by Ben D’Alessio
Facemasks are in right now. And although June is about as far away from football season as you can get, even talks about canceling the 2020 season apropos the coronavirus has me itching under the arms. Not only that, but March Madness was canceled, Baseball will begin who-knows-when (late July? I’ll believe it when I see it), and no, NASCAR and Celebrity Golf outings won’t do it for me. So, to quench my sports thirst I have been shoving my face into the large vats of old football footage that NBCSN (“The Vault”), conference-oriented channels like the Big Ten Network, and SEC Network have been putting out there day and night. At one point, I basically had every New Year’s Eve Bowl Game from the mid-80s to early-90s saved in my queue.
Watching these option-oriented, Power-I formationed, under-center five-step dropping, titans of the Reagan-era gridiron provided me with a faux-nostalgia I never actually experienced — I wasn’t born until 1990, after all.
But even deep into the 2000s, the bulky-shouldered padded, mid-riff exposed, fingers-taped, members of the blue-chip schools served as the prototype “football player” in young imaginations. And for this kid, obsessed with knights and gladiators — I celebrated many a birthday at the Medieval Times in Lyndhurst, NJ — the most appealing part of the whole get-up was the helmet, the final piece of armor strapped onto your head before marching into battle.
When I hit the 3rd Grade and was finally allowed to get my own pads, I didn’t care what was in front of my face — I believe that except for a couple of players who bought their own, we all had the same matching, plastic cage with the vertical bar going down the center, it didn’t matter if you were a quarterback or guard.
But as we got older and style — in the form of accessorizing — became yet one more aspect of the game, the bars you put on the front of your helmet mattered. You had the “Deion Sanders” or “Sean Taylor” or “Darren Sproles,” these were in; vertical bar, you were for lineman at Nebraska, you were old news, and we forsook you.
For that, I apologize.
This piece is for that vertical bar, which didn’t discriminate based on position or on school. It was de rigueur for runningbacks throughout the 70s, 80s, and into the early 1990s.
In fact, the Miami Hurricanes of the 1980s, the coolest team ever assembled, featured vert-bar with their exceptional running backs.
And, of course, linebackers and safeties adopted ol’ vertical as their mask of choice to terrorize opposing offenses.
And just so you don’t accuse me of just equating “cool” with “black players” here is Brian “The Boz” Bosworth, one of the coolest linebackers to ever play the game. (I think I could write a similar piece about the neck-roll…)
You might be asking yourself: “Wouldn’t a bar running down the middle of my face make it difficult to catch the ball or accurately scan the field for defenders?” Well, why don’t we ask the player with indisputably the best vision in football history, Barry Sanders, what he thinks?
Now, I’m not advocating for every player to rock the verti-bar. I don’t think it works for Quarterbacks and Receivers, although, I do give props to Randy Campbell, Auburn Tigers quarterback for being a trendsetter down on “The Plains”.
And hey, I’m not the only guy facemask dreaming over here, as I stumbled upon this ESPN article while conducting research for this one — not gonna lie, my heart sunk for a moment when I thought someone had beat me to the punch… 11 years early. However, to my infinite joy, I quickly realized the writer was ode-ing a different facemask altogether — the silly and stupid single-bar. I did golf-clap the “single barista” term though.
(ESPN ARTICLE HERE.)