Topps Football Cards

Topps officially began as a chewing gum company in 1938. The company has its roots in American Leaf Tobacco founded by Morris Shorin in 1890. Shorin’s sons created Topps by using the distribution channels of their father’s company. The name Topps represented their desire to be “tops” in the field.”

The company started releasing gum in 1950 with trading cards of television stars. Baseball became their focus, and it has carried on as their legacy to this day. Vintage Topps baseball cards from 1951 to about 1975 are the most sought after cards from those years in the sports card trading hobby.

Meanwhile, Topps Football also began in 1951, and it carries a secondary role into today. The football cards by Topps are aided by the Topps brand, and they have carried value. Until the 1980s, Topps football cards are consistently the best cards.

There was some competition brought on by the split of the AFL and the NFL. For example, Fleer made sets for the AFL and NFL, and Philadelphia Gum had the NFL from 1964 to 1968. With the AFL and NFL merger in 1968, Topps became the sole distributor again. Pro Set and Score entered the football market in 1989.

It is important to note the competition between Fleer and Topps in the 1970s. Depending on the year, Topps could hold the rights to the National Football League Players Association, while Fleer would hold the NFL rights. This means that Topps could not produce team logos on helmets and uniforms, while Fleer could not produce the players’ names. The relevant set in this article is the 1977 Topps. If you look at pictures of the cards, you will not see logos, but the cards will identify team names.

After decades of fierce competition, Topps lost the exclusive license of the NFL and NFLPA to Panini in 2015.

Topps football may be secondary to baseball, but its legacy has grown in recent years. As the best producer for many years, as well as the only producer from 1968-1989, Topps has some of the most important cards in football history, and that is recognized today.

1956 Topps Football

Topps released its first set of football cards in 1951 which is known as the “Magic” set. Bowman was dominant, so Topps did not attempt a set again until 1955. 1956 marks the year of the first set without Bowman, and it is a great set.

The set has 120 cards measuring at 2 ⅝” x 3 ⅝”. Major rookie cards include Roosevelt Brown, Joe Schmidt, Bill George, Stan Jones, Lenny Moore, and Rosey Grier. Each of those players is in the Hall of Fame. The cards for the Washington Redskins and Chicago Cardinals were short printed. The set included a checklist and five contest cards that invited customers to predict the scores of upcoming games. Naturally, the interactive nature of the checklist and contest cards make them rare today, especially in high grade.

Prices vary from $100 to $2500 for each card in Mint condition. Most cards are $200 or below.

1962 Topps Football

Topps returned to producing only NFL cards in this 176 set of standard sized cards. The cards were printed on two sheets of 132 cards each. This led to somewhere between 70 and 88 cards being short printed. Since there are so many challenging cards to put together, it is a popular set.

The major rookie cards are Ernie Davis, Mike Ditka, Roman Gabriel, Bill Kilmer, Norm Stead, and Fran Tarkenton.

Centering and chipping on the back of the cards is common. Also, Topps bungled some of the cards with a picture of the wrong player on some cards.

Regular cards are about $400 in high grade. The two most expensive cards are Mike Ditka at $35,000 and Jim Brown at $7,500.

1964 Topps Football

Topps lost the NFL rights to Philadelphia gum from 1964-1968. Fleer dropped out of the AFL, so Topps filled in. This set has many players with their first trading card produced by Topps.

Bobby Bell, Buck Buchanan, and Len Dawson are the key rookies. It is a less expensive vintage Topps Football set. The most expensive card is the Len Dawson for a PSA 9 at around one thousand dollars. Many high grade cards can be bought for well under $100.

The design of the cards is praised for the up close photographs on the bright yellow backdrop. There were 176 cards in the set with standard sizes. Many of the cards were short printed, and there were issues with color variations and the misspelling of names. Difficulties with cutting and centering abound.

1968 Topps Football

There are 219 cards in this set measuring 2 ½” x 3 ½”. The set had players from the AFL for the first time since 1961 which began a 21 year dominance by Topps for football cards. It was released in two series because of the set expansion because of the inclusion of another league. Players from the second series are harder to find.

On the front, the cards show a posed photograph, the position of the player, the name, the team name, and the team logo. The back has statistics and a biography. There is a cartoon on some cards that can be rubbed away by a coin. Players were no longer grouped by team.

There was an insert in each series. In the #1-131 series, there were mini posters which were 5” x 7” with 16 different players available. The second series had one of twenty two Topps Stand ups in each pack. These were able to be punched and folded for the player to stand up.

The Green Bay Packers and the Oakland Raiders had competed in the prior year’s Super Bowl, and their cards were given a horizontal layout with colored borders.

Worth noting is that Topps released the test issue Team Patches this year. There were 44 patches. 26 featured each team in the AFL and NFL. 18 patches allowed customers to design their own jersey.

For conditions, the centering is abhorred. The Stand Ups were designed to be handled, and they are in bad shape today. Most cards go for $50 in Mint condition. Hall of Famers will be a few hundred, and rookie Hall of Famers will be several hundred. A complete set can be bought for $4,000 at a PSA 8.

1969 Topps Football

Topps expanded again to 263 standard sized cards in 1969 because football continued to grow. It was the biggest set produced for football at the time. Joe Namath had recently guaranteed and followed through on the first Super Bowl win for the AFL. 1969 was the last season before the merger was finalized after the 1966 agreement. After this year, Topps refused to license the NFL logo and team logos for 11 years.

The set was released in two series. #1-132 were printed without borders, and #133-263 was printed with white borders. Ten cards in the second series form a puzzle.

A few things of note. The price of cards doubled from a nickel to a dime this year. Also, there are 45 Hall of Fame players on the set. This set has the only card ever produced of Brian Piccolo. His name was misspelled on both sides of the card. He died from cancer after four years in the NFL. He is perhaps best remembered through the portrayal of him in the movie Brian’s Song.

A complete set sells for $5,000 on eBay in Near Mint (PSA 8) condition.

1977 Topps Football

As the NFL’s popularity skyrocketed, Topps football cards had expanded to 528 cards in 1977. This was the standard size for Topps Football in few years before and decade after.

The fronts show the team name, player name, and player position. The backs have stats from the pros and college.

“1,000 yarder” was put on the cards of players who had rushed at least a thousand yards. There were subsets for league leaders, records, playoffs, and checklists. The league leader cards of Walter Payton and O.J. Simpson remain popular.

Topps branched out by printing a different version with Spanish text.

Though the sets grew larger, the more modern sets are typically worth less. At the time of writing, a completed set is under one thousand dollars at a grade of PSA 6.

1987 Topps Football

Typical of modern cards, this set is not rare. Debatably, this set has the rookie cards of Jim Kelly and Doug Flutie. It is debatable because they appeared in the Topps USFL sets. Jerry Rice and Steve Young appear for the sophomore season, and Randall Cunningham has his rookie card.

There were 24 “1000 Yard Club” inserts. One in every pack, they hail the thousand yard accomplishment of rushers and receivers.

There are two reasons that this set is included. First, Topps made strides in improving the quality of the cards’ conditions. Second, the prices of sets have completed their drop off with a complete set at a PSA 8 selling for $31.99. Keep in mind, Topps was still the only producer.

1989 Topps Football

Prices fall to less than ten dollars today for a complete 1989 Topps Football set. This was the first year where Topps faced competition. The Rod Woodson and Michael Irvin rookie cards are the only two cards mentioned on PSA’s website. The set is hurt today because Topps excluded Troy Aikman and Barry Sanders. The cards from this set and this era were produced in massive quantities.

For modern cards, the card needs a great player, a limited release, and something special like a patch or an autograph. Completed base sets are going to be less valuable. For a look at some great modern rookie cards, checkout our article on football card rookies.

2019 Topps Alliance of American Football

There are few sets or cards to detail after 1989. Sports cards went through a boom and bust leaving millions of worthless cards in basements. Topps stopped making football cards for the NFL in 2016.

However, the 2019 Topps that covered the Alliance of American Football (AAF) are intriguing, and they represent a niche of cards. The AAF is the most recent attempt to build a football league to compete with the NFL and NCAA. The WFL, USFL, and XFL have all come and gone over the last several decades. All four have been resounding flops.

Cards from these defunct leagues have the appeal of rarity. Furthermore, these are official cards, and you never know if you might have a rookie hiding in the pack. After all, Kurt Warner got his start in arena football. By definition and not necessarily the market, there could be valuable official rookies in these packs. The USFL Topps cards are a good example of this.

The AAF lasted eight weeks. There are 200 cards in the set, boxes are cheap, Topps did solid work with the design, and there are plenty of parallels. It is a set worthy of note.

There are several interesting cards. This includes the female defensive line coach of the Birmingham Iron who got picked up by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the offseason.

It’s not worth mentioning every set in this niche. Though the 1984 set of the USFL is popular today, it remains to be seen if the 2019 Topps AAF set has any legs.


Topps Football will remain an important part of the company’s legacy. There are some great players, sets, and historical value. Topps football covers an important time of football in the eras before, during, and after the AFL-NFL merger.