Introduction to NFL Pocket Pro Helmets

Pocket Pro helmets are manufactured as collectables by Riddell. They were inspired by the original mini-helmets one could purchase from gumball machines in the 1970s.

To my knowledge, Riddell first manufactured pocket pro helmets in 1997. These were different from the mini-helmets of the 1970s and 80s, which were made of thinner plastic. Another difference is that the helmet decals for pocket pros are painted on, as opposed to stickers.

Riddell has manufactured contemporary helmets pretty much every year since 1997. If a team’s helmet needed updating, Riddell manufactured it. Contemporary helmets have been manufactured in three styles: original-style, revolution-style, and speed-style.

Riddell also manufactured throwback helmets. These were manufactured in the original-style (in the Throwback Series 1, Throwback Series 2, and AFL 50th Anniversary sets) and two-bar-style (NFL 1969, AFL 1969, and Throwback 2-bar sets).

Individual collectors have made custom helmets by painting over or applying decals or stickers to pocket pros.

Contemporary Helmets

Riddell manufactured three types of contemporary helmets. These helmets reflected a team’s current helmet logo.

  1. Original/traditional (these are also sometimes called Throwback). Manufactured from around 1997 through about 2005. These helmets had a “R” underneath one ear-hole and generally a date stamp inside.
  2. Revolution.Manufactured between about 2005 and 2016.
  3. Speed. Manufactured starting around 2016. These helmets have a date stamp inside.

Throwback – Original Style

Riddell manufactured a 36-piece (series 1), a 40-piece (series 2) Throwback set, and a 9-piece AFL 50th Anniversary Throwback set. These helmets were manufactured in the original style. All of the helmets in series 1 had the “R” behind the earhole and the same padding on the inside. However, I think some of the series 2 did not have the “R” under the earhole and used a different interior helmet padding. The AFL 50th Anniversary Throwback helmets did not have the “R” under the earhole. The exterior design on these helmets are the same, though.

Throwback Two-bar

Riddell manufactured a 16-piece 1969 NFL Two-bar Throwback, 12-piece 1969 AFC Two-bar Throwback, and 36-piece Two-bar set. These helmets had the same round earhole as the original. There was no “R” under the earhole. The helmets also have a slightly different shape.

There is some overlap between the 1969 Two-bar helmets and the two-bar helmets from the 36-piece set. What makes them distinct is the Riddell label on the back. The 1969 helmets have “RIDDELL” printed in all caps.. The two-bar helmets from the 36-piece set have “RIDDell (ell in cursive)” printed on the back.

Custom Pocket Pro Helmets

Custom pocket pro helmets are made by individuals, not by Riddell. As the Teams Checklist shows, Riddell has not manufactured helmets for all the teams’ eras (although they have for most). Gaps can be filled by custom-made helmets. These helmets are usually made by modifying old pocket pro helmets.

Many of these helmets have excellent craftsmanship. I ordered the Oilers helmet below on eBay and it’s really nice.  Other helmets are modified by just changing the facemask color. I ordered a Colts throwback helmet like the one pictured below. Someone just removed the blue facemask and replaced it with a white one. I know it’s the same helmet because of the time stamp on the inside.

The Joy of Mini Football Helmets

Many of us Gen-Xers will recall gumball-machine football helmets. For a quarter you could buy a small, plastic shell with a helmet. You didn’t know what team you would get. And you had to assemble the helmet on your own. The team logo was a sticker. A few times I placed the sticker upside-down, which was such a bummer. Due to the adhesiveness of the glue, the mistake was irreverable. The Browns sticker was plain orange, slightly off-hue and unnecessary. The goal post display set was the highlight of my collection (see photo above).

I distinctly recall ordering my own mini helmets. Here was the process:

  1. Fill out an order form, usually from a comic book or magazine.
  2. Find an envelope and stamp.
  3. Put the form and actual cash in the envelope. Many of these forms had spaces where you could scotch tape the change!
  4. Mail the form and wait 6-8 waits for your package.

I was little when I did this whole process on my own, and at no point was an adult involved. Millions of kids did this all time in the 70’s and 80’s.

As an adult, I purchased a set of more realistic mini-helmets called Pocket Pros. I don’t really collect anything, but my son and myself are starting with these. Riddell has periodically manufactured Pocket Pros over the last 20 years.

This site showcases my Pocket Pro helmet collection. For the completists, it also includes helmets not in my collection.