By Chris Olds | Editor
Tucked among the behind-the-scenes images that Panini America released on Friday documenting its quality control process was a gem probably missed by many.
What is it?
The first memorabilia card of former Syracuse star and Cleveland Browns legend Ernie Davis.
Davis was the first black player to win the Heisman Trophy and appeared to be set for a fine pro career — he was the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft (also a social first) in 1962 — before he was diagnosed with leukemia and died at age 23 on May 18, 1963. His only appearance on a professional field came when he was introduced to the crowd during a preseason game at Cleveland Stadium.
Davis’ story was the subject of a recent major motion picture, The Express, as well, but despite all of that, he still hasn’t yet had an extensive number of football cards — and not a single memorabilia card.
All that changes when 2010 Certified arrives in hobby shops on Nov. 17.
“[The card] is a legitimate history-maker that advances the memorabilia-card genre,” said Panini America Hobby Marketing Manager Tracy Hackler. “Panini America prides itself on identifying and procuring those pieces of authentic memorabilia that are truly meaningful and historically significant.”
Hackler confirmed that the card’s blue swatch of material comes from a 1962 College All-Star Game jersey. It was sold for $23,900 earlier this year via Dallas-based Heritage Auctions. The jersey was previously owned by a member of Davis’ family.
For added poignancy, it was during preparations for that game where Davis first fell ill and was diagnosed with the disease that took his life.
“The Elmira Express” is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, had his No. 44 — worn by another SU legend, Jim Brown — retired, and the Browns retired his No. 45 without him ever even playing in a preseason game. His place in football history, albeit a somber tale, is one that is very, very secure.
Davis did appear on a football card as a member of the Browns during his lifetime as his Rookie Card appears in the 1962 Topps set. That card typically sells for $150 or less. In all, Davis only appears on just 11 other football cards — two of them being 1/1 cut autographs; one from Topps and one from Sportkings.
It’s a collection that can be completed (without the autographs) for about $300.
This card and other Panini America releases will likely change all of that while also satisfying fans who completed their Davis collections long, long ago. We’ll have more on specific print runs and the array of Davis cards to be found in Certified on Monday.
Chris Olds is the editor of Beckett Baseball. Have a comment, question or idea? Send an e-mail to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter by clicking here.