The 1966 Philadelphia football set represented a changing of the guard in the NFL. Several big stars would make their debut in this 198-card set, while a few would appear as a regular issue for the final time.
A pair of Bears are the big rookie cards — Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus. Cowboys speedster Bob Hayes and his teammate, linebacker Chuck Howley, also make their cardboard debuts. Howley, who would go on to become the MVP of Super Bowl V, had actually been playing in the NFL since 1958. Bob Brown and Gene Hickerson also are notable rookies.
1966 Philadelphia Football: Arrivals and Departures
Several players were making their final appearance on a regular issue card, including Jim Brown. The Browns’ running back was working on the film “The Dirty Dozen” in 1966, and Cleveland owner Art Modell told his star that he was expected in camp. But the movie would not be completed until September, and Brown, who never backed down from a threat, simply called a news conference on July 13, 1966, and announced his retirement. Brown would have a memorable scene near the end of the film as “Robert Jefferson,” where he did some broken-field running to drop hand grenades into the air vents of a German bomb shelter.
Other players who made less dramatic exits in the Philadelphia set were Lenny Moore, Roosevelt Brown, Jim Ringo and Jim Parker.
Hall of Famers from the Dawn of the Super Bowl Era
The 1966 Philadelphia football set is loaded with 20 Hall of Famers including some of those mentioned above. Butkus, Sayers, Brown, Hayes, Johnny Unitas and Bart Starr are the five most expensive cards in the set with high grade examples–especially the rookie cards–continuing to rise.
Philadelphia stuck with basically the same design it had for its first two years. The main different is that the player’s name team and position are at the top of the card. Previously, it had been at the bottom. A large, helmetless shot of the player dominates the card front, and the NFL logo is part of the top panel that includes the player’s name; it is anchored in the upper left-hand corner of the card. Unlike the first two years of the Philadelphia set, there is no white line separating the photo from the player’s information panel. The card does, however, follow the pattern of a white border.
The card backs are green with two white boxes. The upper left-corner gives the player’s personal information along with his vital statistic. The white box on the left contains a biography of the player, and the box on the right is larger and contains a “Guess Who Quiz” with a photo and a quiz answer from a previous card. For example, card No. 30 (Ronnie Bull) has a quiz with a photo of a player with the question, “He is a Cowboys linebacker.” Collectors are then directed to card No. 3, which has the answer (Jerry Tubbs).
Philadelphia sets were kind of predictable in format, so it is no surprise that the set is numbered by team. Players are arranged in alphabetical order. Each team has 11 players, a play card and a team photo. The exception to the play and team cards are the Atlanta Falcons, an NFL expansion team making its debut in 1966. The Falcons’ play card is a team roster, and instead of a team photo, a large team logo dominates card No. 1.
Play cards for the 1966 set featured an actual photo of the key play taking place; previously, the card front showed a diagrammed play. There is also a card with referee signals, and the final two cards are checklists.
There are plenty of 1966 Philadelphia cards that have been submitted for grading. As of now, there have been 18,180 sent to PSA, while 1,620 have been shipped to SGC. A total of 43 cards have been graded at PSA 10, but none of those are the key rookies or even Brown. There are 28 PSA 9 Sayers rookies, six of Butkus and four of Brown.
SGC has just one card that grades as high as 98, but it’s a Sayers rookie. That is the only one of the 312 Sayers cards sent in that has graded so highly. Two others grade at 96, and there are two Butkus rookie cards that also earned a SGC-96.
The toughest cards to find in high grade are #2 Larry Benz, #35 Roger LeClerc, the extremely elusive #62 Don Perkins, #146 Jim Bradshaw and #184 Rickie Harris.
Dawning of an Era
The set showcased the NFL at its zenith, just as the merger with the AFL was announced. A new championship — eventually called the Super Bowl — would debut after the 1966 season. You’ll find the Kansas City Chiefs in Topps’ ’66 AFL set but Vince Lombardi’s Packers are represented with Starr, Jim Taylor and Ray Nitschke among the inclusions. Philly’s blocky, formatted look suited the conservative NFL just fine,but change was coming.
The 1966 Philadelphia Football set is the most valuable of the four sets the company created during its brief, but exclusive NFL deal but it’s among the most important vintage football sets ever made.
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