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Today's Tidbit... Football's Early Executioner's Masks
Broken noses were primarily relegated to football's past in the 1960s due to the widespread use of face masks. Before that, broken noses were common, so players, trainers, and equipment manufacturers developed methods to protect the proboscis or, at least, to keep them from further harm once injured. Noses went unprotected until 1892 when Harvard captain Arthur Cumnock developed a hard rubber device to protect a teammate's broken nose. Cumnock soon sold the rights to his invention to John Morrill, who refined and marketed Morrill Nose Guards or Nose Masks nationwide.
Competitive products came along, but each was a variation on the nose guard theme, and it was not until 1921 that an entirely new form of facial protection arrived on the commercial scene with Goldsmith's No. 64 Nose Protector Head Harness, which covered the full face. This style became known as the Executioner's Mask.
There were custom versions of the executioner's mask before and after Goldsmith's product entered the market. However, it was not until the 1920s that headgear became sufficiently rigid to support a helpful face mask. Nevertheless, custom versions date back to 1905, if not earlier. The earliest image I've located shows a Wisconsin player in 1905 against Chicago. Contemporary newspaper reports indicate Wisconsin's Vanderboom wore a mask for much of the season. While the caption of the image below suggests another player wears the mask, the caption may be wrong.
The next game-action image of an executioner's mask I've found shows another Wisconsin running back, Gibson, during the 1922 season.
Executioner's mask received substantial publicity during the 1924 season due to being worn by two running backs on top teams. Princeton's Joe Prendergast needed an operation after breaking his nose playing for Exeter, so he wore an executioner's mask after breaking his nose playing for the Tigers.
Georgia Tech's All-American, Doug Wycoff, also wore an executioner's mask in 1924 after breaking his nose early in the season.
Executioner's masks remained in the equipment portfolio into the early 1950s, but starting in the mid-1930s, they were increasingly replaced by birdcage masks from which the modern face mask evolved. Various Lucite masks that rested on the face and did not strike opposing players came on the market in the 1950s. However, these saw use only a few years before the single and double-bar face masks became dominant.
If you are interested in how football's facial protection evolved, an earlier story has you covered.
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