In The Cards

July 31, 2014

It’s football season again. Perhaps you’ve noticed the endless media coverage of guys practicing in shorts at training camp. It’s amazing just how much information and access is available. In fact, it has gotten to the point of over-saturation, even for a big fan like me.

There’s 24/7 TV coverage on the NFL Network, not to mention ESPN, FOX Sports 1 and more. There are hundreds of websites, blogs, podcasts and sports talk radio stations breaking down what’s happening during intrasquad scrimmages. You can follow just about any player on Twitter or Instagram. There are dozens of “experts” projecting fantasy stats for the season ahead.

All of these things were inconceivable when I was a youngster. The funny thing, however, is that I never knew more players in the league than I did when I was about 10 years old. How is that possible, you ask? The answer: trading cards. I spent hours flipping through the stacks of football cards I collected — grouping them into different teams and reading the stats and goofy little descriptions on the back.

I don’t know why, but it was fascinating to me. I never cared about which cards might be valuable. It was about the discovery and exhilaration that came with opening a new pack, never knowing what hidden gem might be inside. Sure, it was fun to find a superstar, but I was equally entertained by the league’s obscure characters.

I don’t need to dig them out of the closet in my parent’s house to picture many of those cards. Their faces are still seared into my memory, for a variety of reasons. Here are some of my favorites, chosen randomly, for your entertainment.

Otis Sistrunk – This guy scared me to death. Perhaps he was actually the lighthearted locker room prankster, but he sported a menacing scowl in every one of his cards. And how could you beat some of the information gleaned from the back of the card? “Otis is extremely strong and powerful” and “Otis once worked in a meatpacking plant.”

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Jim Obradovich – The opposite of menacing, I think everyone had a driver’s ed instructor that looked like good ol’ Jim.

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Coy Bacon – What an awesome name. Coy looked like a total badass and I suspect he was also one of the coolest guys in the league. That headband is sweet.

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Cliff Harris – Certainly an All Pro in the mustache department.

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Tom Banks – No explanation necessary.

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Nick Mike-Mayer – I didn’t think there was anyone who looked less likely to be professional football player.

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Garo Yepremian – Until I happened across Garo.

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Russell Erxleben – Russell was a combination kicker/punter who was drafted in the first round and never really amounted to much. Inevitably, every pack of cards from 1979-1982 had an Erxleben in it. My favorite is this dandy of him putting on a shoe. Who was directing this photo shoot?

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Barty Smith – And finally, if Barty Smith could play in the NFL, I figured I could too. Looking at this card gave me high hopes for a Hall of Fame career.

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