2009 National Chicle Football is just the latest throwback design from Topps Inc. used to entice nostalgic collectors into the modern football card market. Previous issues included Topps Magic and Topps Mayo. Having success with these issues, Topps continued the trend by releasing 2009 National Chicle. These cards feature artist renditions of each player in the set with each particular artist exhibiting their own unique style. While most of the paintings are able to portray the features representative of the player and the game of football as a whole, there is one particular artist whose style sticks out like a sore thumb. Unfortunately it is a style which sends the wrong message.

Cards featuring the work of artist Ken Branch are easily noticeable by their “comic book” look. His unique style stands out because of his portrayal of an athlete’s head being intentionally disproportionate from the rest of his body. What we end up with is a ridiculous looking football card, perhaps some of the worst I have ever seen. The cards appear silly, like a sketch you would get from a vendor at an amusement park. They represent the player as a comic book character. This representation is not far fetched but it is an unfortunate effect of greed and the overbearing fan. Football players are not comic book heroes. They are mortals just like us. Portraying them as comical characters, especially in a set geared toward old school collectors was a bad move by Topps Inc. and left me as a disappointed collector.

To Ken Branch’s credit though, this is the artist’s way of life. He started doing art for comic books and has moved into the sports world as well. The disproportionate size of a players head to the rest of their body is a technique commonly seen in comic books in their portrayal of the hero of the story or the central character. It is meant to honor the hero, not to diminish their importance.

The problem is that when introduced to football cards they send the wrong message. The more players are seen as comic book characters and larger than life, the more we will consider their purpose to be solely for our entertainment and worthy of our worship. Cards should display an image that exemplifies the spirit of the NFL, and the players who are fortunate to be able to play it at the highest level. Not fantasy and make believe.