Dallas, Texas native Jerry Rhome was a three sport star at Sunset High School. Playing baseball, basketball and football (for his father) Rhome excelled in every athletic endeavor.
He accepted a scholarship and attended Southern Methodist University, where he was named the starting quarterback for his sophomore season. Rhome eventually transferred to Tulsa and became a star. His senior season was one for the record books. He threw for nearly 3,000 yards, over 30 touchdowns to only four interceptions and led the entire nation in offense. He narrowly lost the Heisman Trophy, placing second in one of the closest races in history.
The Golden Hurricane star held a number of NCAA records and was named the winner of the Sammy Baugh Trophy in 1964. He later had his number retired by the school and in 1988 was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.
In the NFL, he battled through a number of injuries, diagnosed and otherwise. He suited up for the Dallas Cowboys, Cleveland Browns, Houston Oilers and Los Angeles Rams during a seven-year pro career.
Once his playing career was over, Rhome spent nearly three decades as a coach at the highest level, most notably being the man responsible for discovering and cultivating the career of all-time great Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Steve Largent. He was an offensive coordinator, quarterbacks and wide receivers coach from 1978-2000.
While he didn’t appear on many cards himself, he built a large collection of vintage sports cards, beginning as a kid growing up in the early 1950s.
Rhome’s sports card collection is one of the more impressive by a retired player, focusing on baseball, basketball and of course, football from the 1940s to the later 1990s.
In our latest Q&A session, we caught up to him to chat about how he got started, the temperature controlled storage unit where he stores his collection, his favorite Bowman set and his many binders of vintage cards.
Tony Reid-How big of a sports card collector were you as a kid?
Jerry Rhome-If definitely started when I was a kid. It all started with comic books. My sister is four years older than me. We used to go around the neighborhood, asking if they were going to throw them away. It was fun at the time but later on they began to have some value to them. I gave them to my sister and she sold them all off. My sister and my kids were comic book collectors.
I started collecting when I was eight years old. There was a little drive-in grocery store and it was right across the street from my grade school. I would go over and look through the comic books. The owner said ‘Hey, Jerry. You love collecting comic books. Have you ever collected cards?’ I asked what kinds of cards. He said football and baseball cards. He handed me a pack. He said it was a nickel. That is what started it. I had twenty five cents. I spent my quarter, I bought five packs that turned out to be cards from 1951.
I charged home on my bicycle and got all of the money I could from my piggy bank. I went to my mother and she asked what kind of cards. I told her it was collector cards. She gave me fifty cents. They were nickel packs so I went and bought ten packs. I came home and opened one up and showed them to her. She thought they were pretty cool, so she gave me a dollar and told me to go back and get some more. We started collecting. It was 1951 Bowman, I believe.
TR–I have been told by some very reliable sources that you have quite an impressive collection. What does it entail?
JR-Basically where I am really strong is the 1950’s and 1960’s. That was when I was doing it. As I got older, I got away from it but I saved them.
TR–That’s very rare that you held on to the cards over all those years. Most of the time they get thrown out or passed to someone else in transition from a move or yard sale and things of that nature. How did yours stay safe?
JR-My mother had a chance, she told me later on, to throw my cards away on two different occasions. I had them upstairs in a little area. She said she knew I would want those one day for my kids, so she put them back for me. When I got out of college she told me that. I was glad she did. I just put them back for the time being.
When I started in pro football I began to notice kids coming up to us with our cards, wanting us to sign them. I asked where they got them. They were talking about Bowman and Topps and Fleer. That sounded like fun. I got my son involved and I went back and started collecting again. I got some pretty good stuff from the 1980’s and 1990’s. My strength is late 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s. I got baseball, basketball, football and horse racing.
TR–Not only did you collect but you grew up to be star player yourself, finishing second in the Heisman Trophy voting and eventually becoming a College Football Hall of Famer. When was the first time you were asked for your autograph?
JR-When I was in college playing at Tulsa, we had a really good team. We were ranked third or fourth in the nation. We were leading the nation in passing and offense and all that. There would be fifty or sixty kids waiting outside the stadium, waiting for us to come out. I had a few of the kids handed me one of my cards. I don’t know where they got them. It turned out a local guy put together some cards of the Cowboys and Chiefs and some other teams. I think I bought my last card in 1990. I still got involved in trades but I don’t think I have collected anything since then.
TR–Being a collector, how cool was it to see yourself on a card for the first time?
JR-I didn’t get to see myself very much, I wasn’t a superstar in the NFL. That is where all the stuff was. I did play eight years, though.
TR–You made a few appearances on cardboard. You were on a card in the 1966 Philadelphia set where you were holding for placekicker Villanueva. You also appeared in the 1989 Pacific set where you were coaching up Steve Largent. Do you have those cards in the collection?
JR-I do have them. The guy in Seattle (Mike Cramer) had a card store and he made up his own cards. They were the Pacific (Trading) Cards. I did three or four card shows for him when I was with the Seahawks. One time I brought Largent over there with me. That was huge.
TR–Can you give us a tour, so to speak, of the parts of your collection that are in front of you at the moment?
JR-I was very lucky. My father (Byron) was a high school coach. I made high school All-American. Sports was in my blood. It was natural. I played baseball, basketball and football, so I collected all cards.
I am sitting right here and I am looking at one of my binders. It says “Baseball 1950-1953”. It has only stars in it and it’s about 30 pages. On one page its Warren Spahn, Casey Stengel, Willie Mays, Pee Wee Reese and Phil Rizzuto. I flip to the next page and its Stan Musial, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider and it just goes on and on. I have a really nice Jackie Robinson but the borders are off, it’s off center. I have a nice Satchel Paige that is really nice but a bit off center.
I haven’t sent most of these off to get graded. I do have about ten of them that are graded. I have a beautiful 1953 Mickey Mantle. They only graded that thing a 7.5, I say bull****. What is wrong with this card? There isn’t anything wrong with it! I would love to have a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle. Old Cliff, my guy in Texas, said he couldn’t get those cards. He said they wouldn’t deliver that particular set or group of cards here. They didn’t deliver that 1952 set outside of the northeast, from what we heard. Yeah, when I was younger, we heard that Mantle card never got out of the east.
TR– Do you have an office or room where you have your collection?
JR-I’ve got a storage room four blocks from me. Its temperature controlled storage area. You have to have a special code to even get in the gate to go to it. You then have all the locks to get into it. In my unit, I have these shelves and I have all of my binders and boxes in there. They are all in there. I went down there yesterday to get these two binders out of it just so I could talk to you. I would have a hard time telling you about some of this stuff if I wasn’t looking at it.
JR-I love all of the 1953 Bowman set. I am sitting here looking at, in my opinion, the nicest cards produced in the Stan Musial and Mickey Mantle cards. The Eddie Matthews is beautiful, too.
Here is one of the greatest cards ever. Pee Wee Reese is in midair, at second base ready to turn and throw to first base. The 1953 Bowman are the most beautiful cards ever produced.