In 1961, professional football was split between two leagues, the decades old National Football League (NFL) and the newly formed American Football League (AFL). It would be five years before the two leagues would announce a planned merger and six before the first Super Bowl. The football card industry was also divided that year as both Topps and Fleer produced large sets.
The 1961 Fleer Football set consisted of 220 cards, but was released in two series. Cards #1-132 featured players from the NFL, while cards #133-220 included AFL stars.
Cards were sold in nickel wax packs and unopened packs can still be found today.
This was the first year cards of the Minnesota Vikings were included. While there were no interesting errors in the set, the state of Wisconsin was printed backwards on the Green Bay Packers logos, but it wasn’t corrected and therefore does not affect value.
1961 Topps cards are in somewhat larger supply today than their Fleer counterparts.
Fleer managed to capture some of the brightest stars in both leagues, including several who would go on to become members of the Hall of Fame. Among those featured were Stan Jones, Doug Atkins, Jim Brown, Bobby Mitchell, Johnny Unitas, Lenny Moore, Raymond Berry, Jim Parker, Gino Marachetti, Art Donovan, Tommy McDonald, Chuck Bednarik, Bob St. Clair, Leo Nomellini, Roosevelt Brown, Sam Huff, Andy Robustelli, Roosevelt Grier, Dick Lane, Yale Lary, Joe Schmidt, Bart Starr, Jim Taylor, Paul Hornung, Forrest Gregg, Jim Ringo, Ollie Matson, Les Richter, Bobby Layne, John Henry Johnson, Ernie Stautner, Hugh McElhenny, Ron Mix, George Blanda, Jim Otto, and George Blanda.
MVP Paul Hornung led Joe Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers to the NFL Championship over the New York Giants. The Packers had multiple Hall of Famers included in the Fleer set including Forrest Gregg, Bart Starr, and Jim Taylor. The Packers would prove to be the most popular team of the 1960s, winning multiple championships due to their star power and legendary coaching.
When the conversation of greatest running back in history is had, Jim Brown is often in the discussion. 1961 found him in the middle of his brief, but legendary, career with the Browns. His 1961 Fleer card is valued at $150 in near mint condition, about $40 more than the Topps version.
At quarterback, no one in the era was better than Johnny Unitas, who helped redevelop the position in the post-war era and led the Baltimore Colts to the 1957 NFL Championship in what is often called the greatest game ever played. Since Unitas is #1 in the Topps set and prone to more wear, his Fleer card (#20) is less expensive.
There were a plentiful amount of rookie cards issued in 1961 Fleer including Hall of Famers Jim Otto and Don Maynard. Other rookie stars included John Brodie, Tom Flores, and Don Meredith.
Maynard was a star receiver for the New York Jets and one of Joe Namath’s favorite targets, but unfortunately a hamstring injury prevented him from playing a role in the team’s upset victory over the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. ‘Dandy’ Don Meredith was a Pro Bowl quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, best remembered for a loss to the Packers in the 1967 NFL Championship Game forever known as the ‘Ice Bowl’. Following his career as a broadcaster he was known to another generation of NFL fans for his work broadcasting Monday Night Football alongside Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford.
1961 Fleer is an inexpensive way for collectors to acquire some of the 1960s greatest stars. The cards feature color photography believed to be taken before games, with many players pictured in warm-up jackets. With a plentiful ratio of Hall of Famers, without any key rookie cards that make the set cost prohibitive, it also is popular with set collectors.
A very good supply of graded NM/MT and MINT examples has kept the costs of collecting the ’61 Fleer set in check. Even graded, near mint examples of all but a few of the top Hall of Famers can be found for well under $100. Brown, Meredith, Unitas, Starr, Taylor and Hornung are the most expensive cards but one can own respectable examples of each for what seems to be an undervalued price. There are no great rarities.
Complete sets very greatly depending on condition but a set of solid quality can usually be found for $1,000-$1,500.
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