Utilizing a horizontal design for the first time since 1957, the 1962 Topps football set gave future collectors of high grade cards some big headaches. The cause for discomfort are the unique but ultra-condition sensitive black borders, which were easily chipped and scuffed.
Topps would employ the same strategy for the black backgrounds for its 1971 baseball set, with similar wails from collectors. It would revert to a horizontal design again in the woodgrain-bordered 1966 football set.
1962 Topps Football Basics
1962 Topps football cards were generally distributed in five-cent wax packs, although some were sold as penny or cello packs.
After using players from the NFL and upstart AFL in 1961, Topps went back to exclusively issuing cards of the senior pro football league in 1962, with Fleer handling the AFL. The ’62 set contained 176 cards and was grouped by teams, listed alphabetically by city. That meant that Johnny Unitas was card No. 1 from 1960 to 1963 when Baltimore led off the set (Unitas was also card No. 1 in 1959, but the players were listed more randomly in that year’s set). Quarterbacks and running backs were the first players listed for each team, and the final player card was a rookie prospect. The team’s run ends with a team photograph card.
Cards measured 2½ inches by 3½ inches. The card fronts are partitioned into three squares, separated by thick, black lines. The largest box is placed on the right side of the card and features a color photo (generally a posed shot or an oversized head shot), while the top left box is smaller and shows and action shot in black and white. The third and final box is in the lower left-hand corner of the card and depicts the player’s name, team and position.
Rookies, SPs and Hall of Famers
Some of the key cards include Unitas and Jim Brown (card No. 28). The key rookies are Mike Ditka (No. 17), Tarkenton, Billy Kilmer (No. 151), Norm Snead (No. 164). Roman Gabriel (No. 88) and Don Perkins (No. 41).
The printing plan created plenty of short-printed cards, including Fran Tarkenton (No. 90) along with Don Meredith (No. 39), Bart Starr (No. 63), Paul Hornung (No. 64), Jim Taylor (No. 66), Raymond Berry (No. 5) and Ernie Davis (No. 36).
Topps did a few funky things with the photos in this set. For example, the black-and-white photo on Tarkenton’s card is actually Sonny Jurgensen, with his uniform numbered from No. 9 to No. 10. Unitas is black-and-white photo on card No. 77, which is quarterback Zeke Bratkowski, while Y.A. Tittle is the secondary photo on the Gabriel rookie card. And the card of Dick James (No. 165) shows a black-and-white shot of Don Bosseler.
Condition is always at a premium with this set. How hard is it to find high-grade cards? Of the 26,181 cards submitted to PSA for grading, not one has come back as a gem mint card. In fact, only 325 have been graded at PSA 9. For example, only four of Ditka’s rookie cards have graded as high as PSA 9.
1962 Topps Football Bucks Insert
The 1962 set also had inserts, called Football Bucks. This was a 48-piece set that had simulated bills in $1, $5 and $10 denominations. They measured 1¼ inches by 4¼ inches and were folded in the center to fit into the five-cent wax packs. “Football Bucks” was placed above the player’s mug shot on the bill. The inserts were printed on white paper; predictably, the valuable pieces in this set belong to Tarkenton, Starr, Ditka, Brown and Unitas, along with Y.A. Tittle.
Brown and Unitas are featured on $10 “bills,” while Berry graces a $5.
The 1962 Topps set is an interesting group of cards, easy to collect, but difficult to find in a high grade. There are plenty of cards for sale on eBay — graded and raw — so casual and rabid fans can find the proper balance as they try to complete the set.