The 1979 Topps football brought a nearly recycled design and the seventh straight 528-card set to collectors.
It was the last year that wax packs would sell for 20 cents, as the price jumped to 25 cents in 1980. They were also distributed in cello and racks as per the usual custom of the time.
1979 Topps Football Design
The ribbon in the upper corner (some are on the left-hand side, others sport it in the right-hand corner) of the card is reminiscent of the 1973 set, which was the first Topps set to increase to 528 cards. The difference is that in the 1979 set, a football covers part of the ribbon; in the 1973 set, the ribbon appeared at the top and bottom of the card’s left side, running behind the player photo. The card fronts sport a white border, which gives the card a clean look. The football logo contains the player’s position, and the player’s name appears in small block letters at the top. Underneath the player name, the team name is larger and is filled in with color, stencil-style.
As was the norm during the 1970s, all player photos are airbrushed, so no team logos appear on the card. The photos are typically sideline shots, with some players appearing closer than others. The cards measured 2½ inches by 3½ inches and featured a posed player photograph on the front. The backs of the card contain player statistics and career highlights, and are vertical instead of the horizontal design of the 1978 Topps set. A football on the card back has the number of the card in the set, and year-by-year statistics are listed for those players who put up numbers. A biography accompanies the stats, along with a cartoon that contains a fun fact about the player. For example, on card No. 425 we find out that Miami Dolphins center Jim Langer “enjoys drinking beer.”
First, Last and Only
The 1979 set also contains four cards of Earl Campbell, the only time he’d be featured in Topps products during his career. His rookie card (#390) is one; Campbell also appears on card No. 301 on an Oilers team leader/checklist card, along with Willie Alexander, Elvin Bethea and Ken Burrough; shares card No. 3 as the AFC’s rushing leader with NFC leader Walter Payton; and is featured on a record-breaker card (No. 331) for most rushing yards by a rookie.
Some other key rookie cards include Doug Williams (No. 48), Steve DeBerg (No. 77), Ozzie Newsome (No. 308) and James Lofton (No. 310). Key veteran cards in the set include Tony Dorsett (No. 160) and Steve Largent (No. 198), and also marked the final regular-issue cards of O.J. Simpson (No. 170), Fran Tarkenton (No. 200), Fred Biletnikoff (No. 305) and Roger Staubach (No. 400).
Future Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy also made his first and only appearance on a Topps card during his playing days, as he was part of the Steelers team leader/checklist card (No. 19) based on his team-leading six interceptions. Dungy shares the card with Larry Anderson, L.C. Greenwood and Franco Harris.
You’ll also find some big names in the subsets of the 1979 Topps football set. The group includes 1978 leaders in various categories by conference (cards 1-6). Each team has a checklist card and features two offensive and two defensive statistical leaders. Cards 166-168 recap the conference championship games and Super Bowl XII, while cards 331-336 feature highlights of the 1978 NFL season.
Making the Grade
There are more than 42,000 cards from this set that have been sent to PSA for grading, and slightly more than 10 percent (4,311) are gem mint. Twenty-nine of those are Campbell’s All-Pro card, 31 are his Record Breaker card, and there are 32 PSA 10s of Campbell paired with Payton. Only four PSA 10 specimens of the Oilers leader/checklist cards exist.
There are 2,844 cards graded by SGC, and 94 grade as high as 98. Of the 409 Campbell cards sent in for grading, only two have come back as 98s.
The 1979 Topps football set isn’t expensive. A complete set is usually available for between $75 and $150 in NM/MT condition. Except for Campbell and Payton, most stars can be owned for just a few dollars each (you can see ’79 Topps football cards on eBay here).
It was a nice set to end what was an exciting decade for the NFL. The merger of the NFL and AFL had been completed, “Monday Night Football” put the game on television during prime time, the Miami Dolphins put together a perfect season in 1972, and the Pittsburgh Steeler won four Super Bowls. It was a changing of the guard as the NFL— and Topps— strode confidently toward the 1980s.