To decompress from the Super Bowl, why not hasten over to the Metropolitan Museum of Art? An exhibit up until February 10 has its own lineup of immortals. "Gridiron Greats," a small show of football cards, offers visitors an overview of the game’s history, contextualizing America’s most popular sport.
Gridiron Greats: Vintage Football Cards in the Collection of Jefferson R. Burdick presents 150 cards printed between 1894 and 1959. Freyda Spira, a curator with the Department of Drawings and Prints, organized the show, exhibiting the cards, all commercially printed lithographs, alongside a number of pigskin-related photographs and a football Jersey dated 1910-1930.
The origins of football can be traced back to the nineteenth century. The game was initially an intercollegiate sport. As college football became increasingly popular, amateur football clubs sprang up. Those clubs evolved into professional organizations as teams vied to sign the best college talent. The National Football League was formed in 1922 and the first Super Bowl, played in January 1967, was “created to satisfy the ever-growing number of fans” says Spira.
The cards on view here were sold with packages of chewing gum or tobacco. A rare card from 1894 of Harvard All-American halfback John Dunlop was printed by P.H. Mayo’s Cut Plug Tobacco, a record of a bygone era when most college football stars hailed from the Ivy League. Legendary Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne is also featured in cards on display here. And a 1935 card published by National Chicle Gum Company depicts Chicago Bears bruiser Bronko Nagurski running toward the viewer, “a frightening prospect given his reputation for bone-crushing tackles,” Spira says.
Combining strategy, athleticism and rough tackling, football captivates the country today more than ever before. Its early enthusiasts, the coaches and players featured on the cards here, paved the way.
Gridiron Greats: Vintage Football Cards in the Collection of Jefferson R. Burdick, on view through February 10, 2014 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY, 212-570-3951, www.metmuseum.org
More information about Xico Greenwald's work can be found at xicogreenwald.com