Way before the NFL became a lucrative business, it was money in the bank for Topps. The company’s 1962 Football Bucks insert assigned money values to players in a 48-piece set, and there was some bang to those bucks.
The NFL was beginning to emerge as a “money” sport. The league signed a large television deal in 1962, and players were beginning to command higher salaries.
Topps had already used the money insert format in its 1962 Baseball Bucks set, so a parallel version in football was a natural. While the baseball version was sold as its own product, the football greenbacks were inserts in regular packs of its 1962 cards.
Like baseball, though, Topps had plenty of big names to choose from.
There was star power throughout, including Jim Brown, Johnny Unitas and Packers quarterback Bart Starr, who had led Green Bay to its first NFL title under coach Vince Lombardi in 1961.
The Football Bucks measured 1¼ inches by 4¼ inches and were folded in the center to fit into the five-cent wax. They consisted of simulated bills in $1, $5 and $10 denominations.
The player’s mugshot graced the center of the insert, with “Football Bucks” placed over the oval portrait. The player’s names were beneath their photographs, and the inserts were printed on white paper.
A short paragraph to the left of the photo gives interesting facts about the player. To the right of the photo is a drawing of the player’s home field.
The card backs have a similar motif, with the NFL and team logo flanking the player’s “denomination.”
The set is half the size of the Baseball Bucks set, which has 96 to collect. In addition to Brown, Unitas and Starr, the football set includes rookie era issues of Fran Tarkenton and Mike Ditka. Of the 48 players, 22 have now been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Like most Topps cards and inserts of the 1960s, miscuts and off-centering are issues. More than 1,300 of the Football Bucks have been sent to PSA for grading, and only seven have been given a Gem Mint rating. Among them: Brown, Paul Hornung, Don Perkins, Yale Lary, Hugh McElhenny, Joe Schmidt and Bobby Layne.
The highest grade for submitted Unitas and Starr inserts is PSA 9 — there is one out there for each player — and only seven Ditka inserts grade as high as PSA 8.
Not surprisingly, the player with the most PSA-graded inserts is Brown, with 65, followed by Starr at 54. Tarkenton has 49 slabbed specimens, with Unitas and Hornung next at 43. Hornung’s backfield partner at Green Bay, Jim Taylor, has 41.
A Brown insert graded PSA 9 sold for $2,688 this year, while a PSA 9 insert of Starr fetched a $2,167 price.
In the PSA registry, the best set has an impressive 8.70 rating.
The condition sensitivity has kept many collectors from submitting their Bucks for grading. Nearly all have populations of less than 10 in NM/MT or better.
Complete, ungraded sets can be found on eBay for $600-$900 or so–not really a bad price considering the challenge in putting one together. A complete set, with each one graded 7 or better, sold not long ago for nearly $1,600.