Monday, June 25, 2018

#28, REX KERN, CB, Colts

images from COMC

In college football bygones, there were teams that succeeded by running the football, then running it again. Woody Hayes’ Ohio State teams were wildly successful at it, and won the National Championship in 1968 with an undefeated season.

That team was quarterbacked by a great all-around athlete named Rex Kern. His story as a Buckeye is legendary, and he finished in the top 5 for the Heisman award twice. As an example of his fame, check out this photo op, shot for a national publication (stolen from Pinterest):

I would do Kern a disservice by trying to break down his legendary collegiate career, so I will look at his pro career. You will notice that Kern is NOT a pro QB, but a defensive back. According to this article fromthe Baltimore Sun, pro teams were put off by a few things…a back injury he had suffered as a freshman basketball player, his size at under six feet, and unknowns about his throwing arm, given that he had rarely been given a chance to show it off as a Buckeye.

The Colts, flush at QB with Johnny Unitas and Earl Morrall at the time, drafted the highly decorated Kern in the 10th round in 1971, as a project athlete. He would not be a pro QB like the others in the above photo, Jim Plunkett, Joe Thiesmann and Archie Manning, but he worked hard with the cards he was given and made a talented squad as a DB.

Eventually he would be a starter for Colts playoff teams in 1971 and 1973, with a back and a hand injury keeping him out of much of the 1972 season. But here is his rookie Topps card. He was featured on a Sunoco stamp earlier, and would have just one more Topps card in 1974.

Kern was the players representative for the team during a strike, and the Colts GM took the opportunity to punish Kern and release him. He was signed by and went to the playoffs for the Bills in 1974, but his bad back ended his career after that season.

Kern did well as president of a Nautilus equipment firm for several decades before retirement, but unfortunately has been slowed by recurring back and hip problems and surgeries. He was named to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2007, and still holds legendary status in Columbus, Ohio.
CARTOON! Big Smilin’ Football Guy is zipping right along, though those boots will make it slippery on 1973-era artificial turf and that hat ain’t gonna provide no protection from Mean Joe Greene. Notice on the back Kern’s height is given as 6-1, the Baltimore Sun article has him at 5-11.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

#27, MIKE CURRENT, T, Broncos

It only took 10 months to get to #27!

Mike Current is shown here on his second Topps card, his first coming in 1970. He played just as many games in the years between, in fact starting all of them for the Broncos, but the limited number of cards in each set played a part in who landed on the checklist. Current gets to come back in this expanded 500+ card set.

A look at the back of his card shows the ignominious start Current had to his 13-year career. As he told the Toledo Blade in 1970; " I had to be the worst tackle ever to come to the pros. I was cut twice by the Broncos and twice by Miami in 1967 and that's still an AFL record." A good article about that start is here.

Well, Current stayed current and active after that tumultuous first season, sticking with the Broncos thru 1975, when right knee surgery limited him to 7 games. His 105 straight starts set the Denver record at the time. There were some hints in the press that Current had some 'disagreements' with the coach over the last two seasons with Denver.

He was off to Tampa Bay in the expansion of 1976 where he started all 14 losses, and was traded to Miami (strangely enough) for 1977. An interesting article here goes into how Current had never been in a playoff and finally had a chance going into the last week of the season. Though Miami tied for first in the division with the Colts, they lost the tiebreaker and missed the wildcard. Current would play in first round games the next two seasons with Miami, then retire after the 1979 season.

Current's post-NFL life certainly was sour. He did publish two books...Rememberin' Life in the Trenches and Bush Justice.

He also was accused in 1994 of sexual harassment of an employee at his cable telemarketing company. In January of 2012 he apparently shot himself dead in a wildlife refuge in Oregon. He was about to come up on charges of sexually assaulting three children under the age of 14. The story of his death is here.

His son, Justin, has a memorial website for his late father.


CARTOON! Big Smilin' Football Guy gots a four-leaf clover! Lucky him! Too bad none of the kids that got this card would probably have known who Adrian Young was. Young was a LB for the Eagles that was 'featured' on only one Topps card, in 1971. Even then, Topps didn't really feature him, using the wrong picture (Rick Duncan).

Friday, April 27, 2012

New posts coming soon!

Promise, once I get the new thing here figured out......thank you for tuning in....

Sunday, January 29, 2012

#26 - MILT MORIN, TE, Browns

Milt Morin, the first U.of Massachusetts player taken in the first round of the NFL draft in history.

Morin was a two-time All-American at UMass, on some awfully good teams. Drafted by the Browns and the Chargers, he chose Art Modell and the cheap Browns. One story has Modell asking Morin what he would have expected to make as a schoolteacher. When Morin replied $6000, that's what Model offered as a contract. While it is believable, other sources have the contract in the $16,000 range. This article,  published after Morin's death in 2010, says Morin once said he wished he had never signed with Cleveland.

Morin's first Browns team was a fine offensive squad. With Leroy Kelly taking over for Jim Brown and running for over 1000 yards, Ernie Green added 700+ more. Frank Ryan found Morin along with the RBs and receivers Paul Warfield and Gary Collins,and they managed 9 wins. Morin missed a lot of 1967 with a knee injury as the team repeated a 9-win season.

Collins went down injured in 1968, and a healthy Morin finished second on the team in receiving, as Bill Nelson took over the QB duties. Morin caught 43 passes for 784 yards and a 18.4 ypc..all career highs. The Browns beat the Cowboys in the playoffs, but fell to Baltomire by shutout for the conference title.

The Browns again advanced over the Cowboys to the conference championship game in 1969, with Morin third on the team in catches. They were beaten by Joe Kapp's Vikings this time. 1970 was a different matter altogether.

Though Morin had a fine year, averaging over 16 yards a catch, the team was bogged down by casting off Paul Warfield and Ron Johnson. Homer Jones, brought over from the Giants, was not productive at all, and Leroy Kelly slowed to just over 3 yards per carry. The team finished at .500. The Browns started off 1971 by posting a 4-5 mark, but rattled off five straight wins to close the season and get to the playoffs. Leroy Kelly was getting a lot of carries, with less productivity, and Morin finished second to Fair Hooker in catches for the Browns.

With Mike Phipps taking over at QB in 1972, the team won 8 of it's last 9 to get to another ten-win season, though they were edged out by the All-Time great Dolphins in the playoffs. That Browns team never scored more than 27 points in a game all year. The offense didn't do a lot, and Morin caught just 30 balls for a solid 18 ypc.

Morin was used less frequently in 1973, as the offense ground to a standstill. Phipps threw twice as many picks as TDs, Leroy Kelly averaged less than 3 yards a carry, and a 0-2-1 finish to the season kept the Browns out of the playoffs. In 1974, the team that had surged to a ten-win season two year earlier, crashed to a ten-loss season. Phipps and Brian Sipe alternated throwing the ball to the other team, and Morin averaged less than two catches a game for the year. Morin would catch just one pass in his final season of 1975, as new coach Forrest Gregg went to a youth movement. Oscar Roan would be the new TE. Morin was released in the 1976 training camp.

Morin caught 257 passes in ten NFL seasons, and compares his career to the likes of Keith Jackson, Alge Crumpler, Jerome Barkum, Paul Coffman and the like. Morin was in two All-Pro games, 1968 and 1971.

After the NFL left him, Morin opened an antique store, and built many houses in the Hadley, Mass. area. He worked at a local corrections facility, mostly on the overnight shift, for 15 years until his retirement. There is a fine article on Milt Morin the man here. Unfortunately, you will note that Morin passed away a couple of years ago, not long after he was named to the College Football Hall of Fame.

Morin was on five Topps cards in all, his first in 1971. His 1972 card has a premium on it, being in the third series. Topps lazily re-used his 1974 photo on his final card in 1975. This card seems to be an awfully good picture of the man, humble, happy to be there. The text on the back may not have been quite fulfilled, as Morin played at the same time as a lot of great TEs, but he was certainly one of the best of his time. I didn't know much about him as a 7-year-old when his picture came out of the pack; I used the cards to find out what pro football was all about. Milt Morin is what pro football should be all about.

CARTOON! Tom Landry is drawing what appears to be a 43-man squamish play (Mad Magazine article here) . You can tell it really isn't Landry because he is smiling. Landry and Vince Lombardi were assistant coaches on the same Giants team at one time....

Saturday, January 7, 2012

#25 - GEORGE BLANDA, K, Raiders

The ageless wonder, George Blanda, who at 45 let the NFL in extra points in 1972. Amazing. He would lead again two years later with 44, and his last year he would hit 44 again in 1975.

I remember a Happy Days episode where the Cunninghams are watching a football game on TV and Richie makes a comment on how washed up old George Blanda was. Truth is, Blanda was pretty much out of the loop as Bears QB after the 1954 season, though he led the NFL in passing yards a game that year. Ed Brown and then Zeke Bratkowski passed him on the depth chart, and Blanda was mostly relegated to kicking duty his last four seasons with the Bears.

After a year away, the AFL Oilers picked him up and Blanda's numbers exploded, tossing passes to the likes of AFL great Charley Hannigan. His point totals climbed, too, as one of the more accurate kickers of the era. By 1966, Blanda was 39 and only started 8 of the 14 games as Houston struggled to get to 3 wins.

It was off to Oakland and career number 3. Daryle Lamonica was incumbent and the Raiders just needed a backup and a kicker. Blanda provided both as the Raiders made the Super Bowl, losing to the Packers. As late as 1972 Topps listed Blanda as a QB-K, and Blanda threw his final pass as a Raider in 1975 at age 48.

In 1972, the Raiders were in transition. The highly productive Lamonica would have his last year as the regular starter, and Ken Stabler would take over and be even more productive at that spot. Lamonica would play into 1974, but the 1972 Topps card would be his last.

Blanda's football card history starts with the Bowman set of 1954, though his pro career started in 1949. Skipping a year for the 1959 layoff, and 1967, he would be in a Fleer or Topps set each season through 1976. His 1975 card was actually three different ones, a Record Breaker card and two career cards. His 1976 card had to break format on the back from a horizontal career format to a vertical one just to get all the years in.

His 1969 appearance reflected the laziness of Topps for their football and baseball sets of that year. His 4-in-1 Topps card of that year manages to use a picture of him in a Raider uniform. His regular issue card of that year has him in an OILER uniform...the red and white one they used before 1965.

A year or so ago when looking through the Blanda records at, I noticed something strange. In the uniform numbers listed at the top, there was his first Bears number, 22, and his last number, 16. There was also a number 64 surrounded by green. Now I know that Blanda had played some defense early on in his pro career, in fact he had an interception in 1949, but this looked weird.

Listed in 1950 was the Baltimore Colts. Now none of Blanda's cards had ever listed the Colts as one of his teams, so I assumed it was a mistake. Not so.

Blanda had been traded to the Colts by the Bears after the 1949 season. He lasted one game, as this version of the Colts (who folded after one season) had two other quarterbacks, Y.A. Tittle and Adrian Burk. All the players that were listed as QBs for the green-and-white 1950 Colts wore numbers in the 60s. Tittle was 63. Blanda found himself back in Chicago with the Bears the rest of the season.

 This Baltimore Sun article  says that the hapless Colts were going to trade Blanda to the Packers (!!!!) but George Halas claimed that he had an agreement that the Colts couldn't trade him to Green Bay, and Blanda ended up back in Chicago.

An odd tiny chapter in the long career of George Blanda that many didn't realize existed. Imagine if he had gone to the Packers....

CARTOON! Big Smilin' Football Guy is evidently Fred Biletnikoff, illegally using a net to lead the AFC in receiving! Silly Topps, everyone knows Biletnikoff didn't use a net, he used giant gobs of Stickum.

Friday, December 16, 2011

#24 - JOHN SCHMITT, C, Jets

John Schmitt, Jets center on this third rookie card in a row for the set. Hardly a rookie by this time, Schmitt had been a Jet since 1964 and a starter since 1966. Undrafted out of Hofstra, Schmitt would steady a line that had Winston Hill, Randy Rasmussen and Dave Herman that fronted Joe Namath for their great Super Bowl win over the Colts.

The Jets had held training camp at Hofstra for the first time before that season, odd coincidence.

Schmitt played eleven years, ten with the Jets. He would appear on a card in the 1974 set, then in the 1975 set as a Packer though he was not a starter for the whole 1974 season. Schmitt was an interim short-timer during a Packer period where they basically started three centers over a 30-year period. Jim Ringo started from 1954 to 1963, Ken Bowman from 1964 to 1973, then Larry McCarren from 1974 to 1984. Ken Iman, Bill Curry, Bob Hyland and John Schmitt....none cracked the lineup during this time. Schmitt was released by the Packers, ending his pro career.

John Schmitt went on to the board of directors of many charities, and was a chairman of Schmitt-Sussman Enterprises, a national insurance distributor. He was honored by the Epilepsy Foundation of Long Island in 2010.

A New York Times article in the 1990s about the Super Bowl champion Jets mentioned Schmitt showing off his Super Bowl ring proudly. They didn't know it was a replica. Schmitt had lost the original in 1971 surfing off the coast of Waikiki.

Reports surfaced a couple years ago that the ring had been found by a lifeguard, and his family found the ring in the lifeguard's estate. As of this last September the family had said they wanted to get the ring back to him, and Schmitt had offered to fly the family to New York. I hope it either happens or has happened by now, he seems like a good guy and has waited long enough for something he should be proud of.

CARTOON! Big Smilin' Football Guy can't get enough baseball tomfoolery! Could Jackie Robinson have been the 40's Bo Jackson? The real question I have is, what NFL team would have allowed him to play at that time?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

#23 - WAYNE COLMAN, LB, Saints

Here's linebacker Wayne Colman of the Saints. He started his pro career with the Eagles in 1968, as the back helpfully explains.He was a free agent signee in a time where the NFL had 17 rounds of draft... and the Eagles had 20 picks in 1968.

They chose five players listed at linebacker in those 20 picks, none of which played as many pro games as Colman. The number one pick, Tim Rossovich, became well known for off-field antics and some Hollywood roles later on, but he would play ten less games than Colman for his career.
Of all those 1968 picks, nine would make the pros in one fashion or another. Only OL Mark Nordquist would play more pro games than Colman.

Colman would make his way to the Saints in an injury-filled 1969 season (broken leg), and stay with them thru the end of his career in October of 1976 (retirement). He missed the entire 1975 season after breaking an arm in a preseason game.

Later in life, Colman would play a big role in young people's lives as a coach and teacher at Ocean City High School in New Jersey. One of his student/athletes was his son, Doug Colman, who penned a nice tribute on his father's retirement right here.

Doug Colman went to Nebraska, and was drafted by the Giants, having a nice five-season career as a LB in the NFL.

A picture of Wayne Colman from 2010 with his other two Topps cards (1974 and 1975) is here.
Notice that Topps re-used his 1973 shot on the 1974 card.

Upping the number of cards in the set to over 500 for 1973 allowed Topps to give some recognition to some of the solid veterans of the game, the day-to-day grinders like Wayne Colman who fought thru injuries and passed the game along to his son. I am very happy to present to you Mr. Wayne Colman. Linebacker, father, coach, teacher.

CARTOON! Big Smilin' Football Guy has a baseball glove on! This card was put together after the Braves traded for Davey Johnson, who was a high school teammate of Atlanta's Tommy Nobis. Who knew that Johnson would explode for over 40 homers in a couple of months.