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 (Toll Free)

Harlon Hill: One of 2010 Limited's relatively unknown legends

By Chris Olds | Editor

Collectors who rip into packs of 2010 Limited Football from Panini America beginning next week will find the likes of Ernie Davis, Tom Brady, Tim Tebow and more inside — a full spectrum of stars from the past, present and (likely) future.

Most of the names will ring a bell immediately, though some — like the autographed card of former Chicago Bears star Harlon Hill seen above — might not.

Hill, though, is a relatively familiar name for me — though his NFL career ended in 1962, well before I was born. You see, in Alabama Crimson Tide country there are a lot of names that get bandied about as football legends — more familiar names like Joe Namath, John Hannah, Ozzie Newsome — but Hill was an Alabama native who didn’t play for the Crimson Tide.

And he became a legend, too.

A player like Hill can be a matter of pride for some — like some of my former co-workers — in that football-crazed part of the country.

Hill played his college ball at Florence State Teachers College, which is now known as the University of North Alabama, a smaller school located in Florence, Ala., population 36,000 or so. (For comparison, the University of Alabama’s enrollment is around 30,000.)

In 1953, Hill was an NAIA All-American and he was a 15th-round draft pick of the Chicago Bears in 1954, where he also won  Rookie of the Year honors. In 1955, he was the league MVP — as an end, or what we’d call a wide receiver today.

And guess what? He played in Wrigley Field — and fought off brick walls like a man.

In short, he’s a former NFL Rookie of the Year and an MVP that you’ve perhaps never heard of, a player who was a feared deep threat in the days when a vicious passing attack might not have been the norm, a forgotten legend in Bears history who still holds a few marks. He was a three-time All-Pro selection and also later played for the Steelers and the Lions.  After his playing career, he became a teacher and later a principal.

I heard all about Hill as one of my former bosses, from Florence, as we would talk about state stars and obscurities while, of course, later looking for said players’ cards online.

But even still that’s not his whole story. These days, Hill is the namesake for the NCAA Division II Player of the Year award, the Harlon Hill Trophy. Past winners of that award include Johnny Bailey, Ronald Moore, Ron McKinnon and Danny Woodhead. All are former NFL players, though none perhaps as successful as Hill.

Hill appears on just 71 football cards, his Rookie Card found in the 1955 Bowman set (above right). It’s worth about $8. Surprisingly, he has appeared on 12 different autographed cards through the years — not including anything to come from Limited — but, not surprisingly, all of those autographs have been found in Donruss/Playoff (now Panini America) products.

Of cards made during his playing days, there are just 11 specimens — mostly from Topps and Fleer — and there are a few other Topps reprints from the 1990s. So that means, not surprisingly, that the rest of his cardboard portfolio is made up of a few cards with more than a few parallels from those same Donruss/Playoff, now Panini, sets.

Something tells me that a few football fans might not mind those cards — and that they might be looking forward to 2010 Limited a bit more now than before with a few more Harlon Hills to chase.

Chris Olds is the editor of Beckett Baseball. Have a comment, question or idea? Send an e-mail to him at colds@beckett.com. Follow him on Twitter by clicking here.

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