Gary Ballman

Gary Ballman, 1969 Topps #41

The story of Gary Ballman weaves kick returns, telephones and assassinations.

Receiver Gary Ballman had a fine early career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, making the Pro Bowl twice, before spending 5 years as a serviceable ball-catcher and kick returner with the Eagles. His final season was a sendoff split between the Giants and Vikings. After the end of his playing career, Ballman worked for the NFL Players Association until 1979.

Ballman, a Michigan State alumnus, had his finest game in his rookie year. On Nov. 17, 1963, he caught a 67 yard touchdown pass and returned a kickoff for either 92 or 93 yards — that depends on the source — for another touchdown in a 34-28 win over the Redskins.

His heroic performance for the Pittsburgh Steelers that Sunday was surely the talk of the town the next day; on Monday, November 18, 1963, AT&T introduced the first push-button phone to the public (the Western 1500, which had 10 buttons and did not include * or # keys) in Carnegie and Greensburgh — both towns in the Pittsburgh metro area.

The following week saw a dismal showing from Ballman, as he caught 1 ball for 14 yards and rushed 4 times for 17 yards in a 17-17 tie with the Bears.

Few likely noticed, though. At 11am that day, Jack Ruby shot and killed Lee Harvey Oswald on live television just 2 days after the November 22 assassination of President Kennedy.

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