I am going to try do a couple of things here with this one piece. In the past, I have done some macro level book reviews as well as trying to show collectors the value of building a research library. My goal is to combine these two as I go through the obvious merits of Sports Illustrated’s “The Football Book.” First and foremost, the book is aptly titled. If you don’t have access to this book or don’t plan to buy it, then I apologize as you will in all likelihood not get much out of this article. If you do own it or plan to, then you might want to view this as more of a tour/tutorial verses as sterile book review. You will notice that this article only features one image. My hope this that you will take the time to go and see the things I mention “for yourself.” This is not because I am too lazy to scan the images, but rather, I am convinced that the benefit of doing so far outweighs any loss of convenience.

This volume is an oversized coffee table edition that showcases a wonderful cover featuring helmeted head shots of some thirty of the games greats. Spend some digesting just what this cover has to offer. At a glance, it provides insights into specific player helmet styles, manufacturers, as well as accompanying face masks. As I have written in the past, take the time to notice very subtle details such as the rivet/screw patterns that affix the interior padding of the helmet to the shell. Notice the difference between mounting brackets for the facemasks between what is on the Kenny Stabler Wilson helmet and the Bike helmet worn by Joe Montana. Why do I bother to point this out? To show you that you should be looking for these things when evaluating the totality of a helmet. This is not “photo matching”, but rather imagery analysis.

“The Football Book,” coming in at 294 pages, contains 300+ photographs, both color and black and white ranging from head shots to full two-page (12×21) spreads. There are incredible and useful images of helmets, shoulder pads, footballs, and trophy/presentation items sprinkled throughout. The retail price for the book is in the $35.00 range depending on where you get it. The other thing to consider, is looking for it on an “as needed” basis at the local library. I have checked two local libraries and both have copies on hand. I point this out because collectors don’t need to buy every reference, but they should at least make an effort to know what’s in them and where they can be found. For my purposes, it just makes sense to have them handy.

Getting back to the tour/tutorial, you will be captivated almost right away as you begin to flip the pages. There is a striking full two-page spread of the quarterbacks from 1961 at the very outset. With images like this, take the time to note details such as which teams are without “T.V.” or secondary numerals. Also note the font difference for the numeral “5” in the various jerseys. Last but not least, look for even more subtle differences such as the neck style; crew verses “v-neck.” A few pages later you will encounter (pages 14-17) a sampling of player advertisements. These are nice for a couple of reasons; they make eye catching display items to augment the gamer stuff and they also serve as additional photographic references.

As you continue to flip through, another thing becomes readily apparent. The quality of the images in terms of clarity and detail as well as the vast majority are dated. The quality and clarity will enable you to ascertain things like fabric, appliqué, presence and composition of name plates etc…Consider the shot of Bears linebacker Bryan Cox on page 39. You can tell that the numerals and lettering are sewn on while the arm stripping is pressed on. In addition, the name plate is a very close crop to the size of the name.

Pages 58-59 feature the first of a number of sections of head shots devoted to the best of the best at their respective positions. The first is devoted to the Running Backs. Subsequent sections are available for:

The Receivers: pages 80-81
The Quarterbacks: pages 116-117
Offensive Linemen: pages 138-139
The Linebackers: pages 174-175
Defensive Lineman: pages 194-195
Defensive Backs: pages 212-213

They do have a section on coaches, but are lacking a section on Kickers. I would have liked to see the later vice the former from a researcher’s standpoint.

There is a great shot I would like to bring to your attention before going much further. Turn to pages 78-78 for one of the two-page spreads mentioned before. I don’t think I could have staged a better shot if I tried. Look at the Rams players’ #’s 57 and 75 side by side. Notice that the fonts are different for both the numeral “5” and the numeral ‘7”. Once again, variations do exist and you can see it for yourself.

Of all the images in this great book, I have to admit that one of my favorites is on page 102 and features the familiar face of legendry Colts Quarterback Johnny Unitias. While the natural tendency is to focus on the face, as I am sure this is what the photographer was going after, I invite you to look at the area just below the serif on the numeral “1” of the number “19”. You can detect a triangle-shaped team repair that could be described as looking like a material scab on a jersey. I highlight this to show you both a vintage team repair and demonstrate the value of looking at the “whole image” for all that it has to offer…once again, imagery analysis.

Rounding out the many top notch pics in this must have, are a couple of pictures of Dick Butkus both from the 1969 season as evident by the presence of the NFL 50th Anniversary patch. You will find the images on pages 159 and 271. What I want you to look at is the rivet pattern on the front of these helmets by both number and location. You will see that although the face mask is the same, these are two different helmet shells.

The value in pointing this out is not so much for the Butkus specific information, although I think it is helpful on a number of levels, but rather to encourage you to start looking at images in this book and others you might have in your collection in this manner. In the “Intel World,” we use a phrase called Change Detection. What this means is taking a image from a specific point in time, mastering all the of the information that the image has to offer, and then doing comparative analysis on similar images to see if you can ascertain what has changed, when it changed, and the possible reasons why. This is very helpful in the hobby as it supports your ability to date objects and or confirm player attribution in many cases.

Getting back to “The Football Book,” while I have really only mentioned the various images present and what they have to offer, I would doing this work a great injustice if I did not mention just how well written it is also. When you add items like this, and I hope you will, to your library or while you have it checked out from one, take the time to read them. In doing so, you will find continued enjoyment in the sport that should be at the center of why you collect game used football memorabilia. If you collect “Football”…consider collecting “The Football Book.”


LTC Grob can be reached for questions or comments about this article at either:

DaveGrob1@aol.com or by writing to him at:

14218 Roland Court
Woodbridge, VA 22193