The 1966 Topps football set seems to have a somewhat polarizing effect on collectors. Similar in design to the 1955 Bowman baseball issue, ’66 Topps football cards have a horizontal format, and feature a wood-grained border styled to look like a television, which I have found most collectors either love or hate. Unlike its baseball counterpart, which pictures many of the athletes in near full-body, posed action, the vast majority of images in ’66 Topps football are simple mug shots.
Though the design can be off-putting to some, 1966 Topps still has many interesting attributes to that make it desirable to football collectors.
- Super Bowl I was played in January 1967, and thus the Chiefs team set features the first players to represent the AFL in and AFL vs. NFL matchup.
- The Miami Dolphins made their debut in 1966, and Topps captured the expansion team in this set.
- Collectors who prefer standard-sized cards, or cannot afford his 1965 Topps issue, will find a more affordable and attractive Joe Namath card in the ’66 Topps set.
- This set lacks rookie star power (Otis Taylor is the most prominent rookie card in the set), but has an excellent selection of HoF players and AFL stars.
While collecting a clean 1966 Topps set can prove a challenge due to centering issues and the easily-chipped wood-grained borders, it is one of the more manageable of AFL sets to collect in autographed form. Unlike their baseball counterparts which consisted of several hundred cards each, AFL issues were much smaller sets, with 1966 Topps containing just 132 cards. The cards themselves are plentiful, and nice, autograph-grade examples (PSA 4-6 range, and raw equivalent) can be purchased rather inexpensively.
When collecting autographed sets, the players’ mortality is a considerable factor, and this is particularly true of a set produced 46 years ago. As I type, 38 of the players in this set are deceased. At first mention, that fact may sound insurmountable, but the truth is that many of those are recent deaths, and signed examples are still available in the market. While the collecting experience differs from person-to-person, the most difficult autographed cards in this set will typically be the following:
- Cookie Gilchrist – A legendary running back, his enigmatic personality and post-football brain injuries caused Gilchrist to fade quickly from the public eye. The last 40 years of his life were spent in partial seclusion, during which he shunned nearly all autograph requests. Gilchrist passed away in 2011.
- Otis Taylor – One of the first great big men to play receiver, Taylor was a dominant force on the Chiefs offense for many years. The most significant rookie card in the set, it seems that collectors typically chose to use Taylor’s less expensive issues for signatures. For the last several years, Taylor has suffered the effects of football-related brain injuries, and has been unable to sign.
- Bobby Jancik – Though he lived through 2005, Bobby Jancik-signed cards are among the most difficult to find of the AFL players. He had four Topps issues (1964, ’65, ’66 & ’67), and each is a significant challenge to obtain, though for no obvious reason.
- Frank Buncom – A three-time all-star with the Chargers, Frank Buncom died of a pulmonary embolism as a member of the Cincinnati Bengals in 1969.
- Tom Sestak – A member of the AFL All-Time Team, Sestak died of a heart attack in 1987. He remains a very popular player among Bills fans, and his autographed cards and memorabilia are fiercely chased when at auction.
- Charlie Janerette – The Broncos lineman suffered from mental illness for more than a decade after his football career ended. He was killed in a scuffle with police in his hometown of Philadelphia, in 1984.
Stars and Checklists
There are several other cards in this set that will come with a considerable price tag, either already signed, or via paid autograph appearances, but their rarity shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Jack Kemp, Lance Alworth, Joe Namath, Abner Haynes, George Blanda and Don Maynard fall into this category.
One question that pops up with set collectors, and especially-so with 1966 Topps is whether to have checklists signed, and if so, then by whom? The 1966 Topps set has two standard checklists, and the famed Funny Ring Checklist as numbered cards in the set. I had my standard checklists signed by Bobby Burnett and E.J. Holub. Burnett was the 1966 AFL Rookie of the Year, yet never had a card of his own. Holub was a standout linebacker with the Chiefs, and played in Super Bowl I.
Admittedly, I struggled with the Funny Ring Checklist. I first thought of having it signed by an AFL commissioner, but all had already passed, as had Lamar Hunt, founder of the American Football League. Ultimately I ventured outside of the football world entirely, and sent my Funny Ring Checklist to former Topps executive, Sy Berger. I figured that the card had been produced while he was the man in charge of Topps, so it seemed apt. It was also nice to obtain the signature of a man who was such an integral part of our hobby.
And such is the challenge of collecting a signed 1966 Topps set. While I would never consider this a simple collection, 1966 and 1967 Topps footballs are undoubtedly the two AFL sets that offer the greatest chance of completion. And if it was too easy, then what fun would it be in the first place?