Everyone who grew up in the glorious Sears Catalog days of NFL collecting remember the old school NFL gumball helmets. I've written before about some of those glorious gumball helmet designs from the 1970's. The technology back then was not nearly what we have today, so those helmets were extremely limited in what kind of decoration could be done to them. Every helmet utilized a decal on each side to create the team graphic and any team that needed a stripe over the top had a stripe decal as well. For teams like the Rams and the 1980's Bengals, this presented some issues.
Fast forward to today. Manufacturing technology has advanced in so many ways that the gumball helmets you buy today are far different than those from the past. The gumball helmet of today is definitely not your father's gumball helmet. Modern gumball helmets have no problem at all displaying the intricate graphics on some of the NFL's most complicated helmet designs. Tampo printing technology allows the current gumball helmet to accurately display the team graphics, even if they wrap over the top of the helmet. No longer do you have those die-cut decals, but graphics that are permanently printed on the helmet.
The basic shape of the old school gumball helmet was also a bit different than a real NFL helmet. The old school gumball helmet was somewhat flat on the sides and on the top in order to allow the decals to be placed on a flat surface. The facemask of old was a simple white two-bar design that snapped into place on each side of the helmet. As the old school gumball helmet evolved, you even started to see facemasks in colors. I used to keep a drawer full of helmets with the decals removed and various colored facemasks so I could customize them at any time.
Fast forward to today's new school gumball helmet. Today's helmet is shaped in a manner that is much more like that of a real helmet. Since the graphics are now pad printed, there is no need for the flat surfaces for decals, allowing for a much more realistic shape. Today's facemask is also much more detailed, with a realistic full-face design.
Today's helmets provide collector's with a much more realistic piece of memorabilia to collect, but there is something about an old school gumball helmet that just feels right. Despite their decoration and shape limitations, the old school gumball helmet was one of the most cherished of all sports collectibles for young NFL fans from the past.