Detroit Lions Helmet

From Southern Ohio to the State Up North: Detroit Lions Helmet History

The Detroit Lions’ helmet history is quite the backstory and it begins all the way back in 1930 when the team played in a small Ohio River town called Portsmouth, Ohio when most of the NFL was made up of small town teams. As the depression hit and the need for larger markets called, the team packed up and headed for Detroit.

Many of us know the Lions’ current helmet logo has been virtually the same with nothing more than a modern upgrade back in 2009. What we may not know is the fact there were more than just the traditional silver shell and Honolulu blue logo that we’ve become accustomed to seeing from this historic franchise.

Starting in Portsmouth, let’s kick off this little timeline regarding the Lions.

 

1930-1949

When the Spartans debuted in 1930, they wore typical dark beige leatherheads, as has been seen so many times in the NFL’s early days. By 1932, the Spartans switched to purple for their final two seasons in Ohio before heading to Detroit prior to 1934.

Silver leatherheads donned the crowns of the NFL’s Monarchs from 1934 to 1948, when the team switched to….maroon?

Yep, Bo McMillin, influenced by a college team he once coached by the name of Indiana, initiated the switch. The look proved to be so unpopular that the team ditched the maroon leatherheads after 1949, instead opting for silver and blue plastic shells which became commonplace in the late-1940s.

 

==> Click Here for the Lions’ Team Profile <==

 

1950-1961

Detroit Lions 1962-1968
Lions 1962-1968 Helmet

During the first decade of the plastic helmet shells, the Lions’ original helmets were gold, believe it or not, with no markings of any kind, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

In 1951 and 1952, the logoless plain helmets were still blue or silver.

Starting in 1953, the Lions switched to a solid gold shell, which still bore no markings except for a single white helmet stripe, unlike their silver and blue cousins, which the team wore on occasion from 1953 to 1956.

Finally in 1957, silver became the color of the shells, which the team had worn ever since, with some modifications, of course, including stripes and a logo.

As with many NFL teams in the 1960s, the Lions added a helmet decal and crown stripes to their helmets in 1961, an era where the NFL pressured teams into adopting logos so television audiences could tell them apart. This decal became that of a leaping lion while two blue helmet stripes occupied the crown.

 

1962-2008

Detroit Lions 1983-2002
Lions 1983 to 2002 Helmet, featuring the blue facemask.

In 1970, the Lions added white in between the blue helmet stripes, which allowed the blue to stand out more, as well as a white outline around the leaping lion logo.

Starting in 1983, the traditional gray facemask was abandoned in favor of Honolulu blue, another trend that became popular in the NFL in the late-70s and 1980s.

When Matt Millen became the general manager in 2002, the Lions again updated their look in 2003, this time featuring black for the first time. The blue facemask was changed to black and black stripes were added to the helmet stripes. This was yet another trend that was popular in the early 2000s, with many teams switching to darker shades.

This helmet became synonymous with the team’s perpetual losing, where they were among one of the NFL’s worst teams from 2002 until Millen’s firing in 2008.

 

2009-Present

Lions infamous Millen-Era helmet featuring the black facemask and outlines.

After a historically bad 0-16 season, the Lions decided to add fierceness to the traditional leaping Lion logo, which many felt was too soft. Detail was added to the lion’s mane, and sharp teeth were made visible near the mouth area. Also, a white eye gleamed from the decal, too.

It would be the team’s first radical logo redesign since 1961, where previous redesigns typically involved outlines, facemask, and striping changes.

In 2017, the Lions began a radical redesign process of their uniform and helmet, which eliminated the black for the first time since it was introduced back in 2003. As a nod to the earlier helmets, the Lions went with just Honolulu blue on the helmet’s crown while changing the facemask back to its traditional silver/gray.

 

Shop Detroit Lions gear at FansEdge!

 

My Take

The Lions’ 2009 to 2016 helmet.

I’ve been clamoring for the Lions to ditch the black for years and they finally obliged in 2017. As a result, they now possess one of the better helmets in the NFL and one of the best in the NFC.

Another team that has once again followed a trend, and it seems like the Lions do this often, by reverting back to a more classic look, but with a modernized twist. While the helmet logo remains the same, the now-dated black is long gone from the look, hopefully for good.

 

==> Click Here for the Lions’ Jersey History <==

 

Conclusion

The Lion’s helmet may be synonymous with perpetual losing as the team has only one playoff win since 1957, but the look has become one of the more historical ones in the league, with periodic redesigns featuring similar striping, color, and logo patterns.

While it may not be as traditional as that of Green Bay or Chicago, the Lions’ look definitely deserves credit for refusing to go hog wild on new trends, even if the team does follow them to an extent, keeping many elements in both the helmet and uniform identical.

It’s something that myself and many other uni-purists can live with.

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10 comments

  1. Hey Todd,

    Great article about the Detroit Lions helmet. I really enjoy reading it…a lot of great information. Honestly, i didn’t knew anything about the subject matter…but now i do know… Thank you.

    Best WIshes!

    1. Thanks, George! Many, including NFL fans, know very little about the subject matter of NFL helmets, jerseys, and uniforms, so my goal here is to create a huge online encyclopedia on the subject matter. This site is still very much in its infancy as of March 27th, 2019, but we’re getting there.

  2. Great website, and interesting article about the Detroits Lions Helmet and the redesign of it.
    I learned something that I didn’t know about. I love watching NFL football games!
    Thanks Todd
    Best wishes

    1. Thanks, Letha. While the helmet’s roots have remained essentially the same, they have gone with trends, which seemed to backfire at times, however, necessitating constant revisions.

  3. Just what I was looking for, Tod!

    A friend and I were debating, got a little heated, lol about the changes that were made to the Detroit Lions Helmet.

    I think the changes made to the Detroit Helmets in 2017 was a winner!

    Looks like I won the bet with your captivating take on the history of the helmets changes.

    Enjoyed visiting your website and cheers for all the info.

    Jeff.

    1. Yeah, the 2017 design has been a major upgrade from the black accents brought about in the Millen era. I just wish the team would’ve done this sooner. It was long overdue. 

  4. I cannot imagine a plain gold helmet for the Detroit Lions! Was it common for teams to have plain helmets in that era, or was Detroit doing something unique? I’m personally a fan of the 1961 – 2008 look. They have one of the better logos in the NFL when it’s not trying too hard to look “fierce”.  🙂 

    1. Hi, Aly, before 1960 most of the NFL operated with plain helmets; there was literally not much need for brand identity at the time and teams rarely showed it other than color scheme, but even they changed at will. Come 1960, TV was growing but it was still tough to tell teams apart, which brought about the NFL pressuring teams into adopting logos. And these days, 31 of the 32 teams have something on their helmet, with the Cleveland Browns being the lone exception. 

  5. I am full of a family surrounded by men; my husband, my brothers, and my 2 boys. They all love football. I, on the other hand, have grown to appreciate it through all of them. I am always looking for places to learn new and interesting things about the sport that they may not know to be able to be passionate about their interests. This piece was great and full of fun facts that I pull out over family dinner this Sunday. Thanks!

    1. Lots of history regarding such uniforms too, Charity. Like, literally by the decade. I thought I knew it all before, but going through some updates for all my articles show me that there’s still much to learn here about all thirty-two teams, especially older ones like the Lions. 

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