Right around 1962 or so, I got out of the football card collecting end of things, trading my entire stash at the time, maybe four years worth of cards, to a friend who lived nearby. The deal was he got all of my football, and I got all of his 1960 Topps Baseball. Since he wasn’t as enthusiastic about his cards as I was about mine, his 1960s were a lot more pristine than my cards, so unlike so many of the cards that I owned back then, many of them have never felt the indignity of an upgrade.
But after doing a story in SCD last week about 1961 Topps Football, it sorta made me wish I still had those beauties around nearly a half century later. I’d forgotten what a great set of cards that is, and few things work better to get you re-involved with a card issue than researching and writing about it.
I won’t rehash the article (SCD May 22), but I will say it’s maybe one of the best vintage Topps sets ever, with the reasons more elaborately enumerated in the article. But I have a kinda grim rule of thumb for cards: they are winners if they would work well with an obituary for the individual, meaning essentially the the image on the card nicely (dare I say elegantly) illuminates something about the player and his personality.
By that morbid rule, I’d say about half of the issue fits the bill. Hard to pick a favorite, though I could contend that it starts right off with the No. 1 Johnny Unitas gem, but for pure, unadulterated joy, I gotta go with Leo Nomellini’s No. 64.
It probably wasn’t used with his obituary (the Hall of Famer died in 2000), but it should have been. If there is a better card that says “1950s-60s football” than this one, I’ll eat my beret. I also assume that he was the inspiration for the comic strip character Tank McNamara, but of course I can’t prove it.