In November, football is at a fever pitch in America at every level of the sport - in high school bleachers, collegiate stadiums and professional domes across the country. As you watch your favorite team break from the huddle or approach the line of scrimmage, you may notice a name on the back of the players' helmets: Schutt.
It's pretty clear that Schutt is the manufacturer of these increasingly colorful, high-tech helmets designed to protect players from the hardest of impacts. But what you may not know is that the company is about as all-American as they come. We visited the Litchfield, Ill., factory for an episode of our digital content series "Made Right Here," created in partnership with Maxwell House. At Schutt, we got a behind-the-scenes look at how these incredible pieces of equipment have evolved over time and met the amazing people who make them by hand.
Football seems to be all about intimidation and strength, but helmets today are above all fierce about safety.
I've always been a football fan, but have never really paid attention to the helmets until a few years ago. I was watching a playoff game and noticed a player was wearing this crazy helmet, loaded with bars. I looked into the company behind the helmet and found that it is based in Litchfield, which is more or less in my parents' backyard. It was a point of pride to learn that such a dramatic, attention-getting piece of equipment was made in the Midwest, where I grew up. The helmet was fierce looking, but in reality, the design came from a place of safety, not intimidation. The guard was developed due to an eye injury that a player had endured. It's an example of how thoughtful and tailored helmets have become.
The company that makes the modern, slick helmets you see on college players each Saturday began in a small town hardware store.
There is a movement right now, particularly at the college level, to create unique looks on the field every Saturday, including limited-edition designs for special games. All the excitement and intrigue created through these custom looks can be traced back to a hardware store. Talk about humble beginnings. Here's the story that Glenn Beckmann of Schutt Sports shared with us:
"The history of the company dates back to 1918, when Bill Schutt was running his own shop right here in town. He was a known 'tinker-er' and inventor who actually invented the metal eyelets found around the rim of basketball hoops that hold the net. When football started getting really popular in the 1920s, Schutt got into helmets. He noticed that players were affixing faceguards to offer themselves more protection, and he thought that he could make a better one - one that was safer and offered players greater protection. Turns out, he was right. Schutt was the first to create and market helmets with faceguards, which today are mandatory in the league. Seeing a need and creating a business that offers a real solution - that's American ingenuity at its finest."
Football is hand-to-hand combat. In the same spirit, each component of the high-tech helmets you see on TV is secured in place by hand, not by a machine.
On fall Friday nights in towns across the Midwest, the glow from football fields can be seen for miles. The Schutt Sports factory is in a town just like this. When we visited Litchfield, we went to the high school football field. It was surrounded by corn. We jogged on the cinder track and took it all in. The people who sit in those stands every game night are the same people who work at the factory. When you walk in there, you won't find big machines throwing things around. Each element of the helmet is affixed by hand. That personal touch and commitment to quality is evident in every piece produced by the company. Many of the factory employees we met love the game so much that they will do anything to be around it. These workers are a huge part of the excitement that happens every Friday, Saturday or Sunday in America, from Oregon to Florida.
The appeal of football is national, but the heart of the game is a regional family affair.
There are many reasons why football is experiencing such a moment in America. Watching it has become an all-day event. There's a 1 o'clock game, then another at 4 o'clock and 8. It can consume a 6-hour window, or longer. The fact of the matter is, we all have to go back to work on Monday morning, and sitting on the couch rooting for a sport with such a deep American history allows us to detach from the real world and focus on something that's purely fun.
It's an exciting game. There are quick turns of events and constant motion. It takes just 30 seconds to set up a play and tear it down, which suits our shorter attention spans and our inherent interest in battle tactics and attack sequences. But in addition to the universality of the sport, there is a strong regional pull. Affiliations run deep, based on where you're from and who your father and grandfather rooted for when you were growing up. The combined cultural and familial experience makes football the undisputedly most popular sport in America today.
Advanced helmets are not only about science, but ethics, too.
Kids playing sports are always drawn to the flashiest jerseys or brightest bats, and the helmets worn on game day don't go unnoticed by these impressionable kids, or their parents for that matter. Helmets are big business. They are selling points for colleges. Universities wouldn't spend money dipping the equipment in the latest colors and illustrating them with new and improved patterns if it didn't make a difference. But beneath the exterior of the helmets is a thoughtful design that's focused first and foremost on protecting players. It's serious moral and ethical business.
Schutt helmets are completely custom-made, from start to finish. Each player's head is measured precisely by a certified employee so that it fits perfectly, and the advanced materials layered within it have responsive properties that scientifically factor in friction and impact. Guys playing football today are bigger, faster and stronger than ever before. Fit and performance are at the root of each helmet, and this American company is committed to making the best product possible. This makes Schutt Sports an apt stop in the "Made Right Here" series.
To learn more about Schutt Sports, check out the following video: