The 1973 Topps football set was definitely a landmark product. For starters, it was the largest football set Topps ever issued — “Biggest series ever!” touted the wax packs— and with 528 cards, it more than doubled the 1972 product.
This also marked the first time that Topps issued cards all at once in one series, a practice that would carry over to the 1974 baseball set.
Packs were still 10 cents with 36 packs per box.
1973 Topps Football Set Basics
Because of the sheer number of cards, Topps was able to include more players. Nearly a third of the cards from 1973 are players making their football card debut. Topps continued to airbrush cards, so no team logos were showing in the photos. There are more action shots in this set, which makes that task a little trickier. But honestly, some of the poses are the stock shots that dominated 1960s football cards, with some from the bench thrown in for good measure. The lack of team logos in the action shots give the cards a garish look, but then again, Topps was the only game in town, so the company’s executives were not too concerned with appearance.
And the names. This set has some great ones, like Happy Feller, Chip Glass, and Fair Hooker. Spike Jones, too (the Bills punter, not the quirky 1950s satiric band leader). But the rookie cards sport some big names, like Franco Harris, Ken Stabler, Jack Youngblood, Dan Dierdorf, Jack Ham, Jim Langer, Bob Brown, Ken Anderson, Lydell Mitchell, Bob Kuechenberg, Ken Riley, Jack Tatum and Art Shell.
The design of the 1973 football set is pretty basic, with the card fronts most in a vertical format. The player’s photo is framed by a thick black line, and down the left-hand side of the card there is a two-colored, ribbon-like design (it looks like those ribbons one got for perfect attendance in elementary school). It starts at the top of the card, appears to hide behind the player photo, and then emerges at the card bottom.
Some key horizontal design exceptions include Cowboys John Niland (card No. 10), Larry Csonka (card No. 100), Dick Butkus (card No. 300) and Bob Lilly (card No. 450).
The player’s name is positioned in block letters at the top of the card. His position and the team he plays for is placed underneath the photo at the bottom of the card. His first name and the team name match part of the ribbon design (the left color).
The card backs sport a vertical design and has a short biography and a trivia cartoon at the bottom. Red is the main color on the back; there is a helmet icon in the upper left-hand corner that contains the card number, and the player’s name is formed in white block letters and sits inside a blue stripe.
1973 Topps Football Set Highlights
This is the final regular appearance of Joe Namath in a base set, and it’s also kind of odd to see John Unitas (card No. 455) appearing on a Chargers card (gasp!), although the photo shows him still in a Colts uniform.
Cards 1 through 6 are league leaders in six categories, with two mug shots per card (the leader from each league). Cards 133 through 139 are devoted to the 1972 playoffs, with five of the seven cards using a horizontal design on the front. The card backs for these cards list the game summary and individual statistic leaders; card No. 139 is from Super Bowl VII.
Cards 265-267 feature boyhood photos of Donny Anderson, Roman Gabriel and Mike Garrett, an idea Topps unfortunately gave up on after 1973.
Not surprisingly, the key cards in the set are the Harris and Stabler rookies, along with Unitas, Roger Staubach and Ham.
Plenty of cards from the 1973 Topps football set have been submitted for grading — 46,208 to PSA, for example. Of those sent in, 1,453 have graded out at gem mint, and 16,098 have earned PSA-9 designations. SGC has graded 2,472 cards, with 49 earning a 98 and 606 grading out at 96.
Team Checklist Cards
Team checklists were inserted into regular-issue wax packs. The card front shows a generic action shot and a red Topps helmet on the left side. The checklist contains the player’s number and includes his uniform number and position. Card backs formed puzzles of Namath and Redskins running back Larry Brown. The checklists themselves are not numbered.
The 1973 Topps football set began a ten-year run of 528-card sets. It was full of stars, and plenty of memorable players made their football card debut. Complete sets in decent shape start at around $250. The cards are affordable, even in high grade, which is a big plus. And if you were a guy who is collecting them, that made you a happy feller.