The word "vintage" may have a unique definition for different people. Mention vintage automobiles to most guys and it creates an image of those classic cars they recall from their youth. On the other hand, if the woman you're dating is vintage, she may not necessarily be a classic. In the hobby of sports card collecting, the word is used to differentiate between eras and the dividing line for the major sports is somewhere in the mid-to-late 70's.
As we move into Bowl season for college football and enter the stretch drive for the NFL playoffs, let's take a look at one person's personal top ten list for vintage football cards. For purposes of this exercise, cards produced prior to 1977 will qualify and the criteria includes not only the value but also the impact of the player on the game. As usual, the values listed are based on a card in "Near Mint" (NM) condition.
> #1 - 1965 Topps #122 Joe Namath ($1,765) - Arguably, the most famous football card in the hobby, this rookie card of "Broadway Joe" is extremely valuable for many reasons. His contract with the AFL New York Jets was a watershed moment in the history of pro football and one of the major factors in the eventual merger of the two leagues. Add in his popularity off the field and the Jets victory over the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in the 1969 Super Bowl and you can understand the demand for the card. As if that wasn't enough, the Namath RC was also a short-print in the set and is very difficult to find in nice condition.
> #2 - 1958 Topps #62 Jim Brown ($600) - The rookie card of the greatest running back in the history of the NFL, he led the league in rushing yards 8 of the 9 years he played and was the MVP three times. He retired from the Cleveland Browns at age 30 to pursue a movie career and star in "The Dirty Dozen" (1967).
> #3 - 1955 Topps All-American #68 The Four Horsemen ($500) - An appropriate choice as Notre Dame heads toward the BCS championship game, the card shows the famous backfield of the Fighting Irish who played under legendary coach Knute Rockne in the mid-1920's. Topps didn't have the licensing to produce cards of current NFL players at that time and this short-print is the key to the set.
> #4 - 1952 Bowman #16 Frank Gifford ($465) - As Pro Football exploded on the sports landscape in the mid-to-late 50's, certain players became the face of the game. Gifford was the star running back of the New York Giants team that won the '56 NFL title and lost the famous overtime game to the Colts in '58. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977 and had a long career in sports broadcasting.
> #5 - 1950 Bowman #45 Otto Graham ($425) - Because he played before the league gained a national foothold on the professional sports platform, Graham isn't that well known to today's fan. As the Quarterback of the Cleveland Browns, he led the team to six division wins and three NFL Championships in his ten-year career. Their record with him behind center was 105-17-4.
> #6 - 1957 Topps #119 Bart Starr ($575) - In the 1960's, Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers were the definition of a dynasty and this was the Quarterback that helped define their success, professionalism and class. Under his leadership, the team won three NFL Championships and then followed up with victories in the first two Super Bowls.
> #7 - 1957 Topps #136 Johnny Unitas ($500) - Imagine the rookie cards of both Starr & Unitas in the same set. The ultimate overachiever and underdog as he was cut by another team in 1955, he Quarterbacked the Baltimore Colts in the "Greatest Game Ever Played", the 1958 overtime victory over the Giants for the NFL Championship.
> #8 - 1966 Philadelphia Gum #31 Dick Butkus ($300) - The first defensive player on our list, this Middle Linebacker was a ferocious tackler and the most feared player in the game while he terrorized opposing players for the Chicago Bears. In nine seasons, he was elected to the Pro Bowl eight times.
> #9 - 1966 Philadelphia Gum #38 Gale Sayers ($220) - One of the most electrifying runners in the history of the game, he scored 22 touchdowns in his rookie season. Even though his career was cut short by injuries, he was the career leader in kickoff returns when he retired. And, let's not forget "Brian's Song".
> #10 - 1971 Topps #156 Terry Bradshaw ($195) - The Quarterback of another dynasty team, the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970's. He has four Super Bowl rings and is still in the limelight as a network broadcaster for NFL games.
As with most top tens, we really need more room. Who else might crack your top ten? Walter Payton, Roger Staubach, O.J. Simpson or Fran Tarkenton?In a future visit, we'll look at the best of modern era...thanks for reading