The NFL was changing forever. A 16 game regular season instead of 14. Two more playoff teams. Rule changes to open up the passing game.
Not everything was changing in 1978, though. The average player salary was just over $62,000. Several teams still played on AstroTurf.
It was against that backdrop that the 1978 Topps football set was released. It isn’t regarded as one of the company’s better but in spite of the relatively bland design, there are some quality cards to be found.
Aesthetically, the 1978 Topps football set takes a lot of hits from collectors. The design wasn’t awful, just kind of – lacking. A player image was featured, of course, with his name at the top and team printed on the left side. A color border encompassed that information but the colors weren’t tied to the specific team colors. They were instead seemingly at random. The fronts also included a small cartoon football icon with the player’s respective position.
The cards measured a standard 2 1/2″ wide by 3 1/2″ tall. The backs included Topps’ standard cartoons and factoids, as well as a biography and some statistical information.
In addition to the base cards, several subsets were also included, such as League Leaders, Team Leaders, and Highlights cards. All-Pro players also had an All-Pro banner designation added to their issues.
The set contains 528 cards, matching the quantities of most of Topps’ other 1970s football editions. The cards were distributed in wax boxes that contained a total of 36 packs that initially sold for 20 cents per pack with 14 cards inside. Cello and rack packs were also sold as was Topps’ custom at the time.
The 1978 Topps set is carried mostly by two key rookie cards. Dallas Cowboys star running back Tony Dorsett leads the way and is the key card in the issue. A second Hall of Fame rookie card is found with Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver John Stallworth.
The set also boasted some key rookies of All-Pro players, such as Tom Jackson, Randy Cross, and Joe Klecko, but that’s really it on the rookie card front.
Fortunately, the issue delivers with the usual amount of big name star cards. Walter Payton is key to the set – particularly because his is an early 3rd year card. Payton is also featured more than once. In addition to his base card, he is found in the Highlights subset for a monster 275-yard game in 1977, on the Scoring Leaders card, the Rushing Leaders card, and on the Chicago Bears’ Team Leaders card. In all, Payton has five different cards in the release.
Other key figures are also included in the set. Collectors will find all sorts of big names fromt he 1970s, including Terry Bradshaw, O.J. Simpson, Roger Staubach, Franco Harris, Steve Largent, Joe Theismann, Bob Griese, Fran Tarkenton, Jim Plunkett, and more. Simpson, by the way, was the league’s highest paid player, earning $733,000.
It was the first year for future Hall of Famer Earl Campbell, but he would appear in the 1979 Topps football set.
The set is widely available in high grade but there are a few cards that have proven tough, with #436 Harold McClinton extremely scarce in grading company holders at the NM/MT and higher levels. #73 Gerald Irons and the first two checklists in the set (#107 and #257) are also elusive.
1978 Topps Football Prices
The 1978 Topps football set is one of the more affordable football issues from the 1970s. The most expensive card is the Dorsett but it’s far from expensive with all but the highest graded copies available for a fairly modest price.
Complete sets vary in cost depending on grade but quality ungraded sets are usually available on eBay for little under $150.
1978 Topps football was released in a variety of different forms including wax, rack packs, cello packs, tray packs and vending. You can read about them all in our Vintage Pack Facts feature.