Set Registry: Small Wonders, A Look at the 1952 Bowman Small Football Set by Jim Churilla

Not many of us can say we remember collecting football cards back in 1952. In fact, the majority of current collectors were not even born. For those of you who are old enough to remember going down to your local dime store, the image is probably etched in your mind like the carving on a rock. Reaching into the card box, picking out seven or eight one cent packs, of 1952 Bowman Small football cards, pulling from your pocket those shiny new Lincoln wheat cents to pay for the packs, and then experiencing the thrill of opening up the packs and getting your favorite player or players! It's a certain rush that only a true collector can relate too and one that leaves a lasting impression.

For modern card collectors, it's hard to imagine a time when so little could buy so much but, back in 1952, such was the case. Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected President, the average income was a whopping $3,515, a house cost $16,800, gas was .20 cents per gallon, a stamp cost .03 cents, a loaf of bread cost .16 cents, mens t-shirts were 2 for .59 cents, telephone area codes began, Frosted Flakes were introduced, the first Mad Magazine came out, the World population was 2.63 billion (today China alone has over 3 billion), the U.S. population was 157,557,74 million, best actor was Gary Cooper in High Noon, best picture was Greatest Show on Earth, hit songs were Nat King Cole's Unforgettable and Jimmy Boyd's I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, Elvis Presley was fired from his job at Lows State Theatre, and Mister Potato Head hit the shelves! That's what was going on in 1952, and what a year it was.

Van Brocklin

Entering 1952, Bowman was firmly entrenched as the big player in the card market with its only true competition coming from a start up company called Topps. Topps, however, was determined to develop its own identity in the card business and to do so they needed to be original. They did this by introducing their now famous and highly sought-after standard sized 1952 Topps baseball card set which, at the time, was thought to be a failed attempt to compete with Bowman. Topps was so convinced that they ended up dumping scores of cards from the final series of the set into the Atlantic Ocean. The same series that contained the Mickey Mantle card! Little did anyone realize then that the year marked a big turning point in the sports card collecting business, as it was the last of the small sized issued cards.

In 1952, Bowman put out its 144-card small sized football set but a very important problem surfaced. They were losing sales to their main rival Topps. Topps introduced the first full sized cards in 1952 and it was now the full sized cards that appealed to the everyday collector, not the small sized cards that up until this point had dominated the hobby. So what was Bowman to do in order to rectify the situation, after having just released their new 1952 football set in small size form? The solution was to re-issue the exact same set that year but this time as a full sized card set that would appeal and meet the demands of the collector. That meant stopping the printing and distribution of the smaller sized set and for Bowman to begin producing the larger set immediately.

Gifford Marchetti

This story will solely focus on the 1952 Bowman small sized football card set but it's important to note why two different sized sets were produced by Bowman in the same year and the role they played in trading card history.

The 1952 Bowman Small football card set is one of the more valuable and desirable football card sets ever produced. The set consists of 144-cards that measure approximately 2 1/16" x 3 1/8" compared to the identical larger version which measures 2 ½" x 3 ¾". It is believed that the set was issued in 2 series, cards 1 to 72 and 73 to 144 with no known short printed cards. Like so many older card sets, it has been claimed by some that the first and last cards in the set, #1 Norm Van Brocklin and #144 Jim Lansford are more difficult to find in top condition based upon their location in the set by being the bookends. This is particularly true of the larger version.

Another noted possibility may have been the location of the cards on the card sheet, which exposed the cards to a higher probability of damage when the cards were cut. Cards could be purchased in either one card, one-cent penny packs or in five card, five-cent nickel packs. The pack wrappers consist of the colors yellow, red and white and contained a stick of bubble gum which, hopefully, would not stain the cards as was so common back then.

Donovan

The front of the card depicts a player or a coach in a rich and colorful watercolor tinted photo drawn from an actual picture. There are regular portraits and action photos, which appear to jump out at the collector. A solid white border enclosing the picture frames the front of the card. Within the frame, you will find the player names in black letters encased in a white pennant on cards 1 to 72 and, on cards 73 to 144, you will have both the player names and team in black letters within the pennant.

If you're a fan of vintage football logos then you will find some very cool team logos on the front of these cards. A good example of this would be the classic dancing blue Chicago Bear found on all Chicago Bears players cards. Now we all know that bears are not blue, but it makes for an interesting visual! Another classic logo is the Southern Methodist University Mustang pictured on card # 93 of Fred Barnes. On certain team logos or symbols, the team name is also included underneath. Besides having the logos and team names of the professional players, you also have the newly drafted rookies who have their respected college name listed on the card front instead of the pro team that drafted them. Like the pro player cards, some college players have a college logo on the front and some do not.

The backs of the cards contain all the pertinent information about that particular player in a horizontal format. You will find the player names in the upper left hand corner in all capital letters, the individual card number below, followed underneath by the player positions and finally the team. For college players, it is important to note that the pro team that the college player was drafted by appears at the bottom of the card. On the upper right side of the card back, you will find the players age, height and weight. Below the information and in the middle of the card reverse is a blurb that provides information about the particular player or coach. Below the player and coach blurb is the statistical information, which includes the player record for the previous season. Listed are his carrying, passing, receiving, and scoring statistics but only for non-lineman and coaches. The final bits of information, at the very bottom of the card, are the words "college to pro football picture cards" along with the copyright wording.

Layne

The 1952 Bowman small football card set features a number of great players who went on to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Among them are the following key rookie cards of # 14 legendary coach Paul Brown, #16 of star New York Giants wide receiver Frank Gifford, #46 Art Donovan, #48 of Chicago Bears coach George "Papa Bear" Halas, #85 Andy Robutselli, #127 Ollie Matson, #129 Jack Christiansen, #23 Gino Marchetti, #140 Yale Lary and # 29 Hugh McElhenny. Key non-rookie cards in the set include the condition sensitive card # 1 of Norm Van Brocklin, #2 Otto Graham, #17 Y.A. Tittle, #30 Sammy Baugh, #78 Bobby Layne, #142 of Dallas Cowboy coaching great Tom Landry and card #144 of Jim Lansford, the other condition sensitive card and last in the set.

There are two uncorrected error cards in the set, # 53 of Joe Bach (which has his name misspelled on the back of his card as Back) and # 132 of Chuck Ortmann (which lists his yards per carry as a whopping 9.4 yards). The two most valuable cards in the set are the Frank Gifford and Tom Landry cards, according to the Sports Market Report. What makes this set appealing is the combination of beautiful artwork and flurry of quality players.

The 1952 NFL Draft was held on January 17th 1952, and in it was a strong core that helped make the 1952 Bowman football set a solid one. The first pick in that draft was Vanderbilt quarterback Bill Wade taken by the Los Angeles Rams, who would later lead the 1963 Chicago Bears to a championship, Wade did not even have a card in the 1952 Bowman set.

Landry

Another oddity was the fact that Heisman Trophy winner Dick Kazmaier, who was technically the first pick of the Chicago Bears in the draft, had opted not to play pro football. He would pursue a non-sports career. Frank Gifford coming out of USC had no intentions of playing in New York for the Giants but the "large bonus" he would receive of $250 would sway him to sign. The best undrafted player would be 24 year old and future Hall of Famer Dick "Night Train" Lane who would sign and star with the Los Angeles Rams, setting the single season interception record that year with 14 that still stands today. He did not have a card in the 1952 Bowman set.

The 1952 NFL season would see the Cleveland Browns win the American Conference with an 8-4 record, while the Detroit Lions and Los Angeles Rams would tie in the National Conference with identical 9-3 records, forcing a divisional playoff that would be won by the Detroit Lions (31-21). The Detroit Lions would go on to win their first championship in 17 years by beating the Cleveland Browns 17-7. There would be no MVP award, and Hugh McElhenny of the San Francisco 49ers would be the Rookie of the Year.

That same year, one of the worst teams of all time, the new 1952 Dallas Texans, would fold during mid-season, be taken over by the NFL to prevent a total collapse and play the rest of their games on the road, resulting in a 1-11 record! Their only win came when George Halas opted to play his second stringers versus the Texans thinking he could still win with ease. The next year, the Texans would become the Baltimore Colts.

The 1952 Bowman Small football card set may have represented the last of the small sized card sets but, for its size, it definitely packed a large punch and has reserved its rightful place in trading card history!

Comments or additional information is welcome and can be e-mailed to Jim Churilla at [email protected]

 

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The Number One Current Finest Set: 1952 Bowman Small – Davalillo

 

Vintage Baseball

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1909 Dockman & Sons Gum (E92) - PWT E92 Dockman

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1911 E94 Close Candy - Getting Close to Complete Brian C Daniels

1911 T201 Mecca Double Folder - Donni's T201 Set

1911 T205 Gold Border - The Smith T205 Gold Border Collection

1911 T3 Turkey Red Cabinets - vwtdi

1911 Williams Baking (D359) - Frank's D359 Set

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1914 Cracker Jack - Peter Garcia

1914 Polo Grounds Game - 707 Sportscards

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1923 Walter Mails Card Game - MastroNet

1927 York Caramels Type 1 (E210) - Scot York

1928 George Ruth Candy Company - Jw's one and only blank back Babe Ruth set

1929 Kashin Publications R316 - Luxury's Krazy Kashins

1930 PR4 Cracker Jack Pins - The Harry Michael Collection

1932 Orbit Gum Pins-Numbered PR2 - The Thomas Irwin Collection

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1934 Goudey - Don Louchios

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1947 Menko Die-Duts - Brillo Pad's Cards

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1950 Callahan HOF - Paul Jastrzembski's 1950 Callahan Collection

1950 Drakes - Don Louchios

1951 Bowman - Charles M. Merkel

1951 Topps Blue Back - Charles Merkel

1951 Topps Connie Mack All-Stars - Colt McClelland

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1952 Coca-Cola Playing Tips - Michael Ortega

1952 Red Man Tobacco - RGOLD

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1952 Topps - Master - The Dreier Collection 1952 Topps Master Set

1953 Bowman Black & White - Andrew Kaplan

1953 Bowman Color - Andrew Kaplan

1953 Johnston Cookies - Mrichards 1953 Johnston Cookies Set

1953 Red Man Tobacco - RGOLD

1953 Stahl-Meyer Franks - Mastronet

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1954 Bowman - Basic - L.R.'s 1954 Bowman Vintage Set

1954 Dan-Dee Potato Chips - Charles M Merkel

1954 Johnston Cookies - Old Man

1954 Red Heart - John Branca

1954 Red Man Tobacco - RGOLD

1954 Topps - The Ron Strahl Collection

1954 Wilson Franks - John Branca

1955 Bowman - Basic - Midnight Cowboy's 1955 Bowman Set

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1955 Golden Stamp Books Brooklyn Dodgers - Robert L. Earhart Golden Stamps Dodgers Set

1955 Red Man Tobacco - RGOLD

1955 Topps - Paul Fleetwood

1955 Topps Doubleheaders - Ron Hobbs Family Collection

1956 Rodeo Meats Athletics - Boomers Cards

1956 Topps - Basic - Ruby

1956 Topps - Master - Phil Minard's 1956 Topps Master Set

1957 Kahns Wieners - bobsbbcards

1957 Swift Meats - 707 Sportscards - LTD - 1957 Swift Meats Game Cards

1957 Topps - Basic - l.r.'s 1957 Vintage Baseball Set

1957 Topps - Master - 707 Sportscards - LTD - 1957 Master Set

1958 Dodgers Bell Brand - Griffins

1958 Topps - Basic - L.R.'s 1958 Vintage Baseball

1958 Topps - Master - Marshall Fogel

1959 Fleer Ted Williams - JH 1959 Fleer Ted Williams Set

1959 Los Angeles Dodgers Postcards - Kevin Saucier

1959 Morrell Meats Dodgers - MorrellMan's '59 Morrells

1959 Topps - Basic - JTM's 1959 Topps

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1959 Yoo-Hoo - AJG

1960 Dodgers Bell Brand - Rick Levy's chips & more chips '60

1960 Fleer - Basic - Ron Diamond's 'Basic' 1960 Fleer

1960 Fleer - Master - 707 Sportscards - LTD - 1960 HOF Set

1960 Leaf - Davalillo

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1960 Morrell Meats - Griffins

1960 Nu-Card Hi-Lites - KSKS 1960 Nu-Card

1960 Topps - bolecknzoz's 1960 Topps Baseball

1961 Chemstrand Iron-On Patches - 707 Sportscards - LTD - 1961 Cloth Patch Set

1961 Dodgers Bell Brand - Mile High Card Co. 61 Bell Brands

1961 Golden Press - Wheels1313 Collection

1961 Morrell Meats - MorrellMan's 61's

1961 Nu-Card Scoops - Davalillo

1961 Topps - the mcbride gold collection

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1962 Kahns Wieners - Basic - Robert L. Earhart's 1962 Kahn's Weiners Set

1962 Kahns Wieners - Master - Robert L. Earhart's 1962 Kahn's Weiner's Master Set

1962 Salada-Junket Coins - 1962 Salada Junket Coin Set - Erik Weeden "The Salada King"

1962 Topps - Basic - seinbigd

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1963 Bazooka ATG - Wheels1313 Collection

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1963 Fleer - Allan R King

1963 Salada-Junket Coins - 707 Sportscards - LTD - 1909 - Nothing Junk about these Tin Can Beauties #1

1963 Topps - Basic - The Duke of Mint

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1964 Kahns Wieners - PEP's 64 Weiners

1964 Topps - Cryer64

1964 Topps Coins - Mike's 1964 Topps Coins

1964 Topps Giants - thegemmintman

1964 Topps Stand Up - Don Louchios

1965 Kahns Wieners - MACPSA 1965 Kahn's Wieners Baseball Set

1965 Old London Coins - The DiCioccio Collection

1965 Topps - The Duke of Mint

1965 Topps Embossed - Zodiac's 1965 Gold Rush

1966 Topps - Basic - Baseball - Vintage Corvette - 1966 topps

1967 Topps - Basic - Capecards

1967 Topps Red Sox Stickers - Steve's Impossible Dream Red Sox set

1967 Topps Who Am I? - Memory Lane inc

1968 O-Pee-Chee - Yazfan08 - Collecting The Uncommon

1968 Topps - Tom's 68T Awesome Set

1968 Topps 3-D - Charles Merkel

1968 Topps Game - Russ Romberger

1969 Globe Imports Playing Cards - Scott L. Whittenburg

1969 O-Pee-Chee Deckle - Cameo's Maple Leaf Deckle Set

1969 Topps - Basic - Cryer69

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1969 Topps 4-in-1 - mams '69 4 in 1 set

1969 Topps Decal - The DiCioccio Collection

1969 Topps Deckle Edge - The MLB Collection of Deckle Edge Inserts

1969 Topps Supers - Robert L. Earhart Collection

1970 Kelloggs - thegemmintman

1970 Milton Bradley - Scott L. Whittenburg

1970 Rold Gold Pretzels - KP's Rold Gold Greats

1970 Topps - Basic - Cryer70

1970 Topps - Master - Cryer70M

1970 Topps Super - Robert L. Earhart 1970 Topps Super Set

1971 Kelloggs - Basic - Mick's 1971 Kellogg's Baseball Cards

1971 Kelloggs - Master - Mick's 1971 Kellogg's Master Set

1971 Topps - Matt & Brett's Collection

1971 Topps Coins - Mike's 1971 Topps Coins

1971 Topps Greatest Moments - The Shane Leonard Collection

1971 Topps Supers - Robert L. Earhart 1971 Topps Supers

Modern Baseball

1972 Fleer Famous Feats - 707 Sportscards - LTD - 1972 Famous Feet

1972 Kelloggs - Basic - JC's 1972 Kellogg's

1972 Kelloggs - Master - 3D Dreamer

1972 Kelloggs All Time Greats - SMB's Pieces of History

1972 Topps - The Bakka Collection - 72

1973 Kelloggs - King Kellogg '73

1973 Topps - The Wetzel Collection

1973 Topps 53 Reprint - The 53 Kid

1974 Fleer Baseball Firsts - 707 Sportscards - LTD - 1974 Fleer Firsts

1974 Kelloggs - Basic - Sideplate's '74 Kelloggs

1974 Kelloggs - Master - King Kellogg '74 Master

1974 Topps - Gary's 1974 Set

1974 Topps Deckle Edge - TC Collection

1974 Topps Team Checklist - First bb cards Team xlists

1974 Topps Traded - Wetzel's 1974 Traded Set

1975 Kelloggs - Basic - Drew V's 1975 Kellogg's set

1975 Kelloggs - Master - King Kellogg '75 Master

1975 Topps - Kurt's '75 Topps

1975 Topps Mini - T. Allan Bergquist's 75 Topps Mini's

1976 Buckmans Discs - Basic - The Dayton Collection - 1976 Buckman's Discs

1976 Buckmans Discs - Master - Duke of Disc-O, 1976 Buckmans Discs baseball - Master

1976 Crane Potato Chips Discs - Basic - Duke of Disc-O, 1976 Crane baseball - Basic

1976 Crane Potato Chips Discs - Master - Duke of Disc-O, 1976 Crane baseball

1976 Isalys/Sweet William Discs - Basic - Duke of Disc-O, 1976 Isaly's Sweet William baseball Basic

1976 Isalys/Sweet William Discs - Master - Duke of Disc-O, 1976 Isaly's Sweet William baseball

1976 Kelloggs - King Kellogg '76

1976 Orbakers Discs - Master - Duke of Disc-O, 1976 Orbakers Discs baseball - Master

1976 Topps - rbdjr1's 1976 Topps Baseball Set

1976 Topps Traded - Wetzel's 1976 Traded Set

1976 Towne Club Discs - Master - Duke of Disc-O, 1976 Towne Club Discs baseball - Master

1977 Dairy Isle Discs - Duke of Disc-O, 1977 Dairy Isle Discs - baseball

1977 Detroit Caesars Discs - Duke of Disc-O, 1977 Detroit Caesars Discs baseball

1977 Holiday Inn Discs - Duke of Disc-O, 1977 Holiday Inn Discs - baseball

1977 Kelloggs - Basic - Steve's Excellent 1977 Kellogg's Mint Set

1977 Kelloggs - Master - King Kellogg '77 Master

1977 Pepsi-Cola Baseball Stars - Duke of Disc-O, 1977 Pepsi - Cola Baseball Stars

1977 Topps - The Apostle Collection

1977 Topps Cloth Stickers - The JC Bennett Collection - 1977

1977 Zipz Discs - Duke of Disc-O, 1977 Zipz Discs baseball

1978 Big T/Tastee Freeze Discs - Duke of Disc-O, 1978 Big T/Tastee Freeze Discs baseball

1978 Kelloggs - King Kellogg '78

1978 Saga Discs - Duke of Disc-O, 1978 SAGA Discs baseball

1978 Topps - Funky Frank's 1978 Topps

1979 Kelloggs - Basic - JC's 1979 Kellogg's

1979 Kelloggs - Master - JC's 1979 Kellogg's Master

1980 Kelloggs - King Kellogg '80

1980 Laughlin Famous Feats - Carlos D. Aponte's 1980 Laughlin Famous Feats

1981 Kelloggs - Steve's Excellent 1981 Kellogg's 3-D Mint Set

1981 TCMA Rochester Red Wings - The O'Connor Collection

1981 Topps - Adam's Collection

1982 Kelloggs - King Kellogg '82

1982 On Deck Cookies Discs - The Emard Collection

1982 Topps - Steve's 1982 Topps Set

1983 Kelloggs - King Kellogg '83

1984 Donruss - Summer of '84D

1984 Fleer Update - Vintage Corvette - 1984 Fleer update

1984 Mothers Cookies Giants - Chuck Nan's 1984 Mother's Cookies All-Time San Francisco Giant's All-Stars

1984 Ralston Purina - Jeff359's 84 Ralston Purina

1989 Cap n Crunch - The Stanley Collection

1989 Upper Deck - Dave Jacobs 1989 UD Set

1990 Leaf - Allan R King

1991 Dennys Grand Slam Holograms - St. Francis of Assisi

1991 Score Mickey Mantle - Museum of Sports History tied with D. J. Walla 1991 Score Mickey Mantle

1991 Upper Deck Nolan Ryan Heroes - Brent's 1991 Upper Deck Nolan Ryan Heroes

1992 Dennys Grand Slam Holograms - St. Francis of Assisi

1992 Topps McDonalds Baseballs Best - Museum of Sports History

1992 Upper Deck Baseball Heroes Ted Williams - John Woody's Ted Williams BB Hero

1993 Finest Refractor - JMK 1993 Topps Finest Refractor set

1993 Pinnacle DiMaggio Autographs - Museum of Sports History

1994 Fanfest Roberto Clemente Commemorative - Luis Pacheco Jr.

1994 Flair Hot Gloves - seinbigd

1994 Sportflics 2000 Rookie/Traded 3-D Rookies - The Alderman Collection

1995 Leaf Limited Gold - The Alderman Collection

1995 Skybox E-Motion Cal Ripken Jr. Timeless - The O'Connor Collection

1995 Zenith All-Star Salute - The Alderman Collection

1995 Zenith Rookie Roll Call - The Alderman Collection

1995 Zenith Z-Team - The Alderman Collection

1996 Dennys Grand Slam Holograms - St. Francis of Assisi

1996 Dennys Instant Replay Holograms - St. Francis of Assisi

1996 Donruss Freeze Frame - The Alderman Collection

1997 Bowman Chrome International Refractor - Keasler Collection 1997 International Refractor Set

1997 Bowman Chrome Refractor - 1997 Keasler Collection of Bowman Chrome Refractors

1997 Bowmans Best Atomic Refractor - The Francis Collection

1997 Dennys Holograms - St. Francis of Assisi

1997 Donruss Signature Notable Nicknames - Museum of Sports History

1998 Donruss Signature Series Significant Signatures - Shoeless Joe's 1998 Donruss Significant Signatures

1998 SP Authentic Chirography - Museum of Sports History

1998 Topps Stars Rookie Reprints Autographs - Museum of Sports History

1999 Bowman Chrome - JeffreyBeffrey

1999 Sports Illustrated Greats of the Game Autographs - JBird

1999 Topps Stars Rookies Reprints Autographs - Museum of Sports History

1999 Topps Traded Autographs - Keasler Collection 1999 Topps Traded Autos

2000 Fleer Greats of the Game Yankees Clippings - The Halliwell Collection

2000 Metal Talent Show - Museum of Sports History

2000 Stadium Club Chrome Preview - Museum of Sports History

2000 Upper Deck Hitters Club Autographs - Museum of Sports History

2000 Upper Deck Legends Defining Moments - Museum of Sports History

2000 Upper Deck Legends Eternal Glory - Museum of Sports History

2000 Upper Deck Yankee Legends Legendary Lumber - The Halliwell Collection

2000 Upper Deck Yankee Legends Legendary Pinstripes - The Halliwell Collection

2000 Upper Deck Yankee Legends Legendary Pinstripes Autographs - The Halliwell Collection

2001 SP Legendary Cuts - Museum of Sports History

2001 Upper Deck Sweet Spot Game Jersey - Joe's Jerseys

2002 Bowman Chrome Draft Picks - mcinvestments

2002 Bowman Chrome Draft Picks Refractors - Keasler's 2002 Draft Pick Refractor Rookies

2002 Bowman Chrome Reprints - MCinvestments

2002 SP Legendary Cuts Autographs - Museum of Sports History

2003 Topps Chrome Red Back Relics Refractors - The Francis Collection