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Traditions: Michigan's winged helmets

By Eye on College Football staff

Michigan has few peers when it comes to tradition in college football.

You want victories? Well, no team has won more games than Michigan. The Wolverines are the only major program to top 900 victories all time. Add 42 Big Ten championships and 11 national championships and you have a winning pedigree that all but a handful of programs surely must envy.

You want pageantry? Take in a game among the more than 109,000 strong at Michigan Stadium, which will be packed again Saturday afternoon when Nebraska visits for a key Big Ten game, and soak in the atmosphere created by college football's largest stadium. You want spirit? A rendition of "The Victors" when Big Blue takes the field is one of the game's most chillbump-inspiring fight songs.

But as we continue our season-long look at college football traditions here at, you might be surprised to learn that one of Michigan's best traditions did not actual begin with Michigan. The Wolverines' iconic helmet was borrowed from ... Michigan State?

That's not exactly true, of course. The origin of arguably the most famous helmet in college football began when coach Fritz Crisler arrived at Michigan in 1938, bringing the look with him from Princeton. Crisler believed the distinctive winged helmet would help quarterbacks better see open receivers on pass plays. With the forward pass beginning to become a prominent part of the game during that era, many programs experimented with the look at both the college and pro levels. That's where Michigan State comes in, as the Spartans were using the winged helmet before Crisler arrived in Ann Arbor.

Michigan, however, adopted the look for its entire team -- not just receivers -- and the great success on the field soon made the winged helmet an instant visual association with the Wolverines and Michigan State, and others, went in different design directions. Today, the winged helmet is worn by a few programs at lower levels (Delaware, Princeton) and is used across the country by many high school programs, where, no doubt -- spectators see the look and immediately think of the Wolverines, too.

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