Error cards have been a part of our hobby going back for decades. Wrong teams, missing ink, swapped photos, reverse negatives, incorrect statistics, and crude messages on baseball bats… There are any number of ways for a card to be considered an error, and it seems that few issues over the years have been truly error-free. The American Football League sets of the 1960’s also fell prey to the error card.
Many of the earlier AFL sets are rife with cards featuring players wearing jerseys that do not correspond to the teams for which they were listed. These, however, were not necessarily error cards; they were more a result of card companies not having up-to-date photos of many of these players when the cards went to print. Beyond that, there are four AFL cards that I know of that mistakenly match a player’s name with an incorrect photo. The mistakes were not caught until after production, and none of the four errors were ever corrected.
1961 Fleer Austin Gonsoulin/Darryl Rogers – Austin “Goose” Gonsoulin spent seven seasons in the Denver Broncos defensive backfield, where he hauled in 43 career interceptions, and was named to five AFL All-Star teams. Darryl Rogers was signed by Denver as a free agent in 1960, but did not make the final roster, and never played a game for the Broncos. Still, the resemblance was apparently strong enough that Fleer mistook Rogers for Gonsoulin, and mistakenly placed his photo on Gonsoulin’s ’61 Fleer card.
1964 Topps Ray Abbruzzese/Ed Rutkowski – Teammates on the AFL champion 1964 Buffalo Bills, Ray Abbruzzese and Ed Rutkowski shared another “honor” that season. They both showed up on the same trading card. Somehow Rutkowski was mistaken for Abbruzzese, and as a result has his photo on Abbruzzese’s 1964 Topps card. Rutkowski also has a card of his own, which is #35 in the ’64 Topps set.
1965 Topps Art Powell/Clem Daniels – Art Powell and Clem Daniels were integral parts of the Oakland Raiders offense in the mid-1960s. As such, the two stars should have been easily recognizable. Unfortunately, Topps mistakenly used Daniels’ photo on both his own card (1965 Topps #136) and Powell’s ’65 issue (#146).
1965 Topps Rick Redman/Larry Elkins – I learned about this particular error card from Rick Redman, himself. I was interviewing Rick for a book that I wrote about the 1960’s Chargers, when he mentioned the mistake on his rookie card.
“There’s a funny story about one of those cards. I don’t know if you remember a guy that was drafted the same time I was, by the Houston Oilers. He was a guy from Baylor and his name was Larry Elkins. He was an all-American at Baylor. In fact, we played against each other and were on several all-American teams at the same time. Well, Topps screwed up on the bubble gum cards and got our pictures mixed up on the cards. So every once in a while I’ll get a card that has his picture on it, and I’ll send it back and let people know that they have something that they should really hang onto… You ought to try and find his card with my picture on it. I’ll sign that for you too. Every time we saw each other before a game we’d say, “You never looked so good.” We always had this friendly banter back and forth.”
I found a copy of Larry Elkins’ 1965 Topps card, and sent it to Redman. He sent back the following note after he realized that Topps hadn’t switched the photos on the two cards, they had just used Elkins’ photo on his card!
For the autograph collector, these cards provide a reasonably challenging, yet interesting and attainable subset. As of this writing, seven of the eight men featured in these cards are still alive. Sadly, Ray Abbruzzese passed away on August 22, 2011. Still, Abbruzzese apparently had no problem signing his card with Rutkowski’s photo, and autographed copies of his 1964 Topps card come up for sale on occasion. They can typically be purchased for less than $20. The unsigned cards are not expensive, so with about $45, some time writing letters and a handful of stamps, collectors can begin working on a fun, and rather unique project.
Todd Tobias is an American Football League author, historian and collector. You can read more about this historic league, and view Todd’s collection of autographed cards on his blog and website, Tales from the American Football League. You can also view more of his display work at www.tobiassportsprojects.com.