Happy Birthday, Chet Hanulak!

March 28th, 2013  |  Published in Milestone Birthdays

Chet Hanulak 1954 Bowman rookie football cardFormer NFL running back Chet Hanulak is celebrating his 80th birthday today. Hanulak played for the Cleveland Browns in 1954 and 1957, spending the intervening two seasons in the Air Force. He was a member of the Browns team that won the 1954 NFL Championship. He scored the team’s last touchdown in the championship game against the Detroit Lions.

Before his pro career, Hanulak starred at the University of Maryland. In 1953 he averaged nearly ten yards per carry and led the Terrapins to the National Championship. The Atlantic Coast Conference web site has a recent interview with Hanulak, including a video summary of his college career.

Hanulak is pictured here on his rookie card, a 1954 Bowman. He also appeared on a 1958 Topps card, but he had retired from football by the time it came out.

According to OldestLivingProFootball.com, Hanulak is the 494th oldest former professional American football player.

Happy birthday, Mr. Hanulak!

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Dick Yelvington, New York Giants Tackle

March 3rd, 2013  |  Published in Player Deaths

Dick Yelvington 1954 Bowman football cardDick Yelvington, who played tackle from 1952 to 1957 for the New York Giants, passed away on February 24. Yelvington was a member of the Giants team that won the NFL Championship in 1956. There is a nice summary of his career at bigblueinteractive.com.

Yelvington appeared on one football card, the 1954 Bowman card pictured here.

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Bill Stits, Lions, 49ers, Redskins, and Giants Back

December 20th, 2011  |  Published in Player Deaths

Bill Stits, who played in the NFL from 1954 to 1961 for the Detroit Lions, San Francisco 49ers, Washington Redskins, and New York Giants, passed away on December 5. At various times in his career, Stits was a defensive back, running back, punt returner, and kick returner. He intercepted six passes and recovered a fumble in his rookie season in Detroit, and he made the Pro Bowl that year.

The cards pictured here are Stit’s rookie card, a 1954 Bowman, and his 1956 Topps card. He also appeared on two 49ers team issue photos, in 1957 and 1958. I don’t yet have his 1957 photo, but can see his 1958 photo in the Vintage Football Card Gallery.
Bill Stits 1954 Bowman rookie football cardBill Stits 1956 Topps football card

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Norm Willey, Philadelphia Eagles Defensive End

August 20th, 2011  |  Published in Player Deaths, Record Holders

Norm “Wild Man” Willey, a defensive end from 1950 to 1957 for the Philadelphia Eagles, passed away on August 18. ESPN’s web site has a report of his death. Willey was a Pro Bowler twice, in 1954 and 1955. According to the book The Eagles Encyclopedia, Willey once got 17 sacks in one game–but this was before sacks were counted among the official NFL statistics.

Willey appeared on three football cards, the 1954 Bowman and 1956 Topps cards shown here, and a 1955 Bowman card. I especially like the 1956 Topps card, in which he appears to be imitating the logo in the upper right corner.
Norm Willey 1954 Bowman rookie football cardNorm Willey 1956 Topps football card

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New in the Gallery: 1954 Bowman Virtual Uncut Sheets

July 1st, 2011  |  Published in New in the Gallery

Yesterday I added virtual uncut sheets of 1954 Bowman cards to the Vintage Football Card Gallery. I have not seen an actual sheet of 1954 Bowmans, but I followed the numbering patterns on sheets of older Bowman cards and made an educated guess as to what the 1954 sheets looked like.

Bowman apparently printed the third 1954 sheet in smaller quantities than the others, because most of the scarcer cards are from that sheet.

(Click on the image to see all four sheets.)
Virtual uncut sheet of 1954 Bowman football cards

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Ralph Starkey, West Virginia Tackle

January 31st, 2010  |  Published in Player Deaths

Ralph Starkey, who appeared on this 1954 Bowman football card, passed away on January 24. Starkey played college football for West Virginia University and was drafted by the New York Giants in 1954. Pro-football-reference.com doesn’t have a page for him, so I assume he didn’t see playing time for the Giants.

At West Virginia, Starkey played in the 1954 Sugar Bowl, which the Mountaineers lost to Georgia Tech. Joe Marconi, Bruce Bosley, and Sam Huff, who all became Pro Bowl players in the NFL, were also members of the 1953 West Virginia team. Ironically, they didn’t appear on their first cards until years after Starkey.

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Trivia Question #6

November 3rd, 2009  |  Published in Trivia Questions

Question #6: What do the five players pictured on these football cards have in common?

Scroll down slowly; the answer is after the sponsored links. For more information on a card, click on it or hold your cursor over it.


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Answer: They coached the Pittsburgh Steelers together.

This is the coaches card from the 1968 KDKA Steelers set.


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Trivia Question #3

October 22nd, 2009  |  Published in Trivia Questions

Continuing our little quiz:

Question #3: What do the four quarterbacks pictured on these vintage football cards have in common?

Scroll down slowly; the answer is after the sponsored links. For more information on a card, click on it or hold your cursor over it.


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Answer: All of them were #1 overall NFL draft picks in the 1950′s.

From Wikipedia:

Year Player School NFL Team
1954 Bobby Garrett Stanford Cleveland Browns
1955 George Shaw Oregon Baltimore Colts
1958 King Hill Rice Chicago Cardinals
1959 Randy Duncan Iowa Green Bay Packers

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More White Footballs

September 29th, 2009  |  Published in Football Card Oddities, Football Card Trivia

A couple of months ago I wrote about the white footballs you sometimes see on old Bowman cards. Naturally, after writing that post, I started noticing more and more white footballs. Here are a few that I came across while adding 1950′s cards to my sales site the last couple of days: 1953 Bowman Emlen Tunnell, 1954 Bowman Emlen Tunnell (apparently from the same photo session as 1953), 1955 Bowman Tom Fears, 1956 Topps Adrian Burk, and 1957 Lenny Moore.

The 1954 Tunnell card is the corrected version, with two L’s in his last name. The second L looks as if it’s been penciled in: it’s a bit fainter and wider than the first L, and the spacing isn’t quite right. I don’t know anything about printing, but it looks like someone improvised to fix the spelling error.

It appears that Adrian Burk was another jumping quarterback, or at least he’s up on his tip-toes.

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B is for Bowman

August 7th, 2009  |  Published in ABCs of Vintage Football Cards, General Collecting Info

The Bowman Gum Company printed football cards in 1948 and from 1950 to 1955. On the whole, they are my favorite vintage football cards, and if I were to start my collection over, I would focus on collecting these early Bowmans. Except for the 1953 issue, the cards are attractive, varied, and interesting, and eight sets to me is about the right number to work on.

1948 Bowman

1948 Bowman John Mastrangelo football cardThe 1948 Bowman cards are small, nearly square, and black-and-white. The cards picture the current players of the time, and since no one had printed football cards since National Chicle in 1935, every card in the 1948 Bowman set is a rookie card. The cards have no printing on the front, only on the back, a format I really like. Every third card–that is, each card with a number divisible by three–is considered a short print. This, says my old Beckett catalog, is because the sheet they were printed on was “printed in much lesser quantities” than the other two sheets. Judging by PSA’s population report, the “lesser” is accurate, but the “much” is not: PSA has graded about third fewer of the short prints, not enough to justify the 4x to 5x premium that Beckett assigns to them.

1950 Bowman

1950 Bowman Tank Younger football cardThe 1950 Bowmans are the same size as the 1948 cards, and they look like little oil paintings. Like the 1948 cards, they have printing only on the back. 1950 was the year that the All-American Football Conference folded and three of its teams–the Baltimore Colts, Cleveland Browns, and San Francisco 49ers–joined the NFL. Because no major card company had printed cards of AAFC players, several of the stars from the AAFC made their football card debut in the 1950 Bowman set. Of the 10 Hall of Fame players whose rookie cards appear in the 1950 Bowman set, 6 came from the AAFC, and 4 of those 6 played for the Browns.

The Los Angeles Rams were the first team to put a logo on their helmets, and this might be why most of the Rams are wearing helmets on their 1950 Bowman cards. The artist who colored the cards took liberties with the colors, however. On the cards the Rams’ horns appear white in the front and yellow in back, but on the actual helmets the horns did not change color somewhere in the middle.

1951 Bowman

1951 Bowman Joe Watson football cardIn 1951, Bowman enlarged the cards and put the player’s name and team logo on the front. The logos overwhelm the cards a bit, but logos were more intricate back then, and they needed to be large to show the detail. (See the Lions and Giants logos, for example.) Though attractive, the 1951 set seems to be less popular than the 1950 and 1952 sets, perhaps because it has fewer rookie cards of prominent players.

1952 Bowman Large

1952 Bowman Large George Halas football cardIn 1952, Bowman released two sets of football cards, identical except for their size. An article in the PSA Library provides a detailed description of the 1952 Large set. In addition to the rookie cards of several Hall of Fame players, the set includes the rookie cards of three Hall of Fame coaches: George Halas, Paul Brown, and Steve Owen. Some cards in the set are challenging to find in high grades: cards with numbers divisible by 9 and the cards immediately following them (i.e., 10, 19, 28, …) are reportedly short prints, and PSA’s population report indicates that some of the other cards (#70, Gene Schroeder, for example) are actually as scarce as the designated short prints.

The PSA article says that the most valuable card in the set is #144, Jim Lansford. The article is correct: the price guides list the card at 2-to-5 times the value of the next most valuable card. Why? Well, the price guides say, not only is the Lansford a short print, but it’s the dreaded last card in the set! This to me is another example of where the guides are off base, since numerous other cards in the set are at least as scarce as the Lansford. (For more “last card” silliness, see my 1959 Topps virtual uncut sheet.)

1952 Bowman Small

1952 Bowman Small Norm Van Brocklin football cardThe 1952 Bowman Small cards, except for their size, are identical to the Large cards. The PSA library also has an article on this set. It appears that Bowman printed fewer Smalls than Larges, but collectors evidently prefer the large format, because the Larges, in general, command higher prices. Because they fit differently on the sheet, the Smalls do not have the same distribution as the Larges, and no Smalls are designated short prints.

1953 Bowman

1953 Bowman Lynn Chandnois football cardBowman’s follow-up to their classic 1952 sets was the disappointing 1953 Bowman set. In a previous article, I wrote about the ugly white football on the front of the cards, but that’s not the only problem. Outside of the white football, the cards are dark–often too dark to get a good scan–and there is not a single significant rookie card in the set. The card distribution is strange, too: there are 96 cards in the set, and only two of them are Packers.

1954 Bowman

1954 Bowman Art Hunter football card1954 Bowman football cards are the plainest of the old Bowmans, but they are colorful, clear, and attractive. Cards 65-96 were clearly printed in smaller numbers, but my old Beckett has them priced five times higher than the other cards, which is excessive. My favorite is Jim Dooley, in his College All-Star uniform. There is a Whizzer White in the set, but he’s not the Supreme Court justice. There’s an old thread about the Whizzers on the Collectors Universe message board.

1955 Bowman

1955 Bowman Andy Robustelli football cardFinally, there are the 1955 Bowmans. Bowman got experimental again with this set, putting each player on a colored background and giving him an aura. All of the players on a given team have the same colored background: the background for the Packers is yellow, for example, and the background for the Giants is green. I like the uniformity that the background brings to this set. In 1953 and 1954, Bowman put some players on solid color backgrounds, some on geometric backgrounds, and some in front of trees and shrubs.

In 1956, Topps bought Bowman Gum, and Bowman’s run of football cards ended. Now that I think of it, don’t 1956 Topps football cards look like a hybrid of 1955 Bowman and 1955 Topps cards? The 1956 Topps cards have the player on a colored background, with a bit of an aura, and the logo box looks just like the one on the 1955 Topps All-Americans.

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What’s With the White Footballs?

July 23rd, 2009  |  Published in Football Card Trivia

If you browse through the 1952-1954 Bowman cards in the Vintage Football Card Gallery, you will find a few that show the player with a white football. Two are pictured here: a 1953 Bowman Fran Polsfoot and a 1954 Bowman Doak Walker. According to profootballresearchers.org, the NFL and AAFC used a white football in night games from 1929 to 1956, to help the players see the ball in poor lighting. Wikipedia’s article on the Cleveland Browns says that in the 1950s, the NFL also prohibited teams from wearing white helmets and jerseys in night games, so that the white ball could be seen against the players’ uniforms. Some teams thus had different helmets and jerseys for day and night games.

The other mysterious white football is the big, ugly one with the player’s name in it that is part of the design of 1953 Bowman cards. To me, the big football overwhelms the rest of the card and makes the 1953 set the least attractive of the early Bowmans. Might it have been inspired by the NFL’s use of the white ball? On Pete Pihos’s card, Bowman actually put the big white ball in his hands!

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Sites I Like: The Chicago Charities College All-Star Game

July 11th, 2009  |  Published in Football Card Trivia, Sites I Like, Uniforms

Sometimes you get to a topic in a roundabout way. Last night I came across this terrific 1954 Bowman Jim Dooley card, and I thought I’d look for other cards that picture players in their College All-Star uniforms. I found John Brockington’s 1972 Topps rookie card, which I believe shows him in an All-Star jersey with the stars airbrushed off. It’s not an Ohio State jersey, and it’s not a Packers jersey, but it has the style of an All-Star jersey, and Brockington played in the All-Star game in 1971. (Topps also used this image of Brockington on his 1972 All-Pro card, where they airbrushed his jersey Packer green.)

Anyway, looking around the internet for pictures of players in their All-Star uniforms, I found a site called The Chicago Charities College All-Star Game 1934-1976. What a great site! It provides the background and history of the game, scores from each year, a summary of each year’s game, game records, the MVPs, and yearly attendance. Some of the early games drew over 100,000 fans!

The MVP awards were given only to the college players, and the positions that the MVPs played show how the game evolved. In the 30′s and 40′s, nearly all of the MVPs were running backs, and there was even an offensive lineman, Bill Fischer. In the 50′s and 60′s, as the passing game became more prevalent, the award went mainly to quarterbacks. In the late 60′s and 70′s, when the NFL dominated the game and stuffed the All-Star offenses, many of the awards went to the All-Stars’ defensive players. The college MVP in the final game, in 1973? The punter, Ray Guy!

Find Jim Dooley cards on: eBay, Nearmint’s Cards.

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You Say Finnan, I Say Finnin

July 4th, 2009  |  Published in error cards

1954 Bowman Tom Finnin football card backsThere are two versions of 1954 Bowman football card number 97. My Beckett price guide calls them “97A Tom Finnin ERR” and “97B Tom Finnan COR.” PSA lists the two versions as “Tom Finnin (incorrectly spelled)” and “Tom Finnan” in their price guide, and in their population report they say the two versions are “Tom Finnin – Wrong Last Name On Back” and “Tom Finnan – Correct Last Name On Back.” SGC‘s population report says “TOM FINNAN – Error ‘Finnin’ Reverse” and “TOM FINNAN.”

So which is right? As it turns out, none of the above.

Indeed, one version of the card says Tom Finnan on both sides, and the other says Tom Finnan on the front and Tom Finnin on the back. But according to nfl.com, databasefootball.com, and pro-football-reference.com, the correct spelling of Tom’s last name is Finnin. So both cards are error cards: one is wrong on both sides, and one is wrong on just the front.

So which version of the card is harder to find? My old Beckett says “Tom Finnin ERR” is worth $60 and “Tom Finnan COR” is worth $8 in near mint condition. PSA’s price guide says a PSA 7 “Tom Finnin (incorrectly spelled)” is worth $75 and “Tom Finnan” is worth $14. PSA’s population report says that they have graded three times as many “Tom Finnan – Correct Last Name On Back” cards as “Tom Finnin – Wrong Last Name On Back” card. But then I have an example with Finnin on the back that PSA has labeled “ERROR-TOM FINNAN.” That label doesn’t match either of the versions listed in PSA’s population report.

It appears that the card with “Finnan” on the back is more common than the one with “Finnin” on the back. But with all the confusion over the two versions of the card, it’s hard to say how scarce the latter card really is.

Search for 1954 Bowman cards on: eBay, Nearmint’s Cards

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