George Taliaferro was born in Gates, Tennessee on January 8, 1927, but grew up in Gary, Indiana. It was here that he found his love for football and developed the skills that would make him one of the most versatile and exciting players at mid-century. His collegiate and professional career coincided with the start of the modern football card collecting hobby. A look at his "legacy in cardboard" gives us a dramatic and colorful way to learn about the career of a powerful and skilled athlete, one whose influence on the modern game is underappreciated.
Before turning to this, it is important to understand the context in which he lived and worked as a collegiate and professional athlete. And it is best to hear from him the ways racism and segregation shaped his life and career, especially as these aspects of society are not presented in the information on the trading cards below.
Along with Bowman Company of Philadelphia, the Leaf Company of Chicago produced the first modern football cards in 1948. Only Leaf produced a card of Taliaferro, captured here as a junior for the Indiana Hoosiers. George was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1981.
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The Exhibit Supply Company of Chicago produced penny-machine postcards of star baseball players between 1922-1966 and football players between 1948-1952. Here we see Taliaferro in his Hoosiers #44, demonstrating his punting skills, which Bowman would later feature in their 1954 card.
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George Taliaferro's first card as a professional football player shows him with his second professional team. After playing for the Los Angeles Dons of the All-American Football Conference in 1949, he signed with the New York Yanks of the National Football League. The Yanks finished a respectable 7-5 in 1950, third in the NFL's National Conference. The 1950 Bowman baseball and football sets and their colorful lithograph images are a favorite of vintage collectors.
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George shares the front of his 1951 card with Yankee Stadium. The "House That Ruth Built" also hosted New York Yanks football in 1950-51. The Yanks finished last in the National Conference with a record of 1-9-2 and the team folded at the end of the season. George had a star year, earning his first trip to the Pro Bowl.
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Taliaferro's 1952 card is notable for many reasons. It represents the first and only year of the Dallas Texans, the first major league sports team in Texas and no relation to today's Dallas Cowboys. The team finished a woeful 1-11, playing the last five games on the road. The team was later sold to the league, who moved them to Baltimore for the 1953 season. The 1952 Bowman football set is also something of a historical curiosity, being released in two sizes: a "small" (measuring 2-1/16" by 3-1/8") and a "large" (measuring 2-1/2" by 3-3/4", same dimensions as the popular 1952 Topps baseball set.) This card may also be one of the first representations of an African-American as a Quarterback on a trading card. George had a stand out year in 1952, earning his second Pro Bowl selection.
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Bowman's 1953 baseball and football sets are notable as the first trading cards to use color photography. 1953 was Taliaferro's third and final Pro Bowl year. The Baltimore Colts finished 3-9, fifth in the Western Conference.
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When asked to state his favorite position to play--he played seven in his seven professional years--Taliaferro would simply reply, "I just enjoyed playing football." The 1954 Bowman captures his multiple talents on the gridiron, presenting his kicking skills on the front and attesting to his all-around magnificence on back. The Colts again finished 3-9 in 1954, this time sixth in the Western Conference.
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George Taliaferro's final card as an individual player also happened to coincide with the final series of the classic Bowman sets. After the 1955 releases, Bowman was bought out by the Topps Company of Duryea, Pennsylvania, creating a de facto monopoly over the trading card industry that would last for the next 25 years. Though not as memorable as their popular baseball "Color TV" set, Bowman's colorful 1955 football set captures "the best all-around back in the game" in all his speed and power. While Taliaferro is pictured with the Baltimore Colts he played for the Philadelphia Eagles in 1955, appearing in only three games.
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George Taliaferro's final appearance on a vintage sports card is on the 1956 Topps Baltimore Colts team card. Despite retiring after playing for a different team the previous year, Taliaferro is pictured along with Don Shula and Leroy Vaughn, father of baseball great Mo Vaughn. This card is George Taliaferro's only appearance on any Topps trading card, he has never been featured on his own Topps football card, something we hope is one day rectified!