In this third installment in our series, Sports Broadcast Journal continues our journey down memory lane. Today, we shift our focus to the Top 20 all-time announcer, football cards. In our next version, we will feature the Top 10 all-time studio analyst football cards.
Dating back to 1888, sports trading cards have chronicled the evolution of America’s most popular sports and played such a memorable element of our childhood. Similar to how listening to old songs can instantly transport us years back to specific moments in time, these cardboard treasures can narrate unending personal memoirs.
Over the last several decades, sports trading cards have appreciated from bicycle spoke decorations into full-fledged, art-like investment assets. Earlier this year, a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle in gem mint condition sold at auction for $2,880,000. As we all know, however, not all players and cards are created equally. When most of us were ripping open packs of cards, we gravitated to the cards of the elite superstars and speculated with rookie cards of the highest potential prospects.
Years later, as I flip through old sets, it is amazing how many then-popular and less heralded cards now represent today’s top sports broadcast talent.
Last month, we counted down Ranking: Top 25 cards of former players who are now in MLB booth and Ranking: Top 25 cards of former players who are now in MLB booth
In establishing these rankings, we balanced three criteria for each announcer (1) Playing Career (2) Announcing Career and (3) Popularity of the football card.
“Playing Career” is based upon on-field accomplishments and post-season success.
“Announcing Career” is based upon durability, popularity, insight, time in position, presence, visibility and respect.
“Football Card Popularity” is based upon the monetary value of the card, the overall look of the card, any scarcity or nuances of the specific card issue and overall popularity of the card.
(Editor’s note: This does not include ex-coaches like John Madden, Hank Stram or Dick Vermeil; those who didn’t play a down in the NFL)
Here’s the countdown:
- 1948 Leaf Paul Christman – Two-time collegiate All-American and two-time NFL All-Pro quarterback Paul Christman kicks off our countdown in the #20 slot. After graduating from the University of Missouri, Christman embarked on a six-year NFL career with the Chicago Cardinals and Green Bay Packers. He threw for 58 touchdowns and 7,294 yards. Upon his retirement, Christman began his broadcast career calling Cardinals games for CBS and subsequently, teaming with Curt Gowdy to provide color on AFL games. His accomplished broadcast career includes calling Super Bowl I, as well as an Orange Bowl and Rose Bowl. Despite success on the gridiron, the 1948 Leaf Paul Christman rookie card is generally valued as a “common” card in the set – an issue that uniquely included both professional and collegiate players. That said, given the age and popularity of the 1948 Leaf set, all of the cards in the set generally sell for more than $1,000 in Mint condition, as graded by Professional Sports Authenticators (PSA).
- Paul Maguire – The Citadel’s Paul Maguire checks in at #19 in our rankings. Like many other specialists of his day, he not only served as his team’s punter, but he also tackled duties at linebacker. The Los Angeles Chargers selected Maguire with their first pick in the inaugural 1960 AFL Draft. More accomplished as a punter, the master of the coffin corner helped the Buffalo Bills to AFL titles in 1963, 1964 and 1965. He then gained entry to the broadcast world in the 1970s via NBC. He later joined ESPN and called collegiate and CFL games. His most significant role came in 1998 when ESPN tapped Maguire to call the newly launched NFL Sunday Night football games. The colorful and brash Maguire was first featured on a football card in the 1960 Fleer AFL set – the inaugural football issue for Fleer. Unfortunately, the issue is generally known for poor printing and color controls, uneven centering and rough edges. Nonetheless, the groundbreaking nature of the issue fuels market interest. Without any spectacular playing accomplishments, Maguire’s rookie card lacks noteworthy popularity and can be owned in int condition for a little more than $100.
- 1951 Bowman Al DeRogatis – On the strength his broadcast popularity, New Jersey’s own Al DeRogatis lands in our #18 ranking. Following his collegiate days at Duke University, the New York Giants selected the Defensive Tackle in the 2nd Round of the 1949 NFL Draft. DeRogatis achieved All-Pro status in his second and third seasons. A collegiate knee injury resurfaced and forced him into early retirement after four seasons with the Giants. The gracious and gentlemanly DeRogatis began his broadcast career teaming with Marty Glickman calling Giants games on the radio. In 1966, he took his talents to NBC partnering with Curt Gowdy. He called 3 Super Bowls and numerous Rose Bowls. Many consider DeRogatis to be one of the most elite football announcers of all-time. The fact that DeRogatis simultaneously maintained a 33 year career with Prudential Insurance is certainly a testament to how the business of sports has evolved. Given DeRogatis’ short tenure and the lesser fanfare ascribed to linemen, his 1951 Bowman rookie card in mint condition can be owned for a few hundred dollars.
- 1971 O-Pee-Chee CFL Joe Theismann – Another New Jersey native joins our list with Joe Theismann, gains the the #17 spot. Despite altering the pronunciation of his last name to rhyme with Heisman, the Notre Dame product finished as the runner-up in the 1970 Heisman Trophy balloting. Before he achieved his Super Bowl winning success in the NFL, Theismann got his start in the Canadian Football League as a member of the Toronto Argonauts. Although he was selected in the 4th Round of the 1971 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins and the 39th Round of the MLB Draft by the Minnesota Twins, he was was unable to reach agreement on financial terms with the Dolphins. When the negotiations broke down, Theismann signed with the Argonauts – and led the team to the Grey Cup in his rookie year. The Washington Redskins eventually traded for the rights to Theismann and he joined the NFL team in 1974. In 1985, Theismann began his broadcasting career as the first active player to call a Super Bowl alongside Frank Gifford and Don Meredith. He later joined ESPN’s Monday Night football booth and and subsequently did Thursday Night football for the NFL Network. Theismann’s rookie football card actually comes from north of the border via O-Pee-Chee (a Canadian division of Topps). This 1971 O-Pee-Chee Joe Theismann commemorates his time in the CFL with a Mint version selling for just short of $1,000.
- 1970 Topps Bob Trumpy – Long-time Cincinnati Bengals tight end Bob Trumpy picks up the #16 spot in our rankings. Following his collegiate days at the University of Utah, the Bengals selected Trumpy in the 12th round of the NFL draft. In his 10 year pro career, he had 298 receptions for 4600 yards and 35 touchdowns. Following his playing days, Trumpy joined the NBC broadcast team partnering with Sam Nover, Bob Costas, Don Criqui, Dick Enberg and Tom Hammond, calling four Super Bowls. Trumpy subsequently moved to the radio booth when NBC lost its Sunday games package to CBS in 1997. While an all-time great as a broadcaster, Trumpy’s unspectacular playing career precludes his 1970 Topps rookie card from achieving any monetary value of note with a mint copy achieving a value less than $50.
- 1980 Topps Phil Simms – The pride of Morehead State, Phil Simms, earns the the #15 position in our rankings. Despite playing his collegiate games for a NCAA Division I-AA school, Simms’ measurables and arm strength vaulted him into the first round of the 1979 NFL Draft. His 14 season career with the New York Giants is highlighted by 2 Super Bowl championships, a Super Bowl MVP award, 33,462 yards passing, 199 touchdowns and 2 Pro-Bowl appearances. After a brief stint with ESPN, Simms joined NBC’s lead broadcast crew where he called two Super Bowls. He then moved to CBS pairing with Greg Gumbel, and later Jim Nantz. In addition to his game analyst work, Simms is co-host of Showtime’s Inside the NFL. The 1980 Topps Phil Simms rookie card has achieved a sales price of greater than $1,000 in gem mint condition.
- 1973 Topps Dan Dierdorf – Hall of Fame offensive tackle Dan Dierdorf registers the #14 ranking. The University of Michigan standout received acclaim as a member of the NFL All-Decade team for the 1970s for his stellar 13-year pro career with the St. Louis Cardinals. Dierdorf’s entry into the media business began with a local radio talk show on KMOX in St. Louis; calling University of Missouri football games and St. Louis Blues hockey games. In 1985, CBS added him to its Sunday NFL roster which led to ABC hiring him away two years later to join the Monday Night football broadcast booth with Al Michaels and Frank Gifford. His ABC stint later included calling college football and boxing matches. From 1999 to 2013, Dierdorf and Verne Lundquist filled the color side of the #2 NFL broadcast team for CBS. Today, he has returned to his collegiate alma mater as commentator on Michigan football’s radio broadcasts. A 1973 Topps Dan Dierdorf rookie in mint condition will likely set you back a few hundred dollars.
- 1975 Topps Dan Fouts – The pilot of the prolific Air Coryell offense, bolts into our #13 position. Following an All-Pac 8 career at the University of Oregon, the unflappable Dan Fouts racked up mind blowing passing statistics for one of the most explosive offenses of all-time. The Hall of Famer threw for 43,040 yards and 254 touchdowns in his six-time All-Pro career with the San Diego Chargers. In 1979, Fouts was recognized at the AFC’s MVP, and then in 1982, the NFL’s MVP. Fouts’ accomplished broadcast career has included many high profile assignments, including CBS Sunday NFL, ABC college football alongside Brent Musburger and later Keith Jackson, ABC Monday Night Football with Al Michaels and Dennis Miller. Adam Sandler also tapped the talents of Dan Fouts to play himself in The Waterboy. On the football card front, Fouts’ rookie card has achieved strong demand with a gem mint copy of his 1975 Topps rookie card registering sale prices of more than $2,000.
- 1981 Topps Cris Collinsworth – The multi-talented Cris Collinsworth finds himself in our #12 position. Originally starting his collegiate career as a quarterback at the University of Florida, he soon transitioned to wide receiver and earned All-America honors. The 6’ 5” speedster joined the Cincinnati Bengals in 1982 and gained 3 Pro-Bowl appearances in his 8 seasons with 417 career receptions and 36 touchdowns. Collinsworth has kept himself especially busy following his playing days. His media career began as a local talk show host in Cincinnati with Andy Furman and then Sunday pre-game show analyst duties for NBC. When NBC lost its Sunday AFC package, Fox recruited him to join its top broadcast team where he remained until he became the voice of Sunday Night football for NBC. Collinsworth has also managed to juggle his color commentary role with attainment of his juris doctor degree, co-hosting Inside the NFL, hosting Guinness World Records Primetime, lending his voice to the Madden video game franchise and earning an Olympic broadcast role. Despite his recognition and successes as a player, the 1982 Topps Cris Collinsworth rookie card sells for under $100 in gem mint condition.
- 1960 Topps Tom Brookshier – Tom Brookshier leverages his distinguished success in our broadcast career criteria to push himself into our #11 position. After graduating from the University of Colorado, the cornerback was selected in the 10th round of the 1953 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. Brookshier played seven season with the Eagles, interruped by 2 years in the Air Force. He intercepted 20 passes and achieved 2 All-Pro selections. Brookshier teamed with Pat Summerall on CBS throughout the 1970s to form one of the most popular broadcast teams of all-time. In addition to calling multiple Super Bowls, the Brookshier/Summerall team hosted a weekly syndicated highlight show (This Week in Pro Football) and called a handful of boxing title bouts. The versatile Brookshier took on play-by-play duties towards the end of his accomplished broadcast career. Despite debuting with the Eagles in 1953, Brookshier had to wait until 1960 for Topps to honor him with his first football card – one that sells for under $300 in mint condition.
- 1968 Topps Bob Griese – Bob Griese, the multi-talented leader of the great Miami Dolphins teams of the 1970s, holds down ranking #10. Aside from excelling as an All-American quarterback at Purdue, Griese was also the school’s kicker and punter, starred as a pitcher on the school’s baseball team and served as a guard on its basketball team. The Dolphins selected him with the #4 overall pick in the 1967 NFL Draft. His Hall of Fame NFL career included countless accolades including two Super Bowl championships, 6 All-Pro selections, the 1971 NFL MVP award, and the trigger-man for the Dolphins storied and perfect 1972 season. Statistically, he threw for 25,092 yards and 192 touchdowns. Griese began his broadcast career in 1982 with CBS and called the 1986 Super Bowl XX with Dick Enberg . In 1987, he made the move to ABC’s college football broadcasts, including 3 BCS National Championship games. Notably, while at ABC, Griese received accolades for his seemingly neutral color commentary of numerous Michigan football games where his son Brian was leading the Wolverines. Griese’s colorful 1968 Topps rookie card has achieved a strong following with mint copies routinely selling for more than $1,000.
- 1952 Bowman Kyle Rote – Texas native and SMU legend Kyle Rote settles into our #9 ranking. After finishing second in the 1950 Heisman Trophy balloting, the New York Giants selected him with the #1 overall pick in the NFL Draft. The star running back and wide receiver known for his smarts was a key cog in the Giants 1956 championship team and accumulated 4 Pro-Bowl selections during his 11 year NFL career. Off the field, Rote was an instrumental advocate for the creation of a union for the players, and accordingly served as a founder of the NFL Players Association. As a sign of the times, following his retirement from the game, Rote served as the radio sports director for WNEW in New York and found time to commentate on NBC’s NFL broadcasts. He did a couple Super Bowls, two on TV and one radio. Rote debuted on a football card in the 1952 Bowman issue. This set of brilliant, artful portraits was issued in two sizes, the large size issues in response to a format challenge from Bowman’s new competitor at the time – Topps. The 1952 Bowman Large Kyle Rote rookie card is an especially popular issue and has pulled in more than $2,000 for a mint version of the card.
- 1964 Philadelphia Merlin Olsen – Merlin Olsen, one of the greatest defensive linemen of his generation, bull rushes his way into position #8. Following a dominant collegiate career at Utah State, the Los Angeles Rams selected him with the 3rd overall pick in the 1962 NFL Draft. Together with Deacon Jones, Rosey Grier and Lamar Lundy, the Rams Fearsome Foursome formed one of the greatest defensive lines ever assembled. In his 15-year Hall of Fame career in which he missed only two games, Olsen achieved an amazing 14 All-Pro selections, an NFL Rookie of the Year award and, perhaps most impressive, he was selected to the NFL All Decade Teams for both the 1960s and 1970s. His appeal extended far beyond football. He enjoyed a thriving acting career featuring starring roles on hit shows Little House on the Prairie and Father Murphy. As a broadcaster, Olsen formed ½ of some of the top announcing teams of the 1970s and 1980s. He teamed with Dick Enberg, Curt Gowdy, Charlie Jones and Dick Stockton during his tenures with NBC and CBS. He called four Super Bowls and nine Rose Bowls. His first football card appears in the 1964 Philadelphia issue – the first issue for the company in an effort to challenge Topps’ stronghold. For the 1964 issue, Philadelphia Gum negotiated the rights to feature NFL players while Topps was relegated to feature AFL players. Despite Olsen’s on-and off-field talents, his rookie card is disproportionate in value. You can own one of the six gem mint graded copies for only $2,000 or so.
- 1989 Score Troy Aikman – As the youngest member of our Top 25, Troy Aikman settles into the #7 ranking. Following a leg injury suffered at the hands of the U’s Jerome Brown, Aikman transferred from Oklahoma to the bright lights of Tinseltown and UCLA. As signal caller for the Bruins, Aikman won the Davey O’Brien Award as the nation’s top quarterback. He became the first player drafted by the Jerry Jones/Jimmy Johnson regime when the Cowboys selected him with 1st overall pick in the 1989 NFL Draft. As the cornerstone of the team rebuild, Aikman led the turnaround that resulted in three Super Bowl championships. His personal achievements include induction into the Hall of Fame, a Super Bowl MVP Award, 6 Pro-Bowl selections, 32,942 passing yards and 165 touchdowns. Perhaps most importantly, in 1997, he received the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. In 2001, Aikman joined Fox as a color commentator and immediately vaulted to the top of the network’s roster. He has already called 5 Super Bowls, and with Aikman in the prime of his broadcasting career, that number is certain to climb higher. Aikman’s rookie card is part of the inaugural 1989 Score issue and is valued in the $100 neighborhood in gem mint condition – the most easily obtainable card in gem mint condition in our rankings, as card investing had already gained widespread popularity.
- 1957 Topps Paul Hornung – Accustomed to the spotlight, the Golden Boy Paul Hornung leverages the strength of his popularity and playing days to land in our #6 ranking. Perhaps unlike any other football player in history, he has achieved the highest acclaim as both a collegiate and professional football player. His storied career at Notre Dame culminated with the Heisman Trophy and the honor of being the 1st overall selection in the 1957 NFL Draft. As a pro for the Green Bay Packers, Hornung won 4 NFL championships, played a key role in winning Super Bowl I, was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 1961 and gained induction into the Hall of Fame. In addition to his career 3,711 rushing yards and 50 touchdowns, the versatile Hornung added 66 field goals and 190 extra points as a placekicker. Interestingly, Hornung was called into active military duty during the 1961 season. So Vince Lombardi, called in a favor of President John Kennedy who granted Hourning a weekend exception, enabling him to play for the Packers on Sundays. A gambling scandal though kept the Golden Boy out of the NFL for a short period of time. He entered the broadcast business with the Vikings radio team and tapped the World Football League to debut his television broadcast skills that led to five years calling NFL games for CBS. Hornung’s rookie card is part of the especially popular and colorful 1957 Topps issue. The card is part of a scarcer, high-numbers series in the set as Topps staged the release of each numbered series throughout the season. The card represents one of the most popular football cards of all-time with a mint version achieving a final gavel auction price of more than $50,000.
- 1961 Fleer Dan Meredith – The gregarious Dandy Don Meredith comfortably sits in the #5 position. As a two-time collegiate All-American at SMU and the first player to effectively sign with the Dallas Cowboys franchise, he was truly the beloved favorite son in Dallas. His 9 year-pro career was highlighted by 3 All-Pro selections, 17,199 passing yards and 135 touchdowns. Meredith took his jovial style to the broadcasts of ABC’s Monday Night football booth and together with Frank Gifford and Howard Cosell formed one of the most iconic partnerships the industry has seen. Sandwiched in his MNF tenure is a 3 year hiatus where Meredith teamed with Curt Gowdy for NBC. He is perhaps best known for breaking into “Turn Out the Lights, the Party’s Over…” once a game got out of reach. Surprisingly, Dandy Don’s 1961 Fleer rookie card only chalks up a value of $550 in mint condition.
- 1965 Topps Joe Namath – On the strength of his football card popularity and playing career, Joe Namath overcomes an otherwise ordinary broadcasting career to snatch the #3 position in our ranking. The physically gifted Broadway Joe saved his best for the biggest games. Under Paul “Bear” Bryant’s guidance, he led his Alabama team to the National Championship in 1964. He then spurned the NFL’s St. Louis Cardinals to sign with the AFL’s New York Jets for $200,000 and a new Lincoln Continental. The Jets cash was clearly well spent as Namath led the Jets to one of the most storied upsets in sports history, the 1969 Super Bowl. His Hall of Fame career featured 2 AFL MVP awards, 27,663 yards passing and 173 touchdowns. Following his playing days, Namath embarked on a broadcast career that included a run in ABC’s Monday Night Football booth. He also has made numerous television cameo appearances, including The Love Boat, Married With Children, Here’s Lucy, The Flip Wilson Show, The Simpsons, The A-Team and my personal favorite, The Brady Bunch;when he saved the day for Bobby. No top football card list can be complete without the inclusion of Broadway Joe as his football card popularity far exceeds his impressive on-field accomplishments. The flashy, strong-armed, generational icon also headlined Topps issue in 1965 – a set that included only AFL players with Philadelphia Gum owning the NFL rights. This Joe Namath “tall boy” card is perhaps the most popular football card of all-time. A Mint copy of this cardboard gold achieved an auction price of $264,000 earlier this year.
- 1955 Bowman Pat Summerall – The revered Pat Summerall is the #3 all-time announcer in our countdown. As a collegian, he starred as an Arkansas Razorback, playing Defense End, Tight End and Kicker. Although he played Defensive End in the first few years of his NFL career, he eventually settled into a primary role as a kicker for the Lions, Cardinals and Giants through his 10-year pro career. Summerall won an NFL Championship as a rookie in 1952 with the Lions. Over his career, he converted on 100 field goal attempts. Summerall achieved far more success once his playing days came to an end and he made his way into the broadcast booth. Having started as a color commentator, he made the successful transition to play-by-by work and many consider him the greatest to do so. No one has announced more Super Bowls than the 16 called by Summerall. He is perhaps best known for perfectly complementing the more visible John Madden. Beyond football, Summerall called 26 Masters Tournaments, 21 US Open Tennis Championships and even an NBA Finals. He also produced and syndicated a high school sports feature show entitled Sports Stars of Tomorrow. Despite his legendary accomplishments in the booth, the 1955 Bowman Pat Summerall rookie card never quite garnered the popularity you would expect and a mint copy is valued at under $400.
- 1952 Bowman Frank Gifford – On the strength of excellence in all three of our ratings criteria, Frank Gifford secures the #2 position in our all-time rankings. The California native took the JUCO route to USC – where he achieved All-American status running out of the Trojans backfield. The New York Giants selected Gifford with the 11th overall pick in the 1952 NFL Draft. Remarkably, his 8 All-Pro selections came at three different positions throughout his career – Running Back, Flanker and Defensive Back. In addition to leading the Giants to the 1956 NFL Championship as the league’s MVP, the Hall of Famer racked up 3,609 rushing yards, 5,434 receiving yards and 77 touchdowns over his career. His 12 year playing career was actually interrupted for 2 years as he recovered from a vicious hit at the hands of Chuck Bednarik. As his playing days came to an end, Gifford joined the CBS broadcast team covering football, golf and basketball. In 1971, he embarked on an incredible 27 year journey with ABC’s Monday Night Football. Over the years, his partners changed to include Howard Cosell, Al Michaels, Don Meredith and Dan Dierdorf. Gifford masterfully handled both color and play-by-play duties and indisputably goes down as one of the most elite football announcers ever to put on a headset. The highly demanded 1952 Bowman Large Frank Gifford rookie card is part of one of the popular football sets of all-time. It has proven especially difficult to find this card in centered condition. As a result only 6 copies of this card have ever graded out in mint condition by PSA – and none have ever achieved gem mint status. A mint copy last came on the public market in 2010 and sold for more than $6,000 at that time. Today, a mint Gifford rookie is likely to fetch close to $20,000.
- 1933 Sport Kings Red Grange – As the only charter member of both the College Football and Pro Football Halls of Fame, Red Grange crowns our rankings of all-time announcer football cards. In 2008, the legendary Galloping Ghost was named the greatest college football player ever by ESPN. Shockingly, Grange enrolled at the University of Illinois with the intention of playing only basketball and running track – fortunately, for the Illini and the sports world, once on campus, he ultimately decided to play football as well. His 20-game collegiate career was highlighted by 3,362 rushing yards, 31 touchdowns, recognition as a three-time All-American, a national championship and cover of Time Magazine. With no NFL Draft in place, numerous NFL franchise owners attempted to sign Grange to a professional contract. The legendary George Halas managed to lure Grange to the Chicago Bears with a contract that included a portion of ticket sales, and effectively amounted to $100,000 for 19 games – at a time the average player salary was $100 per game. As a pro, Grange won 2 NFL Championships and was named to the NFL’s All-Decade team for the 1920s. After football playing days, Grange pursued a Hollywood career and starred in multiple silent films and a series entitled The Galloping Ghost. With the advent and increasing popularity of televised football games in the 1950s, CBS deployed Grange in the broadcast booth to call Chicago Bears games and NBC leveraged his insights and popularity to call collegiate games. Grange worked many network games with Lindsey Nelson. This eye catching 1933 Sport Kings Red Grange football card was issued by the Goudey Gum Co. as part of a cross-sport issue honoring the best athletes of all-time and included baseball, football and hockey players. Only 4 copies of this card have ever been graded mint by PSA. A mint copy has not publicly sold in the last 15 years. Should one hit the market, ownership would likely require a bid approaching six figures.