Thanksgiving Football Games Told By Rookie Cards of All-Time Greats6 min read


The day of copious amounts of food and family gatherings is upon us. And without question, football and Thanksgiving are as synonymous as mashed potatoes and gravy. Tracing its roots all the way back to 1920, Thanksgiving Day football has become a regular occurrence as fans look across their brimming plates and watch what has become America’s favorite sport by a large margin.

As an homage to this time-honored tradition of Turkey Day football, I pitted the cardboard likenesses of a few pairs of all-time greats from opposing teams that will clash this Thanksgiving.

First up, the Lions take on ‘da Bears.

Bears vs. Lions

One team is celebrated for its history of vaunted defenders and running backs, while the other team – though it hasn’t given us quite the pedigree – has produced a couple of the most transcendent offensive players the game has ever seen. Imagine if the bone-crushing defender Dick Butkus met the shifty back with tree trunk legs and an aversion to tacklers in Barry Sanders on the field.

1966 Philadelphia #31 Dick Butkus rookie

Bears: 1966 Philadelphia #31 Dick Butkus rookie

The Athlete

Dick Butkus continues to carry the torch in a line of feared Bears defensive stalwarts. Relentless on the gridiron, Butkus hit like a Mack truck and inflicted hurt all over the field. The linebacker also could sniff out developing plays and accumulated 22 interceptions and 27 fumbles during his storied career.

The Card

His only recognized rookie card shares some traits with the ruthless linebacker: It’s tough as nails … to find in high-grade. As such, no examples have earned PSA 10.

1989 Score #257 Barry Sanders

Lions: 1989 Score #257 Barry Sanders

The Athlete

Ten years, ten ­consecutive 1,000-plus yard seasons. Barry Sanders, everybody. From the time he entered the league as 1989’s third overall pick for the Detroit Lions to the time he shocked the football world with his early 1999 retirement, Sanders wowed with highlight reel runs and a preternatural ability to make opposing defenders miss. Maybe it was his tree trunk-sized thighs. Maybe it was his Spider-Sense that kicked in whenever defenders were near, but Sanders has entrenched himself among the all-time greats.

The Card

Though Sanders emerged at a time when cardboard ubiquity was protocol and his rookie card values have suffered, his legacy as a dominant offensive weapon is undeniable. The green borders of his rookie card pose a tough challenge in the grading room.

The Matchup

If, and that’s a big if, Butkus could wrap his giant paws around Sanders, the diminutive back might break in half. But, as mentioned above, Sanders really didn’t like being tackled. Smart money is on the shifty back having his way with the lumbering defender, leaving a plume of Barry-Sanders-shaped dust in his wake as he makes his way to the end zone, a la Roadrunner.

Redskins vs. Cowboys

Two signal callers from two generations. Though the offensive ideologies of both Sammy Baugh and Roger Staubach are likely to differ, it would be an amazing spectacle to see these two legends face off. Alas that will never happen, but we do have two of their key rookie cards.

1948 Leaf #34 Sammy Baugh

Redskins: 1948 Leaf #34 Sammy Baugh

The Athlete

This legendary, multi-sport athlete was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals as a third baseman before switching gears and opting instead for a football future. And believe it or not, not only was he a tremendous quarterback, he also served as punter and is considered among the best in that field, as well. Baugh was known for his acute accuracy and precision throws. He could slice and dice the field with pinpoint accuracy.

The Card

This is the key card of the 1948 set and is afflicted with poor centering and print defects. As such, no examples have been graded PSA 10.

1972 Topps #200 Roger Staubach

Cowboys: 1972 Topps #200 Roger Staubach

The Athlete

Roger Staubach didn’t exactly set the league ablaze upon entering in 1969; he served as a backup. In 1971, Staubach finally wrestled the job from Craig Morton and started a legendary career that includes two Super Bowl titles and one Super Bowl MVP. The quarterback not only possessed a howitzer for an arm, he was sneaky-elusive and, like the aforementioned Sanders, could sense encroaching defenders before scrambling out of harm’s way or launching deep bombs.

The Card

This Cowboys legend and man behind one of the most exciting plays in NFL history with his 1975 “Hail Mary” is also the subject of the key card to the 1972 Topps Football set. Just two examples exist in PSA 10.

The Matchup

Though the two legends propelled their respective teams to multiple championships, they did so with differing skill sets; Baugh preferred precision and moving the chains compared to Staubach’s trademark deep bombs and Hail Marys. With his back against the wall, it’s not unlikely that Staubach would throw up a 60-yard prayer and land a game-winning TD.

Falcons vs. Saints

Now it’s time for two contemporary gunslingers that actually will face each other on Turkey Day. Drew Brees may have all the pedigree and is destined for Canton, but Matt Ryan shares many of the same characteristics of the elder quarterback and even has an MVP to his credit, an accolade that, as of this writing, has eluded Brees. When these two lock horns on the field, the potential for a scoreboard-breaking battle is very real.

2008 Topps Chrome #TC166 Matt Ryan

Falcons: 2008 Topps Chrome #TC166 Matt Ryan

The Athlete

With an MVP campaign under his belt, “Matty Ice” tends to exhibit an icy calm when the game is on the line. Then, with a big arm and elite accuracy, the quarterback has shown a propensity to lead his team to victory. (Unless, of course, it’s the monumental collapse of Super Bowl LI, but that’s an entirely different conversation.) He is still looking for that elusive Super Bowl title, but Ryan sits among today’s NFL elite and is one of the league’s premier signal callers.

The Card

A favorite Ryan rookie card among collectors, this issue tends to be a tough grade; those black borders and chrome surface can be tricky. Still, PSA 10 examples can be yours for just around $35.

2001 Topps Chrome #229 Drew Brees

Saints: 2001 Topps Chrome #229 Drew Brees

The Athlete:

Overcoming tremendous odds with a potentially career-threatening injury during the end of his Chargers stay, Brees has been red-hot ever since he called the Super Dome his game day home, and he has a laundry list of accolades to prove it. Early in the 2018 season, Brees broke Brett Favre’s record of 6,300 completions, and Peyton Manning’s record 539 career TD passes is well within sight. Needless to say, Brees is the elite of the elite.

The Card

Just like the gunslinger is pesky to opposing defenses, his popular Topps Chrome rookie card, numbered to 999, is pesky in high grade. Centering and scratching on the chrome finish make for a tricky grade.

The Matchup

Age before … beauty (?) here. In a matchup that is likely to incur videogame-type scores and stats, Brees reigns supreme and further bolsters his future Hall of Fame career.

Posted by Ryan Gaeta

Ryan is a sports fan and Non-Sports aficionado, who is still tormented by the fact he owned the entire 1st Edition run of Pokémon cards but traded them away or ruined them at one point or another.

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