The year 2006 marks the 40th anniversary of the 1966 Philadelphia Gum Company football card set. Considered by many collectors to be one of the finest and most desirable football card sets ever produced, it has an important historical connection to the eventual AFL and NFL merger. Unlike today's high-priced, mass produced football cards that contain numerous inserts, jersey, autograph, and numbered cards, the 1966 Philadelphia football set is simple in nature in both design and quantity. A small set with a uniform design at a bargain price.

To understand the significance of the Philadelphia football sets, one has to get a feel for the atmosphere of the early and mid-1960s in the professional football and hobby arenas.

In 1960, the American Football League was founded by late millionaire Lamar Hunt as a direct competitor to the established National Football League. Hunt was an extremely smart business man who realized how important trading cards were to his new league.

The cards allowed Hunt to market the new AFL and its players to the hobby enthusiast, putting a face and information right at one's fingertips. This alone created new fans and helped to establish the league in its infant years. The rivalry between the two leagues was fierce and bitter as each tried to sign the top players of the day with the senior NFL usually winning out but slowly losing ground each year to the junior AFL.

From 1960 to 1963, Fleer produced trading cards of the new American Football League while Topps continued to produce cards of the National Football League, dating back to its buyout of main rival Bowman in 1956. The lone exception was in 1961 when both Fleer and Topps produced players from each league.

Topps contract with the NFL Players Association ran through the 1963 season and it was assumed that a renewal was a sure thing in 1964. As the story goes and to the surprise of Topps, this was not to be as somehow an ex-Topps employee was able to converse with the lawyer involved in the new NFL Players Association contract. When everything was said and done, it was the Philadelphia Gum Company and not Topps who suddenly and surprisingly was awarded the four year contract running from 1964 to 1967.

So, who is Philadelphia? The Philadelphia Gum Company was established in 1948 in Havertown, Pennsylvania by Edward Fenimore, who was a chewing gum expert and former employee of Bowman. The company was under license with Sports Picture Cards Enterprises of New York, NY. Their main product brand name is known as "Swell."

Philadelphia now had the license to produce all National Football League cards, leaving Topps out of the loop -- but only temporarily. AFL Commissioner Joe Foss awarded Topps the exclusive league rights to produce AFL cards -- instead of Fleer -- beginning in 1964. Not only was there an intense rivalry between the AFL and NFL but between the two main players in the football trading card field: Topps and Philadelphia! From 1964 through 1967, Philadelphia would produce the annual NFL football card sets until Topps regained full control in 1968. On June 8, 1966, the AFL and the NFL agreed to merge, ending their competitive war. By 1970, the two would officially form one league with two conferences.

In 1966, the AFL and NFL merger created a new 24-team league with 15 NFL teams and 9 AFL teams. It would be the last time the NFL would have two divisions. The Green Bay Packers would defeat the Dallas Cowboys to win the NFC and the Kansas City Chiefs would defeat the Buffalo Bills to win the AFC. The Packers and Chiefs would meet in Super Bowl I, which was originally called the AFL-NFL World Championship Game.

AFL founder Lamar Hunt said he renamed the championship game after he came across his daughter's super ball, thus the name Super Bowl came about. The Packers would easily defeat the Chiefs 35 to 10 as Bart Starr was named Super Bowl and League MVP. The winners received $15,000 a player while the Chiefs received $7,500, which was the largest sports payout to date. It was also the only time that the Super Bowl was not sold out and the only time two networks, CBS and NBC, broadcast the game at the same time. In other news, goal posts were painted bright yellow with uprights 20 feet high, Lyndon Johnson became the first President to attend a football game while in office, New Orleans was awarded a franchise for 1967, and the Cowboys had their first winning season ever.

The 1966 Philadelphia football set was the third of four consecutive sets produced by the Philadelphia Gum Company that solely depicted National Football League players. It is deemed the best set of the four Philadelphia issues because it contains the key rookie cards of Dick Butkus, Gale Sayers, Bob Hayes, Bob Brown and has a total of 27 Hall of Famers and 22 rookies. Other key cards are Johnny Unitas, Bart Starr, and Jim Brown who would retire before the 1966 season began.

There are 198 cards in the set with each measuring the standard 2 ½ by 3 ½ in size on a somewhat thin card stock. Cards could be purchased in cello packs or six-card nickel packs which came with a stick of gum and a comic tattoo. The nickel wax wrappers use the colors yellow, red, black, white, and blue. Some wrappers advertise the Swell bubble gum while others promote an offer for official NFL miniature helmets. Unopened examples of both wax and cello packs can occasionally be found to this day.

If you're looking for a set that has a number of players who made it onto television, the silver screen, or as a news anchor, then look no further. Dick Butkus, Mike Ditka, Johnny Morris, Jim Brown, Don Meredith, Alex Karras, Ray Nitschke, Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen, Fran Tarkenton, and Irv Cross all have that honor and all are a testament to the many outstanding personalities that played the game forty years ago.

The 1966 set is thought to be the toughest of the four Philadelphia sets to complete because of a lower print run. The set is notorious for off-center and diamond cut cards and it's rumored that, because of this, a number were discarded and deemed unfit for sale, thus creating a possible short printed set by default. Despite the rumored problems, the cards are inexpensive and a number of quality examples can be found today.

The only error cards in the set are of the uncorrected type. Card #54 of George Andrie says "startling" instead of "starting" on the card back, card #80 of Herb Adderley has his name misspelled on the back as "Adderly," card #163 of Charlie Johnson has his name misspelled on both sides, Card #194 of Charley Taylor has his name on the card back as both "Charlie" and "Charley," and lastly checklist card #198 has "Charley" Johnson instead of "Charlie."

The set is organized alphabetically by team and by a player's last name within that team. Each team has eleven players with the exception of the Giants and Rams who have 12 because of a dual player card. There is one team card and one play card per team. The play card is an actual action photo taken during a regular season game with an explanation of the play on the card back.

A unique card in the set is the official NFL signals card #196 which serves as an educational tool for the collector. It tells you the numbered cards in the set where you can find the most common signals used by the referees in the NFL. All action cards contain a signal description on the card back. The final two cards in the set are the colorful checklists cards. Card #197 lists cards 1 to 99 and card #198 cards 100 to 198. As is the case with most checklists, the challenge lies in finding the unmarked examples. The set also marked the debut of the first cards of the Atlanta Falcons, which was the only team without a team picture card for obvious reasons.

The card fronts are similar to all other Philadelphia football set issues except that the 1966 set shows the player's name, team, and position in black letters within a horizontal colored box, with the NFL logo on the top portion of the card. The colored boxes usually corresponded to that particular team's colors. The 1964, 1965, and 1967 sets show the same information but at the bottom portion of the card. One of the attractive features of the 1966 Philadelphia cards is the eye-catching NFL logo that appears on all cards in the set, with the exception of the expansion Atlanta Falcons insignia and team card along with the team action photos, checklists, and the official NFL signals card.

Philadelphia was the first card producer to use the NFL logo on its card fronts beginning in 1965 and would be the last until the logo reappeared on the 1989 Pro Set football issue. A color photo graces the front of the card which is surrounded by a solid white border. All individual player cards show a close-up photo of a particular player in a pose or face shot. The exception includes cards #48 of Walter Roberts and #186 of Paul Krause which appear to be taken during an actual practice or game. There are two dual player cards: card #127 shows teammates Earl Morrall and Bob Scholtz of the Giants while card #94 is of Roman Gabriel and Dick Bass of the Rams. Some of the better photos in the set are card #38 of Gale Sayers and card #125 of Carl "Spider" Lockhart, both in the classic high stepping pose. Probably one of the best photos is card #158 of St. Louis Cardinals kicker Jim Bakken kicking a football right into the cameraman's lens! All in all, the card fronts are very basic with little to no changes made from the previous two years.

Like the front of the cards, the backs are relatively simple in nature. With the card stock already being white, the only other colors used are green and black. The players' cards are divided into three sections. In the upper left are the player's name, team, and position along with his age, college attended, years in professional football, height, and weight. Below that section is a short blurb about the particular player's achievements.

The entire right half of the card is devoted to the "Guess Who Quiz" which asks a question that can be found on another card. It also asks you to write the answer to the question on the card back which makes one wonder how many kids in 1966 wrote on the back of their Butkus and Sayers rookie cards -- ouch! The lower part of the quiz section has a mini black and white photo of a player who is the answer to another question on a different card. Down the middle of the card back, in fine print, is "P.C.G.C. & S.P.C.E. Inc. Made & Printed in U.S.A." Finally, in the lower right corner of the card back, is the card number located inside a small football helmet.

According to the PSA Population Report at the time of this writing, there have been only 3 PSA 10 and 355 PSA 9 grades realized out of a total of 6,437 graded. Of those, only 3 PSA 9 Dick Butkus rookies and 18 Gale Sayers PSA 9 rookies exist with no PSA 10's! To translate that into value, in 2006, a PSA 9 Dick Butkus rookie sold for a whopping $14,792! Needless to say, a strong premium exists for these rare, highly graded rookie cards.

The 1966 Philadelphia football card set was more than just a collection of cards, it was a direct representation of the times. When battles were being fought at home and afar, when the war between rival football leagues and football card manufacturers was at its pinnacle. Never in football card history did a simple piece of cardboard mean so much to the eventual establishment of a league that so many of us cherish today. A great set that unknowingly had an even greater impact!

Please feel free to contact Jim Churilla at [email protected] with any additional information or comments.