An All-American football card set

aa4.jpgThe 1955 Topps football set has earned an advanced degree of praise from many collectors. On the field and off, college football fans had a lot to cheer about in 1955.

Individually, there was the exciting play of Syracuse running back Jim Brown, who a couple of years later would dominate the NFL, and Ohio State running back “Hopalong” Cassady, who bounced off with the Heisman Trophy. As a team, the University of Oklahoma was in the midst of a 47-game winning streak that stretched between 1953 and 1957.

The Topps Co., meanwhile, produced its third and final college football set, highlighting All-Americans from the game’s early years until the 1950s.

Collector Tim Rhyne owns a top-grade ’55 set. He likes it for the number of stars from football’s pioneer days, the manageable set size (100 cards) and its distinctive look.

“The style and design of the cards seem to jump out at you,” said the Los Angeles-based sports-card enthusiast. Featuring a colorized photo placed against a black-and-white game-action picture, along with a school logo and a red, white and blue shield with the words “All-American,” the card fronts demand your attention.

aa5.jpg Veteran collector Bob Lemke echoed much of what Rhyne said about the set and he recalled opening a pack of the cards as a child.

But to Lemke and his friends back then, many of the athletes were a bit of a mystery. “Player selection never meant much as a kid, because beyond Jim Thorpe and Red Grange and then-playing Leo Nomellini, we never heard of most of these guys,” he said.

Hobby icon Sy Berger, the key architect of this and several other vintage issues, tapped a Tennessee lineman and the No. 1 card in the set, Herman Hickman, to select 99 of the cards.

Berger, interviewed a few years ago about the collection, said Hickman was an easy choice to pick the All-Americans.

“He also played pro football, coached at Army and Yale, he was a scholar, an author, a poet, he lived in New York (Topps headquarters) and was well known and very accessible,” said Berger. Of the 48 schools represented in the 1955 set, Army led the way with eight cards followed by Michigan (7) and Tennessee (6). Notre Dame had four reps, including the key to the collection, the famed 1924 Fightin’ Irish backfield known as “The Four Horsemen” and another top star card featuring legendary coach Knute Rockne.

aa1.jpg It’s An Honor Just To Be Nominated Perhaps the best known player from this set to excel off the gridiron was Byron “Whizzer” White, who became a U.S. Supreme Court Justice.

Other notables included Tom Hamilton, a commander for some time of the USS Enterprise, a highly decorated ship during World War II. Another, Cotton Warburton, won an Academy Award for film editing in the children’s classic “Mary Poppins” in 1964. Warburton also received a Best Editing Oscar nomination in 1953 for the football flick “Crazylegs, All-American.” Unfortunately, “Crazylegs” Hirsch, the film’s star, who was an All-American at Wisconsin and Michigan and was in the middle of a Hall of Fame pro career in 1953, does not appear in the ’55 Topps pigskin offering.

One of Warburton’s teammates at USC, Aaron Rosenberg, however, is featured in the issue. Rosenberg produced “Crazylegs” and many other films including “Mutiny on the Bounty,” which earned a 1962 Best Picture Oscar nomination.

I Can’t Drive (Past A) ’55 Speaking of movies, visiting 1955 was pivotal to time-traveler Michael J. Fox in the “Back To The Future” trilogy.

Dave Yoken and his sports collectibles business partner, Gary Bouc, traveled back to 1955 in their own way this past summer. But unlike Fox’s character Marty McFly, they didn’t have to drive a DeLorean up to 88 mph to make the trip. That’s not to say the adrenaline wasn’t pumping through Yoken’s and Bouc’s bodies at this year’s National in Anaheim.

The pair went there with the intention to buy and open a quality vintage sports card pack but were unsure which one to purchase. Then lightning struck.

“I knew that was the one,” said the Boston-based Yoken, referring to “an absolutely stunning 1955 Topps Football pack with 20 cards glistening inside.”

The cello pack’s price tag from The Baseball Card Exchange: $5,000.

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