Gridiron Godfathers: 28 NFL Players With Saratoga and Capital Region Ties

A few weeks before the first pitch of the 2021 Major League Baseball season, Saratoga Living published an exhaustive list of the 100-plus baseball players with ties to Saratoga Springs and the Capital Region.

Now, say hello to our National Football League version of the list. As it turns out, baseball had a few years on the NFL, playing its first game on May 4, 1871, compared to the NFL’s debut, which took place on October 3, 1920. Maybe that’s why there are oodles more players that have made the big show in baseball up here versus football? Or maybe it’s just that we’re better with a bat and glove? The world will never know. But they will know one thing: The guys that made this list are absolute badasses, and they should all be lauded for their service on the gridiron. They paved the way for all the rough-and-tumble guys that will be invading your TV sets beginning on Thursday, September 9 (check out the Week 1 schedule here).

Before we get started, it’s worth noting ahead of time that, just like our baseball list, this one only includes those football players who suited up and played in an official NFL game (if you were drafted and then released, sorry, bub). But like our last list, as an added bonus, we’re offering a handy guide to collecting each of these players’ football cards, and how much it might cost you to acquire them (as you already know, there are scads of places in the Capital Region to purchase sports cards and other collectibles).

Now, grab a six-pack, some popcorn and find a comfortable place on your couch, because…BLUE 42. BLUE 42…HUT, HUT, HIIIIKKEE!

Rashad Barksdale (Hudson/Albany)
Born in Hudson and starring for UAlbany, where he led the team in interceptions and punt returns in 2006, Barksdale was drafted in the 6th round of the 2007 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles, who subsequently released him. He ended up signing with the Kansas City Chiefs, where he made his NFL debut in 2007, logging six career starts with the team, before being released in ’08. You can actually find Barksdale in at least one football set, 2007 Leaf Limited, which depending on the scarcity of the serial-numbered issue, could put you back anywhere from about $3-$25. On it, he appears in an Eagles uniform.

Josh Beekman’s 2007 SPx rookie card.

Josh Beekman (Amsterdam)
Beekman, a guard, was born in Amsterdam and played college ball at Boston College, before being drafted by the Chicago Bears in 2007. He went on to play 28 games, starting 20 of them, for Da Bears over three seasons, ending his career in the Windy City in 2009. Though he wound up in the Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars franchises later on, he never made it back to the NFL gridiron. Beekman, donning his BC uniform, can be found in the 2007 SPx set as a rookie, with a number of parallel versions going for anywhere from $3-$10.

Joe Burke (Albany)
Albany native Burke, a running back, who starred for Bishop Maginn High School and went on to play at Rutgers University, played just two career NFL games for the New York Jets in 1987. Burke didn’t ever make it onto a football card—but he did make this list, which has to count for something, right? See if you can track down his autograph to help complete your Capital Region collection.

George “Butch” Byrd (Watervliet)
Byrd, a defensive back, was born and raised in Watervliet and played for Boston College, before being drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 1964, immediately making a mark for the team by logging seven interceptions, including on pick six (he also served as a punt returner). Byrd would end up putting together a seven-year NFL career, nearly all of which was spent with the Bills (he played his last season, 1971, with the Denver Broncos). His NFL defensive career statline is pretty amazing for a Capital Regionite: 112 games played (98 of which were starts), 40 interceptions, a devilish 666 yards and 5 pick sixes (one for 75 yards). He also returned 86 punts to the tune of 600 yards even, with one TD. You can actually find Byrd on cardboard in multiple sets, including 1966 Topps ($5-$10), 1969 Topps ($3-$5), 1970 Topps ($3-$5) and 1971 Topps ($1-$2). Want to go the obscure route? A 1969 Topps mini-cards 4-in-1 of Byrd, in gem-mint 10 condition, is selling on eBay as we speak for $30.

Dick Cassiano (Albany)
Cassiano, who was born in Albany and attended the University of Pittsburgh, was drafted in 1940, playing just 10 games that season for the Brooklyn Dodgers football team, which was active from 1930-43 (the team would later change its stripes to the Tigers in ’44). Cassiano, who passed away in ’80, didn’t make it onto cardboard either—but his birthplace got him here.

Joe Cocozzo (Mechanicville)
Cocozzo, a Mechanicville native, played his college ball for the University of Michigan in the late ’80s and early ’90s, eventually getting drafted by as an offensive guard by the San Diego Chargers, where he played from 1993-97. Cocozzo would end up playing 77 games for the Chargers, 13 of which were for the 1994 team that won the AFC Championship but subsequently lost to the formidable San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XXIX. Cocozzo has at least two cards to his name, his rookie card landing in the 1993 Pro Set set ($1-$2) and an issue from his last year as an NFLer in the 1997 Pacific Philadelphia set ($1-$2).

André Davis’ 2002 Bowman rookie card.

André Davis (Niskayuna)
Davis, who grew up in Nisky and starred for the track-and-field team as well as on the soccer field, before trying out for the football team and making it his junior year. After attending Virginia Tech on a football scholarship, where he shared a squad with future (controversial) NFL star Michael Vick, Davis was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the second round of the 2002 draft as a wide receiver. Over a seven-year career, in which he played for the New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills and finally, the Houston Texans, Davis racked up a respectable 2,470 total yards and scored 17 touchdowns (one 99-yard TD reception tied a record for the longest in NFL history). Davis has quite a few cards to choose from, but I’d suggest starting with his rookie cards, which appear in 2002. You can land his 2002 Bowman for about $3-$4 or his 2002 Fleer Platinum for about the same. For hunters looking for a little more bang for their buck, Press Pass put out a card in 2002 that features a piece of Davis’ game-used college jersey on it, which is selling on eBay for about $115.

Chad Dukes (Albany)
Albany native Chad Dukes, a running back, who played for the University of Pittsburgh during his college years, played just a single season in the NFL, splitting his two-game career between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Washington Redskins in 2000. Because his time in the league was so short, it didn’t give card producers enough time to get him on any issues. Dukes did see some action prior to his NFL career on the Arena Football League’s Albany Firebirds, and wound up playing in the league after his pro days were over, too. As far as we can tell, he has no cardboard to his name.

Jamie Dukes (Schenectady)
Schenectadian Jamie Dukes, a center and guard who played his college ball at Florida State, declared for the NFL draft in ’86 and went undrafted. But Dukes eventually signed with the Atlanta Falcons, playing the majority of his 10-year career with the team, spending his last two seasons with the Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals. Dukes’ cardboard is actually plentiful and can be found in all of the major 1992 series, as well as a few from ’93 (all of his cards can be purchased for $0.25-$0.50). If you want to pay a little more, Dukes’ 1992 Topps gold parallel card will put you back $1-$2.

Andrew Franks* (Troy)
Franks was born and raised in Carmel, CA, but spent his college years in Troy at RPI, where he earned a degree in biomedical engineering. A placekicker, Franks was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Miami Dolphins in 2015 and went on to play 32 games between 2015-16, eventually becoming the Dolphins’ starting field goal kicker (he made 11 from 20-29 yards, 10 from 30-39 yards, 5 from 40-49 yards and 2 from 50+ yards for a grand total of 29 made, with his longest boot, 55 yards). At least since, say, the ’90s, kickers have gotten zero love in card sets, so you won’t be finding any Franks cardboard in the wild. But you can pick up a game-used jersey of his on eBay for $400. Caution: It’s likely never been washed, so smell at your own risk.

John Hilton (Albany)
Hilton, who was born in Albany, put together a respectable nine-year NFL career, most notably with the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1965-69 (he also played for Green Bay, Minnesota and Detroit, where he ended his career). Later in life, Hilton was tragically stricken with Alzheimer’s disease and died in 2017. But you can find his cardboard legacy out there, for sure: Hilton’s rookie card in the 1967 Philadelphia Gum set costs an affordable $2-$5, and he also has an obscure ’69 Glendale stamp that goes for $1-$2. If you want a little more value from Hilton, you can grab his ’67 rookie card, graded 8 out of 10, for about $100.

Pete Holohan (Albany)
Tight end Pete Holohan, who was born in Albany and attended the University of Notre Dame, was drafted in the seventh round of the ’81 NFL Draft by the San Diego Chargers, playing with the team through ’87, before doing a three-season turn with the Los Angeles Rams and closing out his career between the Kansas City Chiefs in ’91 and Cleveland Browns in ’92. Over his career, Holohan amassed nearly 4,000 yards and 16 touchdowns. Despite playing a number of games from ’81-’84, Holohan’s first football card wouldn’t appear until the 1985 Topps set ($0.50-$1), and that helped open the floodgates a bit, as he has issues scattered throughout the late ’80s and early ’90s, all in the $0.50 range.

Jeremy Horne (Albany)
Horne, an Albany native who briefly attended Syracuse University before transferring to the University of Massachusetts, was active in the NFL from 2010-11, playing a total of 12 games as a wide receiver for the Chiefs. At the time, the Chiefs didn’t really have the elite offense they do now, but the team did win their first AFC West divisional title in seven years in ’10, reaching the playoffs that season as well (they lost in the Wild Card game to the Baltimore Ravens). Horne didn’t factor into the starting lineup that season, though, and made two appearances as a kick returner in 2011, accounting for his career 44 yards. Despite his short stint as an NFLer, you can find several Horne cards in 2010, including his Panini Gridiron Gear rookie card ($0.50-$1) and Certified rookie card ($0.50-$1). For those looking for a bit of a premium cardboard, hunt down his 2010 Playoff Contenders rookie autograph, which will cost you about $10-$15.

Stan Jacobs (Schenectady)
The earliest NFLer on this list, Jacobs suited up for just three games for the Detroit Heralds during the 1920 season, starting just one of them. Jacobs may not have had a lengthy career or any cardboard to memorialize it, but us Capital Regionites salute him for his service on the golden goal-scoring gridiron.

A 1983 Fleer Action card featuring QB Ron Jaworski (No. 7).

Ron Jaworski* (Albany)
Former NFL quarterback Ron “Jaws” Jaworski didn’t grow up in the Capital Region, but fans got to know him as one of the owners of the Albany Empire, an Arena League Football team that played in the Capital City from 2018-19. Jaworski, who was taken in the second round of the 1973 NFL Draft, broke into the league in ’74 with the Los Angeles Rams, playing from ’77 to ’86 for the Philadelphia Eagles. After a brief stint with the Miami Dolphins in ’88, Jaws ended his career in ’89 with the Chiefs. Over a decent career, Jaworski threw for more than 28,000 yards, with 179 TDs and a win-loss-tie ratio of 73-69-1. In ’85, he tied an NFL record for the longest TD pass with a 99-yarder in overtime in Week 7. He also made the Pro Bowl in ’80. You’ve probably also caught him on ESPN as a commentator, where he worked from 2007-17. You can find Jaws’ rookie card in the 1976 Topps set ($7-$10), and his other cards scattered throughout the next decade-plus ($0.50-$1). In recent years, Jaws has snuck into some modern sets with some expensive autographed issues. One user is selling a 2015 Panini Flawless autograph of Jaworski as an Eagle, limited to just 15 copies, for $400.

Charlie Leigh* (Albany) 
Though Leigh was born in Halifax, VA, he starred as a running back for Albany High School in the ’60s, skipping college for the NFL, where he was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1965 (Leigh was the only high schooler ever signed to an NFL team). Though the Steelers waived him that same year, Leigh would wind up working his way back to the NFL and making his debut in 1968 in a Cleveland Browns uniform. He’d end up doing stints with the 49ers, Dolphins and Packers, before hanging up his cleats in 1974. In all, he played 80 games, rushed for 372 yards and scored two touchdowns. (He also served as a punt returner, returning 50 punts to the tune of 368 yards.) Incredibly, as a Dolphin, he won two Super Bowl rings between 1971-72, though he didn’t play in the big game in ’71 due to an injury. The following season was Miami’s legendary perfect season. As far as we can tell, he doesn’t have any cardboard to his name. And that’s a shame, because he damn well deserves it.

Dion Lewis (center) retired this last August, after playing his final season with the New York Giants. (Matthew Swensen/New York Giants)

Dion Lewis* (Albany)
Although Lewis was born in Brooklyn, he ended up moving to the Capital Region as a youngster and went on to star as a running back for Albany High and Albany Academy, before moving to New Jersey to finish his high school football career. Standing at just 5′ 8″, like Hall of Famer RB Barry Sanders, as a junior, Lewis logged an incredible 1,365 yards and 22 rushing touchdowns for Albany Academy, leading the private school to a 12-1 record in 2006. Lewis was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2011, and would go on to win a Super Bowl ring with the New England Patriots in 2017, where he played his best football. After a productive stint with the Tennessee Titans, Lewis wound up in the backfield mix with his hometown New York Giants in 2020, helping fill the gap left by the team’s star running back, Saquon Barkley, who went down with a season-ending injury early last season. He retired last August. If you’re looking to collect Lewis, there are a lot of cheap options out there. Start with his rookie card in the 2011 Topps or Topps Chrome sets ($2-$5) and fan out from there. Want to spend a little more? That 2011 Topps Chrome Lewis, graded 10 out 10, will put you back $50-$60.

Drew Mahalic (Albany)
The Albany native, who went on to play for Notre Dame, was drafted in the ’75 NFL Draft as a right linebacker, playing a total of 49 games for the San Diego Chargers (’75) and the Philadelphia Eagles (’76-’78). Though Mahalic put together a decent number of games in the NFL, he didn’t get the attention of Topps, who never put him on a card. You can find his autograph on eBay, though, which will cost you anywhere from $5-$15, depending on what he signed (no, that does not include underwear).

Tom Myers (Cohoes)
Myers, a defensive back, grew up in Cohoes and played his college ball for Syracuse. The New Orleans Saints drafted Myers in the ’72 draft, and he played his entire career there, hanging up his cleats in ’81. In ’78, Myers led his division with a 97-yard pick six, a team record that has still never been broken. The following year, he reached the Pro Bowl. Upon ending his career, Myers was elected to the Saints’ Hall of Fame. You can find Myers’ rookie card in the 1974 Topps set ($0.50-$1), and the year after he grabbed six interceptions, Myers was honored with a Saints Team Leaders card in ’79 ($0.50). A recent eBay seller had that exact card, graded authentic, with all four players appearing on it having autographed the card, including Myers ($25-$30).

Brian Parker* (Albany)
Parker was actually born in Rochester but attended college at the University at Albany, which is what got him on this list. A tight end, Parker got to suit up for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2015, then again for the Denver Broncos in 2018, amassing 22 total NFL games for 39 total yards and no TDs. Fun fact: After getting out of the league, Parker earned his law degree from the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law and is now a Denver area law clerk. Parker never turned up on any cardboard, but that won’t keep us from cheering him on.

Matt Patricia* (Troy)
Patricia gets on this list not for having played a single NFL game but as a dominant, Super Bowl–winning coach. Patricia grew up in Sherrill, a small city between Utica and Syracuse, and played center and guard for RPI’s football team (he was also Saratoga architect Michael Phinney‘s fraternity brother). After taking a coaching job at Syracuse University, Patricia was hired by the New England Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick as an offensive coaching assistant in 2004, the year the Pats won the Super Bowl. The following year, he was named assistant offensive line coach and then installed as linebackers coach in 2006. He then became the Pats’ safeties coach in 2011, and in 2012, became the team’s defensive coordinator. In all, he won three Super Bowls with the Pats, before being named the Detroit Lions’ head coach in 2018 (he was let go in 2020 after two losing seasons). As of this year, Patricia is back with the Pats and will serve in various coaching roles. Because Patricia wasn’t a player, he doesn’t have any cards to his name. But a Lions helmet that he signed is going for $300 on eBay. A signed Patricia photo will cost you a bit less: $40.

Rich Romer (East Greenbush)
Linebacker Romer, who grew up in East Greenbush and attended Union College, was taken in the seventh round of the ’88 draft, by the Cincinnati Bengals, playing just nine total games for the team through ’89. Romer didn’t put enough of a career statline together to warrant cardboard—but it might be fun to hunt down an autograph. (He currently serves as the CEO of the Watt Fuel Cell Corp., which is based in the Pittsburgh area.) He’s one of just two East Greenbushians on this list.

Tim Sherwin (Troy)
Sherwin, who was born in Troy and went to high school in Watervliet, strapped on his cleats for Boston College, before being drafted by the Baltimore Colts in ’81. He played with the Colts long past their city change in ’84 to Indianapolis, ending his eight-year career in ’88 with the hometown New York Giants. A tight end, Sherwin barreled forward for more than 1,000 career yards and two TDs. Though Topps never got around to adding Sherwin to a set, you can find a photo-less rarity, featuring Sherwin’s name and stats, in the 1983 APBA Football game, an early form of fantasy football ($7-$10).

Ernie Stautner’s 1957 Topps card.

Ernie Stautner* (East Greenbush)
Born in Bavaria, Germany, in 1925, Stautner and his family immigrated to America when he was just three, coming to live in East Greenbush. Stautner would end up attending both Columbia High School and Bishop Maginn, before serving as a Marine in World War II. Back from the war, Stautner attended Boston College, where he started as an offensive and defensive tackle, and he was eventually selected in the second round of the 1950 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers. A nine-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro, Stautner played 173 total games for the Steelers before hanging up his cleats in 1963. He then went on to a successful second career as an NFL defensive line coach for the Steelers (he actually played and coached from 1963-64), Washington Redskins, Denver Broncos and Dallas Cowboys. With the latter team, he won two Super Bowl rings in the 1970s. Stautner has since had his number retired by the Steelers and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1969. There’s a nice chunk of early cards that feature Stautner on them, including 1950 Topps Felt Backs ($400-$500); 1951 Bowman ($50-$100); and 1956 Topps ($6-$10), to name a few. Because Stautner’s a HOFer, you’re going to have to pay a little more for his high-grade material. A version of that ’51 Bowman card, graded 9 out of 10, is going for north of $5,000 on eBay; and in 2011, card company National Treasures released a cut signature relic card of Stautner, which is selling on eBay for $6,000.

Adam Terry (Glens Falls)
Terry, who attended Queensbury High School and went on, like Jeremy Horne, to play for Syracuse, was drafted in 2005 as an offensive tackle by the Baltimore Ravens, where he would play through 2008, before ending his career in a San Diego Charger’s jersey. Playing in 50 pro games, Terry had a fumble recovery his first season in the NFL—the lone calculable stat in his career. Though Terry put in the time in the pros, it still wasn’t able to get him onto any cardboard—though you can find his autograph on eBay for $10-$20.

Eric Torkelson (Troy)
Collar City native Torkelson attended Burnt Hills–Ballston Lake High School, before playing for the University of Connecticut. From there, the running back was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in 1974—the first BH-BL player to be drafted into the NFL, by the way—playing his entire career for the team (he retired there in ’81). As luck would have it, Torkelson’s first card can be found in the ’77 Topps set ($1-$2), and his autograph can be had for $10-$20. Unless, of course, you track him down by mail (sorry, we don’t have his address).

Joe Vellano (Rexford)
A Rexford native, Vellano played defensive tackle for the Christian Brothers Academy in Albany, before going on to attend college at the University of Maryland. Signing as an undrafted free agent with the Patriots in 2013, Vellano made his NFL debut in Week 5 after longtime Pats nose tackle Vince Wilfork went down with an injury. He eventually won a Super Bowl with the team in 2015, and after being released, landed on the Atlanta Falcons in 2016 and 2017, playing just four games, and ironically, losing to his original team in the 2017 Super Bowl, which was the largest comeback in Super Bowl history (thanks, Tom Brady). Vellano appears on a few cards, including in the 2013 Panini National Treasures set ($3-$5). Since Panini produced a number of pricey parallels that year, if you want to spend a little bit more, a seller on eBay has Vellano’s one-of-one 2013 Panini National Treasures printing plate for sale for $50.

Anthony Weaver, the Baltimore Ravens’ run game coordinator and defensive line coach, working with DT Aaron Crawford this past May. (Baltimore Ravens)

Anthony Weaver* (Saratoga Springs)
We saved the best for last. Weaver was actually born in Texas, but he grew up in Saratoga Springs, playing his high school football for the Blue Streaks at Saratoga High School. (He was in my graduating class in 1998.) Weaver quickly became a legend there, playing a number of positions, and went on to star for the University of Notre Dame. There, he made the all-freshman first team and was named a team captain in 2001. Drafted in the second round of the ’02 draft by the Baltimore Ravens, Weaver, a defensive end, would put together a respectable seven-year NFL career, spending four of those years with the Ravens and three with the Houston Texans, before calling it quits in ’08. He finished his career with 15.5 sacks and 208 solo tackles in 103 games. After his playing days were over, Weaver became a sought-after defensive coach, coaching for the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns and Houston Texans, and this past January, it was announced that he’d be returning to the team that drafted him as a player (he apparently loves it there). Weaver will be serving as the defensive line coach and run game coordinator this coming season. Weaver’s first official NFL cards appear in 2002, and you can find most of his cards for $3-$5 (see: Bowman Chrome, Score, Topps, SPx and more). Weaver also has a decent amount of certified autographed cardboard on the market, which can be found in the $10-$20 range, like his 2002 Press Pass auto, featuring him in his Notre Dame uniform. I have a nice handful of his cards in my personal collection, and it shouldn’t be difficult to find local hobby shops selling his wares.

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