Smith Goes Old School with Facemask

Maybe Alex Smith’s problem all along has simply been his facemask. The projected starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers has changed it for the 2011 season, which now reflects the style the 49ers’ hall-of-fame quarterbacks’ wore.

Both Joe Montana and Steve young rocked the single-wire, oral protection only (SW-OPO) facemask throughout their careers. The SW-OPO facemask first showed up in the 1970s and hasn’t changed much since then. It was the “norm” for skill position players in the ’80s and ’90s. Receivers Dwight Clark and Terrell Owens also wore the same facemask during their respective “Catches” one and two. Owens’ slightly modified DW-OPO (double-wire oral protection only) had an additional bar across the middle and is more commonly seen today, however.

As football helmets evolve, more options for facemask styles can be found, but it’s pretty rare to actually see the old school SW-OPO. A quick look around the NFC West found no other quarterbacks with the old style.

Smith’s facemask for the first six years of his career is more common today, and has an additional lateral and vertical bar, called the DW-ROJO (double-wire reinforced-oral-protection-only).

According to Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee, Smith said “I’m not running as much, so the old one was more for my younger days.”

So Smith is making a physical change that reflects a mindset that he’s not going to be scrambling much any more.

“This one has more (vision) – I just wanted to do it,” Smith said.

Anyone who has ever worn a football helmet can tell you, that the more bars, the more visibility obstruction. A quick look at the new masks shows that the additional bar could have cut the view of receivers in half down field in some cases.

The Bottom line: the SW-OPO facemask ranks low for overall protection, but allows for much greater visibility.

I think if it were still legal, quarterbacks would be going back to the single-bar facemask!

I mean, with all the strict new rules protecting quarterbacks from defenders, how often are they ever really even needed?

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