Great pro football games are a part of virtually every season but certain contests routinely appear at or near the top of the list of “The Greatest” gridiron offerings of the ages. And quite naturally, many collectors clamor for items connected to those classic contests.
So here’s a two-minute drill of sorts for six of the biggest games in pro football history and some of their related collectibles.
With a little more than a minute left in the fourth quarter at Three Rivers Stadium of the 1972 AFC Divisional Playoff game, Vic Moreno watched “his” Steelers go from leading the Raiders 6-0 to trailing 7-6 late in the fourth quarter.
So Moreno, who now runs American Memorabilia Auctions from Las Vegas, decided to stay put in his seat. “I figured I’d just wait until the end of the game and let the traffic die down,” he said. Good call.
Facing a fourth and 10 from their own 40-yard line with 22 seconds left, Pittsburgh’s Terry Bradshaw scrambled to find a receiver before firing a desperation pass to “Frenchy” Fuqua.
Fuqua, the ball, and Oakland defensive back Jack Tatum all converged at virtually the same moment. Fuqua took a hard hit, the ball popped up and back toward the line of scrimmage and Pittsburgh running back Franco Harris picked the deflected pass off his shoe tops and ran it in for the winning touchdown. “It was unbelievable,” recalled Moreno.
“The Immaculate Reception,” as the play is known, remains one of the most famous moments in U.S. pro sports history. Harris and the Steelers went on to win four Super Bowls in the 1970’s, but not in 1972 as they lost the week after “The Reception” to the Dolphins of “perfect season” fame.
A full-ticket and program from the “Immaculate Reception” game can go for about $1,000 for the pair in top-end shape, said Moreno. An 8-by-10 signed photo of Harris during the play can easily be found on eBay for about $100.
• While it was cold that day in Pittsburgh when Harris and Company received some divine intervention it was downright devilishly frigid almost exactly five years before during the NFL Championship game.
With a 13-below zero kickoff temperature and a wind-chill factor more than triple that, it’s no wonder the 1967 NFL Championship game hosted by Green Bay earned the label “The Ice Bowl.”
Trailing Dallas 17-14 with 16 seconds left in regulation, the Packers, about a yard from the end zone, went for the win.
On the next play Bart Starr executed a quarterback sneak to “ice” the game. The snapshot of Starr scoring the touchdown and running back Chuck Mercein close behind him with his hands in the air is one of the most memorable photos in pro football – a “freeze frame” on multiple levels. A Starr autographed 8-by-10 copy of the photo generallly sells for $150-$200.
Mike Worachek of Packer City Antiques said a ticket stub from the contest sells for around $450. “That’s for a nice one with the NFL shield showing and in decent shape,” he said. A program from this game goes for about $250 to $350 in excellent condition.
Worachek, whose store sits a few blocks away from Lambeau Field where the Ice Bowl took place, said interest in the frosty football affair remains brisk.
Within about a year of the classic Green Bay-Dallas matchup two other famous “bowls” were added to pro football’s “good” china cabinet.
East Side Story
In November 1968, the New York Jets led Oakland 32-29 with just under a minute remaining. NBC was broadcasting the game and made a decision that forever changed the way television covers sports.
At 7 p.m. Eastern time, the network switched from its game broadcast to begin airing it’s scheduled movie, “Heidi,” a film about a Swiss orphan girl. The decision did not affect viewers on the West Coast, but Jets fans failed to see the Raiders scoring two touchdowns in a nine-second span to earn a dramatic victory.
Furious East Coast/Jets fans complained they missed the game’s ending. The eventual result: televised games were shown in their entirety.
While the game itself is remembered more for the broadcast snafu, there are some collectibles related to the game with value, according to Mike Hattley of Touchdown Treasures. Hattley said ticket stubs and programs from the “Heidi” game go for about $150 each. A full ticket, Hattley noted, would start around $300.
While not thrilled with the outcome of the “Heidi” experience, the Jets won the hearts of many over the rest of the 1968 season when it really counted. For starters, the Jets nipped the Raiders in the AFL Championship game to earn a spot in a truly memorable game.
In Super Bowl III, Jets quarterback Joe Namath, receiver Don Maynard, running back Matt Snell and others showed the football world that the AFL was for real as New York upset the heavily favored Baltimore Colts 16-7. That stunning victory marked the first time the AFL beat their NFL rivals in the championship contest between the leagues.
“There is a high interest in items from that game,” said Hattley from his Connecticut-based business. “There is a large following for Jets players from Super Bowl III.”
“The full-tickets from this game start at $6,500,” he said, “with the yellow version being fairly common.” Two additional ticket types also exist. “The white and blue tickets are scarce and can go for up to $8,500,” said Hattley. “A ticket stub in excellent condition goes for at least $1,000.”
Hattley said there are two versions of the landmark Super Bowl’s program and they are easy to tell apart. “The game-day version has a $1 cover price and was sold at the stadium,” he said. “The newsstand version has a $2 cover price and says ‘Collector’s Edition’ on it,” he noted. The programs in better condition bring $500 and $300, respectively.
Big Sky Country
Joe Montana boldly put his signature on pro pigskin history in indelible ink starting with a game known as “The Catch.”
Late in the fourth quarter in the 1981 NFC Championship game, Montana, in his third NFL season, found himself in a tough postseason position: his 49ers team trailed the Cowboys 27-21 and faced 89 yards to the end zone.
The QB worked San Francisco down the field and as he rolled right with just under a minute remaining, three Dallas defenders closed in on him. Montana then threw to his left and lofted a pass to teammate Dwight Clark in the end zone.
“The Catch” tied the score and the extra-point gave San Francisco the victory. That win helped the 49ers to the first of four victorious Super Bowls under Montana’s leadership.
Tickets from “The Catch” get tossed on eBay on occasion and collectors usually grab them for $75-$100 in nice condition. Programs bring about the same. Finding a 16-by-20 photo of the play autographed by both Montana and Clark often brings $300-$500.
The First Shall Be Last
Simply put, Johnny Unitas guided the Baltimore Colts to victory against the New York Giants in the 1958 title game, a 23-17 sudden death overtime masterpiece – the only overtime title contest in NFL history. Often called “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” this championship matchup, decided on an Alan Ameche rushing TD, put the NFL on the map for good.
Hattley placed these prices on a few excellent-condition items from “The Greatest Game:” programs are worth $300-$400, ticket stubs are $150-$250, full-tickets go for $500 plus.
Moreno emphasized that game-used items from these contests are in “huge demand.” The memorabilia dealer said “sometimes game-used items bring $10,000 or more, depending on the player and the item.” Moreno and others added that team-signed balls of these star-laden legendary squads can also run in the thousands of dollars.
On the other end of the spectrum, trading cards produced of the star players the same year or just after their “big games” are easily accessible in above-average condition at affordable prices. For example, the Franco Harris rookie from 1973 lists for $50 in raw near-mint and a 1959 Topps Unitas, the set-starter, in comparable shape lists for $100.
And let’s not forget to mention certain other high-profile pro football contests that have their place along the “Classic Game Highway,” as well including: “The Drive” compliments of John Elway in 1987 and Tennessee’s “Music City Miracle” in 2000.
“But,” as Moreno pointed out, “those newer games don’t have the same appeal, the history” as “The Ice Bowl” and some of the others. Fair enough, but wherever a game appears on the “greats” list they are always fun to revisit.
And, keep in mind, part of the appeal of the hobby is that those interested in mementos related to the more historic pro football games don’t always know when they might snag an item that just pops up out of nowhere and invites an even greater “immaculate reception” to their collection.
Doug Koztoski is a frequent contributor to Tuff Stuff. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor's Note: This story originally ran in the December 2007 issue of Tuff Stuff magazine, a sister publication of Sports Collectors Digest. To see what else Tuff Stuff has to offer go to www.tuffstuff.com