Lions, and Tigers, and Wings … Oh My

He sits there in an enclosed plastic casing, football tucked safely away, forever grimacing up at me through the athletic parade of time.
His name, perhaps you’re familiar with him, is Robert Hoernschemeyer, “Hunchy” to his fans and friends. And he — in real life — was a solid component of the Detroit Lions backfield that terrorized the National Football League from 1950 through 1954. Everything that I came to know about him at the age of seven (that being my age, not Hunchy’s) was explained on the backside of the card inside the contemporary protective plastic casing. And there, in small lettering, it says:


“Hunchy” was fourth among individual ball carriers for the 1951 season; his 85-yard sprint was the longest touchdown run of the year. Has been a consistent ground gainer in his five years’ pro ball. Was Lions’ first choice from “frozen player pool” in 1950.

There you have it. I learned all that in 1954 when Mr. Hoernschemeyer — regular spelling — became the standard bearer on the first sports card I ever collected in my life (though I don’t think I learned what a “frozen player pool” was until about 2003.) Yes, the card was a 1952 Bowman offering, #79. But it found its way to my hands in early 1954, shortly after I turned seven, and my attainment of that colorful little piece of cardboard began a childhood obsession with the magic of football, baseball, and hockey sports card collecting. And, yes, I’ve retained that original card … my ‘52 Robert Hoernschemeyer, the original one … to this day.

The ‘52 Bowmans were terrific because the company took normal black and white publicity shots of football and baseball heroes and painted over the photos to give them a more dynamic and appealing appearance. The best part of the Lions cards in those early days was the terrific team logo that was prominently displayed on the front — the ferociously roaring Lion leading a red and blue-clad football player (go figure about those colors) towards some imaginary goal. Our eyes lit up when we beheld that logo in the middle of a five-cent pack of cards. A Lion!
I vaguely recall that it was some older kid in our neighborhood (probably some suave man-of-the-world type of about eight or nine) who traded me Robert Hoernschemeyer for a patch that I had. It was probably a World War II combat patch, like a Flying Tiger from a cereal box, or maybe one of my Dad’s navy ribbons from his uniform. But once I saw Hunchy’s heroic face, and that vibrant Lions logo, I was hooked. No matter that the card was going on two years old. I was off and running, with a mania for collecting Detroit sports heroes … and 1954 was THE banner year to make just such a start.
For one thing, that year’s Topps baseball offerings were beauts, vertical headshot-and-action figure portrayals of seemingly every Tigers player — including Al Kaline’s rookie release. They even included the Tigers coaches, guys like former pitcher Schoolboy Rowe, which confused me, but my brother assured me that if the card had that great roaring Bengal logo, yellow on black, it was the real Detroit deal, coach or not.
Besides buying baseball cards that spring at the corner drugstore, they also came in single-card packs at the end of loaves of Bond Bread, minus the chewing gum. That was kind of neat, except I implored my Mom to keep buying Bond Bread, with the result being the accumulation around our house of countless slices of stale bread and about three or four cards of Harry Brecheen, an Orioles pitching coach who interested me not at all. Fortunately, my brother and his buddy Willy Warhol used to steal cards from the front seat area of the Bond Bread driver’s truck when he was making deliveries– they gave those guys free penny card samples to distribute as they wished, and my brother and Willie had their own ideas about what might constitute fair distribution. Anyway, that’s how I got Ray Boone, Detroit’s great third baseman, that spring … via the old five-finger discount, sibling style.
The 1954 Bowman NFL cards were my all-time favorites — brightly produced color pictures of our favorite players featured over gorgeous green grass. Bobby Layne — always the most in-demand Lions card — was shown flipping a lateral on the memorable emerald pitch at Briggs Stadium. But the highlight for me was the shining card of my all-time hero, Doak Walker, who was depicted reaching for a white football in his iconic #37 Lions Honolulu blue jersey. I stared at that card for weeks, months, years. Decades. And yes, I’ve still got my original. I laid out all my Lions on my desk at school once — including Bingaman, Christiansen, Creekmur, rookies Bill Stits and Bill Bowman, that year’s “Hunchy” — until my second-grade home room nun threatened to confiscate them all unless I put them away.
“But Sister,” I pleaded, “aren’t they beautiful?”
The bonus of 1954 came that late fall, when Topps released their full NHL lineup — 60 painted cards representing the American hockey franchises. Why there were no Toronto or Montreal players we never knew. But the Red Wing cards were phenomenal — beautiful skating shots of Ted Lindsay, Terry Sawchuk, Red Kelly, Alex Delvecchio, and eleven of their back-to-back Stanley Cup-winning mates. Best of all was the card of Gordie Howe coming to an elegant flying-ice stop as the fabled #9 stared menacingly into my seven-year old eyes. I could see from that vibrant card why my Dad and Grandfather and big Brother all assured me that Howe was the greatest hockey player of all-time.
Any guy who looked like that … and stopped like that … had to be the best.

3 replies on “Lions, and Tigers, and Wings … Oh My

  • Paul Roosen

    I am one of Hunchy’s grandsons and this article was so well written about the lasting legacy he left on the game he so dearly loved. Thank you so much for recognizing his achievements and giving him the respect that he so deserves.

    • Dan Holmes

      Very nice of you to post a comment, Paul! We appreciate you visiting us, and we agree that your granddad has been overlooked. we’re glad were able to spotlight his achievements.

  • Paul Roosen

    As one of his grandson’s I just wanted to admire this piece one last time. Thank you for your admiration.

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