Friday, September 22, 2017

1964 Houston Oilers: Philadelphia Style

Topps, 1964 Philadelphia football cards, custom cards

After three years at the top of the Eastern Division, the Oilers dipped to 3rd place in 1963 after winning the AFL Championship in 1961. Despite the downturn in fortunes, the Oilers still fielded a formidable team with George Blanda, Billy Cannon, and the AFL's top receiver, Charley Hennigan.  Unfortunately, 1963 was not an anomaly as the Oilers lost 9 straight games in the middle of the 1964 season.  The highlight of their 4-10 season was Charley Hennigan's 101 receptions.

RetroCards uses the attractive 1964 Philadelphia Gum card design to create a brand new Oilers set that includes: Don Floyd, Charley Frazier, W.K. Hicks, Larry Onesti, Sonny Bishop, Bob MacLeod, Rich Michael, Walt Suggs, Bob Talamini, Charley Tolar, Charlie Rieves, Sid Blanks, Bud McFadin, Donny Brabham, Doug Cline, Sammy Odom, Scott Appleton, George Blanda.

Order your 1964 AFL Houston Oiler set here!

Friday, September 15, 2017

More '87 Strike: Keanu & Gene's Excellent Adventure

1987 Topps football cards, custom cards that never were

All of this Strike talk recalled the 2000 film The Replacements starring Keanu Reeves and Gene Hackman.  It's a fun romp that shows the humorous side of the strike.  For a more realistic view, watch ESPN's 30 For 30 Year Of The Scab, which premiered on September 12th.  Here is the trailer.


Thursday, September 7, 2017

1987 Replacement Cowboys Plus Some History...

1987 Topps football cards, custom cards that never were

In the dying days of the Tom Landry era, the 1987 strike season offered some brief optimism.  Some of us thought, “perhaps the Cowboy replacement players can outplay other NFL replacement players and pad their record?”  Lord knows the Cowboys needed padding as the strike replacement players actually had a higher winning percentage (2-1) than the regular Cowboy players (5-7).  But to be fair, even those strike victories were padded in a rare instance of players crossing the picket line to play in the replacement games.  This is were the story gets interesting.

Tex Schramm, never one to pass up an opportunity make/save a buck, forced the hand of several players who had long annuities that Schramm snuck into player contracts in anticipation of the strike. In short, if those players didn’t play, they lose the money.  Schramm held this over several players head and players begrudgingly crossed the line rather than lose years of contributions.

Randy White, Tony Dorsett, Ed “Too Tall” Jones were the highest profile players affected by this and crossed the line.  Danny White, in an effort to move CBA talks along……  also crossed the line, creating even more team derision.  Dorsett begged not to be played in these games but Tom Landry played him anyway.   (See part one of 1987 Strike Cowboys here).

The aftermath of the strike was difficult for the Cowboys.  Tex Schramm’s level of involvement in the strike earned him the nickname “Commissioner of the Replacement Players,” which made the Cowboys a marked team even after the strike was over.  A quarterback controversy developed when Danny White crossed the line and Tom Landry chose to start him over the exciting Kevin Sweeney (a move that almost got Landry fired) , who was having success in the strike games.  The opponent was the Philadelphia Eagles coached by All-Pro yahoo Buddy Ryan, who resented Landry using union players against his Eagles.  This started a feud by the next game where Ryan ran up the score on the flailing Cowboys.

• The replacement players earned $4,000 a week,
• Cornell Burbage reached into the stands during a road game at New York, grabbed a package and placed it under the bench. It was a box of laundry Burbage’s sister had washed for him.
• In union towns, the replacements were shunned. In places such as Dallas, some fans loved their grit and nicknamed them the “Rhinestone Cowboys.”
• Nearly every replacement team wound up with new fan-given nicknames: The Chicago Spare Bears. The Seattle Sea-Scabs. The New Orleans Saint Elsewheres and the Rhinestone Cowboys.
• New York Jets star defensive end Mark Gastineau, who claimed he needed the money to pay alimony. Gastineau would end up scuffling with a teammate who spat in his face as he crossed the picket line one morning.
• Other stars that crossed the line: Howie Long, Joe Montana, Steve Largent, Lawrence Taylor, Roger Craig, Tony Dorsett, Dwight Clark, Danny White, Randy White
• 37-year-old Jim Zorn, playing in the Canadian Football League, contacted the Seahawks, whom he had QBed for many years, but ended up in Tampa as backup to another 37-year-old, John Reeves, who had started for the Eagles and Bengals in the 70s. 
• Sean Payton, future Saints Coach of the Year, played QB for Mike Ditka’s Bears. 
• The Bears traded QB Doug Flutie to New England while he was on strike. Doug led his new team to a 21-7 win over Houston during the third week of replacement games.
• Lionel Vital, who ran a grocery store in Louisiana before the strike, became the starting RB for the Redskins.
• The Giants signed 12 players from the semipro Connecticut Giants.
• QB Vince Evans had been out of football since the USFL folded. He started the first replacement game for Oakland despite the fact that former starter Mark Wilson suited up. Vince passed and ran for 311 yards in total offense.

While the strikers lost an average of $15,000 per game (approximately $80 million in salaries altogether), the average owner’s profit per game actually rose from $800,000 before the work stoppage to $921,000 during the strike. However, this gain was wiped out by the fact that the league had to refund $60 million to the networks over the next two seasons for the missed weekend of play, the reduced ratings, and the resulting decline in advertising revenues.

On the day the strike ended, the NFLPA filed an antitrust suit in Federal Court challenging the college draft, restraints on free agency, and other practices alleged to be anti-competitive. (The NBA players had filed a similar suit one month earlier.) The Court of Appeals ultimately rejected the suit on a technicality. NFLPA disbanded, then reformed in 1989 in order to file a new suit that ultimately prevailed at a jury trial. This led to a labor agreement that permitted less restrictive free agency in return for salary caps tied to a formula based on players’ share of total league revenues. So the union, while losing the 1987 battle in the short run, won the war in the long run.  This fun set is coming soon!


Friday, September 1, 2017

RetroCards Strikes Back! 1987 Cowboys

1987 Topps Football Cards, Custom Cards that never were, replacement players

1987 was a trying year for the NFL.  A Players Strike interrupted the season resulting in teams fielding replacement players for three games. At best, the play of the replacement players was fun, at worst, farcical.  The Cowboys, with their superior scouting, fielded one of the league’s strongest “Strike Teams” and, had the NFL replacement players played all season, the Cowboys may have won the Super Bowl!  Back in reality the Cowboys posted a 5–9 record in regular “union” games, helping to bring an end to the Landry era. 

That year started off with two disasters before the season even started: first was the arrest of Rafael Septien for the allegation of sexual assault of a minor, followed by young star Mike Sherrard breaking his leg in a scrimmage.  Then the strike happened after week two of the season and week three games were cancelled.

Cowboys management was anticipating the strike and kept close tabs with players who were the final cuts of the preseason.  The always shrewd GM Tex Schramm inserted clauses into several veteran’s contracts stating if players missed a game or practice due to something other than a football injury, players would lose a large annuity built into their pay structure.  This caused veterans like All-Pro Randy White to cross the picket line, starting a rift between White and the rest of the striking players.  Tony Dorsett referred to him as “Captain Scab,” only to pathetically join White across the picket line when Schramm reminded him of his soon-to-be lost annuities (Dorsett was referred to as "Captain Stab").

Discord grew when Danny White crossed the line. He couldn’t afford to give up the paycheck as his manufacturing business was in debt $250,000 and he was under investigation for mail fraud.  "Too Tall" Jones crossed due to the lost annuities situation and a lawsuit was threatened by players against the Cowboys. Only Doug Cosbie and Everson Walls didn't cross though they stood to lose annuities.

The ever-detached Tom Landry coached his newfound players for the three strike games to the best of his abilities while player representative Doug Cosbie stood helpless as he watched 21 veterans cross the picket line.  Seven of the replacement players showed promise and stayed on the roster after the strike was over.  In the second last game of the season Danny White coached the team briefly against Rams while coach Landry dealt with a threat on his life – an omen if there ever was one. Sadly, the strike experience and the losing carried into the 1988 season where the team dipped to an embarrassing 3-13 record.

RetroCards gives focus to this strange season with two Cowboy 18-card sets.  The first (pictured above) contains players that did not have a card in 1987: Gordon Banks, Vince Albritton, Nate Newton, Garth Jax, Reggie Collier, Gene Lockhart, Ray Alexander, Doug Cosbie, Johnny Holloway, Roger Ruzek, Ron Francis, Danny Noonan, Mark Tuinei, Ron Burton, Everson Walls, and Todd Fowler.  There is also a team card and a yellow bordered “box bottom” card of Herschel Walker.


The second series (to be shown in a separate blog entry) focuses on the replacement players and players who crossed the picket line who did not have a regular card in 1987. First the replacement players: Kevin Sweeny, Kelvin Edwards, Tommy Haynes, Cornell Burbage, Mike Dwyer, and Robert Williams.  Players who crossed: Randy White, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Mike Renfro, Johnny “Lam” Jones, Robert Lavette, Paul McDonald, Kevin Brooks, Kelvin Martin, and Karl Powe.  A Cowboys management card featuring Schramm and Landry gets a special place in series two along with a Strike Team card, and a yellow bordered “box-bottom” card featuring “Co-Captain Scab,” Tony Dorsett.  Both are coming soon!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Hall Of Fame Hopeful: Jerry Kramer

Topps, 1962 Topps, 1963,1965, 1968, 1969, 1966,

One popular discussion in sports is who should or should not be in the Pro Football Hall Of Fame.  Perhaps the most deserving name on the list of who should be in is Jerry Kramer, Packer guard from the Lombardi era.  He was a modern era finalist from 1974-1987 and eligible as a senior inductee since 2002. There have been websites and surveys to help get him voted in but induction to the Hall has been elusive.  The most glaring fact is that he is the only member of the NFL’s 50th Anniversary Team who is not in the Hall. Even the NFL Network listed he at #1 as the top player never inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Here are the quick look has his accomplishments:
•  5-time 1st Team NFL All-Pro
•  2-time 2nd Team NFL All-Pro
•  3-time Pro Bowler
•  5-time NFL Champion
•  NFL 60s All-Decade team
•  NFL 50th Anniversary Team
•  Green Bay Packers Hall Of Fame
•  All-Super Bowl Team
•  Kicked winning field goal in 1962 NFL Championship
•  Threw the most famous block in NFL history helping Bart Starr score the winning     
   touchdown in the 1967 NFL Championship

Pretty impressive considering there are not a lot of NFL guards that can claim these lofty accomplishments.  Here are some speculative reasons why he may not be in the Hall with a response for each:

1. Voters are loathe to vote in another Lombardi Packer.  Not true. Twenty-four years after Willie Wood was inducted in 1989, teammate Dave Robinson was inducted in 2013. 

2. The inclusion of Dave Robinson in 2013 now makes it even harder for Kramer to get in. Paul Hornung disagrees, “Hell, we won more than anybody.  Why shouldn’t we have more? We won more championships.”

3. Voters don’t want to vote a third offensive lineman from the same team in (Forrest Gregg and Jim Ringo are the other two).  Not true. Three lineman from the Oakland Raiders made it: Jim Otto, Gene Upshaw, and Art Shell.

4. Kramer struggled playing against Alex Karras and Merlin Olson.  Who the hell didn’t?

5. Kramer’s tiff with Green Bay Press-Gazette sports editor Art Daley, who represented Green Bay with the Hall of fame.  Kramer gave Daley an interview late in his career just after being chewed out by Lombardi on the practice field.  Kramer was in a bad mood and he “blew up,” saying things “I shouldn’t have said.” 

Decades later, Kramer says, former New York Giants linebacker Sam Huff called him to share a rumor. Huff heard a Green Bay sportswriter wasn’t adequately arguing Kramer’s case for induction.  “Sam just said, ‘Your guy in Green Bay isn’t supporting you,’”  Packer historian Cliff Christl knew Daley well and denies this.

6. Some writers didn’t like Kramer’s book Instant ReplayDid Kramer break the taboo of letting the press into the locker room?  I can’t see any of today’s voters caring about this unless they were in the press themselves, which would seem to help Kramer’s case.

7.  Fellow Lombardi-era guard Fred “Fuzzy” Thurston was as good as Kramer.  Thurston was All-Pro once and had no where near the physical abilities Kramer had.  Kramers was at the top of his game longer than Thurston.

9. Gale Gillingham, the guard who came in toward the end of Kramer’s career and replaced Fuzzy Thurston after he retired, was a better guard, and is therefore more deserving.  Does this logic mean that Brett Favre shouldn’t go in because Aaron Rodgers follows him and he was “better?”

10. Canton is a money-making enterprise and adding another small market player from a team that already has 11 is not desirable.  Then why did Dave Robinson get in in 2013?

More than 40 former NFL players, including 34 Hall of Famers, have endorsed Kramer. It started informally with Sam Huff in ’97. The former linebacking great, inducted in 1982, went around and collected seven other letters of recommendation.  Merlin Olsen explained, “Jerry earned my respect as we battled eye to eye in the pits on so many long afternoons. Jerry Kramer belongs in the Hall of Fame.”  Players like Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Frank Gifford, Bob Lilly, Chuck Bednarik, Doug Atkins, and Alan Page have also supported Kramer’s cause.

One explanation is given by Ed Bouchette, Hall of Fame Voter, “I vote in the baseball Hall of Fame too and it’s easy.  You’ve got every stat you want.  We’re still trying to figure out a stat for right guard.”  Ray Didinger, former Hall of Fame voter, offers, “Of all the players not in the Hall of Fame, the one that mystifies me the most is Jerry Kramer.  I don’t know how he isn’t in the Hall of Fame."

Scout Chris Landry, doesn’t have a good answer but suggests that many of the sportswriters that vote may not have the understanding of how good a lineman was during that era - particularly an offensive lineman.  There are no stats for their performance and film footage doesn’t reveal enough.  He also states that more personnel (players and coaches) from that era should be consulted in the process to ensure oversights.  The 46 media members that vote may not be the best judges of seniors.  Kramer has been a Seniors finalist 10 times.  Maybe it is time to have some current inductees weigh in on the process.  

Kramer has come to terms with the fact that he is not in the Hall.  He feels it is part of his legend and would rather be a man everyone believes should be in the Hall as opposed to being a Hall Of Famer no one believes is worthy.

Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/JerryKramer4HOF/
Petition - http://www.greenbaypackernation.com/jerrykramer4hof/

You'll find many Jerry Kramer cards in RetroCards' Packer set section here.

Friday, August 18, 2017

1962 Bears: Clawing Their Way Back

Topps 1962 Bears, custom cards that never were

The Bears were slowly climbing back up in the ranks going from a 5-6-1 record in 1960 to a 9-5 record in 1962.  The football world would have to wait another year to see if the Bears had the firepower to win a Championship.

On the surface, it didn't seem like the Bears were going to do much but that changed with the arrival of tight end Mike Ditka in 1961 who helped make Billy Wade look like an actual NFL quarterback!  The Bears staunch defense was still tough as nails and the Bears took 3rd place in the Western Division in 1962.

RetroCards focuses on the 1962 Bears for this 22-card set.  Like several past sets, this one includes a stadium card, and a "Bears play" action card along with 20 players that didn't make it in the original set released in 1962, including Mike Pyle, J.C. Caroline, Ed Brown, Bo Farrington, Dave Whitsell, Bennie McRae, Bob Wetoska, Bobby Joe Green, Roosevelt Taylor, Bob Kilcullen, Joe Fortunato, Fred Williams, Harlon Hill, Herman Lee, Earl Leggett, Charlie Bivins, Rudy Bukich, Maury Youmans, Joe Marconi, and the old man himself, coach George Halas.  Get your set here!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Dodgers Finally Do It! Expanded 1982 Set

Topps, RetroCards, baseball custom cards that never were, 1982 Topps baseball

The most memorable thing about the 1981 Major League Baseball season was the players strike which lasted from June 12 through August 9, splitting and shortening the entire season at the same time.  However, Dodger fans remember that year with a smile because it was the franchise’s first World Series title in 15 years.   

Having been a great team with great players for a decade, this Dodger team couldn’t win the big one. And with guys like Cey, Russell, Lopes, Baker, Hooten, Johnstone, Monday, and Garvey getting old, time was running out.  They had lost three World Series in the 70s and narrowly missed the playoffs in 1980, losing a tie-breaker in the 163rd game of the season.  It appeared the curtain was almost closed.  Realizing this, perhaps, manager Tommy Lasorda sent each player a personal letter over the prior winter challenging and encouraging the players.  They knew what was at stake.

Winning 29 of their first 40 games, the Dodgers looked like the hottest team in baseball.  But the strike interrupted their momentum and they stumbled in the second half finishing only one game over .500.  No matter.  They were a veteran team with bright young players like rookie Fernando Valenzuela and they played loose and played smart.  Rick Monday remembers, “I know we were desperate because a lot of us, (we) were not necessarily at the end of our careers, but we were approaching that area, and there was an influx of younger talent. There was an immediacy of wanting to get things done and get things done in a hurry.”

In the playoffs, things got exciting with a comeback win over the Astros after being down 2 games to none.  A second 2-0 deficit against the Expos was erased and won with a dramatic Rick Monday homer.  And finally, the Dodgers got their revenge on the New York Yankees after losing successive World Series in 1977 and 1978.  Again down 2 games to none, the Dodgers kept their poise and won the next 4 games!

This 24-card RetroCards set fills in some gap of players that were missed in the regular and updates sets of 1982 such as: Manny Mota, Tom Niedenfuer, Ron Roenicke, Mike Marshall, Jerry Grote, Jack Perconte, Bobby Mitchell, Dave Sax, Ted Power, and Candy Maldonado.  Also featured are an All-Star card of Burt Hooten and a Cy Young and Rookie Of the Year winners showcasing Valenzuela.  It also has cards of every playoff series including three fun World Series cards and other highlight cards featuring Tommy Lasorda being interviewed by Vin Scully, and the very fun card of Rick Monday shoving a cream pie in Jay Johnstone’s face.  Those were the days!  Coming soon.