Football and Comic Books: Experiments That Haven’t Worked

by Ryan Kirksey

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With college football underway and the NFL roaring into view, many across this country and across the globe will spend their weekends watching their favorite (American) football teams in action for the next four to five months. It got me thinking: With so many crossovers and promotional work done in the past few decades between pop culture’s monolithic moments, has there ever been a football comic book or football-related content in comic books?

The answer, which may not surprise you, is yes, there have been several attempts to merge two of America’s most popular forms of entertainment. What also may not surprise you is that none of these ideas have turned out very well. If you are straining your brain trying to come up with some kind of football and comic crossover but can’t come up with anything, don’t worry. You’re not alone. It just speaks to how poorly they have been conceived over the years.

Let’s dive into football and comic books to see if we can uncover any hidden gems over the decades.

Football Thrills in the 1950s

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As far back as 70 years ago, there were artists and publishing houses trying to capitalize on the popularity of some of America’s most famous footballers. Even before the Silver Age exploded the popularity of comic books with the superhero age, comics such as Football Thrills took the athletic feats of players like Red Grange and Jim Thorpe and turned them into mythical, god-like stories for children to read. You could read about the “Big Gentle Giant,” or the “Alabama Antelope.” I can only find a record of two of these comics that were ever published, so they didn’t quite penetrate the culture, but some people still collect them today.

The GoCollect sales database has a record of at least seven graded copies of Football Thrills #1 from October 1951. In fact, a CGC 9.0 copy and a CGC 8.5 copy have both sold for under $1,000 in the last five years. If you want a raw copy or two of one of the two issues, you can generally find them on eBay for under $60.

Archie Makes the Team From the 1970s to 1980s

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Based on research I have done, the first time the famous Archie appears with a football cover is in Archie Comics #250 from February 1976. He had plenty of baseball covers before then, but 1976 appears to be his first foray into football. After this cover, Archie would go on to appear in many more football-themed issues, such as Archie Comics #277. The 1970s and 1980s were prime decades for Archie playing football.

Archie Comics #250 has no recorded copies on the CGC census and none of his early football covers appear to have any value at all. The 1970s and 1980s were a tipping point for when card collecting exploded and young boys and girls could convert from reading about football inside a comic book to studying and collecting their favorite players based on their cards they could get at the local pharmacy. Today, as we have recently begun to document at GoCollect, football card collecting is as popular as ever.

NFL SuperPro Flops in the 1990s

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As the comic boom in the early 1990’s began to take over the collecting world and teenagers hoarded dozens of copies of X-Men #1 and Turok #1 in hopes of getting rich someday, anyone and everyone was hoping to cash in. Even the NFL. The league, now exploding in popularity, partnered with Marvel Comics to create the short-lived series SuperPro.

In the book, ex-NFL player Pete Grayfield survives an accident and is gifted an indestructible football uniform. The first issue featured Spider-Man as a way to draw in readers, but in the end, it did not catch on.

After 12 issues and one special edition, SuperPro was canceled, never again to return. Readers just couldn’t buy into a football-uniform-wearing hero who fought small-time criminals, no matter how hard the NFL tried to push it. If you happen to have one of the 78 copies of SuperPro #1 that are a CGC 9.8, you can rest easily knowing one of them sold for $95 in July. Certainly not enough to get rich, but enough to buy yourself some more comics with better stories and characters.

The 2000’s Debut Marvel Homage Covers

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By the 2000s, comic publishers began to realize that mixing football and comic heroes just couldn’t call the right play with readers. After the comic market crashed in the late 1990s, publishers went back to basics and cut out all the superfluous experiments they tried in previous decades. However, once the comic book movie boom began in 2008, companies (including the NFL) began looking for synergies with the popular Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The sports cable company ESPN holds the rights to air the NFL draft every spring. In 2020, fresh off the success of 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, ESPN (who, like the MCU, are owned by Disney), developed homage comic covers for some of the many prospects. In addition to Derrick Brooks (shown above), there were four other covers that featured players like Jalen Hurts as Thor and D’Andre Swift as Captain America.

Unfortunately, these were not sold as actual comic books, but instead gave due respect to some of the more iconic comic book covers of the past 60 years.

Are you a rare fan of Football comics? Let us know in the comments!

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*Any perceived investment advice is that of the freelance blogger and does not represent advice on behalf of GoCollect.

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Thomas B. September 10, 2023 - 5:23 pm

You clearly forgot about Kickers, Inc. from Marvel’s New Universe!

Ryan Kirksey September 11, 2023 - 10:44 am

Haha, I have to admit I did not know about this one. It looks…..quite poor!


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