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.
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 Then there are the outdated and recycled pictures of Mike Taliaferro and George Blanda that are at least four years old.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
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.
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+
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!
SET GRADE: B-
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.
SET GRADE: B
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+
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-
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.
SET GRADE: A
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
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+
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