Ironwood Ridge's John Klass, left, celebrates Division II state title after a 27-3 victory over Centennial at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe. on Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012. (Ralph Freso/For the Daily Star)


Retired Tucson pharmacist Joe M. Mendez is a 92-year-old season ticket-holder who paid 10 cents for a Knothole Club ticket at the 1937 Arizona-Oregon football game.

"The Wildcats wore powder blue uniforms with vertical red stripes down the jerseys and pants," he remembers. "They called them the 'Blue Brigade.'"


"They were blue," he says. "I'm sure of it. I was lying in bed last week, thinking of the Oregon-Arizona game, and I even remembered the score correctly (UA 20, Ducks 6)."

Since returning as a distinguished airman from World War II and graduating with a UA pharmacy degree in 1950, Mendez has seen the Wildcats wear all-red, all-white, all-blue and every conceivable combination of those colors.

On Saturday he'll watch from Arizona Stadium in his wheelchair as the Wildcats debut something new: copper helmets.

"Traditionally, I'd rather see red and blue, but I'm not too old to change: Maybe the coach thinks they can disguise the ball better in a background of copper," Mendez says. "That's what (UA coach) Tex Oliver said in the '30s: We can hide the ball better if we don't wear white."

Oliver and the Blue Brigade were so successful in '37, capping an 8-2 season with that victory over the Ducks, hiding the football in a swarm of blue, that the Ducks fired coach Prince Callison, offered Tex a nice raise and a few weeks later announced he was Oregon's new football coach.

So can we put this whole fashion change, this helmet culture, on Tex Oliver?

Now the Ducks wear silver helmets (and gold, green, yellow, black and white helmets) - yes, six helmets for each player, at an annual expense of about $3,000 per player - and they are coming off the Rose Bowl and are ranked No. 2 in the nation.

If you don't have a designer helmet, you are nobody.

The Ducks don't wear helmets dipped in a $350-per-helmet paint to disguise the football, but rather to create the most fashion-conscious brand in college football. Helmet gear has become so popular it almost makes your feet hurt.

Utah debuted a black helmet last week against a school, Arizona State, that did so a year earlier. Helmet fashion seems to be an Oregon-inspired, Pac-12 thing: Stanford, Colorado and Oregon State have worn black helmets in recent years. UCLA, which has worn a gold-based helmet dating to 1973, broke out ghastly white helmets against USC last year (and lost 50-0).

Washington State has worn sick-looking gray helmets of late. Only USC has resisted change.

UA athletic director Greg Byrne isn't breaking his budget; he declined a chance to use the $350 paint-dip that the Ducks so eagerly use.

"Overall, we'll average about $275 a helmet," says Byrne. "A few folks have asked me about the expense; I tell them these helmets will last longer because they won't be used as often."

It will cost the UA athletic department roughly $10 extra to paint each helmet copper, making the total cost of each lid about $285.

Realistically, this is a money-making marketing agent for the Wildcats as much as it is a be-like-the-Ducks statement of cool. Byrne and his staff planned the launch of copper helmets a few months ago, targeting Saturday's Oregon State game, so that it could have suitable merchandise in stock at campus book and clothing stores.

Already, ESPN has requested a copper helmet for display this weekend.

Tradition has been taking such a beating that there isn't likely to be much of a protest. Tucson has such an extended connection with copper mining that it makes more sense than almost any of the helmet colors used elsewhere in college football.

Michael Logan, a former UA history professor who earned a Ph.D. at Arizona, spent about two years working at ASARCO's Pima mine south of Tucson, and also worked underground as a chute tapper and blaster at the San Manuel mine.

"I approve of the copper helmets," said Logan, who is now head of the history department at Oklahoma State. "I still carry my 'brass' from Magma as a good luck piece."

In 2010, West Virginia used helmets as a vehicle (and marketing resource) to honor West Virginians killed in mining disasters. In their annual rivalry game against Pitt, West Virginia wore black helmets that were said to be a smoke-and-grit design.

Not only that, West Virginia's uniforms were redesigned in a chalky, almost sooty color. The black helmets had a yellow stripe to represent a miner's lamp. West Virginia won 35-10.

Arizona won't go to those extremes to honor Southern Arizona's copper industry. It will simply use copper helmets against Oregon State in hopes it becomes a rallying agent among fans and players.

The real point isn't to look cool as much as it is to create a karma that can help beat the Beavers, and make the Wildcats and their fans forget those silver helmets the Ducks used to beat them 49-0 last week.

Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or