Classic card of the week

Bruce Smith, 1991 Score

The montage NFL portrait was revolutionized by Pablo Picasso, who, before his death in 1973, created the first known montage football portrait of Mean Joe Greene, which many critics described as his best work. Some even marveled at the humanity of the project, which featured Greene in three parts – one making a tackle, one smiling, and one making another tackle (Mean Joe Greene was a tackling machine – Picasso accentuated that fact like no other before him). Many of Greene’s harshest critics were amazed at how Picasso was able to make the fierce lineman appear less mean than his name would indicate. But by the 1980’s, the montage portrait had become somewhat stale. That is, until 1991, when new-age artist Christo decided to try his hand at it. What happened next was only the most culturally relevant football card ever. The subject was the manly Bruce Smith, and Christo was able to capture at least three of the attributes of Smith’s game that made him a future NFL Hall-of-Famer. First, there is the picture of Smith raising his hand in a victorious manner, because his team has just earned to right to demonstratively lose another Super Bowl. Below that, there is an action sequence of Smith getting an ill-advised (and rare!) defensive holding penalty. Finally, on the top right, there is a beautifully painted portrait of Smith taking a snap, on the few rare occasions that Bills’ head coach Marv Levy would actually have Smith play quarterback, so as to confuse the opposing defense. This portrait montage was so influential, in fact, that the Score Co. purchased the rights to it later that year for a whopping $45 million, at which point they mass-produced the image into a series of football cards that are now worth $0.26 cents each. Christo would go on to create the popular “Gates” in Central Park in 2005, a concept that a bewildered Mean Joe Greene described as “too orange.”

Did you know?
You can view the original Bruce Smith piece at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from 11am-12pm on Sunday mornings, during the Museum’s “NFL Happy Hour,” where they feature buffalo wings, $2 Bud Light drafts, and abstract artwork from the likes of Merton Hanks.