1953 was also the year that the FCC approved color television. Color was the rage all around, and Bowman was making strides on that front in card making. But apparently they weren’t so durable.
Flash forward to current day, and the 1953 Bowman football set has the fewest highly graded cards of any post-War issue. As of early 2013, there have been 7,931 total cards submitted to PSA for grading, and only 60 came out PSA 9, and only 1 GM MT 10. This means that anything graded 8+, has at least some solid value, regardless of the the player.
Now, while this has helped the set gain notoriety it is devoid of too many rookie cards, although it does have quite a few Hall of Famers. But it has colorful stories a plenty.
One of those stories is Marion Motley, trailblazer in sport. After a few years serving in World War II, in 1946 Motley joined the Cleveland Browns of the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) along with Bill Willis. The two become the first African-Americans to play professional football in the modern era, a full year before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in major league baseball.
As a fullback, Motley complemented the passing attack of Otto Graham, leading the league in rushing in 1948 as the Browns posted a perfect 15–0 record. The league folded after the 1949 season, and the Browns were absorbed by the NFL. Motley finished as the all-time leading rusher in AAFC history, and was a part of the 1950 Browns team that won the title.
Motely’s not the only story from this collection, Eddie LeBaron is included in the set and his rookie card is worth targeting. LeBaron stood only 5-feet 7-inches and weighed 160 pounds, and was nicknamed ‘the Littlelest General’. Despite his diminutive size, he had a successful career at College of the Pacific as a quarterback, safety and punter. In 1949, he was in the running for the Heisman trophy, and would eventually be elected to the College Football Hall of Fame. But in 1950, he was called into military action during the Korean War, where he was wounded twice and decorated with a purple heart and a bronze star.
After his tour, he joined the Washington Redskins in 1952 and went to three Pro Bowl games as their starting QB (he had a one-year hiatus in the CFL because he wanted to play for his old college coach for a year). In 1960, he was selected by the Dallas Cowboys in an expansion draft, and became the first ever starting quarterback for what would eventually be known as ‘America’s team.’ LeBaron went to another Pro Bowl in 1962, before retiring in 1963 after amassing 13,399 yards and 104 touchdowns.
Frank Gifford was another of many Hall of Famers in the set, having played in 5 NFL Championship games.. During his career with the Giants, he rushed for 3,609 yards and 34 touchdowns as a running back, had 367 receptions for 5,434 yards and 43 touchdowns as a receiver, 823 yards and 14 touchdowns passing, while playing some on defense as well. Of course, he went on to further fame as a broadcaster on Monday Night Football with Howard Cosell.
Plenty other HOFers worth targeting in this magnificent set, including YA Tittle, Otto Graham, Norm Van Brocklin, Bobby Layne, Elroy ‘Crazy legs’ Hirsch, Chuck Bednarik, Doak Walker, Lou Groza. Some graded versions can be found in the affordable $100 range, but it’s those elusive high grade cards that make 1953 Bowman football a cut above many others from this era.
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