Rating 10 years of AFL football cards – One Fan’s Humble Opinion

Here is a fun article by Dave Steidel, ranking each of the AFL football card sets.  Really a great read, though 1963 Fleer doesn’t rank higher than fifth?!?!  I rank it in a tie for #1 with 1965 Topps!!!

I became addicted to collecting baseball and football cards in August of 1958 when my parents came home from the grocery store one Saturday morning and gave me two packs of Topps baseball cards.  Football cards arrived a few weeks later.  The rest is history.  I was hooked, and for the next ten twelve years there was no collector more passionate than me; especially for AFL cards.  It was by accident that I happened on to my first pack of Fleer AFL cards but after that it was no mistake.  I sought them out.  The first set was strictly Fleer, but in 1961 Topps competed with them as both presented combined AFL and NFL sets.  Of course the AFL players were the last part of each.  From 132 cards in 1960, Fleer produced 87 cards in 1961 with the Topps set offering only 54 players.  It was the only time both companies offered both leagues in a set until 1968.

After the 1963 set Fleer was nosed out by Topps for the rights to produce AFL cards as Topps itself lost the NFL contract to the Philadelphia Gum Company.  Starting with the 1964 set Topps produced only AFL football cards until they claimed the NFL rights again in 1968 and merged both leagues in sets from then on.

For the most part, every set offered some really nice cards, but if I had rate them I’d rank them in the follow order and for the following reasons.

From worst to first, here are my rankings.

1969 Topps Sherrill Headrick  11. 1969 TOPPS

This is the only set I truly despise.  Not only do I hate the solid colored backgrounds which don’t seem to match up, but seeing cards like #40 Bob Cappadona in a Patriots uniform with a Buffalo Bills team logo on the card is just plain ugly.  Ditto for John Stofa in a Miami uniform and helmet with a Bengals logo and Hewritt Dixon with a Denver uniform and Oakland logo.  Then there are the outdated and recycled pictures of Mike Taliaferro and George Blanda that are at least four years old.  No excuse Topps – you did a horrible job on this one. The AFL players are mixed among the NFL players which annoyed me because they were no longer grouped by team and there was no uniformity of color backgrounds by team either.  Only 73 of 263 were from the AFL.  Worst of the worst is Pete Gogolak still in his Buffalo Bills uniform while sporting a NY Giants logo on the front. SET GRADE: F

1961 Topps Charley Leo   10. 1961 TOPPS

It is unforgivable that the Dallas Texans and Houston Oiler players appeared to be wearing PINK jerseys in this set.  I hope someone was fired for this!  Rich Michael, Mel Branch, Johnny Robinson, Dennit Morris, Bill Groman and Mike Dukes were all supporting breast cancer research decades before it caught on nationally.  Many players including George Blanda were still in their NFL uniforms; Paul Miller in a Rams shirt, Paul Lowe-49ers, Volney Peters-Redskins, Billy Lott-Giants and Art Powell Eagles jersey.  Several players were also still in their college attire and poses from years earlier.

Fleer on the other hand had current photos of all the players they presented in AFL uni’s.  Topps clearly did not spend any time on their presentation of the AFL and appeared to not want to be bothered by this other league.  The solid color background was not as loud as the 1969 set but still did not do justice to either league.  On a positive note we were treated to a glimpse of those famous Denver Bronco mustard colored jerseys on Lionel Taylor, Frank Tripucka, Gene Mingo and Bob McNamara and for the first time a horizontal presentation of Jim Otto in a center’s pose. There are also some nice shots of Chargers Jack Kemp and Paul McGuire in their lightning bolt jerseys and Dick Christy running the ball in a Raiders shirt.  SET GRADE: D

This is where it gets difficult.  I really like all the rest of the sets both Fleer and Topps put out so now it is more a matter of which do I like more, rather than which ones are the worst like those I already eliminated above.

1968 Topps Jim Tyrer   9. 1968 TOPPS

This is a nice set.  Good presentation of team colors with several players (all Dolphins) posing with their helmets on – always a fan favorite on cards.  The clear sky backgrounds add natural brightness and color to each card and the color combinations of the name and position plates at the bottom of the card gives it added appeal.  The team logo at the top of the card is okay but could have been better without the white circle but all-in-all the set is good.  Most poses are well done and the addition of the horizontal Super Bowl cards of the Raiders is a nice addition.  I still don’t like that both leagues were meshed in the mix but the crispness of the pictures makes up for my petty peeve.  SET GRADE: C+

1960 Fleer Elbert Dubenion  8. 1960 FLEER

This set has grown on me!  It represents the beginning and although I’m not a fan of  the solid backgrounds from ’61 and ‘69, it works for this set because the colors are toned down and don’t distract from the player.  I love the classic football poses and can overlook the college uniforms because and of course – there were no AFL uniforms at this time to present.  The football field name plate is a great innovation and the white team plate accents the entire card.  It was a new and exciting time for card collecting, the league and all the new names.  The cards were colorful with all the college uniforms included and as always there was Gene Cockrell!


1964 Topps Houston Antwine  7. 1964 TOPPS

As I said, this doesn’t get any easier and when I saw that I had this set at #7 I realized how much I really like nine of the eleven AFL sets.  The #155 card of Lance Alworth is probably my favorite AFL card of them all.  I like the star borders and the rectangle name, team, position box at the bottom and finally Topps got 90% of the teams uniforms and colors right.  Now that they didn’t have the NFL to dottle over their presentation did the league and players justice.  For the first time team cards were included in the 176 card set, as almost three times as many cards were included than in their last attempt in 1961.  Teams were presented as a group of consecutive numbers but not similar colors.  All-in-all Topps made a great comeback after botching it up in their previous set.


1967 Topps Stew Barber  6. 1967 TOPPS

Great looking set of 132 cards and for the third year in a row had all the teams in a consecutively numbered order.  Poses were mostly head shots but the closeness of the picture gives each player a personality and identity.  The oval border makes these cards a little tight but overall look is above average.  A few Houston and Kansas City were shown holding their helmets which adds points to this set.  The border and jersey colors are outstanding, especially the Oilers and Chiefs and some Dolphins who were captured in their Miami colors.  SET GRADE: B+

1963 Fleer Gino Cappelletti  5. 1963 FLEER

Another solid set by Fleer.  It’s a shame they could not have kept the streak alive because everyone of their sets was outstanding.  The 1963 version presented a great red border on all cards with a wonderful assortment of close-ups and full body action poses.  Card #77 of Earl Faison in his Charger helmet is a particular favorite of mine in this set along with #9 Tom Addison pass rushing and a high stepping Curtis McClinton on card #45.  It also has a nice variety of home and away jerseys to go with their consistent format of teams being sequentially numbered having the four eastern division teams grouped first followed by the four western teams. The two teams with new names in ’63, the Chiefs and Jets had only make shift logos in the lower right which drops them a fraction but the color is beautiful, the pictures clear, card stock sturdy and the player presentations awesome.  This 88 card set is Fleer’s last for the AFL but far from its least. SET GRADE: A-

1966 Topps Chris Burford  4. 1966 TOPPS

The unique TV frame was a nice change of pace, and as Topps did with the ’64 set the teams appeared in alphabetical order by city.  Every player is shown as either a waist up or head shot which I like and the blue sky backgrounds on almost every card adds tremendously to the beauty of this set.  Most Broncos are shown in their new (in ’65) uniform which shows that Topps was concerned about staying current.  There are no logos but also no clutter, just clear pictures in living color and the expanded checklist of 132 cards sets this one ahead of the ’63 Fleers.


1961 Fleer Jim Norton  3. 1961 FLEER

I have to admit, the margin of difference between 3, 4 and 5 is hair splitting – as was the margin between 6 and 7.  It’s like I were in the Playboy mansion and had to make a choice as to who I would escort for evening.  I couldn’t lose.  The ’61 Fleer set is special in that it gave me my first look at the AFL uniforms in color.  Until they arrived I thought the Oilers uniforms coming through my black and white TV were dusty brown with the same color helmet (check out head gear being held by Al Jaimson on card #173).   I like the Polo Grounds as the back drop for the Titans cards and the neighborhood behind Jim Colclough somewhere around Boston and the look on Jim Sears face (card #164) is priceless.  Most cards are action shots with logos that were included for the first time. I also like the simplicity of the white border around the entire card but I found the card stock to be a bit thin compare to the ’62 and ’63 sets.  A classic card with good colors and classic poses make this set a top 3 pick. SET GRADE: A

1962 Fleer Larry Grantham  2. 1962 FLEER

Player photos were a little closer but the same style with open backgrounds but added a colorful name plate.  Several Chargers were shown wearing those great lightning bolt helmets and included the team logos again.  The mountains behind the Broncos players are panoramic and actually make their brown pants look pretty good and card #22 of the Bills Warren Rabb throwing a jump pass is outstanding.  The only way I could improve this set is to add more cards to it.  SET GRADE: A+

1965 Topps Harry Schuh  1. 1965 TOPPS

The Big Boys were so unique that they blew me away.  The city printed across the top, the plain colored name plate at the bottom, great colorful backgrounds that work brilliantly with this set’s tall format, making them my favorite AFL set of all.  The photography is studio quality with great close-ups that reveal the players at their best and again the inclusion of helmets on the cards of Fred Arbanas, Bobby Bell and Buck Buchanan were the envy of those who didn’t have them.  These are real beauties, and as a new added dimension, until I read Todd’s story about the mix up with the Rick Redman and Lawrence Elkins cards I had no idea of the switch – and who really is on card #74?

So there you have it, the rank order of my favorites.  For what it is worth these cards to me were the essence of the AFL.  I really don’t know if I would have embraced the new league as much as I did without these great sets because they brought me closer to it.  I’m glad I had them to influence me and glad I ended up being and AFL fan for life.  SET GRADE: A++

To see all the cards in each AFL set described here please link into www.footballcardgallery.com

Todd Tobias (790 Posts)

Todd Tobias's interest in the American Football League began in 1998, when he wrote my master's thesis about Sid Gillman. He created this site to educate and entertain football fans with the stories of the American Football League, 1960-1969. You can follow Todd and get more AFL history on Twitter @TalesfromtheAFL.

10 Responses to Rating 10 years of AFL football cards – One Fan’s Humble Opinion

  1. Great article, Todd and Dave:
    You didn’t mention the 1965 Topps #146 ~ Art Powell, which really has a photo of teammate Clem Daniels (who has his own card, #136, with a diferent photo). To see a ‘fixed’ card for Powell, go to http://www.remembertheafl.com/Raiders.htm#ArtPowell

  2. 1967 says:

    Always a fun topic discussion, football/sports cards… my favorite sets:

    1) 1967 Topps… Psychedelic Sunday’s (mimicking society, one segment)
    2) 1966 Topps… no WOW factor , but there’s something about this set
    3) 1965 Topps… tall, that’s all (necessitated a different size card holder)
    4) 1968 Topps… the end: bye to the AFL, welcome NFL Merger (cards) ;’ (
    5) The years/presentations 1969 & 1960-1964 did nothing for me, really

    Favorite card(s) ever? Had to come from the ’67 set. I loved Buck Buchanan but would probably defer to Lance Alworth of the Chargers; too, Speedy Duncan of SD stood out, the colors & uniform design in unison. I note that with each year from start (1960) to finish (1969) the cards/player pictures seemed more ‘real’ in their appearance.


    I always found it interesting (and odd) that certain ‘rookie’ cards didn’t come along until ‘years’ after a player had been in the AFL or NFL. I used to wonder when Mike Garrett’s card would appear, being that I was a Chiefs fan. It finally did in 1970, five years after he became a pro (by then, a player’s career might be over then, before his card was ever born.)


    43 years later, the only thing that I don’t miss? The gum that came (sometimes broken, other times old/stale) inside each pack. Still, what I’d give be magically transported back to the 1960’s now, specifically 1967, when so much was going on not only in football (Superbowl 1, Chiefs 66 Bears 24, the first common draft & that great ’67 Topps set) but also in the world (the ‘Summer of Love’, that fall introduction of the ’68 Dodge Charger & ’68 Corvette and the ‘Dodge Fever’ girl.) I tell you: between the football AFL, the Fever Girl and those muscle/sports cars, a man/boy could seriously get distracted from the things that really mattered; I never did figure out what those latter were : )

    Stop the 21st century, I wanna get off/go back!

  3. Mike Thomas says:

    Very entertaining article, Dave. My ranking would be similar, though I think I would pull up the 1967 Topps set a little. It’s all AFL, and the colors and style represent the 60s well. I would push the 1966 Topps set down a few notches just because of the silly Funny Ring Checklist.

    It’s interesting that three of the four sets that included NFL cards are at the bottom of your list. Do you think that’s a coincidence?

  4. Tom says:

    The 1960 set includes players who never made it out of training camp like Jim Padgett and excludes what would become a great star Gene Mingo. The most likely reason is Padgett had a college football picture from which to draw from, whether he had an Eagles photo is unknown as after he was drafted by them in 1958 he never made it out of their camp either…. One thing to mention is the AFL gave many a hometown legend a chance to redeem himself after either a failed NFL experience, due to injury, the numbers game in the CFL with Imports and the NFL before expansion. In 1960 several players lacked any college experience and others played only JC ball, while others like Jet stream Smith played in LA’s sandlot league with and against the LA Mustangs, Jack Rabbitts and Spoilers. A few local legends that careers were resurrected Jim Crawford, Ken Hall, Jim Swink, Chuck McMurtry, Archie Matsos, Paul Lowe, Jack Kemp and Gerry McDougal, Parilli, Dubenion, Hennigan, Taylor, Dawson,

  5. Fun article! As a child of the ’70’s, I’m afraid I have little or nothing to add to the discussion. I can only talk about the NFL cards from the ’70’s. The ’60’s were undoubtedly an exciting time for pro football, and it must have been great to see the development of the AFL and the dynamics of the two leagues competing with each other–first for players (1960 to ’65) and then for outright supremacy (1966 to ’69).

    For what it’s worth, my best friend and I loved those Greg Pruitt cards from the 1975, ’76, and ’77 sets. I also remember a really cool shot of Chester Marcol from the 1980 set (which was the 1979 season, when an injured Marcol scored 28 points).

    Yes, by the time my buddy and I came along, the NFL as we know it had been established. We had great fun, and we wouldn’t trade it for anything. I have to admit, though, that there had to be a special fascination for football fans in the ’60’s, with the unprecedented drama that was unfolding.

  6. […] Todd Tobias, writing on the terrific website 'Remember the AFL' breaks down the good, bad and ugly from those sets that captured the players in the league that gave us Joe Willie Namath, the Silver and Black, the […]

  7. Kenton says:

    The 1965’s are of course very unique, I don’t know if they would be ranked so high by many people if they were not “Tall Boy’s”. My favorite’s are the 1960-63 Fleer’s. But who I ask can solve the “Mystery” of the 1964 # 151 Bo Roberson card, with the helmet at the bottom of the card ? I quote from an old Sports Collectors Digest article: ” Helmets were not part of the design, and logos were always air-brushed out….

  8. Charley Hall says:

    I personally rate the 1961 Fleer set as one of the best of all time for either league. I have always wondered how it was that in 1961 both Fleer and
    Topps did both leagues, then in 1962 and 1963 they went back to the FLEER/AFL TOPPS/NFL arrangement. Can anyone solve this mystery?

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