January 17, 2024
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The manufacturer of the helmet that Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes shattered during their AFC wild-card game with Miami says it “did its job” by protecting the league MVP “during a head-to-head impact in unprecedented cold temperatures.”
The game Saturday night was the fourth-coldest in NFL history. The temperature at kickoff was minus-4 degrees Fahrenheit, and winds gusting to more than 25 mph made the wind chill approach minus-30 during the game.
“Extreme conditions like those are bound to test the limits of even the highest-performing products,” Certor Sports, which makes the VICIS ZERO2 helmet that Mahomes was wearing, said in a statement Wednesday.
Mahomes was scrambling toward the end zone in the second half of the Chiefs’ 26-7 victory when he was hit by Dolphins safety DeShon Elliott. Their helmets clashed and, likely because of the extreme cold that made the outer shell brittle, a fist-sized chunk went flying from Mahomes’ helmet just above the facemask covering his left eye.
“They’re testing it right now,” Mahomes said Wednesday, “but I’m adamant on getting the helmet after. It’s something that’s cool, I’ll be able to keep for a long time. Like they said, it did its job. I was perfectly fine after.”
The VICIS ZERO2 uses a proprietary multilayer technology that creates a “deformable outer shell,” the company said, and that is wrapped around a stiffer inner shell. The design is similar to that of car bumpers, which might appear to be inexpensive plastic at first glance but are in fact engineered to absorb and disperse energy at the point of impact.
The ZERO2 line, which includes specific models for linemen and quarterbacks, held the top five spots in testing this season by the NFL and NFLPA. The helmets also ranked highly in independent evaluations at Virginia Tech.
“It is unusual for a football helmet to crack a shell, but we’ve had occurrences here in the lab and we generally test at ambient temperature,” said Barry Miller, who helps direct the Virginia Tech Helmet Lab. “If you asked a football equipment room manager, you may find a different answer, as they see tons of helmets with plenty of impacts.”
VICIS was founded in 2017 and quickly became a venture-capital darling, raising more than $85 million from current and former NFL players that included Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and Jerry Rice. And with a focus on innovation, the company produced helmets that ranked No. 1 in NFL and NFLPA testing from 2017-19.
But the company struggled to compete with established manufacturers Riddell and Schutt, and that took a toll on its finances. Co-founder and CEO Dave Marver resigned in November 2019, the company’s board of directors voted to place it in receivership the following month, and more than 100 employees were laid off in an attempt to avoid bankruptcy.
Innovatus Capital Partners bought the assets of VICIS in 2020 and it was incorporated into Certor Sports, which also produces the Schutt brand of helmets and TUCCI, which produces wood and metal baseball bats.
VICIS has continued to innovate when it comes to helmet design. A few years ago, the company relaunched the ZERO2 platform of helmets that Mahomes was wearing, and introduced the TRENCH, a helmet designed specifically for linemen.
“VICIS helmets are extensively tested in high-impact conditions across a range of temperatures,” the company said. “We are committed to continuing our development of the safest helmets in football, and working with our partners in the NFL and other organizations to constantly gain knowledge and continuously advance protective technology.”
The NFL has been under pressure for years to improve player safety, which led to stronger concussion protocols, and some of that pressure has been passed on to helmet manufacturers to design equipment that better handles the forces of impact. As far back as 2016, the NFL pledged $100 million to player safety that included the “Play Safe, Play Smart” initiative.
Mahomes said he’d never had a helmet shatter on him — “It was a first for me,” he said. And he didn’t immediately know that a shard had broken free until he returned to the huddle Saturday night and teammates began pointing it out to him.
Mahomes initially played on with the broken helmet before officials intervened and made him get a backup from the sideline. But the backup had been sitting in the extreme cold all night, and it was difficult for Mahomes to get on his head. It took some work with equipment managers on the sideline between series to finally get it comfortable for him.
“We have to talk about where we store the backup because it was frozen,” Mahomes said with a smile. “It didn’t look great. We were able to adjust it on the sideline, get it kind of warmed up a bit and get rolling from there.”