Thursday, October 1, 2009

Keith's Key Kard Korner: October 2009


The 1935 National Chicle Clark Hinkle

Alright, so the name “Clarke Hinkle” invokes images of the nerd who the bully beat down on the playground. The kicking follow-through position struck on his popular 1935 National Chicle football card only reinforces the perception. In reality, Hinkle was a hard-hitting Green Bay Packers fullback, linebacker, and kicker who gained repute as one of the few defenders who could take down the legendary Bronko Nagurski.

As a student at Pennsylvania’s Bucknell University (where celebrated pitcher Christy Mathewson also matriculated), he became known as the “Bucknell Battering Ram.” His subsequent 10-year career with the Green Bay Packers culminated in two Championships: 1936 and 1939.

Hinkle’s career helped nurture what has flourished as the NFL’s longest-tenured rivalry: Green Bay Packers vs. Chicago Bears. In fact, it has been documented that on one particular running play, the Bears’ Bronko Nagurski nearly had Hinkle trapped for the tackle until Hinkle ran over him, leaving Bronko with a fractured rib and broken nose. One Hinkle mantra was “Get to the Bronk before he gets to me.” All this, despite the fact that he weighed 30 pounds less than bruising Bronko.

Hinkle led the NFL in field goals in 1940 and 1941. In his final season (also 1941), he broke Cliff Battles’ record as the All-Time NFL career rushing yards leader (a record which stood until 1949 when Steve Van Buren surpassed Hinkle’s mark). Despite the kicking and rushing accolades, many historians regard Hinkle’s greatest prowess a defender against both the rush and pass.

The 1935 National Chicle football release constitutes a compact, 36-card set, making it highly collectible. It has seen terrific price growth over the last decade, due to the contemporary popularity of pro football coupled with limited quality finds of these handsome 75-year-old antiquities. Coincidentally, Hinkle, Nagurski, and Battles all belong to this first widely distributed professional football card set. These “Chicles” employ brilliant hues contemporaneously with their sister baseball issue of like design known as the 1934-36 Diamond Stars.

The Hinkle card shows the leather-helmeted, ochre-uniformed Packer, along with his dutiful holder, placing a short-range field goal attempt, with the stadium flag showing the wind blowing against the direction of Hinkle’s freshly pooched pigskin. The orange color on the background stadium façade appears to be illuminated with low-angle sun, lending an aura of a brisk autumn afternoon in the upper Midwest. The Hinkle card is subject to many of the era’s production quality control obstacles, such as miscuts. Equally predictably, post-production wear has significantly limited the number of high graded “Chicle” examples.

As for Hinkle’s legacy, his association with a team of enduring clamour like the Green Bay Packers; membership in the Pro Football Hall Of Fame; and namesake Clarke Hinkle Field as one of the Packers’ two outdoor practice facilities cement him in Green Bay lore. Just think about the three positions Hinkle played – he covered offense, defense, and special teams in the same game. They just don’t make them like this anymore.

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