Here we are.
After three months of voting, thousands of voters, and hundreds of thousands of votes, we come to the finals. A DI school versus a DII school.
The Louisville Cardinals versus the Nebraska Kearney Lopers.
Which one won a bowl game this year? Do you know?
We’ll get to the answer below.
First though, the Semi-finals.
Louisville and Dickinson traded blows throughout the week. It seemed like every time we looked at the percentages, they would flip-flop. When we looked closer at the data, the Red Devils were 150 votes ahead. A day later we’d look and the Cardinals would be 140 in front.
December 31, Dickinson was in the lead by six percentage points. Same stat the next day. It back and forth, then suddenly on Saturday, Louisville was ahead by two percentage points—and in this case, not even 200 votes. By Sunday, the Red Devils were back on top. Then, early on Monday morning, the teams were knotted up. Louisville soon took the lead, and held it through the Semi-Final.
Meanwhile, the Gallaudet Bison showed determination to once again appear in the Helmet Bowl National Championship. They won the whole enchilada in HB1 and were a great champion. They wanted a return trip and the votes started piling up.
Whoa. By the first of the year, Nebraska Kearney had taken the lead away from the Bison.
Everyone expected Gallaudet to fight. And fight they did.
It took a couple of days and we watched as the Bison reeled in the Lopers. It was mesmerizing. Little by little, they plodded along, racking up votes a little bit faster than UNK. Then Friday, they were ahead. It was only a seven vote lead, but they were out front!
A day later, the Lopers had regained the lead and built a 200 vote cushion! They would not relent.
By Monday morning, it would take a herculean effort to catch them. The Bison were known for their amazing comebacks, so we were ready to watch it happen. It just didn’t this year.
By noon Monday, both former Champions had fallen.
The Dickinson Red Devils were a great champions. They represented well. We expect to see them back in the hunt in Helmet Bowl IV.
The Gallaudet Bison wore the mantel of the First Helmet Bowl National Champion with pride. We know they’ll be back and itching to hoist the trophy again.
Speaking of the trophy, Schutt Sports has once again agreed to provide the Helmet Bowl National Championship trophy helmet. We understand it will be shipped sometime this week and may arrive before Monday.
Thank you to the good folks at Schutt!
Which of the National Championship match teams won a bowl game this year?
Trick question – they both did.
Louisville won the Music City Bowl over Mississippi State (another great Helmet Bowl team).
Nebraska Kearney won the Mineral Water Bowl over the Winona State Warriors.
This little public school out on the prairie schools with about 6,300 students takes on Louisville which holds classes for 22,600. It’s quite a matchup.
The Lopers had a great football season, their first winning season in quite some time. A Helmet Bowl National Championship would fit right into their rebuilding efforts.
“We’ve got big things planned for this week,” said Marc Bauer, the Athletic Director at UNK.
Marc knows how to win. As a collegiate wrestling coach, his wrestlers have hoisted individual and team national championships. Marc has escorted his wrestlers to the Olympic games and saw one of his men bow to receive a bronze medal in Rio.
“A couple of months ago I was walking down the hall and Tanner (Tanner Drews, the Loper’s Equipment Manager) pulls me into the equipment room and shows me this gold Loper head on a helmet. He was so excited about this helmet.”
It was later Marc learned about Helmet Bowl.
In fact, the Lopers almost missed the dance. Truth be told, they won the Mid-American Intercollegiate Athletic Association by just two votes, but only drew 28.
Yes, 28 votes. The lackluster effort barely got them into the Championship bracket and they were seeded 11th. It could have been much lower.
In the first week of the Helmet Bowl III National Championship, the Lopers increased their previous voting best by a factor of 23. TWENTY-THREE times the number of votes!
“Tanner is the guy behind the effort,” Marc tells us. “He was sending out Tweets all the time. I was excited for him because he was excited about Helmet Bowl and is excited to be promoting UNK Athletics.”
“Helmet Bowl has been a lot of fun,” said Tanner Drews, the Loper Equipment Manager for three years.
“I have a brand new Twitter account for the equipment room and Helmet Bowl has been a lot of our content,” he said, though the staff cares for the needs of 14 sports at UNK.
Tanner says the only other school in the country with the Antelope is Grand Canyon U, which does not have football.
“Our area around here is known for the Sandhill Crane migration so some people ask if our helmet is a representation of a crane or something.”
Tanner's staff switched the decal from white to gold during the football season and let us know. We at Helmet Tracker switched it on Helmet Bowl and it was at the right time. The votes started rolling in.
Tanner's uncle got him interested in being an Equipment Manager. Jeff Parsons worked in the Kansas State equipment room, then eventually for the Washington Redskins.
The athletes who vote and the community support has been the key.
“I was tweeting out and this community just caught onto it,” he said. Kearney is about 25,000 people. Some of the town's bars are encouraging patrons to vote, and have requested helmets to showcase.
In early finals voting, the Lopers took a lead into the first evening.
Then, when Louisville submitted a new helmet, the Lopers followed up a couple of hours later.
“It’s awesome. We are a small, rural Nebraska school and although the odds will be stacked against us, we have some things lined up that may give us a chance,” Marc said.
For only the second time in Helmet Bowl, a DI school vies for the National Championship.
“Of course I've heard of Nebraska Kearney,” Joe Mikesic, one of two Cardinals GA Equipment Managers.
The Cards won the ACC and rolled through the rounds of the Helmet Bowl III National Championship until they faced Dickinson.
“It's been a lot of fun,” Joe said. He grew up in Lawrence, Kansas, caught the equipment care bug, and worked for the KU equipment staff for five years before being accepted at Louisville where he is working on his masters degree.
Joe has championed the Helmet Bowl effort at Louisville.
“My first day on the job last summer they handed me the keys to the Twitter account and said ‘Go!'”
“Once you guys notified us we won the conference, I started really getting the word out,” Joe said. “I can't say enough about how great our fans are. Every time I tweeted, you could almost see the percentages jump!”
Now, the Cardinals have submitted a new image for the finals!
Ed Connell, Associate Director/Equipment Operations for the Cardinals, said the fan interest and support for Louisville football has grown in recent years and continue to climb.
“Fans don't want an offseason,” he said. Helmet Bowl gives fans a way to support the team.