Saturday, December 26, 2009

It Was 50 Years Ago Today....

This is the story of how the internet helped me solve the mystery surrounding this photo that my father took which I have determined was taken 50 years to this very day at the NFL Championship game on Sunday, December 27, 1959:

This past summer I was visiting my parents home when I came across a slide with the picture above. I could tell the slide was taken from a Baltimore Colts game at Memorial Stadium, but that was all I could determine.

Unfortunately, there was no notation on the slide as to the date to even give me an idea of what year it had been taken. Since my father passed a number of years ago, I wasn't able to ask him if he remembered what game the photo was from.

As my brother had recently bought a device to convert slides to digital images, he offered to have the slide converted, and later sent me the picture.

When I received the picture, I was able to make out that the Colts were playing the Giants based on the teams listed on the old Memorial Stadium scoreboard. While its not easy to make out all the other games that were listed on the scoreboard, it appeared that there were also the following games played that day:

Wash vs. NY (which wouldn’t make sense if the Colts were playing the Giants)

SF vs. Clev

CHIC vs. Cards

Phila vs. Pitt

Given I had a slate of games on the scoreboard, I figured there might be a chance for me to do some research to see if I could determine when this game was played, and also figure out why it appears the Giants were playing the Colts, but also listed as the Redskins opponent as well.

Since it looked like the picture would have been taken in the late 1950s / early 1960’s, I started researching the season schedules starting in 1957. After not finding the above combination of games played on the same date in 1957 or 1958, I found this for 1959:

Sunday, November 29, 1959:

WAS 14 at NYG 45

CHI 31 at CHC 7

PHI 0 at PIT 31

SFO 21 at CLE 20

LA 21 at BLC 35

The first 4 games match up exactly with the same matchups and home teams on the scoreboard. But the schedule indicates the Rams played at Baltimore on November 29, not the Giants. I kept looking at the scoreboard, and there is no mistaking that the Giants are the visiting team, so what was going on?

Going back to the 1959 schedule, I took a look at the remaining weeks on the schedule. The following week the Colts played an away game at SFO, and then the week after that was the last game of the regular season, which was also a road game played in LA.

Back in those days there were no playoffs, so the final game played in the 1959 season was the Giants vs. the Colts for the NFL Championship in Baltimore on December 27, in a rematch from the previous season’s Championship game (which would come to be known as The Greatest Game Ever Played).

Could it be that the out of town games from the last regular season home game were simply left up on the scoreboard for a month and not taken down for the Championship game?

That seemed like a plausible theory, but I wanted proof, so I took one again to the internet and did an image search for the 1959 NFL Championship game, and look what I found:

I couldn’t have asked for a better photo! In this picture, you can clearly see the Giants vs the Colts at the top of the scoreboard, along with those regular season games (Wash vs. NY, CHIC vs. Cards, Phila vs Pitt) from November 29.

Finding this photo gave me proof that the slide I found was a picture my father took 50 years ago today at the 1959 NFL Championship Game, which the Colts ultimately won 31 - 16.

Unfortunately this was the only slide I found from the game, and its actually taken during the pregame ceremonies with the Baltimore Colts Marching Band. Here is a photo from a 1963 Colts program giving a better view of the Band in a formation very similar to my father's picture:

On a side note, speaking of the Baltimore Colts Marching Band, the ESPN 30 for 30 series did a great documentary on the Band directed by Barry Levinson called The Band That Wouldn’t Die which told the story of how they continued to perform after the team snuck out of Baltimore and ultimately became the Ravens Marching Band. I highly recommend the film if you get the chance to see it.

In searching for pictures from the 1959 NFL Championship game, I didn't find any color pictures as everything was B&W.

Even though my father's photo doesn't contain any game action itself, at least at this point, it seems to be the only color picture available from the game.

I'm very glad my father had his camera with him that day to take this picture as it provides a great look at how Memorial Stadium looked at that time as well as provides a glimpse at how simple the pregame ceremony for the Championship game was like then compared to what its become today:

My how times have changed!

UPDATE: October 2011

Thanks to John for sending me this picture which shows the scene at the end of the 1959 NFL Championship Game with the fans on the field celebrating the Colts victory:

This picture comes from this photo gallery from the book The Cowgirl and The Colts by Paul J Tavers.

It provides a nice "after" shot from the game to go along with the "before" shot that my father took before the start of the game.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas - AFL Style!

Hopefully as we approach Christmas Eve you've gotten your Christmas shopping done:

and sent out your Christmas cards:

as you get ready for the arrival of St. Nick:

Merry Christmas from The Fleer Sticker Project!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

1982 Fleer NFL Team Action Football Sticker and Card Sets

After the incredible number of sticker variations in the 1981 Fleer Team Action set, the 1982 Fleer Football sticker set was (thankfully!) much less complicated.

Most teams had both a helmet sticker and a logo sticker, but a few teams only had a helmet sticker. The sticker set has 5 variations, which interestingly only appear on the teams that did not have a logo sticker. I'll point out variations as we look at the entire set:

The first variation in the set is one that has been listed in Beckett for years, but which most collectors never understood. Beckett indicates there are "Small Helmet" and "Large Helmet" Colts stickers. For years I tried finding a Colts sticker with a smaller helmet, but was never able to find one. It wasn't until another Fleer collector informed me that it was the team name, not the helmet, that could be found in two different sizes. If you take a look at the scan above, the Colts sticker on the top row has a larger "COLTS" than the sticker on the second row.

Here's a closeup:

The Bengals helmet appears twice due to a slight difference in the facemask. In the sticker above, the bolt on the left of the facemask has a single white line through the circle whereas the Bengals sticker below has a facemask with a circle with no line through it.

The Packers variation relates to the ear hole in the helmet. In the sticker above, there is no black circle outlining the ear hole while in the sticker below there is a black circle that clearly outlines the ear hole.

The Giants variation has to do with the TM. The sticker on the left of the bottom row has the TM while the sticker in the middle does not.

The final variation involves the Seahawks helmet. The sticker on the top row has a light gray helmet while the sticker in the middle row has a darker shade of gray.

The interesting thing about these 5 variations is that they are also found in the 1983, 1984, and 1985 sticker sets as these sets utlilize the same sticker design.

The backs of the stickers list the team's 1982 schedule and have a place for keeping a record of the scores during the season.

The card set is once again 88 cards as it was in 1981 with the same format of an offensive and defensive card for each team, a subset of all Super Bowls played up to that point, and a subset of various aspects of the game like the shotgun formation and the free kick. Here is a look at the full set:

And finally, here is a look a the back of the cards:

Thursday, December 17, 2009

1969 Fleer Pennants & Stamps - Seattle Pilots

Staying with the Seattle Pilots theme for one more post, I got an e-mail from Sean last week who came across the article I'd written about the 1969 Fleer Pennants & Stamps and he sent me a picture of a stamp sheet that I had not seen before featuring the Seattle Pilots pennant:

These stamp sheets almost never show up for sale. The only time I've ever seen these offered was a few years ago when I saved this picture from an auction:

That auction did not include the Pilots pennant sheet, so Sean's picture of his sheet adds one more sheet to the list that we can now catalog. These items are so rare that you almost never even see any loose stamps that have been removed from the sheets. I've only ever found one auction for loose stamps which look like this:

The wrapper will show up for sale occasionally:

and the box has shown up once before:

but the stamps are almost impossible to find.

What I find interesting is that even though the Pennants & Stamps release is almost nonexistant, a similar release from Fleer that same year is always available:

At any given time, there are always unopened packs and sometimes unopened boxes of the 1969 Fleer Iron-Ons. Right now on ebay there is one auction for an unopened pack and 3 ebay stores selling packs in addition to a listing for the complete set.

Either Fleer produced the Iron-Ons in much greater quantity than the stamps, or perhaps they just never sold well which is why there is still unopened material available 40 years later. I really wish the Pennant & Stamp packs were as plentiful as the Iron-On packs as I'd be busting 40 year old wax every chance I could pick up a pack as I really like the look of the stamp sheets and would really enjoy putting together a set.

I'd like to say thanks to Sean for contacting me and sending the picture of his Pilots pennant sheet and allowing me to post it for everyone to enjoy. Thanks Sean!

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Seattle Pilots Documentary - and how it led to a fantastic trade

I'd like to take a break from Football for a moment to cover an upcoming documentary on the Seattle Pilots and explain how that documentary helped me track down the last Fleer Baseball Cloth Patch that I've been searching for over the last few years.

Anyone reading this who is a collector trying to finish off a set knows the feeling of trying to track down that last item that will complete the set they are working on. Some would say that it can border on obsession. In this case, this has been my obsession for the last few years:

The 1970 Seattle Pilots Fleer Cloth Patch

The Fleer Cloth Patches are one of the first things I collected as a kid, and my interest in them and the number of different versions that I've come across is what led me to start this blog as a way to document these differences for other collectors. Over the years I have been tracking down the patches and had finally gotten to the point where I only needed 1 more patch.

I'd come close on a few occasions, but was never obtain one. Usually when they'd turn up, they'd be included in a near complete set of patches, and the price for the lot would end up far exceeding what I could justify for the one patch I needed.

I'd found the 1969 version of the patch:

but was never able to find the 1970 version.

Then, I came across this:

This is the 2nd part of the trailer of an upcoming documentary currently being worked on called The Seattle Pilots: Short Flight Into History by Play Ball Films. Both parts of the trailer as well as information on the documentary can be found on their website:

At the 5:48 mark the above trailer shows a brief clip of some Pilots memorabilia from a fantastic personal collection. Perched up on one of the upper shelves are the Fleer Pilots patches. Fortunately the documentary's website mentioned the collector's name and also gave his e-mail address as he has been a contributor to the documentary as well as to the Pilots 40th reunion held earlier this year.

Figuring it couldn't hurt to ask an expert Pilots collector if they happened to have an extra Pilots patch, I e-mailed Charles and asked if he could help me out. I also sent him links to my Pilots related posts, including the one on the Fleer Pilots patch variations.

As it turns out, Charles did have the patch I needed. But, he had not been aware that there were 2 versions of this Pilots patch:

He asked if I had an extra copy of the patch on the right, but unfortunately I did not. I told Charles I would check with some other Fleer collectors to see if I could locate one. Fortunately I was able to track one down and subsequently we were able to finalize the trade.

I was able to finally acquire the patch that had eluded me for so long, and Charles was able to add a new variation to his amazing Pilots collection - truly a win - win trade.

I'd like to say thanks to Charles for this great trade and for helping me track down that one last piece of the puzzle to complete my full set of baseball patch variations (at least all of the variations I'm aware of!)

I'd also like to encourage anyone who enjoys the history of baseball to check out the Pilots documentary. According to Director Steve Cox, the documentary is going to be approximately 90 minutes, and they are hoping to have it ready sometime in January. You can sign up to be on the mailing list at their website to receive updates about the release if you'd like.

Based on the trailers it looks like this is going to be a great documentary, with interviews with Pilots players (including Ball Four author Jim Bouton - so you know there will be some good stories!) as well as rare Pilots footage. Thanks to Steve Cox and his team for putting together this fun look at the history of this One Year Wonder. I am eagerly awaiting the film's release early next year!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

1981 Fleer NFL Team Action Card Set

Now that we've finished up the review of the sticker variations, its time to take a look at the 1981 Fleer Football card set.

As in years past, the set has 1 offensive and 1 defensive card per team as well as a Super Bowl subset with a card for each game that had been played up to that point. A new addition to the set which increased the set size from 70 cards in 1980 to 88 cards in 1981 was an additional subset featuring a look at different aspects of the game, such as training camp and the pregame huddle.

Here is a look at the entire 88 card set:

I've said it before on previous posts regarding the Team Action sets, but these cards really outshine the cards that Topps was issuing at the time. For example, take a look at the the card with the group of Bengals tackling the runner or the Broncos playing in the snow:

Since Topps couldn't use team logos until 1982 that meant most pictures were of players without their helmets on. In addition, since the Topps cards were of a specific player, the pictures that were action shots were so tightly cropped that you usually only saw the player himself and perhaps one or two other players.

Because Fleer had the opposite situation where they could use team logos but couldn't specifically mention players names (as they did not have a license with the Players Association) they instead focused on much wider shots that captured the action of the game (hence the name of the set being called Team Action).

One other thing I like about these cards is that in many cases its very clear where the game is being played as you get a very good shot of the stadium in the background. For example, check out the Jets card showing a game played at Shea Stadium (with the Mets baseball fence featuring NL pennants) and the Cardinals game at the old Busch Stadium (with the scoreboard with the Anheuser Busch logo):

I always enjoyed the Super Bowl subsets that were included in the Team Action sets. I can easily remember the teams that played in the first 20 or so Super Bowls in large part because of collecting these cards each year.

Here are the subset cards showing some different aspects of the game. I love the card in the middle below showing a great shot of Memorial Stadium in Baltimore where I saw my first NFL game. Seeing a card like this that so clearly captures the stadium takes me back to that first game which ironically was against the Browns who are now Baltimore's Ravens!

And finally, here is a look at the card backs:

This set is a great time capsule of what the NFL was like in the early 1980's. As I've been scanning the set, it really is apparent how much the game has changed in almost 30 years in terms of where the teams play.

5 of the teams have relocated (Colts, Browns, Oilers, Rams, Cardinals), and very few of the teams still play in the stadiums pictured as most have moved into new stadiums since this set was produced.