I have written in the past about the most difficult-to-find autographed AFL cards of the 1960s. The 1964 Dick Christy and 1968 Frank Buncom are exceptionally challenging due to the fact that Buncom and Christy both died shortly after those cards were issued. This past week I was able to obtain another signed AFL card that has an equal or even greater degree of rarity.
In their 1964 football set, Topps issued team cards for each of the AFL franchises. For my signed set I am trying to acquire team cards signed by each of the head coaches that season. I also enjoy picking up additional team cards of favorite players or AFL personalities. Included in my collection are team cards signed by Lance Alworth, Ernie Ladd, Sid Gillman, Al Davis, Hank Stram, Ben Davidson, Sammy Baugh, Cookie Gilchrist, Ralph Wilson and others. My most recent acquisition, however, quickly became the rarest in my collection; it is card #110 in the 1964 Topps set, a Kansas City Chiefs team card that was autographed by Mack Lee Hill.
Mack Lee Hill was a free agent rookie running back with the Chiefs in 1964. He made the team and ended up as Kansas City’s second-leading rusher that year with 567 yards and four touchdowns. Hill was wrapping up a second successful season in 1965, when he ruptured a knee ligament in a December game against the Buffalo Bills. His season over, Hill entered Menorah Medical Center on December 14, 1965, to have to knee surgically repaired. Shortly after the surgery was concluded, Hill went into convulsions and died in the operating room. The cause of death was a massive embolism. Hill was the second Chiefs running back to die while on the active roster, following Stone Johnson who died after suffering a broken next in a 1963 exhibition game. In 1966 the Chiefs honored Hill by implementing the Mack Lee Hill Award, which is given annually to the Chiefs rookie of the year. Mike Garrett, Christian Okoye and Derrick Thomas are just a few winners of the Mack Lee Hill Award.
As is to be expected, there is very little Hill memorabilia available. He never had a regular issue card, and is featured solely on a Chiefs team issue. Several years ago I was fortunate to pick up two Hill newspaper photos that had been signed at Balboa Stadium when the Chiefs came to town. The only other piece that I have found thus far is a wire photo of Chiefs head coach, Hank Stram, weeping during a pre-game ceremony honoring Hill the week after his passing. Frankly, the possibility of ever finding a Hill signature on a regular-issue card had not even crossed my mind until I saw the auction last week.
This particular card bears two signatures, Bert Coan and Hill. Coan, a Chargers and Chiefs back who spent seven seasons in the AFL, signed boldly on the left of the card. The Hill signature is a bit more faint, and includes Hill’s nickname, “Truck.” Assuming that Topps cards were available to the public by August of 1964, Hill would have had just 17 months in which he could signed these cards prior to his death in December the following year. Additionally, with the fact that this is a team card, and Hill does not have a card of his own, I have to believe that this is one of the few, if not the only, Hill autographed Topps card in existence.