Like a lot of kids, I collected football cards growing up. But I would later find out that I didn’t collect cards like a lot of kids.
Before I knew that cards are actually worth money — if you keep them in good shape — my habits would’ve made a serious collector sick to their stomach. Having no interest in notebooks filled with glossy card-protecting pages, my card storage system consisted of paper grocery bags. And instead of putting my cards on display like a mini-art gallery, I played with my cards. Hours upon hours were spent sitting on the living room floor at my great-grandparents’ apartment, arranging and re-arranging my cards in every way possible while tuning out the TV that they always seemed to have on CNN. I’d arrange my cards by team, then by position, then by what college the players went to, then by alphabetical order, then by …
I’d also use the cards to create random “teams” — the whole 11 per side, with backups — and like a real football coach I’d move the cards like chess pieces to diagram and act out plays on the field that was my great-grandparents’ carpet.
This was like my main hobby until I was about 11 years old, when one day I just decided to dump my hundreds (thousands?) of football, basketball and baseball cards and their frayed edges into the recycling bin.
But recently, certainly out of simple nostalgia, I’ve started collecting cards again. While I’m keeping them in notebooks instead of paper bags now, I’m far from a serious collector. I have no thought of selling them. And since I’m much more interested in discovering old cards I used to own than getting new cards, my preferred method is to buy those random packs of about 100 cards (a mix of old and new) that you’ve probably seen near the cash registers at Target.
So what I’ll do in this space is occasionally share one of the (usually old-school) cards I’ve picked up to reminisce and perhaps educate about a defensive back who may have been forgotten by history, or at least underrated.
Today’s feature: Albert Lewis, cornerback, Kansas City Chiefs (Fleer ’91 Ultra pack).
In a 16-year career spent mostly with the Chiefs before finishing up with the Raiders, Lewis was a four-time Pro Bowler and a two-time first team All-Pro (’89 and ’90). A third-round draft pick by KC out of Grambling in 1983, Lewis had 42 interceptions, 13 forced fumbles and 13 fumble recoveries in the NFL. He scored three touchdowns and one safety, recorded 12.5 sacks and blocked 11 kicks.
The only INT return TD of Lewis’ pro career actually came in his final season, when he was playing safety for the Raiders in 1998. His 74-yard pick six against the Seahawks made him, at 38 years old, the oldest player in NFL history to score a defensive touchdown.
The closest Lewis got to a Super Bowl was when he helped the Chiefs advance to the AFC Championship game in 1994, where they lost to the Bills, who would go on to lose to the Cowboys in Super Bowl XXVIII. Lewis and the Kansas City secondary did their jobs in that conference title game, limiting future Hall of Fame QB Jim Kelly to just 160 yards passing, while future HOF receiver Andre Reed had only four catches for 49 yards. Buffalo won because future HOF running back Thurman Thomas gashed KC’s defense for 186 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, and because the Bills’ defense held the Chiefs’ offense to just 13 points.
Lewis is not only one of the top defensive players in the history of the Chiefs. (His 38 INTs with the Chiefs ranks fifth in franchise history.) He is also considered one of the best all-around cornerbacks the league has seen. Jerry Rice reportedly said once that Lewis was the toughest corner he’d faced. The fact that he is not yet in the Pro Football Hall of Fame could have a lot to do with Lewis being overshadowed on a Kansas City defense that also featured OLB Derrick Thomas, DE Neil Smith and opposite corner Kevin Ross, a two-time Pro Bowler.
Standing 6-foot-2, Lewis was a big cornerback before big cornerbacks were en vogue in the NFL. He had long arms and long legs and a basketball player’s vertical leaping ability, and as a kid I remember his shoulder pads that seemed pointy and sharp and made him look that much bigger.
From the most recent update I could find, Lewis, 54, now owns a 320-acre ranch in rural Mississippi where he breeds and trains horses. He has one son who played defensive back at the University of New Mexico.