Lots of people remember the career of former Buffalo Bills safety Mark Kelso because of the cartoonishly large helmet he wore.
Thanks to that helmet, Kelso also can remember his career.
Kelso, 44, is an administrator and assistant football coach at a Catholic high school in western New York. As a dad with two teenage sons who play, and as a pro football fan with a better understanding than most, he shudders when he sees a player knocked out the way Miami quarterback Trent Green was last Sunday.
It's unconscionable to Kelso that Detroit quarterback Jon Kitna would be allowed to re-enter a game after suffering a concussion, the way he was in last month's 20-17 overtime victory over Minnesota.
"On my part as a high school coach, it would be complete negligence if I put a kid back in a game who had peripheral vision loss and a headache, which are the beginning signs of a concussion," he said. "There is absolutely no way I'd let a kid back into a game."
A series of concussions in 1989 led to Kelso wearing a half-inch-thick foam skullcap over his Bills helmet for the remainder of his career.
Wiry-strong at 5 feet 11 and 180 pounds, Kelso looked like a bobblehead doll in the early versions of that helmet. Even Robin, his wife, couldn't stop giggling when she caught her first glimpse of him in it. His teammates called him the Great Gazoo after the Flintstones character with the tiny body and giant head. That nickname stuck, and Kelso had to grow skin thicker than his "ProCap" shell.
"Initially, I'd get into a game situation and the opposing quarterback would be in short-yardage, look up and start laughing," he said. "It looked so big on a small guy like myself."
It also worked. After switching to the big helmet at the insistence of the Bills medical staff -- he says he's indebted to them for caring more about him as a person than as a player -- his concussion problem went away. More than a decade later, he feels no lingering effects.
Kelso was no scrub. A 10th-round selection out of William & Mary by Philadelphia in 1985, he played for the Bills from 1986 through '93 and was a fixture on the Buffalo teams that lost four consecutive Super Bowls. He had 30 interceptions, eight fumble recoveries and two defensive touchdowns.
Along the way, he developed a friendship with Bert Straus, an industrial design engineer who came up with the ProCap concept and worked closely with Kelso to refine it. Other Bills players used an identical helmet for a game or two when recovering from concussions, but Kelso was the only one to make it a permanent part of his body armor.
San Francisco's Steve Wallace and Indianapolis' Randy Dixon, both offensive linemen, also played with ProCaps. No one currently playing in the league wears one.
Straus and Kelso are hoping to change that. After years of research and development, they are in the final stages of devising a helmet they say will greatly reduce concussions.
The new helmet -- working name: the Gladiator -- is only fractionally larger than a traditional helmet and looks far sleeker, with a streamlined face mask and no exterior hardware such as metal snaps.
The biggest difference is the feel of the surface. The hard layer of the Gladiator is covered with a softer material that has some give.
Kelso is an unpaid consultant but said he will be more involved in the production of the helmets if all goes as planned. Straus has been testing prototypes and collecting feedback from players from Wayne State, Penn State and other colleges. Kelso said the helmet could be ready for game use by the 2009 season.
"We're close," Kelso said. "Very close."
Hurdles remain. Dominating today's helmet market are two Illinois-based manufacturers, Ridell and Schutt. Both have models that are popular among NFL players: the Revolution by Ridell, and DNA by Schutt. Players are allowed to choose their own headgear.
Although the NFL gives them the most exposure, those helmet makers generate most of their revenue from sales to the reported 1.5 million high school, college and recreational players.
According to research by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, reported by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review newspaper, football-related deaths plunged 74% from 1959 though 1990 and since have continued to drop.
Still, the concussions keep coming.
"You don't want to see that happen to anybody because I know exactly how that feels," Kelso said. "I do feel that there's some technology that's available to be able to use to help prevent that type of injury.
"It's frustrating to me that the helmet industry has not progressed at a quicker pace. I think the NFL has made some great strides, but I don't think they've moved nearly quick enough on this."
A big problem, he said, is NFL players are often scared to look different, as he did when he wore that bulbous helmet in Buffalo.
"The mantra is, if you look good, you feel good. And if you feel good, you play good," he said. "They're not going to wear anything that makes them feel slower or heavier. If they put it on and they think it doesn't make them look cool, they're not going to wear them either."
After all, Kelso can remember what it's like to be a player. And he's thankful he can.