The Battle for Football Card Supremacy Begins, A Look at the 1950 Bowman Football Set by Jim Churilla

The first major football card set issued was the 1935 National Chicle set but it wouldn't be until 1948 that another major set would appear on the scene. That year saw the initial sets from both the Leaf and Bowman companies and, with them, began the current continuous run of football card sets leading up to the present day. In 1949, Leaf would issue the lone football card set of the year while Bowman would take a one year hiatus from football and concentrate solely on baseball.


The year 1950 was important in the hobby because it marked the beginning of the "Card Wars" between arch rival card companies Bowman and Topps. With Leaf no longer producing sports cards, the two went at it neck and neck for a total of six years until Bowman's eventual buyout by Topps in early 1956. It is important to note that Topps did produce their Topps Magic Photos Football Thrills and Topps Magic Photos All American Football cards in 1948 but each set was very small and not considered a major set.

In order to produce a football card set, one has to have the players to do so and, in 1950, the total number of teams and players in the NFL would increase. The landscape of the National Football League went through a major change in its 31st season as the result of the merger between the existing National Football League teams and its main competitor the All-American Football Conference or AAFC which formed in 1944 and began play in 1946. The NFL consisted of 10 teams while the AAFC had a total of seven teams but only three teams, Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers, and the Baltimore Colts would join the NFL intact.

Each team in the new 13 team NFL would draft 10 players from the remaining four AAFC teams with the exception of Baltimore who was allowed to draft 15 players. Another exception was the AAFC New York Yankees whose players would be divided up between the NFL's New York Giants and New York Bulldogs. The New York Bulldogs would eventually change their name that year to the New York Yanks. The merger itself was a result of financial troubles in both leagues and felt necessary for the professional game to survive.


The new league would be called the National-American Football League but, after only three months, the league name would be changed back to the National Football League. This happened because the existing 10 NFL teams outnumbered the 3 AAFC teams that entered the league, thus, giving them the majority vote. The 13 teams would be divided into the six-team American Conference and the seven-team National Conference.

In its first year, the new NFL would see the former 4 time AAFC champion Cleveland Browns defeat the Los Angeles Rams 30-28 in the NFL Championship Game. The game is considered by many football historians to be the greatest professional football game ever played matching Hall of Famers vs. Hall of Famers with plenty of game dramatics.

The year 1950, marked the first time a playoff game was used to break a conference tie and determine who advanced to the championship game.


In the American Conference, Cleveland defeated the New York Giants 8 to 3 while in the National Conference the Los Angeles Rams defeated the Chicago Bears 24 to 14. The Rams would also become the first NFL team to have all of its home and away games televised. One very interesting bit of information is that all AAFC statistical records are not part of the NFL record book because official scoresheets of AAFC games were not made available to the NFL after the merger, however, the Pro Football Hall of Fame does recognize AAFC statistics. There were two key rule changes implemented before the season, the free substitution rule was reinstated for good and the backward pass or fumble that went out of bounds before being recovered would go to the team who had last possession.

The 1950 NFL draft took place on January 21-22 and consisted of 30 rounds with a total of 391 players taken. The first player taken was The University of Notre Dame's Leon Hart by the Detroit Lions. A total of five future Hall of Famers' were taken in the draft, Leo Nomellini by San Francisco (1st round, 11th pick), Harry "Bud" Grant by Philadelphia (1st round 14th pick), Ernie Stautner by Pittsburgh (2nd round 22nd pick), Lou Creekmur by Detroit (2nd round of the special draft), and Art Donovan by Baltimore(3rd round of special draft).


With the big changes that took place with the NFL in 1950, Bowman had to play a wait and see game to find out what was to become of the merger and how to get the players under contract and onto a card since there was a lot of uncertainty in the air. Fortunately, it all worked out in the end until ten years later when another competitor of the NFL called the American Football League or AFL in 1960 emerged.

The 1950 Bowman football card set contains a total of 144 cards and is considered one of the most underrated and overlooked sets ever produced. Overlooked possibly because it came out so long ago under the smaller card format but to true football card enthusiast, it is a classic set. The set itself is a challenge to complete because examples are not as abundant as other football card sets. Unopened packs along with wrappers are nearly non-existent and good luck finding an empty wax box.


This was Bowman's first color football card set much to the delight of the collector with each card measuring 2 1/16 by 2 ½. The cards are relatively simple in nature with the card front showing a colorized photograph of a player in a non-game pose surrounded by a solid white border.

The photo possibilities include a close up frontal, kicking, catching, or running pose. Some of the better poses in the set include card #15 of the Los Angeles Rams Tank Younger hurdling through the air ball in hand with the American Flag waving in the background, card #51 of the Rams Tom Fears with outstretched arms and mouth open about to catch a pass, card #63 of the Bears Bill Wightkin making the extended arm one handed catch with the American Flag in the background, card #87 of the Rams Bob Reinhard blocking with mysterious shadow figures in the background, card #88 of the Steelers Howard Hartley with the over-sized helmet, card #93 of the Cardinals Pat Harder in the Heisman pose, card #102 of the Redskins Frank Spaniel running with ball and mouth wide open, and card #136 of the Bears George Gulyanics punting.


The card backs are identical to the 1950 Bowman baseball backs using the exact same format, a plain cardboard back which has the players name at the top in red print, below the name in bold black lettering is the players position, team, age, residence, height, and weight. To the immediate right is the official seal of the Bowman Picture Card Collectors Club in red lettering. The club was used to promote the various Bowman products to increase sales. It had its own newsletter called "The Collector" which highlighted new product releases, and gave advice on how to collect.

There was even a Q & A column called "Ask Uncle Bob" who did his best to answer any and all questions the collector had. One could also apply for a membership and receive a membership card. I have not seen any newsletters or other items from the club but they could only bring a premium in today's market. The middle section of the card contains a written blurb of that player highlighting his career. Below the before-mentioned blurb in bold black lettering is the card number and at the bottom of the card is the copyright "1950 Bowman Gum Inc., Phila., U.S.A.".


The cards could be purchased in six-card nickel packs and I have heard of penny packs but have no visual confirmation they existed. The wax wrappers were red, white, and blue in color with a picture of a football player and the word touchdown to his right. Below each picture is the words "Picture Card Bubble Gum" and on one of the outer edges of each wrapper repeated are the words "Made Of Gum Base, Corn Syrup, Sugar, Artificial Flavor, Certified Food Color Added". The other edge of the wrapper says "Bowman Gum Inc. Manufacturers Philadelphia 44 PA Made In U.S.A.".

One of the real impressive aspects of the set is that it is error free and contains no short printed cards or high numbers, quite a feat back in those days! There are a total of 31 rookie cards in the set and 23 Hall of Famers. The key rookies are #5 Y.A. Tittle, #6 Lou Groza, #9 Tony Canadeo, #16 Glenn Davis, #35 Joe Perry, #43 Marion Motley, #45 Otto Graham, #51 Tom Fears, #52 Elroy Hirsch, #78 Dante Lavelli, and #144 Knox Ramsey more so because he is the last card in the set. Other non-rookie key cards in the set include #1 Doak Walker, #17 Bob Waterfield, #23 Steve Van Buren, #26 John Lujack, #27 Sid Luckman, #37 Bobby Layne, #100 Sammy Baugh, #132 Chuck Bednarik, and #134 Pete Pihos.


As is common for the early Bowman cards, a number of fine examples can be found due to the durable and thick cardboard used. According to the most recent PSA Population Report at the time of this writing, a majority of the 12,000 plus cards that have been awarded grades fall in the PSA 7 to PSA 8 range. Only seven cards have received the top grade of PSA 10, one being a #52 Elroy Hirsh rookie card which sold for $6,500! PSA 9's also bring a premium as indicated by the sale of a #45 Otto Graham rookie card for a whopping $26,209 in 2006! The highest rated 1950 Bowman graded football set is registered to Sarah Verno with an average weighted grade of an incredible 8.83!

The 1950 Bowman football card set is loaded with a great core of rookie and non-rookie cards. What makes it appealing to the vintage collector is that it is a difficult set to put together and at the same time represents a historical time in NFL history when two leagues came together to rejuvenate and save a sport that almost died financially. It was these cards which brought the games players face to face with the collector courting an interest level which has evolved into the great sport that so many of us know and love today.

Please feel free to contact Jim Churilla at [email protected] with any additional information or comments.