By George Vrechek
In a prior SCD article, we imagined the possibility of a football game to be played by the oldest living former NFL players who appeared on football cards. We looked at the East team previously. This time we look at the West team, but first some information on players who continued playing tackle football beyond age 40.
Oldest active players
There have been a handful of players who continued on NFL teams into their 40s. Most have been kickers, a few have been quarterbacks and even fewer have been linemen or backs.
George Blanda was both a kicker and a quarterback. He played until 1975 when he was nearly 49 years old. He even threw three passes his last year. Morten Andersen was a kicker until his retirement in 2007 at age 47. Kicker John Carney lasted until he was 46 when he was released by the Saints in 2010. A few quarterbacks have been able to hang around almost as long, with Vinny Testaverde, Doug Flutie, Warren Moon, Steve DeBerg and Earl Morrall playing (mostly as backups) into their mid-40s. Guard Ray Brown started a playoff game in 2006 at age 43. Darrell Green and Jerry Rice played until they were 42. Most of these players appeared on numerous football cards.
Small colleges have had some interesting publicity on older students taking advantage of their football eligibility. Mike Flynt (59) played a little at linebacker for Sul Ross State University in 2007. Alan Moore (62), thought to be the oldest college football player ever, kicked an extra point for Faulkner College in 2011. Gerald “Moose” House is a 6’4” 265-pound, 64-year-old defensive tackle and is still playing tackle football with other alums of his Hughson, Calif., high school. There have been no reports of players in their 90s though getting into games; maybe this game will be the first.
Let’s see who made the West team comprised of guys who played predominately with teams from Detroit and further west.
Johnny Lujack (88) – Quarterback
- I called Johnny Lujack to give him the good news that he was starting for the West. I asked him when he last had on football pads. It turns out it was his last game as a Bear in 1951. But he said his shoulder is fine now and he was particularly enthused about being among the “living” former players.
- Multi-sport athlete and class valedictorian in high school, started at Notre Dame, but left during WWII to serve in the Navy
- Played four sports at Notre Dame, was on three national championship teams, won the ’47 Heisman
- Signed an attractive four-year deal paying about $20,000 annually, other Bears’ quarterbacks he played with were Sid Luckman, Bobby Layne and George Blanda
- Set an NFL record with 468 yards passing (plus six TD passes) in the final 1949 victory over the Cardinals
- Also played defense and had eight interceptions in 1948 (even good QBs threw about as many interceptions as TDs in those days, a 50 percent completion rate was decent – the ball went up for grabs)
- Appeared on (expensive) cards between 1948-51 for Bowman, Topps, Exhibit Supply Co., Leaf and Wheaties; also on the cover of Life magazine
- Due to a partially-separated shoulder, played only four years
- Returned as an assistant coach at Notre Dame 1952-53, and then went into auto dealership for 40 years, also an early NFL TV commentator
- Lives in Bettendorf, Iowa, and golfs near his Indian Wells, Calif., home
- Gets a dozen or more cards and items each week to autograph and return
- Enjoys watching Jeopardy and is a vivid story-teller. Look for a future article on Lujack.
Charley Trippi (90) – Halfback
(We are going with a full-house backfield again of three halfbacks and let them play wherever they decide.)
- Two-time All-American at Georgia
- Played minor league baseball one year and hit .334
- First 1945 draft pick, played for the Chicago Cardinals (1947-55), HOF
- Always a dashing figure on cards between 1948-55, his ’48 Leaf is $375
- Began in football as a center, played halfback, quarterback, defensive back and punter
- Lives in Athens, Ga.
Hugh McElhenny (84) – Halfback
- All-American halfback from Washington ’52
- San Francisco 49ers and three other teams (1952-64), HOF, called “The King”
- Football cards from 1952-63, ’52 Bowman Large is $250
- Recently confided that he took a pay cut going from college to the pros, although the pay wasn’t that great
- Lives in the Las Vegas area.
Wally Triplett (87) – Halfback
- Passing and running wingback at Penn State ’49
- Appears in a YouTube video describing how Penn State players voted to cancel their 1946 game against the University of Miami rather than playing without Triplett and one other black player
- Set several marks involving integration, including being the first drafted African-American to play in an NFL game in 1949
- Only appeared in the 1950 Bowman set
- Played halfback, defense and kick returner for Lions 1949 and 1950, and Cardinals 1952-53
- Following football worked as a teacher, also in the insurance business and management for Chrysler.
Ed Sprinkle (89) – Center
- Ed (“The Claw”) played about everywhere on both sides of the line except center, but this team is light on centers, and I need to play him out of position. I hope he will practice his long snaps before this game.
- Visits each year with Johnny Lujack, they can work on their snaps together
- Went to Hardon-Simmons, then played at Navy
- Played for the Bears 1944-55, made $200 per game his first year
- Only appeared in the 1951 Bowman set
- George Halas called him “The greatest pass-rusher I’ve ever seen . . . a rough, tough ballplayer”
- Lives in Palos Heights, Ill., likes Lumes Pancake House every day for breakfast.
Dick Stanfel (85) – Guard
- University of San Francisco ’52
- Lions (1952-55), Redskins (1956-58)
- Appeared in 1955 Bowman and 1958 Topps
- Five-time Pro Bowler, almost made the HOF
- Interim head coach New Orleans 1980, Bears offensive line coach (1981-92).
Ed Henke (85) – Guard
- USC ’49, played in three different leagues between 1949-63, teams included 49ers, Cardinals and Canadian league
- Got one lousy football card: 1962 Post Cereal
- Played both ways on the line and also caught two passes – for some reason.
John Martinkovic (86) – Tackle
- Played football and basketball at Xavier University ’51
- Football cards were 1956 Topps and 1954 Bowman, which mentions he was a construction foreman in the offseason
- Played for the Packers 1951-56 and the Giants 1957
- Three-time Pro Bowler, mostly at defensive end
- Lives in Green Bay.
Cecil Souders (92) – Tackle
- Three-time All-American at Ohio State
- Served in the Navy during WWII
- Played end and a little bit at tackle both ways for the Lions 1947-49, on a 1948 Bowman
- Didn’t have a long career, but he’s my oldest lineman and has seniority over the other boys, lives in Avon Park, Fla.
Doug Atkins (83) – End
- 6’8”, went to Tennessee on a basketball scholarship, became an All-American in football, high jumped 6’6”
- Browns 1953-54, Bears 1955-66, Saints 1967-69
- Eight-time Pro Bowler, HOF at defensive end, but I’ll bet he still has good hands and can play tight end
- Still looks imposing
- Football cards between 1954-69.
Gordie Soltau (88) – End
- Multi-sport high school star (including hockey) from Duluth, became a Navy frogman during WWII
- University of Minnesota ’50
- Played wide receiver and defensive back for the 49ers 1950-58, three-time Pro Bowler, also kicked
- On Bowman and Topps between 1951-58
- Active in the early players’ association
- Ski instructor in the offseason, went into business in San Francisco with Diamond International, retiring as a sales VP
- Lives in Menlo Park, Calif.
Ben Agajanian (93) – Kicker
- Played tennis, defensive end and kicker for New Mexico
- Started in pro football in 1945, played in 1964 at age 45
- Although he played for the Giants for several years, he bounced around with teams on the West Coast, and I thought he’d enjoy playing with the West
- Despite all his years in pro football, his only card is a 1955 Bowman, which at least comes with or without a printing difference streak
- One of two players to play in the AAFC, NFL and AFL
- Four of his toes were crushed in an accident in college, about one-third of his foot was amputated, but he persevered and became the pro first player to specialize in kicking
- Left shoe was a 10, the right a 7
- Kicked a 53-yard field goal in 1947
- Never made more than $4,500 in a season and retired four different times
- Kicking coach for the Cowboys for 20 years
- Has sporting goods stores on the West Coast and kicking camps.
My bench for the West team looks pretty good. I have HOFer and former 49er and Giant Y.A. Tittle (86) sitting there wondering why he isn’t starting, but Lujack has seniority, which is important in this game.
Another youngster, Frank Tripuka (85), is also available to quarterback. Detroit Lion Dorne Dibble (84) can play wide receiver or defensive back. Bear 12-year great Joe Fortunato (83) can come in at linebacker. The rest of the team provides decent depth at most positions.
Coaches and others
While both teams are long on players with head coaching experience, including HOFers Don Shula and Bud Grant, I think it is going to be very difficult to have someone coach who played in the NFL. He will obviously still want to play in this game. Ara Parseghian (89) would be a good choice except he played two years in the NFL and never got a card. We’re going to go with the oldest head coaches who didn’t play in the NFL.
Bum Phillips (89) was a NFL head coach for 11 years between the Oilers and Saints. He is a former WWII Marine, which should help him bring some order to the West team.
Chicagoan Marv Levy (83) will coach the East. Marv is in the Hall of Fame, got his masters at Harvard and has coached for about 50 years. He took the Bills to the Super Bowl four consecutive times and gets another crack it at with this team.
Other people we’ll need
There are enough former coaches on both teams that we won’t have any assistant coaches. Former Bear and Stanford star Bill McColl is on the West bench. He is also an orthopedic surgeon, which might come in handy in this game. Chicagoan and former top NFL official Jerry Markbreit (78) has been involved in officiating for 60 years. I’ll ask Jerry to put together an officiating team.
Johnny Kovatch (101) played for the Cleveland Rams in 1938, never had a football card, but we’re adding him as an honorary member of the East team.
Bill Glassford (99) played for the 1937 Cincinnati Bengals. He didn’t get a football card either, but he will be an honorary member of the West team, since he was the head coach at Nebraska for seven years. We won’t even make them play.
James McCoubrey lives in Walnut Creek, Calif., and has kept himself in pretty decent shape. He enjoys good scotch. I’m going to ask him to do the coin flip to start the game. Mr. McCoubrey is 111 and is the oldest living man in the U.S.
Cards and photos
Prices are high for late 1940s and early ’50s football sets such as ’48 Leaf, ’48 Bowman, ’50 Topps Felts and ’52 and ’53 Bowmans. Many of our super-seniors appear in those sets. However, if a player appeared in 1956 Topps or thereafter, their prices aren’t too bad.
All of the starters’ current photos can be found on the Internet, except for Cecil Souders, who remains on my want-list. They still look formidable. The backs, who were relatively smaller, have usually filled out over the years. It might be hard to tell the linemen from the backs, if they all get together again. You can tell from the noses on some of the guys that they played before facemasks became mandatory in 1954. In many cases the players have retired near the cities they represented in the NFL, still get mentioned in the sports sections and are relatively accessible for autographs.
Name Representative team Age Representative card Position(s)
Frank Maznicki Chicago Bears 92 48B HB
Jim Hardy LA Rams & Cardinals 90 48B QB-DB
Fred Enke Detroit Lions 88 48B QB
Sam Cathcart San Francisco 49ers 88 51B HB-DB
Bob Kelly Los Angeles Dons 88 50B HB
Chuck Quilter San Francisco 49ers 87 59T CFL T
John Kreamcheck Chicago Bears 87 53B DT
Joe Arenas San Francisco 49ers 87 56T HB
Blaine Earon Detroit Lions 86 51T DE
Perry Moss Green Bay Packers 86 48B QB
Fred Morrison Chicago Bears 86 EXHIBIT FB-HB
Paul Salata San Francisco 49ers 86 50B E
Don Stonesifer Chicago Cardinals 86 55B E
Eddie Macon Chicago Bears 86 61T DB-HB
Bill Fischer Chicago Cardinals 86 50B T-G
Rebel Steiner Green Bay Packers 85 51B DB
Volney Peters Cardinals, Redskins, etc 85 61T T-E
John ‘Kayo’ Dottley Chicago Bears 84 EXHIBIT FB
Wilford White Chicago Bears 84 54B HB
Al Carmichael Green Bay Packers 84 54B HB
Leo Sugar Chicago Cardinals 83 60T DE
Leo Sanford Chicago Cardinals 83 57T LB
Bob Williams Chicago Bears 83 EXHIBIT QB
Bill McColl Chicago Bears 83 EXHIBIT E
Final thought: Waiting for the snap count
Last year, we had a 50-year reunion of our high school football team. It was great to see the guys and go out on the football field again for halftime introductions. However, the best part was when our coach had us line up in our offensive positions and run a play. We came out of the huddle, watched the spacing to the next lineman, got down in our stances and listened for the snap count. It brought back great memories without even having to put on pads or running into anyone.
Maybe our super-seniors can get together, walk through a few plays and enjoy the memories.
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.