Utes pay tribute to WWII battleship with special, hand-painted helmets

Nov 20, 2021, 11:00 PM

SALT LAKE CITY — Members of the military were honored at Saturday’s University of Utah football game.

This year, the team paid tribute to a World War II battleship — the USS Salt Lake City.

KSL photojournalist Meghan Thackery caught up with the artist who hand painted the team’s special helmets.

“From the beginning, this reminds me of my grandpa. Everything he always talked about — the ship and the war and everything,” said artist Armando Villarreal as he watched a video about the ship.

“I was in the Army. I served in Kosovo and then in Iraq when the war started there. My grandpa was in World War II. I just wish he was here to see this,” he said. “The special helmet that the Utes will wear Saturday against the Ducks — this will actually be the first time I’ve ever seen my helmets in person on a field.”

“It just seems fitting this year. Everyone knows someone in the military, and honestly, it’s fantastic,” said equipment manager Ryan Barker. “Just looking at it reminds me of my time on ships. So, the fact that we get to wear these and represent, not just the men and women on this ship, but really, over all branches, is special.”

“Figure out how to do it 150 times so it doesn’t take two years to do. Each one’s hand painted, so there’s a little variation to each one,” said Villarreal.

“The coolest part is when you get about 75 of these all together in our helmet trunks, see them all lined up, and you can tell the little differences in each one,” said Barker. “All of the shadows are a little bit different, the directions that your tracer fire is kind of going.”

“It’s been neat, very neat to be able to get to do this stuff. It’s just, never in a million years did I think I would be painting football helmets,” Villarreal said with a laugh.

“Walking through practice yesterday when everyone was wearing these for the first time, and everyone, their reactions were out of this world,” said Barker.

“Very humbled and honored that I get to be part of this,” said Villarreal. “We’re Utah fans now, I mean, it’s just the way it is.”

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Utes pay tribute to WWII battleship with special, hand-painted helmets