He walks with a cane now and hasn't run over a linebacker for over 40 years, but Jim Brown is as intense as ever.
Joel Tschantz can attest to this. The Browns season ticket-holder and owner of the No. 4 Jim Brown Master Set on the PSA Set Registry has met the legendary running back several times.
"Even at his advanced age (74), he's still the most intimidating person I've ever shaken hands with," said Tschantz.
Menacing on and off the field during his playing career from 1957 to 1965, Brown was the most dominant running back of his era.
"He used to take a lot of pride in running through guys," said Pete Fletcher, who owns the Registry's top Jim Brown Master Set. "He was 6-foot-2 and 232 pounds back when nobody was that size. He was a rare combination of size and speed."
Tschantz expresses similar sentiments.
"When you see the films of Jim Brown, he looked like a man amongst boys and that always impressed me. He was built like the modern day athlete, but in the 1950s and 1960s, the rest of the guys weren't built like that," he said. "I don't think he was a weight lifter, but he looked like he was. He was just running over guys back then."
Born in Georgia but raised in New York, Brown fought racism for most of his youth. After starring at Syracuse University, he was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the first round in 1957. Brown's impact was immediate, rushing for 942 yards and earning league MVP honors in his first season. He would capture two more MVP awards (1958, 1965) and was a Pro Bowler in each of his nine seasons. Brown remains the only NFL running back to average more than 100 yards a game.
Unfortunately for gridiron fans, Brown's ambitions were greater than football. It was while Brown, just 29 at the time, was filming The Dirty Dozen that he stunned the football world by announcing his retirement. He would appear in a number of other movies and become very active in the civil rights movement in the '60s.
For his accomplishments, Brown was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971.
"As far as I'm concerned, Jim Brown is the greatest football player that ever played," said Hans vonRekowski, who owns the Registry's No. 8 Basic set.
Rick Kozar, owner of the Registry's No. 1 Basic Set, agrees.
"Jim Brown isn't just the best running back of all-time, he's the greatest football player of all-time," he said.
Brown's greatness has inspired a number of collectors to pursue his Basic (10 cards) and Master (22 cards) sets on the PSA Set Registry.
"I was a little kid when Brown was in his prime, but even then, I knew I was watching the best player in the NFL," said Fletcher.
Brown's rookie, 1958 Topps (#62), is his most coveted card.
"Jim Brown's rookie is one of the top football cards of all-time," said vonRekowski.
Unfortunately, this card can be difficult to find in top condition.
"Because it has quite a bit of black on the card, just inside the border, you see a lot of printer spots on the rookies," said Tschantz. "The other problem is focus. I'm not sure why but some '58s have perfect corners and nice centering, but the picture is a little out of focus."
Of the 1,545 submitted, there are five PSA MINT 9s and 167 PSA NM-MT 8s. A PSA 8 sold for $2,990 on eBay in February 2010.
But vonRekowski says the toughest mainstream Brown single to find in pristine condition is the 1962 Topps card (#28).
"The black borders are so tough," noted Tschantz. "Centering is also an issue. Printer spots on that card tend to show up a lot too."
Just three have received the vaunted PSA 9 grade, with one selling for $10,540.80 in a Mastro Auctions sale in December 2006.
Also elusive in flawless form is Brown's 1963 Topps (#14) single. This card is a short print that boasts green borders.
"It shows chipping much easier than white borders do, and centering is always an issue on those '63s," said Fletcher.
Of the 413 evaluated, there have been just six PSA 9s, with one fetching $3,150 on eBay in May 2009.
Brown's 1966 Philadelphia card (#41) is also difficult to find in mint condition. Poor left-to-right centering plagues this card. There are just four PSA 9s and 44 PSA 8 examples. A PSA 8 sold for $271 on eBay in September 2009.
Released between 1959 and 1964, the five Brown Kahn's Wiener cards are also rare in top grade. No more than 16 of any of these cards have been graded by PSA (see accompanying chart).
"I've been looking for the 1959 Kahn's Brown card forever and that's brutally rare," said Fletcher. "Sometimes you can see the stains that the hot dogs left. It's just tough to get a clean card."
Another tough card is Brown's 1961 National City Bank team issue. Fletcher says these came in sheets of six cards and had to be hand cut, so very few copies have survived in top grade.
Just 12 of these have been submitted to PSA, and two have been deemed PSA 9s. A PSA NM 7 sold for $553.08 in a Mile High Card Co. auction in January 2007.
As you can see, even more than 40 years after his retirement, Brown is still very popular amongst collectors.
"The bidding is pretty furious for Jim Brown cards. I mean, everybody has heard of Jim Brown," explained Tschantz.
Brown has also maintained a relatively high profile since his retirement.
"I have a 17-year-old son and he knows all about Jim Brown," said Tschantz. "Jim Brown has always kind of been out there. He's been a visible person long beyond his playing days."
Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Joel Tschantz and Pete Fletcher provided pictures for this article. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted and Set Registry rankings reported are those as of press time.
Copyright © 2014 PSA – A Division of Collectors Universe. Nasdaq: CLCT. All rights reserved.