By George Vrechek
This is the first part of a two-part series looking at the oldest living NFL players and the Super-Senior All-Stars divided into East and West teams. This first part looks at the East team.
Can you imagine a tackle football game featuring the oldest living NFL players with some of the guys in their 90s? Well to tell the truth, I can’t really imagine it either.
However, that doesn’t stop me from fantasizing about the possibility of a super-senior All-Star game featuring players who appeared on football cards.
After SCD featured my articles earlier this year about the (remote) possibility of a game involving the oldest living baseball players, you knew it wouldn’t be long before you read about the possibility of a super-senior football game.
Old-timers have been coming back to baseball parks for years to make cameo appearances. Walter Johnson pitched against Babe Ruth long after both had retired. My earlier articles proposed the possibility of getting the oldest baseball players (ranging in age from 88 to 101) back for one more game. While not very likely, it is at least conceivable.
Getting the oldest old-timers back for a game of tackle football, on the other hand, isn’t very likely. We can probably think about a touch game, but the players would properly insist that touch is not the same game. If the game were played as touch football, the plethora of linemen would have to entertain one another, while the players in the skill positions got to run around and get all the attention – sort of like it is now in the NFL, except the linemen are knocking themselves silly.
Old-timer football games
Universities have had old-timers back to play in spring football games, although the practice has pretty well died out, and the “old-timers” weren’t usually that old. The old-timers might include graduating seniors and then current professional players who came back to knock around some college kids.
Knute Rockne started the concept at Notre Dame by having former players return to play his varsity in the spring game starting in 1929. The tradition continued (for all but two years) until 1967. The Notre Dame “Old Timers” beat the varsity on seven occasions. In the final years, sophomores were added to the Old Timers team to even the sides. The 1963 game, for example, featured George Izo at quarterback and Heisman Trophy winners Johnny Lattner and Leon Hart on the Old Timers. They lost a close game to the varsity, 30-23. Lattner and Hart continued making appearances in the game through 1967, when Hart was 38 and Lattner 34.
Another Heisman winner, Johnny Lujack, led the Old Timers to a 20-14 victory in 1948 against a Notre Dame team that went undefeated that fall. NFL offensive tackle Gus Cifelli played in the spring game for 18 straight years. Paul Hornung, Nick Petrosante and the Four Horsemen all returned to play and enjoy a few refreshments, according to Lattner (80).
In August 1987, Pittsburgh Steelers alums beat the Oakland Raiders alums 33-24 in a seven-man flag game that drew 15,000. Rocky Blier, Terry Hanratty, L.C. Greenwood, Joe Gilliam, Ken Stabler, Fred Belitnikoff, Cliff Branch, Marv Hubbard, Jack Tatum and Ted Hendricks participated. Stabler was 41 at the time, the others were slightly younger. The NFL Hall of Fame has an annual game played by current players. HOFers come back to sign autographs and talk to fans, but no one puts on the pads.
The oldest former pro football players
Even though it isn’t likely we can get the oldest former NFL players together for a game, maybe someone will get them together for at least an autograph show. But how do you find who the oldest players are?
Fortunately, there is the Internet and a great website called Oldest Living Pro Football Players, which lists the 500 oldest players. Having gone through this research with baseball players, I expected to find the former football players suffered more wear and tear and that the ages of the 100 oldest players would be younger than for the 100 oldest baseball players.
This wasn’t the case; the 100 oldest football players range in age from 88-101 years old, just like the baseball players. Ace Parker is prominent on both lists, being a Hall of Fame NFL player and a former 1937 Philadelphia A’s baseball player. Ace is 101 and is the oldest living former pro football player and the second oldest former baseball player, behind only Connie Marrero.
Players who appeared on cards
However, finding football cards for the oldest 100 wasn’t as easy as for the baseball players. Football players tend to have shorter careers, linemen are lucky to get cards at all and many of the oldest players were active in the cardboard deprived years of the early and mid-1940s.
I had to stretch to find 22 guys among the oldest 100 with football cards. I could put together two teams with players playing out of position and going both ways, but as soon as someone pulled a hamstring (perhaps before the National Anthem), I would need some subs. I decided to keep going down the list for players younger than 88 to fill out my teams. I got down to No. 300 and was pretty close to filling two teams of 40 players each (the standard roster size starting in 1964).
I saw 82-year-old youngster Frank Gifford looming at No. 330, and decided to grab Frank to add to the rosters for a little more box office appeal. You can never have enough subs when organizing a tackle football game for the oldest players.
Let’s play both ways
The pros started platooning during WWII, stopped the practice after the war, and then went back to free substitutions in 1950 after the demise of the AAFC. Colleges went the other way and banned platooning from 1953-65. Most high schools followed suit.
Old-timers like Chuck Bednarik continued to play both ways in the NFL until 1962. Bednarik thought playing offense and defense was the only way to go. I don’t want to argue with my center and linebacker. The 88-year-old Bednarik has been known to be a bit critical, so I’m going to pick teams with just 11 starters each (plus a kicker) and politely ask the guys to go both ways like old-time football. I divided the 80 players between West and East teams based on the location of the teams they primarily represented.
Here are your 2013 Super-Senior Football Card All-Stars listed by offensive position. We’ll let them figure out where they want to go on defense; probably they’ll just sit down someplace and rest after playing offense.
Ace Parker (101) – Quarterback
- Ace is my oldest player, the oldest NFL HOF member and, naturally, my most experienced QB. You have to start Ace in this game over youngsters George Taliaferro, Allie Sherman, Eddie LeBaron, Babe Parilli and Harry Gilmer. Sherman is 90, but the other boys are still in their 80s and will have plenty of opportunities to quarterback in the future.
- Ace appeared in the 1955 Topps All-American football set as a Duke tailback ($75 in Near Mint, per SCD’s vintage football guide)
- QB and defensive back for the AAFC Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Yankees between 1937-46, less 1942-44 when he was in the service
- Played in 94 baseball games for the Athletics in 1937 and 1938, homered in first at-bat, but lifetime average was .179 and only hit one more homer
- Hit a golf ball 365 yards in 1952 and still played until recently
- Managed baseball teams for the Durham Bulls and Duke University until 1966
- Lives in Portsmouth, Va.
Three halfbacks – I’m really going to go old school with a full-house backfield and two ends. I’ll let the boys figure out who wants to play where.
Frank Gifford (82) – Halfback
- Appeared on Bowman, Topps or Philadelphia Gum football cards every year between 1952-64, all with the New York Giants, who retired his No. 16
- 1952 Bowman Large rookie card is $500 in NM condition
- Played both ways early in his career, eight Pro Bowls, HOF
- All-American at USC, defensive back, passing and rushing tailback
- Had his bell rung severely by super-senior teammate Chuck Bednarik in 1960 and missed the next season
- Spectacular career as a sports commentator, including Monday Night Football
- Had the most items currently listed on eBay of any of the super-seniors, with 1,665 items
- Married (No. 3) to Kathy Lee Gifford, together they have two children in their early 20s.
- Lives in Greenwich, Conn.
Don Shula (83) – Halfback
- Never a starter at John Carroll University, a ninth round NFL pick
- Only vintage card appearance is a 1965 Philadelphia Gum card as the Colts’ coach
- Cornerback for Browns, Colts and Redskins 1951-57
- Rushed twice for three yards, caught one pass for six yards, but had 21 career interceptions
- NFL coach at age 33 with the Colts
- Led the 1972 Miami Dolphins to a 17-0 season, coached for Miami until 1995
- .678 winning percentage in 490 games, HOF as a coach
- Involved in Shula’s Steakhouses around the country.
W.A. “Dub” Jones (88) – Halfback
- Played football in the Navy in 1945
- 6’4” from Tulane, drafted No. 2 overall by the Chicago Cardinals in 1946
- Instead played for the Miami Seahawks and Brooklyn Dodgers in the AAFC and the Cleveland Browns from 1946-55
- Appeared in 1950-52 Bowman sets
- Set NFL record with six touchdowns in a 42-21 victory by the Browns over the Bears in 1951 (only had one more touchdown all season)
- Had 2,200 yards rushing and 2,800 yards receiving, threw some passes, returned punts, played defense
- Father of former NFL quarterback Bert Jones
- Assistant coach with the Browns 1963-70.
Chuck Bednarik (88) – Center
- Following high school, he was a gunner on a B-24 and flew 30 combat missions over Germany
- After the war, played at Penn as a 60-minute man, three-time All-American
- Last of the NFL two-way players, kicked off and backup punter, as well
- Appeared on many football cards with the Eagles 1949-62, ’48 Leaf is $500 and ’52 Bowman Large is $300
- HOF, No. 60 retired by Eagles
- Never wore much of a face mask, his fingers go in different directions
- Always a little testy, feuded with ownership
- Still lives in the same area where he was born – Bethlehem, Pa.
Bill Austin (84) – Guard
- Oregon State, New York Giants 1949-57, Army 1951-52
- Appeared in 1950 and 1955 Bowmans
- Coached for 12 teams (1958-85), including a head coach position for three years at Pittsburgh, and in 1970 when he took over the Redskins after Lombardi’s death.
Al “Ox” “Whitey” Wistert (92) – Guard
- University of Michigan 1943, Three Wistert brothers played tackle and all wore No. 11
- Signed for (big bucks) $3,800 to play for the Phil/Pitt Steagles, which unmerged after a war year, and he went with Philadelphia Eagles through 1951
- Appeared on cards from 1948-51
- Played both ways (just what we need), and I’m sure I can convince him to slide over to play guard
- Eight-time All-Pro, played in the first Pro Bowl, Eagle captain for five years, No. 70 retired by Eagles
- Sold life insurance for 40 years
- Returned to Michigan last year to be honored as a Michigan Legend.
Art Donovan (87) – Tackle
- Perhaps the most colorful character in the group
- Spent four years in the Marines during WWII, Boston College 1950
- On numerous football cards from 1952-62, ’52 Bowman Large is $365
- Played from 1950-62 primarily with the Baltimore Colts, five-time Pro Bowler, HOF
- Wrote his biography Fatso and made numerous TV appearances telling humorous stories
- Among super-seniors, comes in second only to Frank Gifford with 1,432 eBay listings
- Manager and owner of a country club near Baltimore.
Mike McCormack (82) – Tackle
- Chicago native played at Kansas
- Played for the New York Yanks in 1951, in the Army 1952-53, and the Cleveland Browns from 1953-62, appearing on cards between 1955-63
- Moved from defensive to offensive tackle, six-time Pro Bowler, HOF
- Coached or was in team administration in the NFL from 1965-97, including president and GM of both the Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers.
Gino Marchetti (86) – End
- Fought in the Battle of the Bulge
- Played on undefeated 1951 University of San Francisco team with Ollie Matson and Bob St. Clair
- Drafted by the New York Yanks, which became the Dallas Texans, for 1952
- Played for the Colts from 1953-66, 11-time Pro Bowler, No. 89 retired by the Colts, HOF
- On cards between 1952-64
- Fractured his ankle during the 1958 NFL championship game against the Giants, but watched the overtime victory from the sidelines
- Part-owner of Gino’s Hamburger franchise which became Roy Rogers Restaurants
- Got back in the restaurant business in 2010 around Philadelphia, likes to bowl
- I don’t know how Gino is going to do on offense, but we need him on defense.
Bud Grant (86) – End
- Joined the Navy, 1945 played football at Great Lakes
- Minnesota 1950, played football, basketball and baseball
- Played basketball with the Minneapolis Lakers from 1949-51
- 14th overall pick in the 1950 NFL draft, joined the Eagles and played defensive end in 1951 and switched to offense in 1952
- Couldn’t agree on a salary in 1953 and became the first player to play out his option by going to Winnipeg to star for the Blue Bombers from 1953-56
- His 1954 Canadian Blue Ribbon Tea card is $500, also appears in 1956 Parkhurst
- Played enough on the defensive side in Canada to pick off five passes in one playoff game
- Became Winnipeg head coach at age 29, won five league championships and had a .644 winning percentage
- Coached the Vikings from 1967-83 and 1985, compiled a .622 winning percentage
- In both the NFL and Canadian Football HOFs
- Continues consulting with the Vikings and is active in environmental matters.
Bert Rechichar (82) – Kicker
- Played on offense and defense at Tennessee as well as kicker, No. 10 overall pick in the 1952 NFL draft
- Couldn’t see out of his left eye, youngest of 10 kids
- Got to A-ball with Cleveland Indians farm teams as an outfielder in 1952-53
- Started with Browns but bulk of career was in Baltimore 1953-59, Pro Bowler 1955-57
- Finished with the New York Titans in 1961 after a year with the Steelers
- Appeared on 1951 Topps Magic, Bowmans 1952, 1954 and 1955, and Topps 1956-58
- I always thought of him as a premier kicker. He set a record with his first attempt as a pro with a 56-yard field goal at the end of the first half in a 1953 game. Tom Dempsey finally broke Rechichar’s mark in 1970
- Despite fame as a kicker, he only connected on 31 career field goals and his conversion percentage was 35 percent
- Played defensive back with 31 career interceptions, caught three passes for TDs, returned an interception for a TD, punted and returned kicks
- Carried all his money with him; his father was murdered by a man who took his pay envelope
- Could really talk trash on the field
- Teammates didn’t know where he lived in the 50s; I found him in Cookeville, Tenn.
We managed to get eight Hall of Famers in the starting 11 for the East.
The East bench includes quite a collection of quarterbacks who have enjoyed longevity (and many football cards). They have an extra kicker but are a little thin on lineman.
The team includes George Taliaferro (86), who was the first African American football player drafted by the NFL following three years as an All-American quarterback and running back at Indiana.
Cleveland Brown Walt Michaels (83) can come in at linebacker. Ray Mathews and Ed Modzelewski, both 84, played as backs for the Steelers. Eddie LeBaron (83) was a 5’7” quarterback for the Redskins who had a 12-year career and four Pro Bowls.
Babe Parilli (83) played quarterback for the Boston Patriots and several other teams. The rest of the East team is shown on the accompanying chart (see sidebar), along with listing a representative football card and the team they played for the most. The most expensive card is that of Steve Pritko at $300.
Name Representative team Age Representative card Position(s)
Steve Pritko Cleveland Rams 92 EXHIBIT E
Allie Sherman Philadelphia Eagles 90 64P AS COACH QB
Joe Tereshinski Washington Redskins 89 48B E-LB
Zollie “Tugboat” Toth New York Yanks 89 51B FB
Clyde Scott Philadelphia Eagles 88 50B HB
Don Colo Cleveland Browns 88 56T DT
Art Weiner New York Yanks 88 51B E
Ebert ‘Red’ Van Buren Philadelphia Eagles 88 51B HB-DB-LB
Neill Armstrong Philadelphia Eagles 87 48B E-DB
Joe O. Scott New York Giants 87 48B HB-DB
Harry Gilmer Washington Redskins 87 48B QB-HB
Dale Dodrill Pittsburgh Steelers 87 54B G
Darrell Hogan Pittsburgh Steelers 86 50B LB-G
Claude Hipps Pittsburgh Steelers 86 52B DB
Dick Hensley New York Giants 85 50B E-DE
Ed Sharkey New York Yanks, etc. 85 54B G-LB
Chuck Ortmann Pittsburgh Steelers 84 EXHIBIT QB-HB
LaVern Torgeson Washington & Detroit 84 57T LB-C
Marion Campbell Philadelphia Eagles 84 55B DE-T-G
Fred Benners New York Giants 83 52B QB
Gary Glick Pittsburgh Steelers 83 60T HB-DB
Joe Scudero Washinton Redskins 82 56T HB-DB
Next time we’ll take a closer look at the West team.
George Vrechek is a freelance contributor to Sports Collectors Digest and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information for this article has been obtained from many sources. While believed to be accurate as of mid-2013, the information may not be as solid as what you would find on the backs of their football cards.