Thursday, September 19, 2019

The Rockford Files: Honor, Humility, & Humor

Topps gum cards, non-sport

Was there ever a more universally loved tv personality than James Garner? His work in shows such as Maverick, Nichols, The Rockford Files plus his many films like The Great Escape, The Thrill of it All, and Murphy’s Romance endeared him to audiences over four decades. Even as a pitchman for polaroid cameras (with Mariette Hartley) in the late 70s–early 80s he was fresh, fun, and dignified.

In “the role he was put on earth to play,” James Garner starred in The Rockford Files, a private investigator who generally outsmarted the bad guys because he had the ability to think like a conman, subsequently out-thinking the bad guys. Unfortunately, he seldom was paid, often got beaten up, and he never was able to enjoy a good meal he cooked because another case would come up. What also made the show so memorable and endearing was the comedy element that often parodied the current rich and/or “swinging” investigators shows prevalant in the 1960 and 1970s.

This set includes 20 cards featuring all the regulars: Angel (Stuart Margolin), Rocky (Noah Beery, Jr.) Dennis Becker (Joe Santos), Beth Davenport (Gretchen Corbett), and several guest stars like Lindsay Wagner, Joan Van Ark, Isaac Hayes, Kathryn Harold, Linda Evans, James Luisi, and Sharon Gless. Coming Soon!

Thursday, September 5, 2019

1973 Vikings: A Class Offense To Match Their Defense

Topps football cards

Fran Tarkenton finally started to shed the "loser" tag that had been attached to him as he led the 1973 Vikings to a league-best 12–2 record. This was a substantial improvement over 1972's 7–7 mark when the Vikings got Tarkenton back, solving their quarterback problem. Despite Tarkenton's heroics, the defense slumped from its previous high level of play. Middle linebacker Lonnie Warwick missed 8 games but rookie Jeff Siemon filled in admirably.

Their superior defense resurfaced in 1973 thanks to the power of their Purple People Eaters front four (Jim Marshall, Carl Eller, Alan Page, and Gary Larsen). But their offense had a new weapon in running back Chuck Foreman who was as adept at running the ball as he was at catching it.

This 18-card set includes: John Beasley, Bob Berry, Chuck Foreman, John Henderson, Karl Kassulke, Gary Larsen, Ed Marinaro, Amos Martin, Oscar Reed, Jeff Siemon, Charlie Stukes, Doug Sutherland, Stu Voigt, John Ward, Ed White, Jeff Wright, Nate Wright, and coach Bud Grant. Coming soon!

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Baseball Card Vandals: Reinventing Worthless Cards


What will happen to the hobby of sports card collecting when the baby boomers pass on? Will Gen-Xers inherit their father's expensive baseball card collection and then sell them? Will Generation Y care about a card that doesn't have a jersey swatch in it?
Is the reason there is no more gum in packs of cards due to Millennials' parents demanding all that sugar be removed?

Sports card collecting is entering a new phase. After the crash of the baseball card market in the mid 1990s, where parents were investing in cards on spec hoping to put their children through college on the proceeds, card companies began producing higher end cards in lower quantities. Pieces of bats, goal posts, and of course, jersey were imbedded into cards and were sparingly inserted into packs. Autograph cards, also rarities, were put in pack increasing the demand for those high end cards. But what about the low end cards? The card of that favorite play you got an autograph from in the mall but never made the All-Star game? Most cards aren't worth much, so what will happen with them. Will they just wind up in a landfill?

Two brothers found a use for those old commons with their Baseball Card Vandals venture. They hand draw on old card and create "new original art" with a touch of humor.

This card punks Tommy Lasorda

These one-of-a-kind cards are actually selling! Using Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter, brothers Bryan and Beau Abbott have figured out a way to use the millions of worthless cards and make them unique and re-collectible! Their premise is simple and straightforward: decent jokes on worthless cards. I quick perusal of their online store shows just how in demand some of their cards are! New cards are posted twice fresh daily.
Ned Flanders Hockey card sold for $50

I would describe these designs as a cross between Wacky Packages, Garbage Pail Kids and run of the mill sports cards - an eclectic mix for sure! The humor can be sophomoric, off-color, or downright hilarious as I found myself laughing out loud at several of the cards. I must confess that I never saw this niche in the marketplace erupting but God Bless 'em!

Check them out at or find them on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Ernie Barnes: Official Artist Of the AFL

Topps football cards, 1965 Philadelphia football cards
I always find it interesting to see how athletes touch lives beyond the playing field. RetroCards features former pro football player Ernie Barnes in this entry. Though the average sports fan may not know him for his athletic contribution, they may have seen his work in television shows, in films, or on album covers. 

Ernie Barnes played seven years of professional football, mainly in the old AFL, but became more known as a serious artist, dipicting African-American life in many of his paintings. The most famous of his paintings was called “Sugar Shack,” which featured prominantly the 70s sitcom Good Times as well as on the cover of the Marvin Gaye album I Want You (1976). 

Originally an unathletic child, he became captain of the football team in highschool and state champion in the shot put. Ernie got a scholarship to North Carolina College at Durham, an all-black college (formerly North Carolina College for Negroes, now Carolina Central University).

The Washington Redskins drafted him in the 8th round of the 1959 draft but renounced the pick when they realized he was black. The NFL Champion Colts then picked him in the 10th round. While standing on the sidelines of the 1959 Championship game vs. the Giants, an emotion-filled Barnes rushed home to paint “The Bench” showing his teammates watching the game from the sideline. This painting, which Barnes always kept for himself, was donated to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2014.

Not making the last cut with the Colts in 1960, he signed with the new AFL’s New York Titans. After the death of teammate Howard Glenn in early October, 1960, he asked for his release. He was quickly signed by the Chargers and was added to the taxi-squad. There he made a a close friendship with quarterback Jack Kemp. During this time, Ernie illustrated several articles for the San Diego Magazine in the off-season. After being cut, he signed with the Denver Broncos. Nicknamed “Big Rembrandt,” he was often fined for sketching in team meetings. 

In 1965 while with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League, Ernie fractured his foot, effectively ending his career. Shortly after, he went to the AFL owners meeting in Houston in hopes of becoming the leagues official artist. In an unlikely turn, New York Jets owner Sonny Werblin kept Ernie on salary as a player, but used him for his artistic skill. Werblin saw his potential and his value to the country as a painter. 

Timeline of Ernie Barnes career:
• Barnes sold his first painting Slow Dance at age 21 in 1959 for $90 to Boston Celtic, Sam Jones
• In 1971 Barnes wrote a series of essays (illustrated with his own drawings) in the Gridiron newspaper     titled I Hate the Game I Love
• Barnes created the painting The Sugar Shack in 1971. It gained international exposure when it was used on the Good Times television series and on the 1976 Marvin Gaye album I Want You.
• Jack Kemp and Ethel Kennedy, co-hosted an exhibition of his work in 1974. 
• autobiography, published in 1995 titled From Pads to Palette
• 1993 In 1993 Barnes was selected to the “Black College Football 100th Year All-Time Team” by the Sheridan Broadcasting Network. 

Barnes’ work appears on the following album covers:
• The Sugar Shack painting on Marvin Gaye’s 1976 I Want You
• The Disco painting on self-titled 1978 Faith, Hope & Charity
• Donald Byrd and 125th Street, NYC painting on self-titled 1979 album
• Late Night DJ painting on Curtis Mayfield’s 1980 Something to Believe In
• The Maestro painting on The Crusaders’ 1984 Ghetto Blaster
• Head Over Heels painting on The Crusaders’ 1986 The Good and Bad Times
• In Rapture painting on B.B. King’s 2000 Making Love is Good For You

As an actor TV shows: 
• To Tell the Truth
• Good Times

As a film Actor:
• Movies: Number One
• Doctor’s Wives
• Super Comedy Bowl
• Don’t Look Back

Artwork also featured in television shows:
• Good Times
• White Shadow
• Columbo
• Dream On
• The Hughleys
• The Wayans Bros.
• Wife Swap
• Soul Food

Ernie passed away on April 27, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Visit the Official Ernie Barnes website for the complete story on his life.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

New Website to Launch!


RetroCards will be releasing a new website this fall! It promises a more rich experience with a powerful search function that allows searching by player, team, college, year, or sport. It will be much more mobile friendly and will include the popular RetroCards blog as well as that started it all.

The new site will offer more interaction and better views of every card. More great RetroCards are still coming so check back often!

Thursday, July 25, 2019

1973 Steelers: One Step Closer

1973 Topps football cards

The 1973 Pittsburgh Steelers were still building and they stumbled slightly from the previous season where they went 11–3. Injuries to Franco Harris, French Fuqua, and quarterbacks Terry Bradshaw and Terry Hanratty slowed down the Pittsburgh offense as they managed only a second-place 10–4 record in 1973. The defense offered several All-Pros, making them still one stingy unit. This may have been a disappointing season in the eyes of the fans not having moved closer to a championship, but in hindsight, 1973 was merely a stepping stone bigger things to come in 1974.

This 20-card set includes Warren Bankston, Rocky Bleier, Mel Blount, Ed Bradley, Lee Calland, Jim Clack, Sam Davis, Glen Edwards, Steve Furness, Joe Gilliam, Craig Hanneman, Terry Hanratty, Ernie Holmes, Mel Holmes, Jon Kolb, Ben McGee, Preston Pearson, Al Young, and head coach Chuck Noll. Get your set here!

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Dallas Cowboys: The All-American Handsome Blond Receiver

Topps football cards

An earlier RetroCard post discussed the innovative “3rd down back” receiving position revolutionized by the Dallas Cowboys and Preston Pearson in the 1970s. But there was another less talked about receiver, also pioneered by the Cowboys. That was the "All-American Handsome Blond Receiver" position.

The string of pretty-boy wide receivers that passed through the organization is interesting if not peculiar. Possibly foreseeing the marketing benefits of combining the long ball and good looks, the Cowboys began their quest and formulated a look becoming of “America’s Team.”

The blond syndrome began in 1964. Despite having a rising star receiver in Frank Clarke (who from 1961-1963 averaged 44 catches for 932 yards, for a 21.3 per catch average and 11 TDs), the Cowboys went out and traded for two All-Pros in Buddy Dial and Tommy McDonald. Both were flashy and boasted gaudy receiving numbers over the previous 4 seasons. However, neither could duplicate success with the Cowboys, while Frank Clarke out shown both of them in every category, including being named to several All-Pro teams in 1964.

McDonald was traded and Dial fizzled out due to injuries, so the Cowboys brought in little known Lance Rentzel who very quickly was paired in the starting lineup with Bullet Bob Hayes. With defenses double teaming Hayes, Rentzel began to be targeted more. By 1968-69, his numbers were outshining those of All-Pro Hayes! Rentzel, now a star in his own right, married smokin’ hot Hollywood starlet Joey Heatherton, further elevating his public image as the all-American male.

The position took a hit when an unfortunate compulsion saw Rentzel suspended in 1970 and then traded to the Rams. The Cowboys, now a perennial Super Bowl contender, needed a replacement.  They probably thought, “maybe the public wouldn’t notice if we brought in another great receiver, whose name is also Lance, wears #19, and has all-American good-looks!” Enter future hall-of-famer Lance Alworth. Though in the twilight of his career, Alworth contributed to the Cowboys first Super Bowl victory with a crucial touchdown. (Editor’s note: Alworth’s hair was actually brown. But his infectious smile, trendy sideburns, and graceful receptions sufficiently allowed Cowboys management to overlook this minor detail).

Upon Alworth’s retirement in 1972, there was no heir apparent for the position of All-American Handsome Blond Receiver, having traded away both Billy Parks and Ron Sellers. In a surprising move, the Cowboys drafted wide receiver Golden Richards in 1973, who had been injured his entire senior season at Hawaii and didn’t have top-notch receiving skills. BUT he was blazing fast and blazingly blond. He was assigned jersey #19 in training camp, continuing the tradition started by “Rentzworth.” However, he was forced to change his number to #83 due to the newly instated NFL position designations for wide receivers. Richards had a commendable career and, for a time, was the fastest guy on the team. He was involved in the local community, was loved by fans, and even dated Olivia Newton-John! After all his name was “Golden.” He made a big splash with several key touchdowns in the playoffs – the splashiest coming as the game sealing touchdown in Super Bowl XII.

Unfortunately, his build was slight by NFL standards, weighing closer to 165 pounds than his inflated listed weight of 184 pounds. It was no accident that the Steelers knocked him out early in Super Bowl X. The hits took their toll as did pain killer abuse which led to an unpublicized overdose. He was quietly traded to the Chicago Bears in early 1978. Fans were outraged. (I found out about the trade on the playground on the mean streets of Milwaukee. I'll never forget my disappointment).

Luckily, blue-collar long shot Robert Steele was in training camp and made the active roster after Richards’ departure. Wearing #82, (it must have been too early in the mourning period to issue him #83) Steele played on special teams in the mold of the Eagles’ Vince Papale. Despite his great heart and work ethic, Steele only lasted one year.

The Cowboys were desperate. In 1980 Mike Hagen, a former Cowboys ballboy, made the papers by impressing coaches in training camp as he graced the cover of The Dallas Cowboys Weekly with his blond hair glistening in the sun. Despite the good-feel story, he didn't make the team

Unable to move up in the 1981 draft to land Chris Collinsworth (who did not have the prerequisite “Hollywood nose”) the Cowboys drafted a Golden Richards clone in Doug Donley, who, like Richards, had blond locks, tremendous speed, and brittle bones. Assigning him – you guessed it – #83, Donley was a suitable backup receiver who didn’t have the game changing abilities of Richards. When coach Landry surprisingly started him over Butch Johnson for a brief time in 1983, the infatuation was all too obvious.  Johnson, a superior receiver, voiced his frustrations and was dually traded the following year to the Houston Oilers for Mike Renfro. Not to be confused with Lover Boy lead singer Mike Reno, Mike Renfro was a tad earthier-looking but could produce where it counted – on the field. Dallas fizzled as the decade of the 80s wore on and the Cowboys gave up on the All-American Handsome Blond Receiver for good as the Landry regime came to an end.

The Cowboys went through a string of young hopefuls like Karl Powe, Leon Gonzales, Mike Sherrard, Kelvin Edwards, Cornell Burbage, Ray Alexander, and Everett Gay until Michael Irvin came along to restore order to the position. Maybe coach Landry just liked his wide receivers like he liked his women: fast and blond. Could you blame him?

P.S. Seems to me that measly Cole Beasley should've worn #83? Oh well. Many of the cards shown above are from Cowboys RetroCards sets already available or are from forthcoming sets. Check back often!