One theory suggests that a set's historical significance can be measured by its "firsts" and "lasts." If this is true, then the 1972 Topps Football set is assured of a lasting legacy.
The first Topps gridiron issue to feature leader cards (#1 to 8) and Pro Action cards (#119-132, #250-263, #338 to 351), this offering boasts the inaugural singles of Roger Staubach (#200), John Riggins (#13) and Ted Hendricks (#93). It also showcases the last card of Gale Sayers (#110) and is the final vintage Topps pigskin set to be released in a series.
"I think it's probably the No. 1 set of the decade," said Bill Jesse, who recently sold his No. 5 All-Time Finest PSA Set Registry set.
Measuring 2-1/2" by 3-1/2", singles in this 351-card offering feature a simple, contemporary design. Card fronts exhibit photos accompanied by the player's name, team and position. A thin colored border surrounds the pictures.
"On the 1972s, there was just something about the pictures that are so sharp," said Paul Deal, who assembled the Registry's No. 4 All-Time Finest set. "It was really well done, the photographer or photographers that took the 1972 shots, did a great job."
Likely due to licensing issues, these cards do not showcase team logos. However, Jack Craig, who compiled the Registry's No. 6 Current Finest set, points out that part of the Rams' logo can be seen on Roman Gabriel's helmet on his Pro Action card.
The backs of these singles divulge biographical information and statistics. A number of uncorrected error cards are also part of the set. The Mike Curtis (#326) card, for example, indicates that he was the MVP of 1971 Super Bowl, when that honor actually went to Chuck Howley.
Distributed in three series, the first two series were reportedly available in wax packs, rack packs, cellos and vending boxes. The third series was released in smaller quantities and was not widely distributed; singles were available in wax packs and rack packs.
"I've always heard that it (the third series) was released in the New York area and then over in the Great Lakes area," said Deal.
Jesse has heard a similar story.
"It was only distributed in a handful of states. My buddy told me it was almost as if it was a test issue. It was only in certain pockets of the U.S. That's what makes cards from that series very difficult to find," he said.
Deal also notes that the final series was released late in 1972.
"It was released so late in the season that the 1973s were coming out and people just didn't want it at that point. They were used to Topps just having two series and that was the first time that a third series had come out, so nobody really paid attention," he said. "I guess a lot of it was left on Topps' shelf, they wound up blowing it out, so there was two or three dealers that bought up their stock of the third series cards."
The Joe Namath Pro Action single (#343) in the third series is one of the key cards. Of the 547 Namaths submitted, there have been four PSA GEM MT 10s and 71 PSA MINT 9s. A PSA 10 sold for $1,527.02 on eBay in February 2007.
Twenty-four All-Pro cards are also included in the high-number series, as is Rayfield Wright's rookie (#316).
"That card is notoriously off-center," said Deal.
Of the 159 Wrights submitted to PSA, there has been one PSA 10 and 33 PSA 9s. A PSA 9 sold for $465.99 on eBay in January 2008.
Hobbyists seem to agree that the most difficult card to obtain in high-grade is Ken Willard (#351), the set's last card.
"To me, the hardest card was finding #351 (Willard). That was very difficult. I have that in an (PSA) 8 . . . They almost never show up," said Jesse.
Subjected the typical wear and tear associated with being the last card of a set, the Willard card has just four PSA 9 examples. The same condition woes hinder the set's first card, the AFC Rushing Leaders single featuring Floyd Little, Larry Csonka and Marv Hubbard. The sole PSA 10 copy of this single netted $2,197.72 in a January 2007 eBay sale.
The most valuable rookie in the set is Roger Staubach (#200). Poor centering frequently hampers this card. Craig believes that this is due to the card's position on the sheet. A proof sheet sold in an April 2008 Huggins and Scott auction showcases 66 cards (six rows of 11 cards). Staubach is the last card on the right in the first row, a location that makes it vulnerable to flaws. A PSA 10 Staubach sold for $22,033 in 2005.
Aside from Staubach, Riggins, Hendricks and Wright, this set boasts the rookies of five other Hall of Famers: Ron Yary (#104), Emmitt Thomas (#157), Gene Upshaw (#186), Larry Little (#240) and Charlie Joiner (#244). Other high-profile rookies include Archie Manning (#55), Jim Plunkett (#65), Lyle Alzado (#106) and Steve Spurrier (#291).
"You have the gigantic Hall of Fame rookie crop in there and even second-year cards of Hall of Famers like Bradshaw," said Craig.
Among the condition issues that plague these cards are print defects and smudges.
"I've seen several third series cards that have had plate smudges from additional ink being on the plate," said Deal.
Rough cuts are another frequent flaw. Craig attributes this to the dull blades employed during the cutting process.
"They wouldn't change the blade until they would physically not be able to get through the cards," he said.
Bad centering is also common.
"It's not hard to find cards in near-mint condition with nice corners, but to find them centered as well is really difficult," said Jesse.
These condition issues, coupled with the abundance of solid rookies and Hall of Famers, has made this set a highly coveted offering.
"It was a groundbreaking set," said Craig.
Groundbreaking indeed, it's a set that has so many "firsts" and "lasts" that it's bound to remain one of the top gridiron issues for many years to come.
Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at email@example.com if you have any additional information or comments. Jack Craig and Mile High Auctions provided pictures for this article. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted are those as of press time.
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