The 1985 Topps football set presented a radical design change for collectors. For the first time since the 1966 set, the company elected to portray players in the base set in a horizontal design. It also took a trip back in the football card time machine, utilizing jet black borders.
1985 Topps Football Design
The player’s photo takes up about 75 percent of the card front, and the player’s last name in in large white block letters that are situated perpendicular to the picture. The player’s first name is boxed inside his last name, and his photograph is framed in black. Like most issues with black borders, cards are susceptible to chipping and flaking. It was the first black-bordered Topps football set since 1962, a design that was also horizontal.
A ribbon to the right of the player’s name lists the team he plays for. Topps, which normally displayed its logo prominently on the card front, had a simpler, almost invisible approach for the 1985 set. Topps’ brand name was located in small letters above the player’s photo.
“Picture Cards and Gum”
The 1985 set was the third straight main football product by Topps that had a 396-card base set, and the 10-cent price per 15-card pack was still quite reasonable for young collectors. Today, those 36-count unopened wax boxes sell for $400-$600.
Cards also were distributed in 28-card cello packs that sold for 59 cents apiece. Two distinct types of rack packs — regulars, with 48 cards that included one of 11 red-bordered “NFL Star” cards; and “grocery racks”, with 42 cards and sticks of gum — also tantalized collectors.
Second-Year Stars and Rookies
Like the 1984 set, the cards are numbered alphabetically by city name and the player’s name, starting with the NFC teams. Unlike the 1984 set, the ’85 product is not littered with notable rookies like John Elway (card No. 238), Dan Marino (No. 314) or Eric Dickerson (No. 79). But for those collectors unable to afford Elway and Marino rookie cards, the 1985 set offers a more affordable second-year card of both future Hall of Fame quarterbacks, plus cards of veteran players such as 49ers quarterback Joe Montana (No. 157) and Bears running back Walter Payton (No. 33).
The most notable rookie in the 1985 set is Warren Moon (card No. 251), the former Canadian Football League star quarterback. Other key rookies were future Hall of Famers Richard Dent and Mike Munchak, along with Joe Morrison, Ken O’Brien, Irving Fryar, Mark Clayton, Louis Lipps, Henry Ellard and Tony Eason.
Each wax pack also featured a sticker that was included to introduce the 1985 Topps NFL Sticker Yearbook. Each sticker had a “coming soon” note on the back, which previewed the stickers that would be issued later in the year.
The set itself featured three different subsets. The first six cards are Record Breakers and cards 7 through 9 are playoff cards that include the NFC and AFC championship games and Super Bowl XIX. Unlike the rest of the base set, these two subsets boast vertical designs. The league leader cards (card Nos. 192 through 197) return to the horizontal look. Card No. 192, which features Montana and Marino as passing leaders in their respective conferences, is one of the more coveted cards in the set.
Nearly 44,000 cards from the 1985 set have been submitted to PSA for grading. Despite the tendency of the black borders to chip, there are still 4,531 that have been returned with a gem mint designation. Eighty of those are cards of Moon, but Payton has just seven PSA 10 cards, Elway has 19 and Marino has 39.
In addition to chipping, centering was an issue for Topps during this era, another factor that can spoil an otherwise minty feel.
1985 Topps football cards weren’t printed in the type of quantity we’d see from Topps baseball just year or two later but they aren’t in short supply either and there are plenty of opportunities for a collector to latch onto a high-grade set, even with those pesky black borders. You can easily own one for under $50, making it a bit of a modern era sleeper.