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Notes: Appreciating Ted Petok’s Vintage Lions’ Program Covers

The Detroit-born artist won an Oscar for the animated short “The Crunch Bird.”

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Pittsburgh Steelers v Detroit Lions Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

On Friday afternoon, the Detroit Lions’ Director of Football Communications posed a fun challenge to the Lions media on Twitter. Using four example photos of gameday covers from the 1950s, Eamonn Reynolds wanted to know more about the artist behind the mischievous cartoon Lion depicted:

The easiest way to identify who drew the covers is by looking for signatures on the work. In the Lions-Rams program cover from 1957, you can see a name near the butt of the rifle. The artist in question is animator Ted Petok, who was a Detroit native famous for winning the 1971 Academy Award for Animated Short Subject. “The Crunch Bird,” according to Phil Hall at Cinema Crazed, is the shortest animated feature to ever win the award, clocking in at just two minutes. The film is so short, you can watch it on YouTube right now and come back to us:

One Redditor had a pretty good description of the short - it’s “basically just a dad joke in animated form.” As someone who grew up on Rankin-Bass specials and The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends, I appreciated the humor. It is very much in line with the type of Jay Ward gags you might see in Aesop & Son or Fractured Fairy Tales. According to Steve Stanchfield, an Ann Arbor animator and assistant professor at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Petok was a really nice guy (see item 3 in this story from the Free Press). Stanchfield wrote a fine piece about Petok’s work at the Cartoon Research site.

According to an obituary credited to Joe Rossiter from the Detroit Free Press in 2010, Petok actively produced artwork and animation for many different outlets in Detroit in the middle decades of the 20th century (emphasis added):

After the war, he opened a studio in downtown Detroit doing commercial artwork. With the emergence of TV, the market for animated advertising took off. Mr. Petok’s clients included Faygo soft drinks, Speedway gasoline and General Motors.

“He was a creative guy who enjoyed entertaining people,” his son said.” But mostly he was just thrilled that someone would actually pay him for something he loved to do. Here’s a guy with no college, six months of art school and he was making a decent living, providing for his family and enjoying what he was doing.”

After his Oscar success, Mr. Petok formed a distribution company and went on to make dozens of animated shorts, including 1974’s “The Mad Baker.” It starred a mad scientist and his creation, a monstrous chocolate cake.

Mr. Petok’s animation also appeared on “Sesame Street” and “The Electric Company,” and he did artwork for the Detroit Lions and the Detroit Pistons, his son said.

In addition, he also appeared to have done “Tom Swifty” play-on-words gag cartoons for the Detroit Free Press in the early 1960s. The best way to find more examples of Petok’s fine work for the Detroit Lions is on eBay: just search for Detroit Lions' vintage NFL programs. Most are really funny sight gags of the Lions character dominating a caricature of the opponent’s mascot, but there are some other things like the awesome Christmas cover for the 1960 game against the Bears in mid-December.

What a great find by Eamonn, who is also using his super powers for awesome:

More vintage stuff from the current Lions media team? Yes, please! Now, on to the rest of today’s Notes:

  • Okay, this is pretty solid.

  • Pro Football Focus’ Kevin Cole posted some interesting charts on Twitter trying to figure out whether sacks taken were more the fault of the quarterback or the protection. The Lions turn out to be pretty neutral, with neither Jared Goff nor the offensive line causing more sacks above what would be expected using PFF’s offensive line survival curves (essentially, a relationship showing how the protection is more likely to break down the longer the play drags on).