Youngsters used to seeing packs in a standard size wax wrapper found something completely different on the shelves of their local drug store in the late summer of 1965. For the second year in a row, the nation’s only baseball card maker had created a set of players from the American Football League players but this time, the packs were huge. The 1965 Topps Football set was definitely different.
A few years later, Topps would bring the “tall boy” concept to basketball but it would be their first, last and only set to go rectangular.
Watching Philadelphia Gum enjoy the second year of a four-season exclusive with the NFL had to be a tough pill for Topps to swallow and once again, you won’t find team nicknames or logos anywhere on the cards. Even the packs don’t indicate “American Football League” or “AFL” so you could assume many young buyers who bought that first pack or two were again fooled into thinking they might be able to land Bart Starr, Johnny Unitas or Jim Brown.
Instead, the 2 ½” x 4 11/16” cards showcased the “other” league, which was becoming a force the older, more established NFL could no longer ignore. The Super Bowl would soon be born and the merger was coming.
Short Print Stars
The 1965 Topps Football set includes 176 cards and is one of the most challenging vintage football sets of the post-War era. The set’s odd size (and perhaps other factors) meant major challenges for the design and printing of production sheets and as such, there are four dozen short prints, all of which carry a premium price.
One of those single prints is the Joe Namath rookie card, which would be popular and valuable even without being far less plentiful than other cards. The Namath rookie card sells for over $1,000 even in EX condition with a near mint 7 bringing more than double that.
Willie Brown, Fred Biletnikoff, George Blanda and Jack Kemp are also SPs.
Not So Minty
The unusual size and difficulty kids may have had in storing them safely has made high-grade examples scarce. Printing flaws and centering issues have also contributed. The drop-off from near mint 8 to mint 9 cards is stunning fewer than 700 unqualified 9s in existence between all three major grading companies—roughly one-tenth the number of 8s.
In addition to the Namath, several major sales of graded 1965 Topps cards took place in 2014 including $7,500 for a PSA 9 Biletnikoff rookie, $3,250 for a PSA 9 of one of the two checklists in the set and $3,200 for a PSA 9 Brown.
Landing an unmarked checklist in good shape is a challenge, especially the second one, which is #176, the last card in the set and as such, is also plagued by corner wear.
Among the most difficult player cards to find in high grade are Dick Westmoreland and Jerry Hopkins (7 PSA 8s and no 9s), Jacky Lee (9/0), Odell Barry (10/1), Stew Barber and Dave Costa (11/0), Jerry Sturm (12/1), Walt Suggs and Frank Jackson (14/0), Billy Shaw (15/1) and Don Trull (16/0).
Errors and Set Prices
Topps made a couple of player identification errors in the set. As Todd Tobias pointed out in this article, Clem Daniels is pictured on his own card—and that’s him on Art Powell’s card as well. The player identified as Rick Redman is actually Larry Elkins.
Sometimes the less painstaking and most economical way to collect the 1965 Topps Football set is simply to buy it already completed. Prices vary greatly based on condition, especially the grade of the Namath rookie but a set that’s generally crease-free and rates EX/EX-NM can usually be found for $2,500-$3,500.
You can see 1965 Topps Football sets, lots and singles on eBay here.