It was a swell product while it lasted.
In 1964, the Philadelphia Gum Company obtained the licensing rights to produce National Football League trading cards, ending the stranglehold Topps had held since 1956. Topps executive Sy Berger had gotten an agreement through NFL commissioner Bert Bell to produce cards starting in 1956 and continued through 1963.
That pact was not renewed in 1964.
In a surprise move, Philadelphia got the contract and would produce NFL cards from 1964 through 1967. The Philadelphia Gum Company was based in Havertown, Pennsylvania, and its first product was a pink bubble gum product called Swell, which was packaged in a wrapper that was twisted at the edges sold for a penny.
Topps was forced to bide its time, producing cards for the upstart American Football League while Philadelphia handled the NFL.
The 1964 Philadelphia Football set contained 198 cards. Each team was represented with 12 cards, a team card and a diagrammed play card. The teams were presented alphabetically in the checklist, with players also arranged in alphabetical order. The cards were available in penny and 5-cent wax packs and 10-cent cellophane packs, and both versions tattoo transfer inserts.
The play cards are interesting not because of the plays drawn up (they are kind of basic, run of the mill calls), but because they feature small black-and-white photos of Hall of Fame coaches like Don Shula (card No. 14), George Halas (No. 28), Tom Landry (No. 56) and Vince Lombardi (No. 84).
The design of the players’ cards is blocky and basic. A solid block adorns the bottom of the card, with different colors for each team. The player’s name, team and position are listed.
The card backs are light blue with black text, with the card number put inside a helmet-like figure. Statistics are used where applicable, with a cartoon taking up a good chunk of the card bottom.
Most of the players were photographed in their dark uniforms, but players from the Pittsburgh Steelers were depicted in their white uniforms. Only two players — Giants teammates Erich Barnes (card No. 113) and Y.A. Tittle (No. 124) — were photographed with their helmets on. Most of the photographs look like stock photos out of a media guide, although the shot of Baltimore’s Jim Parker (card No. 8) tries to convey a mean glare. Instead, it looks kind of funny. But the 1956 Outland Trophy winner was an excellent player who passed away 10 years ago, so he was entitled to make any kind of face he wanted.
There are several uncorrected errors in this set. The most glaring concerns the wrong spelling of Herb Adderley’s name on card No. 71. The last two cards in the set are checklists, which touts itself as the “Official 1963 NFL Football Checklist.”
Card No. 169 identifies the player as Garland Boyette, but the photo is wrong. Boyette was African-American and played at Grambling. The middle linebacker did wear No. 50 in 1963, but was out of football in 1966 and did not emerge again in pro football until 1966, when he played for the AFL’s Houston Oilers. The photo was actually of former center Don Gillis, a crew-cut white guy who played center for the Cardinals from 1958 to 1961. Gillis appears in the 1960 Topps set and in the 1961 Fleer product. Boyette (the real one) appears in the 1970, ’72 and ’73 Topps sets.
Fun fact: Boyette was the uncle of former AFL star and pro wrestling heel, Ernie Ladd, even though he was two years younger than “The Big Cat.”
The cartoon quiz on the card back of Lamar McHan (No. 163) notes that he won the Heisman Trophy, which must have come as a big shock to running back John Lattner of Notre Dame, who actually did win the statuette. McHan, a quarterback out of Arkansas, finished ninth overall but did get 15 first-place votes.
The front of card No. 78 notes that Jim Ringo was a member of the Green Bay Packers, while the back refers to him as center for the Philadelphia Eagles. Ringo had, in fact, been traded from Green Bay to Philadelphia before the 1964 season. The card front should have been updated, but wasn’t.
Another quirk concerns the photos of the Cleveland Browns. On most of the player shots (with the exception of card No. 31, Gary Collins), a pink Cadillac can be seen in the background. Legend has it that it belonged to running back Jim Brown, but I have not seen any confirmation. Others have claimed it was a car sold by his dealership. The Browns photos have that parking lot background (intentional or not), which is definitely quirky.
Errors aside, the 1964 Philadelphia set boasts the rookie cards of five future Hall of Famers — Adderley, John Mackey (card No. 3), Willie Davis (No. 72) Merlin Olsen (N0. 91) and Jim Johnson (No. 161).
Some of the key veterans include Raymond Berry (card No. 1), Johnny Unitas (No.12), Mike Ditka (No. 17), Jim Brown (No. 30), Bob Lilly No. 48), Don Meredith (No. 51), Paul Hornung (No. 78), Bart Starr (No. 79) and Frank Gifford (No. 117).Add New
The Philadelphia brand would stick around for four years. With the upcoming merger of the NFL and AFL, Topps regained the rights to produce football cards. The 1968 set would feature players from both leagues for the first time since 1960, and Topps would continue to dominate the football market until the late 1980s.
Complete sets can be found in off-grade condition for a few hundred dollars but expect to pay $600 and up for a nicer one.
The 1964 Philadelphia Gum football cards are readily available on eBay via this link.