As Sam Atkinson swung out of bed early Monday morning, he wondered if he’d made a mistake.
It was National Championship day for college football and his team was vying for the whole enchilada, the entire ball of wax, all nine yards. Sam checked the vote count and found his Gallaudet Bison were more than 1,100 behind.
In the greatest college football helmet contest ever, overcoming such a deficit seemed beyond all rational hope. Yet Sam had talked the local morning television show into a live interview that morning, the last morning of the Helmet Bowl National Championship. He was due in the studio in just a few hours.
It was January 8th.
“It seemed like we maybe were going to run out of time.”
Would he be embarrassed, or worse—embarrass the university he worked for and now loved?
Gallaudet Wins Eastern Collegiate Football Conference
When Helmet Tracker launched Helmet Bowl I in September 2017, every college football helmet was entered. Every one. Every division. Every conference. Every helmet. Nearly 800 helmets were represented and each competed in their own conference to start. For Gallaudet, a Division III school in football, it was the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference.
At the other end of the spectrum, seemingly in another football world, the San Diego State Aztecs competed in the DI Mountain West Conference. The two schools had nothing in common. Gallaudet sits near the East Coast in Washington, DC. San Diego State students can throw stones into the Pacific Ocean. Gallaudet supports just over 1,100 students while San Diego State boasts nearly 34,000.
Yet the two schools were on a collision course in Helmet Bowl I – the greatest college football helmet contest ever.
Making the Bracket
Gallaudet won their conference, racking up 8.25 of a possible 11 conference points. (see all Conference Champions here) The only school to garner all 11 points by winning each of the 10 weeks of the conference contests was the Central Michigan Chippewas in the Mid-American Conference. The Chipps would advance until they challenged the Aztecs in the Semi-Finals. In the Mountain West, voters chose the red helmet of San Diego State with the Aztec calendar embossed on it over the other conference helmets, advancing them with 7.25 points.
Conference winners, including the Bison and the Aztecs, advanced to the National Championship. There, head to head battles in a 64-team bracket would determine the Helmet Bowl I National Championship.
“I had sent some emails out to some supporters early in the fall,” Sam said. “Then, it kind of drifted off my radar. I checked in at one point and we had won the conference for a couple of weeks in a row. I read up on how the National Championship would work and found out if we won the conference we could possibly make some noise in the bracket.”
Teams would have to win five times, five weeks in a row, to make it to the Championship match, six times to take the title. For Gallaudet, its first test would be against the Cheyney Wolves. The Wolves, winners of the Eastern Collegiate Conference, sported a fairly bland blue helmet. But that wouldn’t really matter much, most observers thought, because the winner of this match would most likely face the Ohio State Buckeyes in the second round.
Read Part II of this story.