Monday, February 1, 2010

Vintage Playboys for the football fans

In 1957 Playboy magazine began doing its annual Pigskin Preview articles. The feature was authored by Francis Wallace who had begun the series with the Saturday Evening Post in the 1930s and 1940s, continued it with Collier's in the 1950s, then brought it to Playboy in 1957.

The Pigskin Preview, as a reflection of national football fandom in those decades, was strictly concerned with college football.

In 1971, Playboy introduced the companion Pro Football Preview feature in its August issue. As the college edition had been since 1958, it was authored by Anson Mount. The artwork at the top of this posting is from that debut Pro Football Preview, showing Jethro Pugh bearing down on Johnny Unitas in the 1970 Super Bowl.

For its first pro edition, Playboy picked the Vikings to beat the Bengals in the Super Bowl. While Mount correctly predicted the winners of all three NFC divisions, as shown in the chart at right from the article. He missed the AFC East, won by the Dolphins, and the Central, which was won by the Browns. And, of course, the Cowboys beat Miami in the Super Bowl.

For a couple of years now, I have been buying up those issues of Playboy that featured the college Pigskin Preview. I hoped to find photos of the magazine's All-American teams that would provide fodder for some of my 1955 Topps-style custom cards.

That really hasn't worked out great for me. In most years the photos are just not large enough or formatted properly (lots of group shots, etc.) for me to get a useful image. Though it is still fun to see guys like Ernie Davis, Roman Gabriel, Bob Lily, etc., in their pre-pro days.

Still, I find the $3-5 that I generally pay for these magazines to be a tremendous value. (That's less than the current cover price of a new issue, which is about half the page count of those classic 1960s and 1970s issues.) Not only are the football articles extremely interesting when read in hindsight, but the rest of the magazine provides a contemporary look -- albeit skewed by the magazine's liberal bent -- at the world to which I aspired when those issues were fresh on the newsstand; focused on middle- to upper-class urban males in a time when that wasn't a bad thing.

The issue pictured here, for example, has an in-depth interview with George McGovern, a first-hand account, with surprising insights, of ground-pounding in the closing days of the U.S.'s role as primary combatant in Vietnam, a short-story by Ray Bradbury and some nostalgic summer camp humor by Jean Shepard featuring some characters you might know from his more famous Christmas Story: Flick, Schwartz, Ralphie, the Old Man, etc.

Yes, this time around I am buying the vintage Playboys for the articles. But the girls are still gorgeous . . . if you can forget that they are now pushing 60 years of age.

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