970s and entire 1980s, the Demon Deacons had helmets with a bizarre “WF” logo written backwards that was a low point for two generations full of fashion disasters.
USF: Bull's Head (1997-2002)
In fairness to USF’s “Bull’s Head” helmet, it was the first lid the program ever used and there’s bound to be growing pains as a football program gets started.
But who on earth thought a logo with a bull’s head looking like a dead carcass and coming through a diamond shape would look intimidating or pleasing to the eye?
Virginia Tech: Fighting Hokie (2012)
Well, hello again Virginia Tech.
Don’t think we forgot about the helmets the team wore in 2012 that looked like a silhouette “Hokie Bird” (which doesn’t even exist, by the way) engaged in a cock fight.
Seriously, what did Logan Thomas (above) do to deserve all these ugly helmets?
Tulsa: Blue Fiber (2011)
Tulsa has a long history of crazy uniforms, but perhaps nothing was as off-the-wall than the helmet the team wore during a 2011 game: A bizarre blue fiber-like helmet that hurt your eyes just trying to look at.
It’s as if Tulsa helmet was some sort of “Magic Eye” puzzle. Maybe if you look at the helmet long enough, you can see an image of a person covering his eyes.
TCU: Jumbo T (1980-1991)
You know the old cliche that everything is bigger in Texas? That was never more true than the massive “T” on the TCU helmets during the 1980s with the top of the “T” stretching almost the entire width of the helmet.
It’s a wonder the Horned Frogs were able to recruit any players to Fort Worth during the decade considering what they were forced to wear.
Illinois: Double Stripes (1971-1976)
At some point in the 1970s, someone in Champaign had the brilliant idea to revolutionize college football helmets with not one, but two helmet stripes. The result ended up looking like a terribly cheap knock-off of Michigan’s winged helmets.
Needless to say, the look mercifully did not catch on.