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The NFLs Golden Boy: Paul Hornung

The NFL’s Golden Boy, Paul Hornung, passed away at the age of 84 on November 13th, 2020. If you were to pick one player on Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packer teams that launched that dynasty in the 1960s, it would have to be Paul Hornung.

An unlikely NFL quarterback, the Heisman Trophy winner was drafted number one in 1957 to bolster the hapless Packers at time when the term “Titletown” was a distant memory. In his first two seasons Hornung was under utilized as a runner, receiver, and kicking specialist, tallying only 85 points in his first two seasons. Granted, the team went 3–9 and 1–10–1 in 1957 and 1958 respectively, but Hornung seemed to be a player without a position. A running quarterback at Notre Dame, it was probably a good thing he wasn’t throwing the ball. Then Vince Lombardi arrived in 1959.

With a keen eye for putting where it belongs, Coach Lombardi immediately made Hornung the feature back but also instilled him as a vital blocker for fullback Jim Taylor. His receiving and open field running skills left defenses wondering out how this slow-running “quarterback” was able to run all over them. The halfback option pass was a new weapon Lombardi used seeing Hornung complete 5 of 8 passes for 2 touchdowns.

1960 was his Hall Of Fame season where he racked up 176 points running, receiving, and kicking, a record that stood for 46 until LaDanian Tomlinson broke the record in 13 games (Hornung, of course accomplished the feat in 12 games). He also passed for 2 touchdowns.

A deceptively fast runner, he had the knack for putting a move on a defender as Lombardi explained: “In the middle of the field he may be only slightly better than an average ballplayer, but inside the 20-yard line he is one of the greatest I have ever seen. He smells that goal line.”

His pairing with Jim Taylor made them the most feared runners in the league, especially following the famed Packer power sweep. He led the league in scoring three straight seasons (1959-1961) before a pinched nerve in his neck and a gambling suspension sidelined his career.

 

Career Accomplishments:

• Heisman Trophy winner in 1956

• Finished nine-year career with 760 points on 62 touchdowns, 66 field goals and 190 extra points.

• NFL MVP in 1961

• Scoring leader in 1959, 1960, 1961

• Scored 176 point in 1960 in a 12-game season

• Also passed for 5 touchdowns

• He played on four championship teams (1961, ’62, ‘65 and ’66)

• Scored five touchdowns against the Baltimore Colts in 1965

• Was selected by New Orleans in the 1967 expansion draft, but never played a game for the Saints, instead retiring.

• Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986.

• His #5 was unofficially retired by Vince Lombardi

 

His talent was noticed even in the White House. Hornung almost missed the Packers’ 1961 title game when he was summoned to duty by the Army, but a call from Lombardi to President John F. Kennedy led to Hornung being granted leave.

Said Kennedy in arranging the leave, “Paul Hornung isn’t going to win the war on Sunday, but the football fans of this country deserve the two best teams on the field that day.”

Hornung scored 19 points — then a title game record — on one touchdown rushing, three field goals and four PATs in the Packers’ 37-0 win over the New York Giants.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement that Hornung “thrilled a generation of NFL fans with his versatility, athleticism and personality.” Goodell added that Hornung was “instrumental in growing the popularity of the Packers and the National Football League.”

Above are several RetroCards that are featured in many team sets found at RetroCards.net.

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Washington Federals – Lovable Losers of the USFL

If you are a fan of the old USFL, then you are probably familiar with the league’s best teams and players. But fans must take the bad with the good and the Washington Federals were one of the truly hapless teams of that era. The 1983 the new United States Football League had plenty of hurdles to clear and one of the league’s successes was they put very competitive teams on the field. In fact, by 1984 the talent level rose to NFL levels. The Federals were not among these and though their record was worse than their talent, the Feds encountered bad luck, untimely injuries, and close losses that built a tradition of losing for 2 seasons.

Compiling a 4–14 record in their inaugural season, the Federals did offer some exciting play with wanna-be stars such as Joey Walters, Craig James, and Doug Greene. Old time NFLers like Coy Bacon, Kim McQuilken, and Reggie “Super Gnat” Smith all started. But despite great hopes and cool uniforms, the team couldn’t find ways to win. Locals mockingly referred to them as the Washington Generals, the losing traveling team that alway played the Harlem Globetrotters.

Wanting to shed the memories of their 1983 season, the Feds donned new uniforms for the 1984 season only to be handed  a humiliating loss at the hands of the expansion Jacksonville Bulls 54–14. They actually performed poorer in 1984, posting a 3–15 record after losing star running back Craig James for the season. Their biggest trouble was at quarterback where the likes of Mike Hohensee and Reggie Collier did their best with limited resources.

RetroCards honors this fan-favorite team with an 18-cards set of that first season of 1983. Photographed in their white-helmet uniforms, this set includes: Mike Hohensee, Coy Bacon, Bob Barber, Jeff Brown, Gregg Butler, Mike Corvino, Bubba Diggs, Doug Greene, Mike Harris, Willie Holley, Myke Horton, Craig James, Dan Lloyd, Kim McQuilken, Reggie Smith, Billy Taylor, Joey Walters, and former CFL head coach Ray Jauch. Check it out here!

 

 

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Spotlight: The Johnstone-Monday Connection

Two old school baseball players from the 70s and 80s that I grew up admiring were Rick Monday and Jay Johnstone. Neither played for my hometown team but as I collected baseball cards, those two players always stood out to me. When the Los Angeles Dodgers made their World Series run in 1981 I had fun watching Monday and Johnstone make big contributions on the road to the Dodgers World Series victory. I’ve always been partial to role players and Johnstone and Monday were unlikely heroes on a team chock full of stars and great players. That Dodger team seemed to be having fun and didn’t take things too seriously and Johnstone in particular, added humor along the way with his many pranks in the clubhouse.

Both players seemed like brothers and I was surprised that they had some interesting things in common:

  • they were born on the same day (November 20th)
  • both served in the Marine Corps Reserve
  • both bath left
  • they each played for the A’s, Cubs, and Dodgers
  • started MLB careers in 1966
  • their pro baseball-playing careers lasted 2 decades
  • they had similar career batting averages (Johnstone: .267, Monday: .264)

1981 Game Winning Efforts

Rick Monday: In the deciding Game 5 of the NLCS in Montreal vs. the Expos (played on a Monday afternoon due to an earlier rain out) he smashed a 2-run homer to win the game. This was the closest the Montreal Expos ever got to winning a pennant and to this day is known in Canada as “Blue Monday.”

Jay Johnstone: Hit a pinch-two run home run in Game Four of the 1981 World Series against the New York Yankees, the home run rallying the Dodgers from a 6–3 deficit to win 8–7. The victory also enabled the Dodgers to tie the Series at two games each; they won the next two games to win it all.

Other Notable Achievements

  • Monday rescued the American flag from being burned by two fans in center field at Dodger Stadium in 1976. He said after the game, “If you’re going to burn the flag, don’t do it around me. I’ve been to too many veterans’ hospitals and seen too many broken bodies of guys who tried to protect it.” Monday still has the flag he rescued from the protesters; he has been offered up to $1 million to sell it, but has declined all offers.
  • While with the Angels, Johnstone preserved Clyde Wright’s no-hitter against the Athletics by catching a Reggie Jackson fly ball 400 feet from straightaway center field, just in front of the wall (July 3, 1970).
  • As a Phillie, Johnstone went 7-for-9 in the 1976 National League Championship Series against the Cincinnati Reds. However, the Reds swept the Series.
  • Both appeared on Solid Gold and sang their own rendition of Queen’s hit, We Are the Champions with teammates Steve Yeager and Jerry Reuss.

Above are samples of cards from the forthcoming RetroCards sets. You’ll find the 1982T Dodgers RetroCards set here.

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What Is the Future of Card Collecting?

The future viability of sports cards collecting looks cloudy. A pandemic has pushed professional and collegiate sports to the point of extinction and one has to wonder what this means for sports card collecting in the future. The soaring prices at every conceivable level of pro sports was easily absorbed by sports fans until now. Will sports complexes be closed? Will there only be virtual fans at games? Who will pay for these billion dollar venues if no fans are in them? Will sports return to normal after the pandemic? If there are no professional sports, will there be sports cards? What are the Vegas oddsmakers saying?

Gargantuan salaries, sky-high luxury boxes, high ticket prices, high parking prices, high beer prices, politicizing sports, corporate sponsorship, and the narcissism of social media have made Boomers and Gen Xers look elsewhere for their sports collectors fix. For non-gamblers, RetroCards offers the traditional sports card collector an option to the gaudy jersey swatch cards, splashy reflector/refractor/refrigerator cards, hard-to-see hologram cards, or the expensive chrome/platinum/gold leaf cards. Cardboard, admittedly not as sexy, is the only stock RetroCards deals in.

RetroCards’ focus on obscure and under appreciated personalities in sports and non-sports may not be the best long-term business plan, but it is certainly unique in the marketplace. Sure, corporate card companies thrust new players into old-school card designs, but who are they fooling? It’s only done with the highest profile players whose image would sell if you put it on a garden gnome. Oh wait, that’s been done. See what I mean?

In the 1990s, these same corporate companies infected collectors with a pandemic of their own, “the rookie card syndrome,” leading buyers to believe they could successfully combine their favorite hobby with their stock portfolio. While the card companies printed money, collectors woke up to discover that they wouldn’t be able to put their kids through college with a stack of Ryan Leaf cards. Many collectors simply went back to collecting for the love of collecting. But wait! Did I just read that an extremely rare Giannis Antetokounmpo rookie card just sold for $1.812 million? Yes it did. Maybe coming down with a mild case “rookie card-itis” is worth catching after all.

RetroCards will continue to focus attention on sports eras and teams gone bye for fans that collect for the love of collecting. For those of you out there who appreciate our efforts – we thank you.

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1960: The Dawn of a New Era in Pro Football

By the late 1980s, it was understood that the modern football era began in 1960. This made some sense because in the 80s we had the hindsight to recognize that 1960 was the beginning of pro football’s main expansion with the advent of the newly formed American Football League and the beginning of Pete Rozelle’s 30-year reign as NFL Commissioner. Looking back from the 21st century, 1960s football seems charming if not ancient. But the decade of the 1960s was the first real growth period in football’s modern era.

There were two football card sets in 1960, one taking the NFL players and the other dealing exclusively with the new AFL. This RetroCards set adds another 20 cards of NFL players. Designed as the first of two series, the 1960T RetroCards set includes the players from the Baltimore Colts, St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Detroit Lions: Andy Nelson, Sherman Plunkett, Ernie Barnes, Gino Marchetti, Ken Panfil, Jerry Norton, Dick “Night Train” Lane, Bill Stacy,  Jimmy Orr, John Reger, Buddy Dial, Fred Williamson, Roger Brown, Gail Cogdill, John Gordy, Harley Sewall, and Alex Karras. This set also includes a wrapper card and Championship card of the 1959 classic between the Colts and the Giants.

Coming soon!

  • Also check out other 1960RetroCards team sets of the Giants, Cowboys, Bears, and Packers.
  • The forthcoming 1960T series two with include players from the Los Angeles Rams, Cleveland Browns, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, and San Francisco 49ers.
Cowboys blond ambition
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Dallas Cowboys: The All-American Handsome Blond Receiver

Cowboys blond ambition

An earlier RetroCard post discussed the innovative “3rd down back” receiving position revolutionized by the Dallas Cowboys and Preston Pearson in the 1970s. But there was another less talked about receiver, also pioneered by the Cowboys. That was the “All-American Handsome Blond Receiver” position.

The string of pretty-boy wide receivers that passed through the organization is interesting if not peculiar. Possibly foreseeing the marketing benefits of combining the long ball and good looks, the Cowboys began their quest and formulated a look becoming of “America’s Team.”

The blond syndrome began in 1964. Despite having a rising star receiver in Frank Clarke (who from 1961-1963 averaged 44 catches for 932 yards, for a 21.3 per catch average and 11 TDs), the Cowboys went out and traded for two All-Pros in Buddy Dial and Tommy McDonald. Both were flashy and boasted gaudy receiving numbers over the previous 4 seasons. However, neither could duplicate success with the Cowboys, while Frank Clarke out shown both of them in every category, including being named to several All-Pro teams in 1964.

McDonald was traded and Dial fizzled out due to injuries, so the Cowboys brought in little known Lance Rentzel who very quickly was paired in the starting lineup with Bullet Bob Hayes. With defenses double teaming Hayes, Rentzel began to be targeted more. By 1968-69, his numbers were outshining those of All-Pro Hayes! Rentzel, now a star in his own right, married smokin’ hot Hollywood starlet Joey Heatherton, further elevating his public image as the all-American male.

The position took a hit when an unfortunate compulsion saw Rentzel suspended in 1970 and then traded to the Rams. The Cowboys, now a perennial Super Bowl contender, needed a replacement.  They probably thought, “maybe the public wouldn’t notice if we brought in another great receiver, whose name is also Lance, wears #19, and has all-American good-looks!” Enter future hall-of-famer Lance Alworth. Though in the twilight of his career, Alworth contributed to the Cowboys first Super Bowl victory with a crucial touchdown. (Editor’s note: Alworth’s hair was actually brown. But his infectious smile, trendy sideburns, and graceful receptions sufficiently allowed Cowboys management to overlook this minor detail).

Upon Alworth’s retirement in 1972, there was no heir apparent for the position of All-American Handsome Blond Receiver, having traded away both Billy Parks and Ron Sellers. In a surprising move, the Cowboys drafted wide receiver Golden Richards in 1973, who had been injured his entire senior season at Hawaii and didn’t have top-notch receiving skills. BUT he was blazing fast and blazingly blond. He was assigned jersey #19 in training camp, continuing the tradition started by “Rentzworth.” However, he was forced to change his number to #83 due to the newly instated NFL position designations for wide receivers. Richards had a commendable career and, for a time, was the fastest guy on the team. He was involved in the local community, was loved by fans, and even dated Olivia Newton-John! After all his name was “Golden.” He made a big splash with several key touchdowns in the playoffs – the splashiest coming as the game sealing touchdown in Super Bowl XII.

Unfortunately, his build was slight by NFL standards, weighing closer to 165 pounds than his inflated listed weight of 184 pounds. It was no accident that the Steelers knocked him out early in Super Bowl X. The hits took their toll as did pain killer abuse which led to an unpublicized overdose. He was quietly traded to the Chicago Bears in early 1978. Fans were outraged. (I found out about the trade on the playground on the mean streets of Milwaukee. I’ll never forget my disappointment).

Luckily, blue-collar long shot Robert Steele was in training camp and made the active roster after Richards’ departure. Wearing #82, (it must have been too early in the mourning period to issue him #83) Steele played on special teams in the mold of the Eagles’ Vince Papale. Despite his great heart and work ethic, Steele only lasted one year.

The Cowboys were desperate. In 1980 Mike Hagen, a former Cowboys ballboy, made the papers by impressing coaches in training camp as he graced the cover of The Dallas Cowboys Weekly with his blond hair glistening in the sun. Despite the good-feel story, he didn’t make the team.

Unable to move up in the 1981 draft to land Chris Collinsworth (who did not have the prerequisite “Hollywood nose”) the Cowboys drafted a Golden Richards clone in Doug Donley, who, like Richards, had blond locks, tremendous speed, and brittle bones. Assigning him – you guessed it – #83, Donley was a suitable backup receiver who didn’t have the game changing abilities of Richards. When coach Landry surprisingly started him over Butch Johnson for a brief time in 1983, the infatuation was all too obvious.  Johnson, a superior receiver, voiced his frustrations and was dually traded the following year to the Houston Oilers for Mike Renfro. Not to be confused with Lover Boy lead singer Mike Reno, Mike Renfro was a tad earthier-looking but could produce where it counted – on the field. Dallas fizzled as the decade of the 80s wore on and the Cowboys gave up on the All-American Handsome Blond Receiver for good as the Landry regime came to an end.

The Cowboys went through a string of young hopefuls like Karl Powe, Leon Gonzales, Mike Sherrard, Kelvin Edwards, Cornell Burbage, Ray Alexander, and Everett Gay until Michael Irvin came along to restore order to the position. Maybe coach Landry just liked his wide receivers like he liked his women: fast and blond. Could you blame him?

P.S. Seems to me that measly Cole Beasley should’ve worn #83? Oh well. Many of the cards shown above are from Cowboys RetroCards sets already available or are from forthcoming sets. Check back often!