t would seem that once an athlete makes it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a lifetime of success is guaranteed.
For many Hall of Famers, success was limited to laboring in the trenches of the National Football League every Sunday during the fall. Once their careers ended, many fell into obscurity and worse, they had to survive on little more than Social Security and a meager league pension.
Ron Mix hopes to change that.
Several years ago Mix, a Hall of Famer himself who played offensive tackle for the San Diego Chargers in the 1960s and finished his career in 1972 with the Oakland Raiders, discovered many of his fellow Hall of Famers were living on a monthly income of some $1,500.
“For most of us in the Hall , except for players like Joe Namath or Tony Dorsett , you go through a week of Hall of Fame activities in Canton when they induct the new members, and they tell you how great you were,” Mix said. “Then you have to wake up Monday morning and have to make a living like everyone else.”
Mix, who works as an attorney for San Diego-based Kolodny & Pressman, set about changing that. Three years ago he asked each of the 130 Hall of Fame members to autograph 2,500 specially designed trading cards.
The cards, called the Hall of Fame Platinum Signature Series, would then be sold in sets for $1,675, Mix said, with each Hall of Fame member getting an equal share of the profits. Of the 130 living members at the time of the project’s inception, 116 opted to participate, Mix said. If the sets sell out, each participating Hall of Famer should get around $18,000, Mix said.
“We felt we needed at least 101 participants to make it a success,” said Mix, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1979. “We got 116. And without guys with big names like Namath, Dorsett or Dick Butkus, the project wouldn’t have worked.”
Mix secured the licensing from the NFL. “It was difficult to obtain, but they were very generous,” he said. He then commissioned a sports artist to do the 4-inch-by-6-inch cards. He shipped the 2,500-card batches to the players in 1998.
“It was a very unselfish act on the part of these guys,” Mix said. “Some of these guys are very high-profile players. Namath and George Blanda and several others get a lot of money for their autographs.”
Mix then embarked on promoting the cards. He first started advertising in the collectible card trade journals, which proved to be an effective tool.
Mix also turned to sports-radio talk shows.
“At the Super Bowl they have a radio row with stations from across the country,” he said.
Mix said they made an agreement with each station that should a Hall of Fame member be a guest, they would mention the cards and the cause.
“Both Namath and I were on the (nationally syndicated) Jim Rome Show,” he said. “(Hall of Famers) Ted Hendricks, Mel Renfro, Kellen Winslow and myself participated in scores of interviews.”
Mix said the cards received an additional boost when his project was picked up by several major publications.
“The biggest number of sales occurred when Sports Illustrated did a story on the cards during Super Bowl week,” he said. “The New York Post also did a big story on it. It’s led to a big surge in sales.”
Mix noted some of the Hall members went above and beyond with their contributions. The late Tom Fears was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Every day before he sat down to sign the cards, his wife had to explain to him what he was doing and why.
Doak Walker managed to sign the cards despite being paralyzed from the neck down in a skiing accident. Mix said Walker signed about 2,000 cards before he died.
“Doak’s wife said it was the highlight of his day to help out his fellow Hall members,” Mix said.
It’s not just collectors who are interested, he said.
“We’re finding buyers are football fans who just want to own a piece of history,” he said.
Card dealers are having great success with the sets, Mix said. So far, he said, about 80 percent of sets Nos. 1-100 have sold.
The cards are of a very high quality, said Henry Frank, owner of AB Centre City Sports Collectibles. He owns a set and has one for sale in his 6th Avenue store, which he said he is selling for just under $1,600.
“The artwork is really exceptional,” he said of the 4-inch-by-6-inch cards. “I see them as more of a collectible. It’s a really nice set. Over time, I’m sure they will appreciate.”
Prices varied for individual cards from the set on the online auction site eBay. Tony Dorsett’s card was at $9.95, while Doak Walker was at $10. Offensive lineman John Hannah’s card was selling for $16.50, and Namath’s card was at $29.55.
“I’m selling the complete set,” he said. “Some dealers will break up the sets. They might sell them as a Chargers set, or a Pittsburgh Steelers set. I’ve seen team prices at $200.”