In the 1920s, players wore nose guards as their only means of facial protection. Made of leather, they evolved in the 1930s to cover a player’s entire face with holes cut out for the eyes and mouth. They were hot and uncomfortable, and players were understandably reluctant to use them. The helmet manufacturer Riddell created the first modern face mask for Otto Graham, a quarterback with the Cleveland Browns, in 1953. Legend has it that Graham took an elbow to the teeth in the course of play, and he decided enough was enough. The NFL outlawed the substance for use in football helmets in 1957. Riddell’s next helmet to include any sort of face mask was the BT 5. It involved just a single bar across the front of the helmet, made of rubber and plastic. The BT 5 gave way to a series of improvements over that single bar. Double bars, then triple bars, followed, with some linemen wearing entire cage like coverings over their faces. Joe Theismann, quarterback for the Washington Redskins, preferred the old style one bar face masks so much that when Riddell stopped producing them, he bent the bar backward and downward on the new version so he could still see the playing field without obstruction. Some players, however, bent the bar upward to protect their noses better. In 1974, the Kansas City Chiefs had their face masks painted white to contrast with players’ hands so that officials could plainly see when an opposing player grabbed one.
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