Monday, August 23, 2010

Anonymity, Thy Name Is Chuck Walker

One of the criteria for judging the worth of a football player prior to about 1977 was how many times they appeared on football cards. Football sets in the pre-merger days routinely checked in below 200 cards, and they didn't double in size right away after the merger. You had to be of a certain quality -- Joe Auer and above, or Max Choboian and below -- to make it onto a football card, and then you had to be of a certain slightly higher quality -- Clendon Thomas country or thereabouts -- to stay on football cards more than one year, unless you were on an expansion team or Topps had a really good collection of photos of you it had to use up, which appears to be the only explanation for Bo Roberson.

This criterion was not infallible, though. Warren Raab appeared on a football card. Marion Rushing appeared on a football card. Steve Thurlow appeared on a football card. Steve Tensi, Gerhard Schwedes, A.D. Whitfield, Hal Bledsole, James Stiger, Pete Perrault, Wahoo McDaniel, Bob Cappadonna, and Tom Nomina all appeared on football cards, and not just in the team photos. Don Trull appeared on so many football cards you forgot he was a backup quarterback for a sub-.500 AFL team (though he will someday be one of the top quarterbacks in the league). Even Cosmo Iacavazzi appeared on a football card, and he never played a game in either league.

But Chuck Walker, two-time All-Pro, 13-year vet, appeared on only one football card, in 1970. To a football-loving kid of the era, Chuck Walker was on the same football footing as Iacavazzi and Raab and Nomina and -- yeesh! -- Perry Lee Dunn. As a practical matter this was very nearly true, since he was a defensive lineman for the Cardinals and therefore almost nonexistent.

But the funny thing was, Walker wasn't bad. Better than multiple-card-appearer Sam Silas certainly, which makes you wonder: Did Topps and Philly have better Sam Silas photos, and if so, why? Silas looked like Werner Ohland channeling Porky Pig. Walker merely had a flat-top with a bald spot, no different than Ken Rice or Sonny Bishop or John Olszewski or 30 other multi-card guys. It's strange that one of the major measuring sticks for player goodness can be so arbitrary. But then again, measuring sticks usually are.

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