Stand around a dealer at a major card show long enough and you will inevitably hear someone approach and inquire about an obscure issue of a forgotten player. The story is usually the same: the player was a relative of some sort and the family would like to obtain a cardboard relic. The same can be said for an eBay transaction where a card sold for a surprising figure and the buyer’s last name matches the player’s. Throughout the hobby, whether it is modern or vintage, and regardless of sport, the thread of collecting a relative brings them together.
For collector Mike Moran of Connecticut, the subject is his father: Francis Dale Moran, more commonly known as ‘Hap’.
Hap Moran played in the earliest days of the National Football League and played ‘back’, which at the time could be halfback, fullback, wingback, quarterback, blocking back, defensive back, and linebacker. While he won the 1926 NFL Championship for the Frankford (a section of Philadelphia) Yellow Jackets, he is best known for his time with the New York Giants from 1928-33 where he set several NFL records.
“I started collecting the football material after my father died because my brother had the only copy of the matchbook my father kept,” Mike Moran began, explaining how he acquired the sole item issued of his father during an era where limited NFL cards and ephemera were produced. “I found some matchbook collectors who gave me the cover with my father and educated me about the various sets put out by Diamond match in the 1930’s. The 1933 matchbook is the only ‘card’ I know of that pictures my father– but there were two Giants home programs where his picture was featured on the cover – in 1931 against Green Bay and in 1932 against the Boston Braves.”
The Moran matchbook is rare, but does pop up on eBay from time to time. There’s one listed now.
“There was no memorabilia on display in our home growing up, but when my grandmother died we were given two scrapbooks she kept which had a lot of newspaper clippings from my father’s high school, college, and pro years,” Moran recalled, sharing details on some of the scant treasures the family has safeguarded over the decades. “Also tucked in there was a paper chef’s hat that had been signed for my grandmother by all the members of the 1929 Giants team (except my father) when she went to see my father play in Chicago – the autographs include Tim Mara, Jack Mara, Steve Owen, and Benny Friedman. There was also a program from the game against the Cardinals with great photos of Ernie Nevers and Duke Slater. The other major item I received via my older brother was the watch my father won for the 1926 NFL Championship. My older brother has the contract my father signed with Pottsville for the 1928 season.”
Hap Moran wasn’t just a bit player on those early Giants teams however.
“Although they didn’t keep track of it at the time, researchers today would tell you that at the time he retired he held two NFL records – longest run from scrimmage (playing for New York against Green Bay 11/23/30) and most yards receiving in a single game (playing for New York against Philadelphia 10/15/33),” Mike explained, listing several of his father’s noteworthy on the field accomplishments. “Also, his rookie year his team, the Frankford Yellow Jackets, won the NFL Championship and in 1931 he was scoring leader for the Giants and named to the All Pro team picked by Red Grange.”
“After 1933, his last season in the NFL, he coached a couple of years in the American Association,” Moran continued, as he expanded on his father’s post-football life and the modesty shared by so many of his generation. “Then he married my mother and moved out of a hotel in Manhattan to an apartment house in Sunnyside Queens, next door to Sunnyside Park – I think it was a bit of local news when he moved in, having played his last five NFL seasons with the New York Giants. One day some kids knocked on the door and asked if he would help coach their football team at Sunnyside Park – which he did for a three years until World War II began. When I was growing up after the war the only thing in the apartment that would tip you off that he ever was in sports was a sketch of him as the coach of that youth football team. I didn’t know he played for the Giants until another boy told me at a Cub Scout meeting.”
There are great stories about many of pro football’s pioneers and while memorabilia may be scant, the thrill of the chase can be great fun, especially when the items you search also have sentimental value.
“I think my father represents the kind of solid but not marquee player who is easy and affordable to collect and whose career has a lot of football history wrapped up in it. For a small investment you can learn a lot about the game of that era,” Mike concluded, finishing his thoughts on foundations of what has become the most popular sport in the nation – a foundation his father helped lay.
For more information on Hap Moran – including audio recorded of Hap in 1992 – visit Mike’s website at: http://hapmoran.org/.