The 1970 season was a significant one for pro football, as the long-awaited merger between the established National Football League and the upstart American Football League was put into place.
It was a big year in the trading card world, too, as the 1970 Topps Football set revealed.
Gone were team logos on the cards, and photographs did not show team names or logos on uniforms or helmets. This was the beginning of a decade-long practice of airbrushing by Topps thanks to apparent NFL licensing requirements Topps wasn’t willing to meet. Helmet designs, for example, would not appear on a Topps card until the 1982 set.
For the second consecutive year, Topps released 263 cards in two series. Card No. 132, a checklist for Series 2, was included in both series. Wax packs cost 10 cents apiece.
The front has the player’s photo framed in an oval, with a tan background and white borders.
Like other Topps football sets of the late 1960s, the 1970 set is teeming with Hall of Famers. There are 27 in all, starting with Len Dawson at card No. 1. Others include Bob Griese (No. 10), Bart Starr (30), Ray Nitschke (55), Gale Sayers (70), Fran Tarkenton (80), Paul Warfield (135), Joe Namath (150), Larry Csonka (162), Johnny Unitas (180) and Dick Butkus (190).
For many years the 1970 Topps set was famous — and now it is infamous — for containing the rookie card of O.J. Simpson (card No. 90). It may have lost some value because of his sensational murder trial during the mid-1990s, but Simpson’s rookie remains the most valuable card in the set, followed by Namath.
Rookies who would become Hall of Famers also were prevalent in the set, starting with Jan Stenerud, (No. 25), Elvin Bethea (43), Alan Page (59), Lem Barney (75), and Tom Mack (151). A pair of future actors also made the set—Bubba Smith (No. 114) and Fred Dryer (247).
There is one variation in the set. Lance Rentzel’s name is red on card No. 113, while the variation sports his name in black.
Grading 1970 Topps Football Cards
There are plenty of 1970 cards registered with PSA (44,185), with 578 coming in at gem mint (PSA-10). There are no gem mints of Namath or Simpson that have been submitted; Page leads the way with 16; Tarkenton, his teammate for many years with the Minnesota Vikings, has 14 PSA-10s in the registry
In the SGC registry, 3,101 cards have been submitted. Of those, only four grade out at 98 — Tarkenton, Unitas, Cowboys defensive standout Bob Lilly and a rookie card of Jets running back Emerson Boozer.
Each series of 1970 contained an insert set. The first series boasted 8-inch by 10-inch posters of 24 different stars; obviously, the posters were folded to fit into the packs, so finding pristine versions are difficult. Butkus and Sayers appear to have the most valuable posters in the set.
Series 2 had a 33-card glossy subset. These card had glossy fronts, were printed on heavier white cardboard stock and measured 3 1/8 inches by 5 ¼ inches. The card backs were white and listed the players’ names, teams and positions, along with the card number.
Predictably, the most expensive cards are the stars — Namath, Simpson, Unitas, Starr and Tarkenton.
Complete sets of 1970 Topps Football vary based on condition with EX/NM type sets typically available for around $300-$350 and better quality NM sets at $450 and up. A set with all cards graded ‘8’ by PSA sold for nearly $4,500 in 2014.
The 1970 Topps set opened a decade that would see the NFL rocket into popularity with the American public. The cards are clean and generally are easy to find, even in high-grade.
You can see them on eBay here.