One was stoic; the other was volatile. Together, two pro football Hall of Famers share top billing in the 1951 Bowman football set.
Tom Landry would make his mark not as a player, but as the rarely perturbed coach of the Dallas Cowboys. Norm Van Brocklin was a feisty quarterback and, later, the Dutchman was an even more intense coach of the Minnesota Vikings.
They are both part of the 144-card set put out by Bowman in 1951, the third football card product it issued. Landry and Van Brocklin’s rookie card is one of the more coveted pieces in the set. The set also features three big-name quarterbacks — Sammy Baugh, Otto Graham and Y.A. Tittle.
There are only two Landry cards that are PSA-10, and one is currently for sale on eBay.
The design of the cards was simple, with the front sporting a painted player in various throwing, running, catching and tackling poses. The player’s name was generally at the bottom of the card, with his team’s logo above that. Cards were white-bordered. The size of the cards increased from the 1950 set, which were 2 1/16 inches by 2 ½ inches; the 1951 version measure 2 1/16 inches by 3 1/8 inches. Most of the card fronts had a vertical design, although a few were horizontal.
The card backs were very similar to the 1951 Bowman baseball set, with a long paragraph detailing the player’s career highlights.
In addition to Landry and Van Brocklin, other notable rookies include Emlen Tunnell (card No. 91), Ernie Stautner (96) and Arnie Weinmeister (21). This set might also be famous for having some of the longest last names in a football card set. Skeptical? Roll these names off your tongue: Weinmeister, Chuck Drazenovich (No. 35), Robert Nussbaumer (66), John Strzykalski (69), Bob Hoernschmeyer (69), Otto Schnellbacher (92) and John Badaczewski (112).
There are a few interesting error and/or oversights.
Card No. 11, of Al Wistert, mistakenly gives his nickname as “Whitey,” when in fact it was “Ox.” Whitey was the name given to Al’s older brother, Francis, who never appeared in an NFL game but, like his sibling, played at the University of Michigan. Al played his entire career for the Philadelphia Eagles and was the team captain; his final season would come in 1951.
Card No. 138, of Chicago Cardinals fullback Ventan Yablonski, lists his first name as “Venton.”
Of the 18,841 cards submitted to PSA, 11 have been graded gem mint, including the two PSA-10 Landry cards. In fact, Landry is the only card in the set with more than one PSA-10 grade. There are 414 examples of PSA-9 cards. Of the 3,063 cards submitted to SGC for grading, only one — card No. 1, the rookie card of Weldon Humble — has come back as high as 98. Ninety-eight of them have been graded at 96.
The value of a complete set, of course, depends on the condition. A respectable mid-grade type set can usually be found for under $1,500. A totally graded set, with most ranging PSA 6-8 sold for over $4,305 in December.
Comedy note: I saw the card of No. 139, Emil Sitko, and did a double take. Sitko was a Notre Dame star who led the Fighting Irish in rushing four straight seasons in the late 1940s, and he is a member of the Indiana Football Hall of Fame. He played professionally for the 49ers and Cardinals. Change one letter in the last name and you come up with Emil Sitka, the character actor who portrayed butlers, justices of the peace and other supporting roles in 35 short films as the foil to the 3 Stooges (“Hold hands, you lovebirds,” from “Brideless Groom” in 1947, remains his signature line. The line even got a cameo in “Pulp Fiction”). Perhaps Emil the football player watched Emil the actor at some point, or vice versa.
The 1951 Bowman football set has some good stars and Hall of Famers throughout. The card stock is sturdy, although few have come through the years pristine. Still, it represents the best in pro football in the early 1950s.
Cards are readily available on eBay. Click here to see them.