By Larry Canale
The steady stream of 1,000-yard rushers in the NFL over the years—not to mention those who have hit the 1,500- and 2,000-yard levels—has been impressive, but we should never lose sight of Jim Brown’s total dominance over NFL defenses in the 1950s and 1960s. For 10 years, starting in 1957, the Cleveland Browns star bulldozed, straight-armed, eluded, and outran defenders to the tune of 12,312 yards and 106 touchdowns, gaining another 2,499 yards and 20 TDs via pass receptions. In seven of his nine seasons—he retired at age 29 after the 1965 season—he gained at least 1,200 yards. And at the time, each NFL team played a 14-game schedule, vs. 16 today.
We’re reminded of Brown because of the sale of his 1958 Topps rookie card for $9,987 on eBay in late September. The card, graded PSA 8, drew 37 bids. On the same day, a separate listing of a Brown rookie card, this one also graded PSA 8, fetched $7,500 in a Buy It Now deal. And in early October, still another PSA 8 Brown rookie card went for $7,200 on 21 bids.
Brown, by the way, had a number of noteworthy cards during his playing days, among them his 1962 Topps card. That eye-catching black-bordered issue featured a color portrait of Brown in his distinctive No. 32 Cleveland jersey (the same portrait Topps used on his 1961 card) alongside a smaller black-and-white action shot of the running back leaving two Pittsburgh defenders in the dust. In recent sales, we saw a PSA 8 specimen of the card sell for $2,023 on 49 bids and a PSA 7 example get away for $316.
And, of course, there’s his 1964 Philadelphia Gum Go. card, on which he’s shown in a portrait pose, helmet cradled in his arms, with his own pink Cadillac strategically placed behind him. The auto appeared on most of the Cleveland players’ cards in that Philadelphia set.
There’s always been a question as to whether it was Jim Brown’s car or one being sold by his dealership—or perhaps a random Caddy parked on the street. But at the website of LeRoy Kelly (www.leroykelly.com), Brown’s successor in the Cleveland backfield wrote, “The car in the background of [Philadelphia’s 1964 cards] is Jim Brown’s Cadillac. At an autograph signing session, Ernie Green [another former Browns player] confirmed this to me.”
In recent sales on eBay, a PSA 9 specimen of Brown’s 1964 Philadelphia card fetched $2,247 and an SGC 88 example went for $185. You can find slightly lesser-condition examples of the card for prices between $50 and $150.
Here’s an enticing item for fans of great quarterbacks, especially the Packers variety: a 2005 Upper Deck Exquisite Collection card of Aaron Rodgers in Gem-Mint (PSA 10) condition. The Rodgers rookie card—an auto patch rarity (having come from an edition of 199)—sold for $9,000 on 37 bids on eBay in late September.
On the same day, an ungraded example of the same card sold for $2,803 on 52 bids. Both cards were listed by PWCCC Auctions.
HOUSTON OF HOUSTON
Defensive stars of football don’t get anywhere near the collector attention that offensive stars—especially quarterbacks and running backs—traditionally enjoy. So when we see a collectible piece featuring a D stud, we like to give it some play. For example, remember Ken Houston? The longtime All-Pro defensive back played from 1967 through 1972 for the Houston Oilers (precursor to the Tennessee Titans) and 1973 through 1980 for the Washington Redskins. A noted ball hawk from his strong safety position, Houston picked off 49 passes in his career, returning nine of them for touchdowns.
Recently, an eBay bidder spent $9,100 for a Gem-Mint 10 specimen of Houston’s 1971 Topps issue. The card marked his first appearance in a major set, thus making it his rookie card. At the time, Houston—pictured in his powder-blue Oilers uniform—was on the verge of a breakout season. In 14 games in 1971, he would intercept nine passes and return them for 220 yards and four touchdowns while also scoring a TD on a fumble return.
Houston’s 1971 card, if not in Gem Mint condition, is far more reasonable. Example: a 1971 Topps Houston graded PSA 9 got away for $482.
We’ve been all about football this time out, but let’s shift over to baseball for a moment, with the promise of collectible World Series heroes for next time. For now, we can’t overlook an item that would appeal to collectors of baseball memorabilia, books and Babe Ruth: a signed copy of Babe Ruth’s Own Book of Baseball.
Published by Putnam & Sons in New York in 1928, the authorship of this treasure is credited to George Herman Ruth. And upon its release, the slugger autographed 1,000 copies of the hardcover book, signing as “‘Babe’ Ruth,” with quotes around his nickname.
Copy No. 496, per the numbering on the title page, sold on eBay in October for $9,950. The only caveat is (as the seller disclosed) a “facsimile dust jacket.” The important element—the authenticity of Ruth’s autograph—was verified by PSA/DNA, per a document accompanying the book.