.: The Big Leagues
OPI began producing gumball helmets in 1964. The very first generation of helmets came exclusively in boxed helmet kits. In 1964 & 1965 they were produced in kits with an easel display box, stripes already adhered to the helmets, and an 8-team decal sheet for each set. The sets were AFL (American Football League), NFL East, and NFL West. The boxed sets had different names given to them over the years. "Go With The Pros" was the name given to the original easel box kits.
.: American Football League
The original "Go with the Pros" AFL sets came with all 8 AFL teams (Boston Patriots, Denver Broncos, Houson Oilers, Kansas City Chiefs, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers).
As the AFL expanded, the sets changed as well. In 1966 when the Miami Dolphins were added, the sets came in a standard box with the title "All-Pro Helmet Kit" and included white goal post display stands that had to be assembled. The Cincinnati Bengals were added to these sets in 1968.
.: National Football League
The original NFL East set came with the 7 NFL east teams (Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, St Louis Cardinals, Washington Redskins), while the 8th decal spot contained blank white decals.
The original NFL West set came with the 7 NFL west teams (Baltimore Colts, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Los Angeles Rams, Minnesota Vikings, San Francisco 49ers), while the 8th decal spot contained blank white decals.
.: Packaging & Distribution
The way sets were packaged changed over the years, until they eventually stopped selling the unassembled sets in the early 1980's. Helmets were first available in gumball machines for a quarter back in 1967, and were distributed that way all the way up until their production halted in 2000. (However, later in their run they ended up in 50-cent machines, instead of the standard quarter machines) They could also be purchased as pencil sharpeners in the 1960's, 1970's & 1980's. They were available at IHOP in individual packaging in the 1970's. The option to mail order full sets with display boards & display cases was available in the 1970's & 1980's.
At first helmets were available pre-assembled in capsules that were loaded into gumball machines starting in 1967. They came pre-assembled this way all the way up until 1988, when they started providing unassembled helmets in the gumball capsules. These came with a blank helmet shell, a facemask, and a small single decal sheet for each team. The standard two bar facemask was the original, used all the way up into 1995. In 1995 the facemask switched over to a full cage style while the actual helmet shell became a softer, more pliant plastic.
.: Canadian Football LeagueStarting in the mid 1960's, OPI began offering unassembled helmet sets in kits for the Canadian Football League.
These sets were ONLY available in kits through a mail-in order. They came with the original white style goal post displays. Unfortunately, this venture didn't last through the decade and by 1969 these sets were discontinued.
.: World Football LeagueIn 1974 the World Football League surfaced as pontential competition for the NFL. The league only lasted two seasons due to severe financial difficulties.
The WFL gumball helmets are the rarest of all the leagues. OPI produced helmets for most, or possibly all of the first year teams in the league. These were available as pencil sharpeners and as single helmets. The avenue of distribution and sale is unknown. All we know for certian is that they were never sold in helmet kits.
.: United States Football League
In 1983 the USFL arrived on the scene. This spring football league appeared to be on the road to success much higher then the poorly run WFL. Unfortunately the decision to try and run up against the NFL caused the league to fold before the 1986 season.
OPI produced helmets for most of the USFL teams. The majority of these helmets came equipped with pencil sharpeners. There are also versions without, but those are a bit more rare than those with the sharpeners. The former versions were sold individually, while the latter were available in gumball machines, which explains why they are harder to find.
.: NCAA Division I-AWhile there were NCAA gumball helmets in the 1970's, they were not produced by OPI and had poor quality shells and facemasks. The decals were the only redeeming factor, and you can still find unused sheets of them which you can apply to OPI shells.
In the mid 1990's NCAA gumball helmets hit the scene. These helmets were never available in either gumball machines, nor for individual purchase. The difference with these helmets is the fact that they are available exclusively through the purchase of NCAA checkers boxed sets. The sets were available from 1993 to 1995 and had two different versions. You could either find the "Rivalry" version which contained two rival teams, or get a single team version which contained two colors of the same team. (Most of the single team sets simply came with two separate color shells where all the decals were the same, but a few came with two different sets of decals to match the two colors of shells)