Feast of First-Rate Football

Football insert cards in the modern collecting era include all kinds of concepts that inspire us to go for the gold: autographed cards, jersey cards, die-cut cards, pigskin cards . . . everything but jockstrap cards. (Now don’t go getting any ideas, card manufacturers!)

Step back in time to the 1960s, however, and you’ll find that football inserts didn’t get collectors so hot and bothered. Generally speaking, kids didn’t rip into wax packs hoping to see a certain insert. No, we wanted the cards in the base set, and we wanted ’em all.

Insert cards? Most of us did what we were supposed to do: pinned them up, scratched them or stuck them to mom’s favorite coffee table. So the supply of inserts from the 1960s isn’t as healthy as the supply of base-set cards. As a result, pulling together a complete set of 1960s-era inserts can be a chore – not necessarily an expensive one, but one that requires some digging. 

The early 1960s saw some interesting efforts, the best of which might have been 1962’s Topps Bucks, which were designed like dollar bills and folded in half to fit in packs. Star players in that set can cost $50-$75 today.

From 1964-67, Topps didn’t have an NFL license, so it instead produced American Football League sets. The inserts were stereotypical productions for that era, from “Magic Rub-Offs” (’64) to “Comic Pennants” (’67).

But to get to the decade’s finest, we’ll head to the late 1960s. Like we did last month in baseball, let’s count them down:

3) 1968 Stand-Ups. Each of these 22 cards gave us a close-up view of a player and a perforation around his head that allowed you to remove the card’s outer edge. The bottom of the card had two flaps that, when folded, allowed you to stand up Joe Namath, Sonny Jurgensen, Dandy Don Meredith or one of the other stars of the day. 

Today, Stand-Ups are far less valuable than their 1964 baseball counterparts, which can draw $200-$300 each for such players as Hank Aaron and Sandy Koufax. Topps 1968 football Stand-Ups can be had for anywhere from a few dollars for non-HOFers to upward of $50 for Namath. One eBay seller just listed a complete set (ungraded but in Excellent to Near-Mint condition) for $279.

2) 1969 4-in-1 Stamps. This well-done set combined stamp collecting with football fandom. Each card holds four stamp-sized player cards, each one removable via perforated lines. The backs of the 4-in-1s were meant to be moistened and stuck inside each player’s team booklet. (Hey, I licked a lot of that glue on the card backs when I was a kid!)

There were 26 team booklets and 66 different 4-in-1s (264 players). All the big names are here, too: John Unitas, Bart Starr, Joe Namath, Gale Sayers and more. Cards bearing those players can sell for $35-$75, depending on condition.

If graded, prices skyrocket. One vintage card dealer lists a 4-in-1 with a PSA 10 grade at $795. The card includes Fran Tarkenton grouped with Rams linebacker Maxie Baughan 49ers flanker Clifton McNeil, and the immortal Charlie Durkee, a Saints kicker. The same seller listed a number of PSA 9 4-in-1s at prices between $120 and $300.

1) 1968 Posters. Topps put it all together in creating this superb set. Each poster offers an NFL or AFL star in a 5-by-7-size pin-up folded twice to fit into packs.

The photographs burst with color, as in Tarkenton’s purple Vikings jersey and Starr’s green-and-gold Packers jersey, and the poses are classic. Each image gives us an in-your-face look at a mix of eventual Hall of Famers (Starr, Tarkenton, John Unitas, Sayers, Len Dawson, Don Maynard, Charley Taylor) and solid performers who deserve to be remembered – players like Jim Nance, the burly Patriots fullback, and Keith Lincoln, the shifty Chargers halfback.

Even though these posters are in relatively short supply, the demand is soft (some collectors just won’t live with the fold creases!), so you’ll be able to build a set without taking out a loan. You’ll pay as little as $3-$5 for commons and minor stars and probably no more than $15 or $20 for the stars. You won’t find them just anywhere, but by picking up the ones that occasionally land on eBay and then hitting a couple of local shops and a couple of shows – and by searching for sources on the Internet – it’ll be a cinch.

In fact, by the time you complete the set, you’ll be wishing Topps had created more than 16 different posters.

Leave a Reply