When the NFL kicked off its 49th season in September of 1968, it had gone back to its old trading card partner. The four-year deal with Philadelphia Gum had ended and Topps was back in the fold.
It was a relationship that wouldn’t sever until well into the 21st century.
The 1968 Topps football set included 218 cards–219 if you include a slight variation on the last card in the set, the second series checklist. It was the largest set produced for the NFL since Topps had been pushed to the AFL in 1964.
As a new season kicks off, here are five cards from fifty years ago that we think should be on your want list. While most are Hall of Famers, it’s not just about the big names or most valuable cards, but rather some that have a decidedly nostalgic flavor and offer good value, too.
1. Bart Starr #1
While most of the cards in the 1968 Topps football set were printed vertically, those picturing members of the Packers and Raiders– Super Bowl II combatants– were done horizontally. Starr, coming off his second MVP performance on the big new stage, was an obvious pick for card #1.
It also represents the end of an era. Vince Lombardi was no longer the Packers coach, his legacy secured with another title months earlier. Starr’s career was winding down and this card was a fitting tribute to a remarkable run.
Like many #1 cards, it’s a little hard to find in high grade but even a graded ‘8’ can usually be had for under $150.
2. Joe Namath #65
Starr was the old guard. Namath was the new. He doesn’t look like flashy Broadway Joe on his ’68 Topps card but it would be only a few months until he would become more than just a football player.
This card kicked off a season in which the New York Jets would make history as winners of Super Bowl III, proving AFL teams could be just as good as their NFL counterparts and turning Namath into a folk hero.
Namath cards are seldom cheap, but like the Starr, the historic nature and clean look make it a pretty solid pick.
3. Jim Taylor #160
Taylor had been a key member of Lombardi’s 1960s dynasty but was left exposed in the NFL expansion draft of 1967. He was taken by New Orleans, which hoped the Louisiana native could bring instant recognition to the franchise.
He had a relatively decent campaign for the woeful Saints but when they planned to push him to special teams in ’68, Taylor retired at the end of training camp. It was too late for Topps to remove him from the set, but the late news provided one last card for fans, even if it does show him in his Green Bay uniform.
The second series of ’68 Topps is a little tougher to find than the first and there are just 138 cards of this great Hall of Famer graded PSA 8 or better. An ‘8’ is an absolute steal at under $30.
4. Andy Russell #163
Russell and his future teammates, Jack Ham and Jack Lambert, would provide fearsome linebacking for the Pittsburgh Steelers during their 1970s glory days. While Ham would come along a few years later and Lambert wouldn’t arrive until 1975, they’ve become synonymous with each other. Russell’s 1968 Topps rookie card is kind of the genesis of it all.
After debuting in 1963, Russell spent two years in Europe with the Army before returning to Pittsburgh where he won two Super Bowls and made seven Pro Bowls. He looks old school on this issue, which can be found in high grade for well under $50.
5. Lance Alworth #193
Alworth was first team all-AFL every year from his debut through the ’68 season and only Jerry Rice would knock him from pro football’s list of consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons.
Wearing that ultra-cool Chargers jersey with his impossible to forget #19 jersey, Alworth was at the top of his game as the two leagues began their merger.
For all of his Hall of Fame greatness, his ’68 Topps card in high grade won’t cost more than 20 bucks.