Sunday, November 15, 2009

Keith's Key Kard Korner: November 2009

The 1951 Bowman Emlen Tunnell (Rookie)
If offense wins games and defense wins championships, then what does the player nicknamed “Offense On Defense” give you? Two NFL Championships and a Hall of Fame career. The flattering moniker was coined for New York Giants defensive back Emlen Tunnell after the 1952 season, when he compiled more yards in interception and kickoff returns than the leading rusher had rushing.
When Tunnell retired, he held the All-Time NFL career record with 79 interceptions, a mark that is still second today (Paul Krause). Additionally, Em was the first African-American to play for the New York Giants and the first African-American to be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
So how could a 9-time Pro Bowl standout playing a major sport for a legacy franchise in the nation’s biggest city largely fly under the radar? That is a valid question.
Marion Motley and other pioneers are credited with breaking the NFL’s racial barrier. With a Giants franchise chock full of greats, Tunnell’s star has been outshone. In fact, today Em’s Wikipedia page includes the grand sum total of six sentences. At least it couldn’t get worse.
But it gets worse. The most famous photo of Tunnell is probably the one where he is being blocked by the Colts’ Jim Parker while Parker’s Colt teammate Alan Ameche scores the game-winning overtime touchdown to defeat Tunnell’s New York Giants in the 1958 NFL Championship Game.
So where does Emlen Tunnell get any respect today? Cardboard. His 1951 Bowman rookie card is popular and high-grade examples are valuable. The handsome and enduring rectangle is part of SGC’s and PSA’s adored Pro Football Hall of Fame Rookie Card set registries. Examples graded in PSA 8 condition have sold for over $900.
The card booms with eye appeal. It features Tunnell striking his best “Heisman” pose while donning a Giants jersey saturated in deep rouge, a jersey which contrasts sharply with the shaded stadium seats in the background. Em is cradling the pigskin with his left hand as if he has just intercepted a Norm Van Brocklin pass. Logos were more detailed in those days, and that of the “New York Football Giants” appears large relative to the card to accommodate its intricacy. Characteristic of the wonderful 1951 Bowman issue, the card is a sweeping display of artistry, color, and composure that cements Tunnell some lasting respect… at least among vintage football memorabilia collectors.

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