Gordie Howe in a leather helmet

With the NHL playoffs just around the corner — and the Concussion Issue continuing to hover over the NFL — I thought I’d write a quick post about the time, long before it was fashionable, Red Wings legend Gordie Howe wore a leather helmet.

3-29-50 Montreal Gazette p. 19 Howe brain operationThis was during the 1950-51 season. In the playoffs the previous spring, Howe had gone head-first into the boards — the Maple Leafs’ Ted Kennedy was his intended target — and suffered a fractured skull and serious facial injuries. Doctors had to perform emergency surgery to stop a brain hemorrhage.

When Howe returned to action in the fall, he experienced headaches and, once, a dizzy spell. So his bosses convinced him to put on a leather headgear (plastic helmets not yet being in vogue).

“We just don’t want to take chances,” general manager Jack Adams said.  “I’ve wanted Gordie to wear a headgear for a long time and finally talked him into it on the train coming back from Toronto.”

Here’s the best photo I could find of it (from the Dec. 15, 1950, Lowell Sun in Massachusetts). The contrast is poor and the figures a little faint, but you can make out Howe’s helmet.Howe photo with helmet 12-15-50 Lowell Sun

Howe eventually discarded the thing, tough guy that he was. The league made helmets mandatory for incoming players in 1979, his 32nd and final pro season, but veterans had the option of going without them — and Gordie did. Here he is, late in his career, mixing it up with Quebec’s (better-protected) Curt Brackenbury.Howe without helmet, opponent with one