Most of the kids who were collecting 1971 Bazooka football cards weren’t alive the last time those big boxes of penny bubble gum had a card on the back. While Topps spent the 1960s delivering an annual baseball set of some sort, it had no such arrangement with the NFL players. It didn’t last long. The ’71 set marks the end of the line for vintage Bazooka cards.
If you went to the store that fall, a glance at the front of the 25-cent boxes that kept your jaws busy for a while didn’t reveal much. “Bonus Football Feature” is the bizarre way the cards were promoted.
Just as the company had done with most of its baseball sets, Topps put three players on the back of each box, separated by dotted lines. They were, as always, meant for cutting into individual cards. Today, though, complete boxes are what carry a premium and make collecting them more attractive.
There are 36 players in the set and the three players on the back of each box never varied so it took only 12 boxes to make a complete set (still a lot of chewing). Topps got the player selection right, for the most part. The big stars were mostly all there. Unitas. Namath. Starr (albeit in decline). Butkus. Sayers. Tarkenton. Griese…and yes, O.J. Simpson, who was quickly becoming the league’s marquee name.
There are 17 Hall of Famers in the set—nearly half of the entire checklist. Topps tried to give equal time to defensive standouts with the inclusion of several stars beyond Butkus.
The cards aren’t flashy. Most are headshots, pulled from whatever archive Topps had available. Virgil Carter hadn’t played for the Bears since 1969, but he’s pictured in what’s clearly a Chicago uniform. The backs are blank.
The individual cards are numbered on the front with Namath, not surprisingly, kicking off the checklist.
The boxes were usually sealed with tape on each end and the placement sometimes extended onto the cards themselves, which means cards appearing at each end of the box are the hardest to find in top quality condition.
In 2018, a complete set of boxes sold for a very reasonable $482 via Lelands. In 2019, another set sold for $566 via SCP Auctions.
Most single cards are much cheaper than complete boxes or panels and piecing a respectable looking set together won’t be an expensive proposition. Those who collect the set in graded form do pay a hefty premium for the high-end singles, panels and boxes.
You can see 1971 Bazooka football on eBay by clicking here.