Kent State bowl helmet now a collector’s item

Grant Engle

When the Kent State football team took the field at the Bowl on Jan. 6, one thing garnered more attention than the Flashes’ offense or defense – the team’s helmets.

Kent State wore bright gold helmets with the varsity “K” on the back, but there was another twist that grabbed headlines around the country.

In reference to the golden eagle mascot, the team members sported a pair of eagle eyes on the front of their helmets. It was a unique look, to say the least.

Clifton Ragin Jr., head equipment manager for the athletic department, said he thought of the design as more of a “rough draft,” but the impending bowl game and excitement of former head football coach Darrell Hazell birthed the headgear.

“Coach loved it from the start,” Ragin said. “I hoped he would say, ‘Let’s do something else,’ but it was one of those things where I didn’t want to disagree with the boss.”

It all started when Hazell took over as the Flashes head coach in 2010. While touring Dix Stadium, Hazell entered Ragin’s office and saw the helmet on display. Ragin had set it out with other helmets used by the team.

Ragin said he took issue with a previous story written in the Akron Beacon Journal, which described the helmet Hazell found as “dusty, and in the back of his office.”

“My office isn’t that dirty,” Ragin said with a laugh. “[Hazell] kind of gravitated to it. The only thing that came out of his mouth was, ‘This is going to be our bowl helmet.’”

A former assistant of Ragin’s conceived the idea for the gold helmet a few years ago. They agreed the color didn’t come out the way they had hoped, and they decided to shelf the experiment indefinitely.

But Ragin still kept the helmet out for people to see, just in case another coach would want to go gold for a game or two. Hazell ran with the idea.

The coach used the plain gold helmet as a motivational tool. He told the team they would get to wear them once they reached a bowl game. At that point, the team hadn’t finished with a winning record in nearly a decade and was facing a bowl drought of 38 years.

After a 5-7 2011 season, Hazell continued to keep the gold helmet in his office and told players they could earn the right to wear it in a bowl game.

Director of Athletics Joel Nielsen said he was a little concerned when he saw the gold helmet in Hazell’s office. He didn’t want the coach to lobby for a switch to gold helmets, but when he heard Hazell’s plan he was on board, too.

“I thought the idea was kind of neat,” Nielsen said. “It was something to shoot for – something to aspire for – to wear those gold helmets.”

After a historic 2012 season for the program, the Flashes sat at 11-2 the night bowl invitations were announced. The team earned the right to play in the Bowl in Mobile, Ala. They also earned the right to wear the gold helmets their coach had promised them.

By the end of the first half, bloggers, reporters and fans started to chime in on mainstream media and social media outlets with their fashion advice for the Flashes.

USA Today, Yahoo! Sports and the popular sports blog SB Nation described the helmets as “strange,” “creepy” and “bizarre.”

While Ragin said the idea was solid, and the helmets looked good when they were right in front of him, they left a lot to be desired on television. The eagle eyes were almost completely indiscernible on ESPN’s broadcast.

Despite liking the idea behind the helmets, Ragin said Flashes football fans probably won’t be seeing a return of the golden eagle-eye helmets while new head coach Paul Haynes is in charge.

“Coach Haynes is not down with the gold,” said Ragin. “He is all blue, true blue.”

Nielsen echoed Ragin’s assessment, and took the guarantee of the gold-helmet embargo a step further.

“As long as I’m here, we’ll be staying with the blue helmets,” Nielsen said.

For those who want to capture the brief moment in Kent State football history, the athletic department is selling helmets actually worn in the game for $1,000 each. Each helmet is signed by Hazell.

The proceeds from the helmet sales will go to the football enhancement fund, and the buyer will also have his or her name engraved on a brick at the main West Gate entrance of Dix Stadium.

Contact Grant Engle at [email protected].