By Doug Koztoski
The Nu-Card MLB sets in 1960 and 1961 were one thing. Those baseball collections, highlighted in SCD’s Nov. 1, 2013, issue, dealt with big league players of the day and from decades before. But in 1961, Nu-Card also tried a football product.
Competing head-to-head with Topps and Fleer pro football sets was likely not an option. Maybe it was a rights issue, maybe they just wanted to be different, but Nu-Card went the college route.
The company’s football pasteboards spotlighted 80 players of the time, about 30 of which later played in the NFL and/or the American Football League (AFL). The AFL was basically a “Nu-League,” enjoying its inaugural season in 1960.
The ’61 issue card fronts generally feature a close-up of the player, his school name on a pennant and a football-related illustration; backs offer up a player bio and some stats. The 5-cent packs came with paper wrappers, not wax. Each pack also contained a pair of plastic-coated pennants, which could be easily separated, coming in many school and color combinations.
Most of the set, which has at least one representative from some 50 colleges, regularly skips around from one campus to another. Even so, in the first handful in the offering there are two players back-to-back from Oregon, followed by three straight from Navy. The Navy players all wear helmets, a rarity for the issue.
Barry Call began his avid pursuit of these Nu-Card footballers about five years ago.
“I like the fact that it was a relatively small set and contained only college players,” he said.
Call’s favorites from the collection include Syracuse running back Ernie Davis (No. 143) and quarterbacks John Hadl (Kansas, No. 117) and Roman Gabriel (North Carolina State, No. 166). In fact, what helped Call get started collecting the set was picking up a lot of eight PSA 9 cards for under $20, including Hadl and Gabriel, who had solid NFL careers.
“I remember Davis winning the Heisman (in 1961) and his untimely death,” Call said.
Davis became the first African-American to win the coveted trophy, earned the top pick in the 1962 NFL draft, but soon after the draft he was diagnosed with leukemia and died at age 23 in 1963. He never did play in the NFL.
Davis, the key to the Nu-Card collection, is by far the most graded card in the set via PSA’s Population Reports, with some 220 samples. By comparison, Hadl, graded second-most frequently in the issue by PSA, comes in at about half that. The average card in the set has landed in a PSA slab 50-75 times.
Sports card enthusiast Eric Stumpo has owned the ’61 Nu-Card set for many years. The Davis card is his favorite, too.
“I’ve had several sets through the years and have had no particular problem obtaining Davis cards,” he said. “I put together my first set from gum packs when I was a kid (in ’61),” Stumpo recalled.
About 25 years ago he picked up the one he eventually had graded. “So I guess I am pretty dedicated to having the set.”
Hard yardage to get, at times
Oregon State halfback Don Kasso ranks as the toughest card to find, on average, among the 80 collegiate gridders – with only 37 encapsulated by PSA, three of which happen to be Gem Mint 10s. But Call has not been able to lasso Kasso cards in the highest grades he wants, as he “still only has a PSA 8 in both (of his) sets.”
Another card that shows up a little less often than most on average (48 samples in PSA holders) pictures Iowa State halfback Dave Hoppmann (No. 161). His card is an uncorrected error since his last name is missing an “n.”
Finding unopened packs of the cards on eBay and elsewhere for around $25-$30 is about as easy as seeing a car commercial during a football game broadcast.
Occasionally a full or near-full box of unopened 1961 Nu-Card football, apparently the company’s last sports issue, shows up in auctions.
On one hand, a huge upside for the set is that several more top-grade cards will likely be retrieved from packs in the coming years, some of those cards, of course, getting slabbed. But there are hobbyists who might see a downside in this, as current “population” numbers of these cards might balloon, somewhat, and drag down prices.
Yet, these cards already have a half-century in the book, which is a solid vintage for a set, and are available at reasonable prices (see sidebar for recent auction results), so it is a good guess that having numerous additional higher-condition samples in the hobby, graded or not, will likely please most collectors.
Stumpo sees the popularity of the set likely increasing over time, especially “as folks access the PSA Set Registry and collectors look for more unusual sets to collect.”
The red zone
With their Sugar Bowl victory, Alabama finished the season 11-0 in 1961, propelling Crimson Tide head coach “Bear” Bryant to win his first of many national football championships (in both the AP and Coaches polls). The second-ranked Ohio State’s gridiron squad, meanwhile, had an unusual mixed bag of success.
While the Buckeyes ended their schedule 8-0-1, and the team earned a Rose Bowl invite, late in the season the university’s faculty council voted, by a narrow margin, to nip the Rose Bowl bid in the bud. The reason? Enough of the faculty council reportedly thought the university’s focus on sports exceeded academics. So, Minnesota took Ohio State’s place in the contest – and beat UCLA.
Ohio State fullback Bob Ferguson, meantime, came in a close second in the Heisman Trophy voting that year.
Well, at least Ohio State could claim the top spot in the 1961 Nu-Card football issue, as Ferguson led it off. It is good to be No. 1 in something, or, in this case, card No. 101.
Line ’em up
The 1961 Nu-Card Football roster, listed alphabetically by school, then by card number.
Alabama: No. 111 Bill Neighbors, No. 142 Pat Trammell
Arizona: No. 138 Jesse Bradford
Arizona St.: No. 134 Dick Locke
Bowling Green: No. 151 Russ Hepner, No. 163 Don Lisbon
California: No. 165 George Pierovich
Cincinnati: No. 113 Ken Byers, No. 115 Fred Oblak
Clemson: No. 160 Bill McGuirt, No. 162 Gary Barnes
Colorado: No. 152 Joe Romig, No. 168 Gale Weidner
Columbia: No. 158 Robert Asack, No. 179 Thomas Vassell
Dartmouth: No. 120 Bill King
Dayton: No. 127 Andy Timura
Detroit: No. 164 Jerry Gross
Duke: No. 108 Walt Rappold
Florida: No. 130 Bobby Dodd Jr., No. 135 Larry Libertore
Fresno St.: No. 157 Jim Sanderson, No. 159 Dan Celoni
Georgia: No. 137 Pete Case
Georgia Tech: No. 141 Bill Williamson
Harvard: No. 110 Bob Boyda, No. 119 William Swinford
Houston: No. 155 Ken Bolin, No. 169 Charlie Rieves
Iowa: No. 150 Sherwyn Thorson, No. 177 Joe Williams
Iowa St.: No. 161 Dave Hoppman (sic), should be Hoppmann, No. 173 Wilburn Hollis
Kansas: No. 117 John Hadl, No. 131 Curtis McClinton
Kentucky: No. 171 Tom Hutchinson
Lafayette: No. 140 Walter Doleschal
LSU: No. 109 Roy Winston
Maryland: No. 128 Gary Collins
Miami Florida: No. 107 Eddie Johns, No. 175 Bill Miller
Missouri: No. 129 Ron Taylor, No. 149 Norman Beal
Navy: No. 104 Greg Mather, No. 105 Vern Von Sydow, No. 106 John Hewitt
Nebraska: No. 112 Don Purcell
North Carolina St.: No. 166 Roman Gabriel
North Texas (N. Texas): No. 156 Art Perkins
Ohio State: No. 101 Bob Ferguson, No. 154 Tom Perdue
Oklahoma: No. 167 Billy White
Oregon: No. 102 Ron Snidow, No. 103 Steve Barnett
Oregon St.: No. 174 Don Kasso
Penn St.: No. 148 Roger Kochman, No. 172 Galen Hall
Purdue: No. 136 Stan Sczurek
Rutgers: No. 123 Alex Kroll, No. 126 Steve Simms
Syracuse: No. 122 Dave Sarette, No. 143 Ernie Davis
Tennessee: No. 121 Mike Lucci
Texas: No. 125 Jimmy Saxton, No. 132 Ray Poage, No. 180 Mike Cotten
Texas A & M: No. 147 Joe Eilers
TCU: No. 116 Bobby Iles, No. 145 Bobby Plummer, No. 146 Sonny Gibbs
Texas Tech: No. 139 Coolidge Hunt
Tulane: No. 133 Gus Gonzales, No. 153 Larry Thompson
Tulsa: No. 170 Jim Furlong
UCLA: No. 124 Steve Bauwens
Utah: No. 114 Ed Pine
Washington: No. 118 Charlie Mitchell
Washington St.: No. 178 Mel Mellin
Wisconsin: No. 176 Ron Miller
Wyoming: No. 144 Chuck Lamson
Doug Koztoski is a frequent contributor to SCD. He welcomes comments and questions about this article at firstname.lastname@example.org.