The 1974 football season featured powerhouse teams, exciting games and a strike that kept players idle in July and part of August. The Pittsburgh Steelers were on the rise as champions, while the Miami Dolphins, Oakland Raiders, Minnesota Vikings and Los Angeles Rams all fielded strong teams.
Strike or not, it was business as usual for the NFL’s trading card partner. The 1974 Topps football set marked the second straight year of a 528-card issue along with a set of non-numbered checklists.
1974 Topps Football Basics
For many youngsters, inflation hit home as the price of wax packs increased by a nickel to 15 cents. Collectors could buy wax, cello and rack packs while a few brave pioneering dealers purchased vending boxes and cases to make sets they sold. Team checklists were included in every wax pack, but impatient collectors could mail in some change and wrappers to buy the entire set of unnumbered team checklists on an uncut sheet.
The design for the 1974 set was straightforward. A large photo of the player dominated the card, and it was framed by skinny goal posts. The team name was in large, block capital letters in a colored crossbar at the bottom of card, while the player’s name was situated above and to the left of the team name. Directly across from the player’s name was his position. Each team had its own color scheme for the goal posts and crossbar.
Most of the photographs were posed and players did not wear helmets. The action shots, as was typical of Topps sets of the 1970s, were displayed with team logos airbrushed out, giving the photos a murky look.
The card backs feature the card number within a football icon in the upper left-hand corner. The player’s position, team and vital statistics are shown, and a cartoon adorns the top right side. The card backs have a yellow tint to them, too. A biographical paragraph is included, and year-by-year statistics also are part of the card for many players.
There was also an interactive element. The card bottom has a graphic of a football field and an on-field result (5-yard run, interception, etc.) for a game that collectors can play using a scratch-off insert card.
1974 Topps Football Rookies and Stars
Key rookies for the 1974 Topps set include Harold Carmichael (card No. 121) Joe DeLamielleure (No. 183), Chuck Foreman (No. 113), Ray Guy (No. 219), John Hannah (No. 383), Bert Jones (No. 524), Ed Marinaro (No. 189), John Matuszak (No. 148), Terry Metcalf (No. 444) and Ahmad Rashad (No. 105).
Key veteran cards begin with the first one in the set. The card No. 1 Record Breaker pays tribute to O.J. Simpson’s record-rushing season of 2,003 yards, using a different kind of design to frame the card. While Simpson’s notoriety has dampened enthusiasm for collectors, O.J.’s card remains in demand. And on the card back there is an error in the text. The sentence begins, “O.J.’s 11 games of more than 100 years gained …” That next-to-last word should be “yards.”
Other cards of note include Simpson’s All-Pro card (No. 130), Terry Bradshaw (No. 470), Joe Greene (No. 40), Franco Harris (No. 220), Ken Stabler (No. 451) and Roger Staubach (No. 500). Another interesting (and sought after) card from the set is the final regular-season card issue of Johnny Unitas (No. 150), with the legendary Baltimore Colts quarterback depicted in the colors of the San Diego Chargers. Unitas suited up for the Chargers in 1973, but that was his final season, making his ’74 card a career retrospective on the card back.
Simpson’s All-Pro card is part of a subset that includes card Nos. 121-144. The design for the All-Pros dispenses with the goal posts. Conference leaders in various statistical categories are in a subset from cards 328 through 333. Playoff results are included in card Nos. 460-463, with the final card (No. 463) a recap of Super Bowl VIII.
In the set, there was one other error card besides the typo on the Simpson Record Breaker. The card back for Atlanta Falcons quarterback Bob Lee (No. 265) listed that he was a member of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks. Lee went 8-2 in 1973 for the Falcons (9-5), but slumped to 2-7 in 1974 as Atlanta went 3-11. Perhaps the Hawks could have used Lee in the autumn of 1974, as the Atlanta basketball team went 31-51 and was in last place in the Central Division.
There are no other errors in the set, but there are some variations thanks to a board game marketed in 1974 by Parker Brothers. The game, called Pro Draft, included 50 minor variations of the 1974 Topps cards — although six cards have completely different photos on the card front. The cards of Charley Johnson (spelled as “Charlie in both versions), Norm Snead and Bob Windsor—with horizontal card front designs in the Topps set—are vertical in the Parker Brothers version. Forrest Blue, Tom Mack and Bob Tucker appear in posed photographs in the Parker Brothers set, instead of the All-Pro designation in the Topps issue.
Mack is among several future Hall of Famers in the Parker Brothers set, along with Dan Dierdorf, Bob Hayes, Gene Upshaw and Rayfield Wright.
Early versions of the Parker Brothers game cards showed statistics from 1972, rather than 1973, on the card backs. Later versions corrected the year and stats.
Collectors have sent in 40,238 cards from the 1974 Topps set for grading at PSA. There have been 2,120 that were graded gem mint; none of those were among the 1,303 the No. 1 Simpson cards submitted, but there are 26 O.J. cards that were returned graded as PSA 9s. Of those more than 40,000 cards submitted, 33,260 were graded at PSA 8, 8.5 or 9.
According to SGC, 1,682 cards have been submitted for grading. Only 12 have graded as high as 98. Of that dozen, only the Carmichael rookie could be considered a key card. However, on an ironic note, one of the cleanest cards — a 98 grade — was affixed to a card of Conrad Dobler, who was known as the dirtiest player in the NFL.
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