FAREWELL TO OUR FOOTBALL FRIENDS — We’re nearing the end of 2020, and we won’t forget this year as one of great loss. The most recent, as of this writing, is Green Bay Packer great Paul Hornung. He’s one of multiple Vince Lombardi-era Packers who died this year. Among the others were Herb Adderley and Willie Wood (covered in this space last time out) along with Willie Davis and Doug Hart. Plus, Hornung is one of two Hall of Fame running backs we lost this year, with Gale Sayers having passed away in September.
Below, we take a closer look at Hornung, Sayers and Fred Dean—still another NFL Hall of Famer who died this fall.
THE GOLDEN BOY — Paul Hornung came out of Notre Dame in 1957 as a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, joining the Packers two years before Vince Lombardi arrived in Green Bay. Hornung’s versatility made him a prize in the Packer offense. He was a hard-running halfback, sure-handed receiver, option-play passing threat and placekicker. As such, he could light up the scoreboard. In 1960, he set an NFL record by scoring 176 points (15 touchdowns, 15 field goals and 41 extra points) in a 12-game season. He surpassed 100 points by himself in two other seasons as well—not a common feat in the old NFL.
In today’s sports memorabilia hobby, Hornung is surprisingly undervalued. As we’ve seen with so many other sports legends who passed away this year, interest in Hornung memorabilia rose after his death but prices haven’t spiked.
For example, shortly after his death, a number of Hornung 1957 Topps rookie cards sold on eBay at budget-friendly prices: $534, $500 and $438 for three examples graded PSA 6. Another with a PSA 5 grade saw 30 bids (gently) pushing the price to $256.
Hornung’s second solo card appearance came in Topps’ 1959 set. A beautifully clean PSA 9 example popped up at auction just after his death and sold for a quiet $694 on 22 bids. As we know, it’s not easy to find six-decades-old cards in Mint condition.
Likewise, autographed Hornung items aren’t breaking the bank. In late November, a Hornung-signed jersey with JSA authentication sold for $250, and a signed 1957 Topps rookie (authenticated but not graded) went for $239. We also saw several Hornung-signed footballs sell for prices between $125 and $200.
Perhaps the most eerie Hornung item — and this goes for Gale Sayers collectibles, too — is the 2010 Topps Magic card numbered DA-SH. Limited to a run of 25, the card features autographs of both Hornung and Sayers. We saw one (#11) sell for $150 in October — the midpoint between Sayers’ and Hornung’s deaths. An even more limited Refractor version of the Topps Magic card (marked #4 of 5) sold for $183 on 23 bids.
THE KANSAS COMET — Gale Sayers made an indelible mark on the NFL in an astonishingly short period of time: only four full seasons.
In 1968, after 3½ years of leaving defenders flat-footed and helpless—Sayers suffered a serious knee injury and missed the last five games of the season. In 1969, he came back with a vengeance, rushing for an NFL-leading 1,036 yards. But then…more injuries. He missed most of the 1970 and 1971 seasons, then called it quits at 28.
In his short tenure, Sayers rushed for 4,956 yards and gained another 1,307 as a receiver. He also averaged 30.6 yards per kickoff return and 14.5 yards per punt return. And all told, he scored 56 touchdowns.
Perhaps the “what if” angle that will forever shroud Sayers’ all-too-short career contributed to some hobby heat after his death on Sept. 23. When a Gem Mint PSA 10 example of Sayers’ 1968 Topps card turned up on eBay in October, it garnered 57 bids and sold for $10,211. Plus, a trio of Sayers’ 1966 Philadelphia Gum Co. rookie cards in PSA 8 condition sold for prices of $3,500, $3,300 and $2,275.
Sayers was a frequent autograph signer after his playing days, so there’s a fairly healthy inventory. Sayers-signed inserts issued by card manufacturers are a good buy: They often can be had for under $100. For example, we saw a number of autographed 2015 Topps 60th anniversary Sayers reprints sell for $60 to $100. Ditto for his 2004 Donruss Playoff Prime Signatures cards.
THE DEAN OF DEFENSE — The COVID-19 pandemic that’s taken such a toll has also touched the NFL family. A number of pro football alumni have succumbed to coronavirus, among them Hall of Fame defensive end Fred Dean. According to Sports Illustrated, he was hospitalized with coronavirus and put on a ventilator before passing away at age 68 on Oct. 14.
The New York Times called Dean “the sack specialist who ignited the 49ers dynasty.” He started his career with the Chargers in 1975 but was traded during a contract dispute to the 49ers in 1981. Blessed with size and speed, Dean was a force on defense during San Francisco’s glory days, helping them to two Super Bowl wins.
In the sports collectibles hobby, of course, defensive linemen never get the attention (or bidding) that quarterbacks and running backs get. So don’t be surprised if you find a Dean-autographed Chargers or 49ers helmet—with authentication—available for $75 to $150.
Look also for his rookie card, which can be had in 8 condition for $10 to $40. Even a Mint-condition example doesn’t spike very high: We saw a PSA 9 Dean rookie get away for $85 in a Buy It Now deal.
HERE’S TO A BURROW BOUNCE-BACK — We hate seeing football injuries that elicit the word “gruesome” from announcers. But that’s what happened to one of 2020’s most exciting young NFL quarterbacks, Joe Burrow. After a college career during which he put up eye-popping numbers, the Bengals QB was adjusting nicely to the pro game before a torn ACL (and possible knee damage) ended his season on Nov. 22.
Despite Cincinnati’s subpar 2-7-1 start with Burrow at QB, the gunslinger heads off to recover and rehabilitate with some impressive rookie numbers under his belt. In his 10 games, he threw for 2,485 yards and 12 touchdowns (vs. only five interceptions) and completed 65 percent of his passes. He gained another 130 yards on the ground and ran for three TDs.
Even before he threw a pass in the NFL, Burrow was in demand among collectors. Among the prizes that changed hands on eBay in recent weeks was a 2019 Select XRC Gold card of Burrow. Marked #7 of 10, the card brought $8,278 on 40 bids in mid-October. A month earlier, another example of the same card, this one marked #5 of 10, brought $6,975 on 43 bids.
Meanwhile, a 2020 Panini Spectra Gold Vinyl card sold for $6,626 on 43 bids. The ungraded card was marked 1-of-1 and included both a sig and jersey patch.
On the day of Burrow’s injury, another 1-of-1 Panini card, a 2020 Blockchain Prizm dual-autograph card, sold for $3,600 on 47 bids. This one featured the sigs of both Burrow and another hot rookie QB, Justin Herbert of San Diego.
Burrow’s potential is so vast that collectors will be keeping a close eye on his comeback. And there’s no doubting his resilience. Within an hour of his season-ending injury, he sent a tweet heard ’round the football world: “Can’t get rid of me that easily. See ya next year.”
You’ve gotta root for a guy like that.
TOP 10 CHART
1. $138,477 on 96 bids: 2003-04 Upper Deck Exquisite Collection LeBron James Scripted Swatch, #6/25, auto patch (BGS 9)
2. $126,100 on 101 bids: 2009-10 Topps Chrome Stephen Curry Refractor, #396/500 (BGS 10)
3. $125,988 on 62 bids: 2018-19 Panini Prizm Signatures Luka Doncic Gold Prizms, #6/10, auto (BGS 9.5)
4. $70,101 on 41 bids: 2003-04 Bowman Chrome LeBron James Refractor, #120/300 (BGS 10)
5. $70,100 on 25 bids: 2004-05 Topps Black LeBron James, #464/500 (BGS 9)
6. $70,100 on 38 bids: 1996-97 Topps Finest Gold Kobe Bryant (PSA 10)
7. $51,400 on 81 bids: 1996-97 Skybox E-X2000 Kobe Bryant Credentials, #346/499 (PSA 9)
8. $46,188 on 84 bids: 2007-08 Upper Deck Exquisite Collection Michael Jordan Number Pieces, #4/23, auto patch (BGS 8)
9. $45,653 on 85 bids: 2018-19 Panini Immaculate Collection Luka Doncic Premium Red, #3/14, auto patch (BGS 9.5)
10. $45,332 on 75 bids: 1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan (BGS 9.5)