If I were to use just one football card to describe the sport to a person who'd never seen it, this might be the card I'd choose.
Now, you could show that person a card of a quarterback in a throwing motion, or a wide receiver stretching out to catch a pass, or a running back dodging defenders. Those kinds of images make attractive cards. Those positions are the glamorous ones.
But to me, you can't define football (especially older-school football) without showing the Goliaths, the behemoths on the line, grappling with each other for every inch of real estate they can gain. Defending. Attacking. Pushing. Countering. You can hear the NFL soundtrack by Sam Spence, can't you?
And for a few years in the 1980s, hardly anyone did the attacking part of it better than defensive end Mark Gastineau. Look at the card above again. He's being double-teamed (as he often was), but still appears to be giving both of those Cleveland Browns more than their share of trouble. That defender on the left—his jersey is soaked in mud and water, as if Gastineau has already walked all over him a few times.
And really, how are either of them going to stop a guy who's 6-foot-5, 275 pounds, and can run the 40 in 4.5 seconds? Even his hair and mustache combo is all-pro.
To provide an example of the damage the five-time Pro-Bowler did on the gridiron:
In 1983, the year after the football card shown above was released, Gastineau put up 19 quarterback sacks to lead the league. In 1984 he would lead the league again with a whopping 22. Then in 1985 he'd add another 13.5, good for 6th place. Hard to top that three-year total.
I'm not going to mention much about the "sack dances" that ruffled so many feathers back then, although I can understand why they did elicit such a response. I probably wouldn't have liked them, either. And did other defensive linemen display histrionics like that in the 1980s? No.
But it's not easy to toil in the trenches, battling with 300-pound monsters on the pass rush all day. What made Gastineau different was that despite the grind, he still somehow played the sport with passion and a childlike effervescence. Maybe the sack dances stemmed from that sort of enthusiasm, and not from the desire to taunt a defender or quarterback. That's only a guess, and it might be painting too kind of a picture, but in any case I'm not going to criticize the guy for it. Besides, I'm sure the home-team fans ate that stuff up.