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.

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New in the Gallery: 1955 49ers Team Issue Photos

December 21st, 2009  |  Published in Funny Poses, New in the Gallery, Team Issue Photos

Yesterday I added 1955 49ers Team Issue photos to the Vintage Football Card Gallery. The photos are bigger than cards, at just under 5×7, and I had to order extra-large toploaders for storing them. They came in the original envelope, pictured below. The photos, amazingly, are in much better condition than the envelope.

The photos are sharp black-and-whites, and each includes a facsimile of the player’s signature. On the back of each photo is a glowing biography of the player on the front. (Hardy Brown‘s bio calls him “the most feared linebacker in the game because of his fantastic ‘shoulder tackle’ which uncoils like a pile driver and causes many fumbles”!) Most of the images of the well-known players are familiar, since they also appear in color on 1950s Bowman and Topps cards. Being a team issue, though, the set also includes numerous players who never appeared on cards. In the 50s and 60s, the major card companies printed cards of only 10-12 players from each team, and most linemen and defensive players were left out. I love team sets for this reason: I get to see players I’ve never seen before.

There are 38 photos in the set, and it includes photos of the 49ers’ coaches and their TV and radio announcers. I imagine that in the 50’s, the announcers for each team were as familiar to fans as the players, so it was natural to include them in a team set.

The set includes six Pro Football Hall of Fame players, including the four members of the 49ers’ “Million Dollar Backfield”: Y.A. Tittle, Hugh McElhenny, Joe Perry, and John Henry Johnson.

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New in the Gallery: 1964 Wheaties Stamps

October 2nd, 2009  |  Published in Football Card Oddities, New in the Gallery

Today I added 1964 Wheaties Stamps to the Vintage Football Card Gallery. When I bought my first group of these stamps, I assumed that they would be the thickness of a card, like the 1969 Topps 4-in-1 inserts. I found, though, that they’re like postage stamps, only much bigger: 2 3/4 by 2 1/2 inches. Because they’re so big and on such thin paper, they are fragile, and bending one can leave an indentation, even if it doesn’t leave a crease.

There are 74 stamps in the set: 70 player photos and 4 team emblems. The player photos are sharp and bright. Most of the photos are waist-up or head-and-shoulders shots, and Y.A. Tittle is the only player whose face is obscured by his helmet. (Tittle must have preferred posing in his helmet. Most of his cards picture him wearing it.) My two favorite stamps, Jerry Kramer and John Henry Johnson, are shown here.

1964 Wheaties NFL Pro Bowl Football Player Stamp Album and Fact BookThe stamps go with a magazine-sized booklet called the Wheaties NFL Pro Bowl Football Player Stamp Album and Fact Book–or WNPBFPSAFB for short. You could buy the album for 50 cents via a mail-in offer from General Mills. The stamps were originally part of the album, most of them on pages just inside the back and front covers. There were 6 pages of stamps, with 12 stamps on each page. That makes 72 stamps, and there were 2 more on a small panel adhered to the inside of the front cover. In my album, the tab from the small panel is still there, and there are remnants of the stamp pages along the album’s spine.

The 6 full pages were printed on a single master sheet, as you can see on the Topps Vault web site. (Evidently Topps supplied the stamps and album for General Mills.) The master sheet is missing two stamps, Norm Snead and Jack Pardee, the two that came on the small panel stuck to the inside of the album’s front cover. This small panel seems odd, when Topps could have fit Snead and Pardee on the master sheet by displacing two of the team emblem stamps. Perhaps it was just poor planning: “Oh, crap, we forgot Snead and Pardee. Quick, make a little two-stamp panel!”

The non-stamp pages of the album include a short writeup for each player, and a place to stick his stamp. The players are grouped by conference, first the Eastern Conference players, then the Western Conference players. (The Pro Bowl back then matched the East against the West.) Within each conference, the players appear in alphabetical order–almost. I wonder how many kids noticed that Mitchell came before Michaels, and Promuto came before Pottios? Also, the album shows Jim Ringo in transition from the Packers to the Eagles: his writeup says Eagles, but he’s still on the Western Conference side of the album. (According to Packers legend, after the 1963 season, Ringo appeared with his agent in Vince Lombardi’s office, asking for a raise. Lombardi left the room, returned in five minutes, and told Ringo he’d been traded to the Eagles.)

All of the players on the stamps played in the 1963 Pro Bowl. According to, there were 71 players in the Pro Bowl that year, so one Pro Bowler didn’t get a stamp. Who went stampless? It was Frank Gifford, but I don’t know why he was excluded.

Oddly, though there are 70 player stamps, the album has writeups for only 68 of the players. Joe Schmidt and Y.A. Tittle appear on stamps, but they were omitted from the album. It’s not like there wasn’t room: the creators of the album included several pages of Pro Bowl history, facts, and records, and they could easily have squeezed in another couple of players. Unless I am missing a page, though, there is no place for Schmidt and Tittle.

It’s also odd that there are only four team emblem stamps. The Vikings, 49ers, Cardinals, and Giants are the only teams with stamps, a pity because the team emblems are colorful and fun. There is no place in the album to stick the four team stamps, either.

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The Mighty Detroit Lions (of the 1950s)

December 27th, 2008  |  Published in error cards, Football Card Trivia

1957 Topps John Henry Johnson football cardWell, it appears that the poor Lions will go winless in 2008. Because the team has been so bad recently, whenever I look through 1950s football cards, I marvel at all of the great Lions players from that era. The great players made for great teams: in a span of six seasons, the Lions played in four league championship games, and they won three of them–all against the Browns. The last time the Lions won a championship–51 years ago, in 1957!–there were six future hall-of-famers on the team, and they beat the Browns 59-14 in the championship game.

1955 Bowman John Henry Johnson rookie football cardFive of the future Hall-of-Famers–Bobby Layne, John Henry Johnson, Lou Creekmur, Jack Christiansen, and Yale Lary–appeared on cards in the 1957 Topps set. This page in the Vintage Football Card Gallery shows those cards. The sixth hall-of-famer, Joe Schmidt, whose rookie card is in the 1956 Topps set, did not appear on a card in 1957.

Pictured at the top is John Henry Johnson’s 1957 Topps card, which incorrectly says he played for the Browns. Topps even took the trouble of recoloring the picture to put Johnson in Browns colors. Below the 1957 card is Johnson’s rookie card, a 1955 Bowman, which shows the same picture of Johnson, except in 49ers colors.

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