Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Spotlight On: Dave Kopay - Bringing His Cards Out Of My Closet

Topps football custom cards, gay players coming out
The name Dave Kopay may be familiar to many in the American gay community for having been the first NFL player to announce he was homosexual.  The announcement became official with his autobiography The Dave Kopay Story. But since Kopay’s book was published in 1977, only 4 other NFL players have “come out.” Articles, news stories, and blogs have discussed Kopay’s plight, putting the focus firmly on his homosexuality and the adversity he faced surrounding it. Since pro football players who “come out” are rare, Kopay has become a hero of sorts in the gay community and any retelling of his story is aligned with the politics of gay marriage or discrimination. If one looks past the politics for a moment, the question that might be asked is, “what kind of a player was Dave Kopay?”  

In the 1960s and 70s, it was unusual for a backup running back to enjoy a prolonged career as a spot player and special teamer, but that is exactly was Kopay did.  From 1964 through 1972 he was basically a backup running back that could catch out of the backfield, play some defense, and play vital roles on special teams. These type of players were a dime-a-dozen and teams have been littered with nameless and nondescript players that last two, maybe three years in the league.  But somehow Kopay lasted roughly 10 years as one of these players.  Now you don’t last in the NFL for 10 years without bringing something valuable. So what did Kopay bring?

First of all, he was a student of the game with coaching aspirations.  Kopay was in tune with the bigger picture of strategy and execution that endeared him to coaches throughout his career.  His hard work, intense training, and athletic ability helped him be impactful anytime he was in the game.  He was known for heading the “suicide squad,’ or the kick-off coverage team where he would be the first one down field to make the tackle.  Physically tough, a good blocker, a good pass protector, and special teamer extraordinaire, are the things he brought to the game that don’t show up on the stat sheet.  For what it is worth, here is his stat sheet:

You can search out his book, The David Kopay Story or check out this video for more on Mr. Kopay.  The cards you see above are coming soon!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

1966 Packers: NFL Becoming TV Friendly

1966 Topps football cards, custom, cards that never were
For the Packers, 1965 marked a return to the championship winning ways of 1961 and 1962.  One of the things missing was a solid kicker who can pull out a win in the waning seconds of a game.  Precision kicker Don Chandler was obtained from the Giants and with the return of Jerry Kramer from stomach surgery, the Packers were in shape to compete.

The regular season ended on an odd note for the Packers with an upset tie with the 49ers, giving the Packers an identical 10-3-1 record to the Colts, setting up a showdown with a strong Baltimore team – that is, a strong defensive Baltimore team as both Colt quarterbacks were out with injuries.  Without John Unitas and Gary Cuozzo, running back Tom Matte set up under center.  The Packers won it on a controversial Don Chandler field goal sending them to the Championship against the Browns.  In the Championship game, the packers dominated the running game with Hornung and Taylor combining for over 200 yards rushing while the Packer defense held Jim Brown in check with only 50 yards.

This set includes Bart Starr, Boyd Dowler, Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor, Max McGee, Jerry Kramer, Forrest Gregg, Fuzzy Thurston, Dave Robinson, Willie Davis, Herb Adderley, Willie Wood, Ray Nitschke, Henry Jordan, and Vince Lombardi.  Special cards featuring the “Gold Dust Twins,” Jim Grabowski and Donny Anderson, Tony and Bob Jeter, Elijah Pitts and Son (little Ron), an offensive line card, two playoff cards, and a team card of the Packers “Taking The Field.  Order your set here.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Maury Wills: The Artful Dodger

Topps baseball cards 1960s
Maury Wills is often talked about for not being in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  The 1962 MVP, seven-time All-Star,  three-time World Series participant, 2-time Gold Glove winner, and base stealing extraordinaire has oddly not made it to the Hall yet.  His lack of baseball cards in the first eight years of his major league career may not be helping.

RetroCards can't do much about Maury Wills Hall of Fame induction but we can right some wrongs in his baseball card history.

Wills was originally not considered major league talent.  But fate would intervene and match him with hitting coach Bobby Bragen who turned him into a successful pinch hitter.  A couple of Dodger injuries later and Wills was in the starting line up in 1959!  His biggest season was his fourth when he set a Major league record for stealing 104 bases - the first ever to record 100 steals in a season.  He won the MVP that year and had many successes in his first eight seasons.  But where were his baseball cards?

He did sign an exclusive contract with Fleer and appears in the 1963 Fleer set but he would not appear on a Topps card until 1967, by which time he had been traded to the Pirates.  Unfortunately there were no early Dodger cards of one of the team's most popular players.  Until now.

As a pioneer in the art of base stealing, Maury Wills finally is honored properly with a 10-card set spanning the years 1959-1966, plus a career ending card for 1973.  RetroCards paints with a broad brush giving him two 1959 cards - one in a regular design and one rookie design – cards from 1960-1966, and a final career ending card in 1973.  Order your set here.

For the complete article on why Maury Wills had so few baseball cards, check out Brian Cronin's thorough article here.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Len Koenecke: The Ultimate Bender

Drinking and cavorting have long been associated with professional baseball starting with the Babe Ruth era spanning to the Wade Boggs era.  But none reached the harrowing tale of Baraboo, Wisconsin native Len Koenecke, who was killed after being konked on the head during a flight to Buffalo, New York.

Koenecke, who was a rising star with the New York Giants in 1931, wound up with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1934 where his career started to take off.  Unfortunately, his heavy drinking had begun to affect his performance and by 1935 he was dismissed by the Dodgers in the middle of a road trip.

After being sent home from the road trip, he caught a commercial flight for New York City. During the flight, he drank a quart of whiskey and became very drunk. After harassing other passengers and striking a stewardess, the pilot had to sit on him to restrain him as he was shackled to his seat. He was removed unconscious from the flight in Detroit. After sleeping on a chair in the airport, he eventually awakened and chartered a flight to Buffalo.

According to the Ludington Daily News, pilot William J. Mulqueeny, whose flying career had been “packed with thrills and close escapes with death,” was a former World War I pilot who had to subdue Koenecke.  “Koenecke, allegedly crazed by drink, had hired the plane for a trip to New York across Canada.”

While flying over Canada, Koenecke had a disagreement with the pilot and a passenger (Irwin Davis, a noted parachute jumper), and attempted to take control of the aircraft.  In order to avoid a crash, Mulqueeny, who had left his controls, hit Koenecke over the head with a fire extinguisher “while the ship ran wild in the sky.” After an emergency landing at Long Branch Racetrack in Toronto, it was found that Koenecke had died of a cerebral hemorrhage. The two pilots were charged with manslaughter but were found not guilty in a trial soon after. “It was three lives or one,” Mulqueeny said.  Koenecke was buried in Repose Cemetery at Friendship, Wisconsin.

Full newspaper article can be found here.