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Gaffes aplenty in vintage football card sets

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Surrounded by an island of green turf plopped in a sea of some 75,000 people, Colts receiver Jimmy Orr must have felt quite alone as he waved his arms as though he’d been stranded for weeks and just spotted a low-flying search plane.


Actually, the Baltimore pass catcher was expecting a pigskin plane of sorts to rescue a little something from the first two quarters for his team, down 7-0 right before halftime.

In the midst of a flea-flicker play, Orr was amazingly wide-open in the end zone and Colts quarterback Earl Morrall threw not only in another direction but also into heavy coverage for an interception. Morrall claimed he didn’t see Orr. The blunder was one of many Baltimore made that day in its stunning loss to the two-to-three touchdown underdog New York Jets in Super Bowl III.

Some days just don’t go your way.

Vintage football cards have had their not-so-glorious moments as well when what ended up in collector’s hands was not likely the original plan from the card maker’s playbook.

Some gridiron card gaffes appeared in the first nationally distributed football card set, the 1935 National Chicle offering. In that rare 36-card issue, Phil Sarboe and “Shipwreck” Kelly had their last names misspelled, while one of the “high” numbers, John Isola (No. 26) had his name missing from the card front.

None were corrected and samples of the Sarboe and Kelly cards will set you back around $100 in nice condition, the Isola about $400. Collectors waited years before the next regular-issue football sets appeared – the 1948 Bowman and Leaf collections.

The Bowmans that season passed the typo test. The 1948 Leafs, however, sport a couple of uncorrected errors of note: Hall of Famer Bobby Layne’s card with “Bobbie” as the spelling, which might have created some mild joking from his fellow footballers, and Jackie “Jackey” Jensen, who went on the have a solid Major League Baseball career. Both the Layne and Jensen cards book for $350.

And then there’s the 1948 Leaf George McAfee. Maybe the card manufacturers first confused the football player with a popular “wrestler” at the time, as one version of McAfee’s card has “Gorgeous” George on the front. Then again, McAfee pioneered the use of low-cut shoes on the playing field, but I’m guessing they weren’t stylish pumps. So it’s anybody’s guess as to the real story behind the “Gorgeous” issue. The McAfee card was corrected and both versions list in the $110 to $125 range.

Of the vintage Bowman football cards, there is one spelling slip up worth spotlighting – the 1954 card of Tom Finnan (#97), misspelled as Finnin. The correct card books for $6, while the miscue is $50.
“People ask for the Finnin card a decent amount,” said vintage card dealer Kevin Savage.

Featuring various star college players and coaches, mostly from the previous three decades, the 1955 Topps All Americans set ranks high on many collectors’ all-time favorites lists. Many 1955 Gaynell Tinsley and Whizzer White cards make the grade without a hitch, as some have each other’s card backs. As usual, the errors are a little harder to come by and command a premium. For instance, the correct 1955 White lists at $70, while the “off” White goes for about $100. The Amos Alonzo Stagg from the set also had “back” problems at times and brings similar prices.
Two years later Topps trotted out its second year of pro football cards. Virtually every card in the 1957 Topps set came with a closeup photo of the player and his name on the left, and an “action” shot, his position and team on the right.

One 1957 exception is the error card of Rams defensive back Bill Sherman (No. 58), as a blank box sits where his position and team name should appear.

“This card is on so many people’s want lists,” said Savage. “I’ve only had one or two over the years and the $300 price tag for the Sherman error reflects just how difficult a card it is.” The regular Sherman lists for $5.
When Vince Lombardi took the head-coaching job at Green Bay in 1959, he immediately started turning that franchise around as it enjoyed its first winning season in many years. Fullback Jim Taylor, drafted by Green Bay in 1958, was a significant part of most of the Lombardi Packers heyday that lasted through the 1967 season. Even so, it took some time for the tough-as-nails ball carrier to enjoy some respect on cardboard as his 1959 and 1960 Topps cards actually picture a Cardinals linebacker with the same name.

Taylor’s true Topps rookie finally debuted in the 1961 set. I wonder if the legendary Lombardi would have subscribed to this paraphrased version of one of his famous sayings, “Matching card photos with their correct subjects isn’t everything, it’s the occasional thing.”

With black borders, two boxes for photos and one box for player info, the 1962 Topps card fronts are some of the more visually imaginative vintage issues from the card giant. You can count on the bigger color photos of the featured player showing whom it should. It’s those pesky black-and-white action shots that sometimes make you do a double take. For example, the inset photos for the cards of QBs Zeke Bratkowski, Roman Gabriel and Fran Tarkenton show shots of Johnny Unitas, Y.A. Tittle and Sonny Jurgensen, respectively. Look at it this way, Topps could have used some of those leftover photos of Cardinals linebacker Jim Taylor, instead.
It’s funny, you put up great numbers, win some championships in a Hall-of-Fame career and how did the Philadelphia Chewing Gum Co. honor Colts receiver Raymond Berry in its 1967 issue, his last year? By gracing Berry’s card with a picture of his teammate Bob Boyd. Meanwhile, one of the most popular cards in the 1969 Topps set is the only regular-issue card of Brian Piccolo, whose life was highlighted in the TV-movie “Brian’s Song” in the early 1970s. Trouble is, the Chicago running back’s first name ended up misspelled on the front and back – in different ways.
The 1969 pack inserts, the Four-In-One stamps and the mini-albums to hold them, include Piccolo in each and are also “slightly off-key” with the misspelling “Bryon,” like on the front of his regular card.

Please Call Me Chuck
Quarterback Charley Johnson and Hall of Fame receiver Charley Taylor bridged the 1960s and 1970s in the vintage football error card department in their own big way. Numerous times over the years, the spelling of their first names on their cards was either “Charley” or “Charlie” or, on occasion, both. For instance, on the back of Taylor’s 1968 Topps card, his name is “Charley” at the top and “Charlie” twice below it.
These days Charles “Charley” Johnson is part of the engineering department at New Mexico State University and he confirmed via telephone that his nickname is “Charley” and not “Charlie.”
“When we used to have the pictures taken for our cards in training camp they would have us fill out a questionnaire with it and I’d fill out my name with the ‘l-e-y’ ending and sometimes they printed it that way on the cards and sometimes it was ‘l-i-e,’” said the former Broncos, Oilers and Cardinals QB.

When it was pointed out to him that a few of his cards included the two versions of the nickname Charles on the same pasteboard he chuckled and said, “I was unaware of that.”

One last Charlie to mention comes from the oddball card section, specifically the 1959 Bazooka Gum issue. In the set, where the cards came on the back of the boxes, quarterback Charlie Conerly can be found with the New York Giants, his one-and-only NFL team, and an error version, where he is listed as a Baltimore Colt.

The 1959 Bazooka Conerly is a shortprint and the Standard Catalog of Football Cards lists them at $325 and $450, respectively. Avid New York Giants collector Joe Mancino has spotted the 1959 Conerly cards over the years in some bigger auctions. “The Bazooka Conerly’s are so rare, the ones I’ve seen go for way beyond book price,” said the Maryland-based hobbyist.

The Morrall of the Story

We all make mistakes. Morrall just happened to make some crucial ones in Super Bowl III, but he did help the Colts win Super Bowl V and then the veteran signal-caller played an integral role with the 1972 Miami Dolphins during their perfect season — showing that sometimes second chances arise and turn out well.

Heck, Topps forgot one “r” in Morrall’s last name on the back of his 1958 card, but had a solid track record with him afterward.

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