Harlon Hill, Bears, Lions, and Steelers Receiver

March 23rd, 2013  |  Published in error cards, Player Deaths

Harlon Hill, a receiver from 1954 to 1962 for the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, and Pittsburgh Steelers, passed away on March 21. Hill won the Newspaper Enterprise Association NFL MVP Award in 1955, and he is still the Bears’ second-leading all-time receiver. (Johnny Morris is first.) See whnt.com for a nice video tribute to Hill.

Hill played college football at Florence State Teachers College, now named the University of North Alabama. His quarterback for two seasons was George Lindsey, who became famous as Goober Pyle on the Andy Griffith Show. In 1986, the trophy for the Division II College Football Player of the Year was named after Hill.

The cards pictured here are Hill’s rookie card, a 1955 Bowman, and his 1956 Topps card. (The 1956 card is an uncorrected error card: Topps misspelled his first name “Harlan.”) He appeared on at least seven more football cards, as well.
Harlon Hill 1955 Bowman rookie football cardHarlon Hill 1956 Topps football card

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Dick Stanfel and Jack Butler, 2012 Pro Football Hall of Fame Senior Candidates

August 25th, 2011  |  Published in Halls of Fame

Jack Butler 1957 Topps rookie football cardDick Stanfel 1955 Bowman rookie football cardDick Stanfel and Jack Butler were named yesterday as the 2012 senior finalists for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. You can read the announcement and see the players’ biographies on the Hall of Fame site. This is the second time Stanfel has been chosen as a senior finalist; the first time was in 1993.

In the 1950s, defensive players and offensive linemen often got short shift, card-wise, and that is the case with these two players. Butler, a defensive back, played for the Steelers from 1951 to 1959, but he did not appear on a football card until his seventh season, 1957. His rookie card, a 1957 Topps, is pictured here. He also appeared on 1958 Topps and 1959 Topps cards.

Stanfel, who played from 1952 to 1958 for the Detroit Lions and Washington Redskins, was a five-time first team All-Pro at guard. He appeared on just two football cards, his 1955 Bowman rookie card, pictured here, and a 1958 Topps.

Chances are very good that at least one of the two senior nominees will be elected to the Hall. The Senior Nominees page of the Hall of Fame web site shows that at least one senior candidate has been elected each year since 1998.

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New in the Gallery: 1955 Bowman Virtual Uncut Sheets

July 11th, 2011  |  Published in New in the Gallery

Last week I added virtual uncut sheets of 1955 Bowman cards to the Vintage Football Card Gallery. I have not seen an actual sheet of 1955 Bowmans, but I presume they followed the same numbering pattern as sheets of older Bowman cards. I believe that the 160-card set was printed on 5 sheets of 32.

Bowman apparently printed the fifth 1955 sheet in smaller quantities than the other four, because most of the scarce cards in the set are from the fifth sheet.

(Click on the image to see all five sheets.)
Virtual uncut sheet of 1955 Bowman football cards

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Born on the Fourth of July

July 4th, 2011  |  Published in Silly Stuff

The holiday made me think of the movie, and thinking of the movie made me wonder what NFL players were born on the Fourth of July. I found the full list at pro-football-reference.com; the eight who appear in the Vintage Football Card Gallery are shown below. Wish them a happy birthday!

Six-time Pro Bowler Erich Barnes was born on July 4, 1935. Barnes’s rookie card, shown here, is a 1960 Topps. Two-time Pro-Bowler Emerson Boozer was born on July 4, 1943; he is shown here on his 1971 Topps card. (Boozer also appeared on my all-party team.)
Erich Barnes 1960 Topps rookie football cardEmerson Boozer 1971 Topps football card
Two-time Pro Bowler Rosey Taylor was born on July 4, 1937; he is pictured here on his 1965 Philadelphia card. 1963 Pro-Bowler Lee Folkins was born on July 4, 1939; his rookie card, a 1964 Philadelphia, is shown here. (I heard from Mr. Folkins once. He told me that the signature on his 1964 Wheaties Stamp is not in his handwriting.)
Rosey Taylor 1965 Philadelphia football cardLee Folkins 1964 Philadelphia rookie football card
Five-time Pro-Bowler Rick Casares was born on July 4, 1931. His rookie card, shown here, is a 1955 Bowman. Hall of Famer Floyd Little was born on July 4, 1942; he is shown here on his 1968 Topps Stand Up insert card.
Rick Casares 1955 Bowman rookie football cardFloyd Little 1968 Topps Stand Up insert football card
1981 Pro Bowler Frank Lewis was born on July 4, 1947; his rookie card, a 1973 Topps, is shown here. And, finally, Fred Forsberg was born on July 4, 1944. I don’t believe Forsberg appeared on a card, but I do have his 1972 Sunoco Stamp.
Frank Lewis 1973 Topps rookie football cardFred Forsberg 1972 Sunoco Stamp
Enjoy your picnics!

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Lee Riley, Lions, Eagles, Giants, and Titans Defensive Back

June 15th, 2011  |  Published in Brothers, Fathers and Sons, Player Deaths

Lee Riley 1955 Bowman rookie football cardLee Riley, who played defensive back from 1955 to 1962 for the Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants, and New York Titans, passed away on June 9. Riley’s best season was 1962, when he intercepted 11 passes for the Titans, leading the AFL. Riley was the son of Leon Riley, who played briefly for baseball’s Philadelphia Phillies, and the brother of Pat Riley, longtime NBA coach and current president of the Miami Heat. He is mentioned in Pat Riley’s profile on the NBA web site.

The card pictured here is Riley’s rookie card, a 1955 Bowman. (1955 Bowmans are the only vintage football cards I can think of that indicate which players were rookies.) He also appeared on a 1963 Fleer card, issued after his last season.

You can see Lee Riley’s career stats at pro-football-reference.com.

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John Henry Johnson, Hall of Fame Fullback

June 4th, 2011  |  Published in Player Deaths

John Henry Johnson 1955 Bowman rookie football cardJohn Henry Johnson, who played fullback from 1954 to 1966 for the San Francisco 49ers, Detroit Lions, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Houston Oilers, passed away on June 3. Johnson also played one season, 1953, with the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders.

Johnson was a four-time Pro Bowler, once with the 49ers and three times with the Steelers. He was also a member of the Lions NFL Championship team in 1957. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987.

The card pictured here is Johnson’s rookie card, a 1955 Bowman. Topps used the same image, recolored, on his 1957 Topps card. (See them side-by-side in an earlier blog article.) Johnson appeared on many other cards during his long career, as well.

Also see:

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Joe Heap, Notre Dame and New York Giants Running Back

April 8th, 2011  |  Published in Player Deaths

Joe Heap 1955 Bowman football cardJoe Heap, who played halfback for the New York Giants in 1955, passed away on April 6. According to an article about him on the Allstate Sugar Bowl web site, Heap left the Giants after one season to serve in the U.S. Air Force. Prior to joining the Giants, Heap starred at Notre Dame. The Sugar Bowl article includes a nice account of his college career.

Though he spent only one season in the NFL, Heap appeared on an NFL football card, the 1955 Bowman card pictured here. (The 1955 Bowman set is the only vintage set I can think of that identified rookies on the fronts of the cards.) I believe that the image on Heap’s card was originally a black-and-white photo of him in his Notre Dame uniform, and that Bowman added the Giants colors. The uniform he is wearing on his card appears to be the same one he is wearing in the photo in the Sugar Bowl article noted above. Also, according to his page at pro-football-reference.com, Heap wore number 48 with the Giants.

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Vikings Ring of Honor and Redskins Ring of Fame

September 3rd, 2010  |  Published in Halls of Fame, New in the Gallery

1964 Philadelphia Bill Brown rookie football card1955 Bowman Gene Brito rookie football cardEarlier this week I enhanced the Vintage Football Card Gallery to let you find the cards of players and coaches who received various honors, such as membership in the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame. Now, for each such honor, I just have to add the honorees to my database. Over the past couple of days I added the members of the Washington Redskins Ring of Fame and the Minnesota Vikings Ring of Honor. The exercise has been interesting: I am familiar with most players who have made the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and now I am learning who was in the next level of great players for each team.

Pictured here are the rookie cards of two players I added to my honors database this week. The first is a 1964 Philadelphia card of Bill Brown, a member of the Vikings Ring of Honor, and the second is a 1955 Bowman card of Gene Brito, a member of the Redskins Ring of Fame. To see the other honors I’ve done so far–and to do more complex searches–see the Advanced Search page of the Gallery.

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Vic Janowicz, Catcher and Third Baseman, Halfback and Kicker

August 4th, 2010  |  Published in Baseball Cards

1955 Bowman Vic Janowicz baseball card1955 Bowman Vic Janowicz football cardVic Janowicz is another player who played both NFL football and major league baseball. (See last week’s article on Carroll Hardy.) Janowicz won the Heisman Trophy for Ohio State in 1950, then opted for baseball rather than football after graduating in 1951. He made the Pittsburgh Pirates team in 1953, and he played in 83 games over two seasons. In that period he batted just .214, and he returned to football in 1954, joining the Washington Redskins late in the season. He fared much better in the NFL, finishing second in the league in scoring in 1955. In 1956 he was seriously injured in a car accident, and he did not play again.

Despite an unremarkable career in the major leagues, Janowicz appeared on several baseball cards. Both Topps and Bowman were producing baseball cards at the time, and I’m guessing that they printed cards of Janowicz mostly because he was famous for winning the Heisman. I don’t have his baseball cards, but you can see all of them on eBay.

Janowicz’s football rookie card is in the 1951 Topps Magic set, which pictures college players. Rookie cards of Heisman winners are popular with collectors, and the Janowicz card is the key card in the set. He also appeared on 1955 Bowman and 1956 Topps football cards. You can see all of Janowicz’s early football cards in the Vintage Football Card Gallery.

The cards pictured here are Janowicz’s 1955 Bowman baseball card and his 1955 Bowman football card.

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X is for X’s and O’s

May 6th, 2010  |  Published in ABCs of Vintage Football Cards, General Collecting Info

A few vintage football cards show diagrams of plays. To me the diagrams seem like filler, and I am not fond of them. I can’t think of a better subject that starts with “X,” though, so here’s a quick rundown. (Hmm, does that mean I’m using them for filler, too?)

The 1964 and 1965 Philadelphia sets include a “Play of the Year” card for each team. On the front of each card is a diagram of the play and a small image of the team’s head coach. The small images are a nice touch, I suppose, but I would have preferred dedicated cards with full-size images for the coaches.

Among the coaches on the Play of the Year cards are Don Shula and Vince Lombardi. Neither coach, to my knowledge, was pictured on card of his own during his career. The 1964 Play of the Year cards could be considered Shula and Lombardi’s rookie cards, but I haven’t seen them designated as such. Pictured here are the 1964 Packers Play of the Year card and the 1965 Philadelphia Colts Play of the Year card.

The back of each team’s Play of the Year card includes a list of the offensive players, which I like. Occasionally a player’s friend or relative will ask me if I have a card of the player, but I have to tell him that the player never appeared on a card. Since some cardless players’ names appear on the Play of the Year cards, I can at least offer one of those cards to the friend or relative.

As I wrote last year, the Play of the Year cards actually feature some pretty ordinary plays. I theorized then that Philadelphia chose short plays so the diagrams would fit on the cards. Could the Lions’ play of the year really have been just a ten-yard completion? “But Jim, what about that 75-yard TD pass from Earl Morrall to Terry Barr?” “Sorry, Lou, it won’t fit on the card.” I am sticking to my theory.

The Philadelphia cards are the only ones I can think of with play diagrams on the front. A couple of other issues have them on the back. One of these is the 1955 Bowman set, which has a generic play diagram on the back of most cards. Cards of players with lots of stats don’t have diagrams on them, but cards of linemen, defensive players, and rookies all do. Some of the generic diagrams appear on multiple cards, too. Filler, I tell you.

Finally, we have the 1976 Wonder Bread set, which gets my vote for the worst card backs ever. Each features a diagram one of Hank Stram’s favorite plays, along with a detailed description of the play. As I complained in my article about the set, what kid would give the diagrams a second look? But Stram had just taken over as the Saints’ coach in 1976, so perhaps Topps (who printed the cards for Wonder Bread) was trying to ride the buzz about that. Whatever buzz there was didn’t last long, though: even with Stram’s playbook, the Saints went 7-21 in 1976 and 1977. Maybe the Saints’ opponents studied his Wonder Bread cards.

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Happy Derby Day from The Horse

May 1st, 2010  |  Published in Player Bios

To celebrate Derby Day, I thought I’d feature Alan “The Horse” Ameche, of the Baltimore Colts. Derby, Horse, Colts–pretty clever, huh?

A little Googling turned up these facts about Ameche:

  • He played on the 1952 Wisconsin team that won the Big Ten Championship and played in the Rose Bowl. The Badgers lost 7-0 to USC. There is a nice photo of the 1952 team on the University of Wisconsin web site. (Ameche is number 35, second from the left in the second row.)
  • He won the Heisman Trophy in 1954. (I knew this.)
  • He made the Pro Bowl his first four years with the Colts.
  • He scored the winning touchdown in the 1958 Championship Game against the Giants, “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” The SI Vault has a photo of him scoring the touchdown.
  • Academy award winner Don Ameche was his cousin.

The card pictured above is Ameche’s rookie card, a 1955 Bowman. Though the card shows him in Colts blue, I’m pretty sure his jersey was red when the photo was taken. The image matches a 1954 photo in the University of Wisconsin Archives. It appears he was running right out of his socks! (There’s also a less flattering photo that appears to be from the same session.)

Ameche played only six years with the Colts, retiring after the 1960 season because of an Achilles tendon injury. The card companies apparently didn’t get the word, because he appeared on two cards the year after his retirement: the 1961 Topps and 1961 Fleer cards below.

You can see all of Ameche’s cards in the Vintage Football Card Gallery. There is also a nice article about him in the University of Wisconsin Archives.

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A Long Time Between Cards

January 20th, 2010  |  Published in Football Card Trivia

I was putting some 1955 Bowman cards on eBay yesterday, and I realized that the Lee Riley in that set was the same Lee Riley who appears on a 1963 Fleer card. Riley had only these two cards, eight years apart, and I had not made the connection.

I looked up Riley on pro-football-reference.com, and I discovered that the timespan between his two cards was actually greater than the length of his career. How’s that, you ask? Well, Riley was a rookie in 1955, making his Bowman card a true rookie card. But he didn’t actually play in 1963; his last year was 1962. His entry in the All-Time Jets Roster confirms that.

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Eddie Bell, Eagles, Tiger Cats, and Titans Defensive Player

November 19th, 2009  |  Published in Player Deaths

Eddie Bell, who played defensive back and linebacker from 1955 to 1960 for the Philadelphia Eagles, Hamilton Tiger Cats, and New York Titans, died on November 16. Bell’s obituary at philly.com provides a nice summary of his career.

Pictured here is Bell’s rookie card, a 1955 Bowman. Two things about the card are notable: first, it was unusual in the 1950’s for defensive players to appear on cards in their rookie seasons (see D is for Defensive Players), and second, 1955 Bowmans are the only vintage football cards I can think of that indicated which players were rookies.

Bell also appeared with the Eagles on 1956 and 1957 Topps cards. You can see all three of Bell’s cards in the Vintage Football Card Gallery.

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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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G is for Grading

September 11th, 2009  |  Published in ABCs of Vintage Football Cards, General Collecting Info

If you are going to collect cards, you need to learn to grade them. To the untrained eye there is little difference between a mint card and a near mint card, but there can be a tremendous difference in value between the two. Some sellers, not surprisingly, tend to overgrade their cards, and you need to be able to judge a card’s grade for yourself to ensure that you’re getting what you’re paying for.

1950 Bowman George Connor, SGC 98Third-party grading companies can help in this regard: for a fee they will assign a grade to a card and encapsulate it in plastic. If you buy a card that has been graded by one of the major companies–Beckett Vintage Grading (BVG), Sportscard Guarantee Company (SGC), or Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA)–you can be reasonably assured that the card is accurately graded, authentic, and unaltered. There are other grading companies, as well, but be cautious if you stray from the big three.

The first step in learning to grade is to read the standards. Each of the big grading companies has a published set of standards, and they are all similar. Each has its quirks, though. PSA uses “qualifiers” to note exceptional problems on cards, such as a mark on an otherwise high-grade card, instead of just giving the card a lower grade. SGC uses a 100-point scale, but they actually use only a few values on the scale (10, 20, 30, etc.), and they map their 100-point scale to the more standard 10-point scale. (Strangely, 98 maps to 10, but 100 doesn’t map to anything!) SGC and Beckett distinguish between Mint, Gem Mint, and Pristine, but I don’t believe a grader could ever consistently apply these various degrees of “mint.”

1970 Kelloggs Tom Matte, PSA 10Note that in the grading standards, many of the flaws a card can have are introduced in production: poor centering, print lines, wax stains, and so on. To a collector, these problems are as serious as wear and tear. Beware of eBay auctions that proclaim that the cards are from “vending,” because even if the cards were taken directly from a pack, it is likely that they have some factory flaws. “Vending,” “nice,” “L@@K,” and “Wow!” are useless terms in auction titles: a good seller will attempt to grade the cards, and put the grade in the title instead.

After you have gotten familiar with the grading standards, look at scans of graded cards online–on eBay, for example, or on my sales site–to see if you can tell why they are graded as they are. (This is easier to do with cards in lower grades. Cards in higher grades have smaller flaws, and the flaws are often hard to see in scans.) After looking at scans online, find some to examine in person: look at a friend’s, find some at a card show or dealer, or make some small purchases online. Start slow, to get the hang of it.

1955 Bowman Alan Ameche rookie football card, BVG 7.5When looking at graded cards, you’ll find that the 1-to-10 grading scale is not linear. While you can probably tell a 2 from a 5 from across the room, you might need a magnifying glass to see the difference between a 7 and a 10. You will also find that sometimes a lower-grade card will look nicer than a higher-grade card. This could be because the grading company goofed–it happens–or, more likely, it could be because the grading standards don’t jibe with what your appeals to your eye. A card that is perfect except for a hairline crease on the back will most likely be graded a 5, while a card that is faded or out of focus could get an 8 or 9. A crease is a crease, but fading or poor focus is more of a judgment call, particularly if the grader doesn’t have similar cards to compare with the card he is grading.

Because your tastes might differ from the standards, and because grading to the standards is somewhat subjective, you will sometimes hear the mantra “Buy the card, not the holder.” All this means is that you shouldn’t base your decision to buy a card solely on the grade a grading company has assigned to it. Make sure that the card also appeals to your eye, and that you think it’s worth the price you are paying for it.

So now you’re thinking, hmm, if there can be such a small difference between a 7 and a 10, and if lower-grade cards can actually look better than higher-grade cards, and if the card grading companies sometimes make mistakes, why is a PSA 10 worth so much more than a PSA 7? Well, that’s a good question. The answer: card collectors (and collectors in general, I’m guessing) are an extremely fussy bunch, we’re continually trying to upgrade our collections, and the grading companies are usually accurate in their grading. We’ll often pay dearly to get a card with four sharp corners, rather than one with a fuzzy corner or two. Some collectors also participate in set registries, where you can show off your collections and compete with other collectors for the highest-graded sets. PSA, SGC, and Beckett all have set registries, and the competition between collectors can touch off amazing bidding wars in auctions for cards that are scarce in high grades. For the grading companies, the set registries were a stroke of marketing genius.

To sum it up, yes, grading is somewhat subjective, but a card’s grade is nonetheless key to determining its value. If you plan to spend much money on cards, you should learn to grade so that you don’t have to rely on sellers’ opinions. For expensive or high-grade cards, third-party grading companies can offer assurance that the cards meet their grading standards. But consider your own tastes, too. Do you prefer good centering or sharp corners? Does a tiny crease bother you if the card is otherwise flawless? How important is the back to you? Collect the cards that appeal to you, but learn to grade so you can determine what to pay for them.

(More on pricing later. For now see my pricing page.)

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