The 1972 NFL season showcased perfection in Miami, the beginnings of a dynasty in Pittsburgh (aided by an Immaculate Reception), the Over the Hill Gang in Washington and dominant squads in Minnesota, Dallas and Oakland.
Topps’ 1972 football set would be the last time the company would issue the set in series form, and also the only time a set would contain three series. At 351 cards, it also was the largest football card released to that point; for the following 10 years, Topps would issue 528-card sets in one series.
The first series of the 1972 Topps set (cards 1-132) is the most common and easiest to obtain. The second series (Nos. 133-263) is tougher, but the third series (Nos. 264-351) is a big challenge. One of the key cards from that high series is Joe Namath’s Pro Action card (No. 343), which is the most valuable card of the set.
Third Series Saga
According to an article in Sports Collectors Digest from December 2013, the third series was a test issue that was only released in selected areas nationwide. As the story goes, a Topps representative in Wisconsin, frustrated by the tepid sales of the high series cards, contacted collector/dealer Larry Fritsch to gauge his interest. Fritsch bought 50 wax cases (there were 15 boxes to a case) for “roughly $5 per case.”
That inventory made Fritsch the primary source for higher quality 1972 football high numbers and wax boxes for the next 25 years.
Subsets and Rookie Cards
Subsets were prevalent in the ’72 product, with conference leaders taking up the first eight cards. Other subsets were playoffs (cards 133-139), All-Pro (264-287) and Pro Action (119-132, 250-263, 338-351).
The 1972 set contained some great rookie cards, even if some of the players had been around for a few years. The two biggest rookie cards are those of Roger Staubach (No. 200) and John Riggins (No. 13). Other big rookie names are Archie Manning (No. 55), Jim Plunkett (No. 65), Steve Spurrier (No. 291), Lyle Alzado (No. 106), Ted Hendricks (No. 93), L.C. Greenwood (No. 101), Ron Yary (No. 104), Emmitt Thomas (No. 157) and Larry Little (No. 240).
Big-name veterans with valuable cards in the set include Terry Bradshaw (No. 150), Joe Namath (No. 100) and Johnny Unitas (No. 165). The checklist for the third series (No. 294) also can command three figures among collectors.
1972 Topps Football Design
The cards were of the standard Topps had used for several years in both baseball and football, measuring 2½ by 3½ inches. Design of the card was mixed, with both vertical and horizontal versions. Due to licensing issues, any team logos on helmets and uniforms were airbrushed from the photographs Topps used.
Like most cards of the 1970s, the 1972 set was plagued with miscut cards, printing dots, ink smears and off-centered cards. The PSA Set Registry lists 21 complete, graded sets, with Elitecards 1972 listed at No. 1 with a set rating of 10.69. Individually, collectors have submitted 77,741 cards for grading at PSA, and 1,733 of them were gem-mint. Greenwood has 44 cards that has been graded PSA 10; among the third series cards, the Paul Warfield All-Pro card (No. 271) has 24 registered gem-mint cards.
Better quality complete sets, including all three series, are currently selling for around $2,000, with the bulk of the value coming from the second (Staubach rookie) and third series.
The scarcity of the set and the simple, block-like design make the 1972 Topps set a favorite among vintage football card collectors. Completing that third series is tough, but worth chasing.
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