Quarterback Delight, A Look at the 1957 Topps Football Set by Jim Churilla

The Cold War year of 1957 saw the beginning of the Space Age as Russia launched the first Earth orbiting satellite named Sputnik 1. A new television show premiered called Leave It to Beaver, Dwight D. Eisenhower was President, Jack Kerouac's On the Road hit book shelves, the famous '57 Chevy rolled off the assembly line and gas went "up" to an unbelievable .24 cents a gallon! Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke, and The Everly Brothers were topping the music charts with such songs as "All Shook Up", "You Send Me", and "Wake Up Little Susie," while Bridge on the River Kwai starring Alec Guinness won the best picture and actor award.


In the world of professional football, 1957 marked the 38th season of the National Football League and the opening of Green Bays historic Lambeau Field. In 1957, the NFL consisted of only twelve teams divided into two conferences, a six team Eastern Conference and a six team Western Conference with the winners of each playing for the NFL championship. The Cleveland Browns would easily win the Eastern Conference title while the Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers would tie for the top spot in the Western Conference, resulting in a one game playoff to determine who would face the Browns in the title game. The game was played in San Francisco, and, by halftime, it was all San Francisco, leading 24 to 7 and resulting in one of the biggest ticket blunders of all time.


The 49ers and their management were so sure by halftime that they were going to the NFL title game that they prematurely printed NFL championship tickets. The big problem unbeknown to the 49ers was the fact that the Lions had overheard the premature halftime locker celebration, which infuriated them. The result was a 24 to 3 second half Lions scoring outburst and a stunning 31 to 27 come from behind victory. Detroit carried this momentum into the championship game vs. the Cleveland Browns the following week, resulting in a crushing 59 to 14 victory that ironically was the last time Detroit won a football championship.

The annual draft and its rookie class usually determine the core of any football set but, back in 1957, this was only partially true. The 1957 NFL draft was held in November of 1956 with seven future Hall of Famers drafted, which included overall number one pick Paul Hornung of Notre Dame by the Green Bay Packers. Other Hall of Famers drafted in the first round included Len Dawson by Pittsburgh with the 5th overall pick, Jim Brown by Cleveland with the 6th overall pick and Jim Parker by Baltimore with the 8th overall pick. Non first round picks were Tommy McDonald by Philadelphia with the 31st overall pick, Sonny Jurgensen by Philadelphia with the 43rd overall pick, Henry Jordan by Cleveland with the 52nd overall pick, and Don Maynard by the Giants with the 109th overall pick.


Of the seven Hall of Famers, only Hornung and McDonald would have rookie cards in the 1957 Topps set, while Brown and Jurgensen would appear in the 1958 Topps set. Jim Parker is first seen in the 1959 Topps set, Henry Jordan's rookie card is his 1961 Topps, and Len Dawson debuts in the 1963 Fleer set. As was common for the time, a number of players did not have cards simply because they were not signed to an agreement with the card manufacturer. Also players entered military service or simply opted to continue their education before turning pro since salaries then were nothing out of the ordinary, unlike today.

Historically speaking it was a relatively quiet year but for football card enthusiasts 1957 marked the release of what many collectors today consider the finest football card set Topps has ever produced.


The 1957 Topps football card set was truly an innovative and historical product in the hobby. The set itself helped established the now standard card size of 2 ½ by 3 ½ and it marked the first time Topps had released card sets in each of the four major sports, which included football, baseball, basketball, and hockey. At the time, producing the four sport sets was a bold idea intended to better market Topps gum and card products that was made possible with the buyout of rival card maker Bowman the previous year. It would not be until 1968 that Topps would once again produce sets in all four major sports. Little did anyone realize in 1957 what landmark ideas in the hobby these actually were with changes that are still with us today nearly fifty years later.

The 1957 Topps football card set consists of 154 cards and was released as two series. Series one consists of cards 1 to 88 and series two are cards 89 to 154, which command more value. Each manufactured card sheet contained a total of 88 cards that were cut into individual cards, inserted in a one-cent pack, which contained one card and a piece of gum, a five-cent pack which contained 6 cards and a stick of gum, or a cello pack that had 12 cards.


The second series contains a total of 66 cards and, since 88 cards designate a manufactured card sheet, that meant 22 openings existed on a manufactured sheet which were promptly filled by double printing 22 series two cards with the most notable being the #138 John Unitas rookie card. One of the most lasting effects of these cards is the fact that they were printed on extremely durable card stock that has resulted in a number of high grade and well preserved examples. The finest 1957 Topps graded football set known is the MINT State Collection, which carries an average PSA grade of 8.57 and is believed to be one of the best PSA graded sets ever, a true testament to the 1957 Topps football sets durability.

What really makes this set so desirable is that it contains thirty one Hall of Famers which include the rookie cards of #85 Dick "Night Train" Lane, #94 Raymond Berry, #119 Bart Starr, # 138 John Unitas, and #151 Paul Hornung. Other notable Hall of Famers include #5 Gino Marchetti, #22 Norm Van Brocklin, #26 Ollie Matson, #28 Lou "The Toe" Groza, #30 Y.A. Tittle, #31 George Blanda, # 32 Bobby Lane, # 46 Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch, #88 Frank Gifford, and #128 Lenny Moore, just to name a few. The thirty one Hall of Famers make up 20% of the set and present to the hobbyist a much worthy collection to attain.


The true gems of the set and the most desirable cards are not even of players but of two rare unnumbered short printed checklists that came in two different versions randomly inserted in packs. The difference between the two checklists is that one checklist has Bazooka advertising on the back and the other checklist has Twin Blony advertisement. It is believed the Twin Blony checklist is slightly more difficult to find than the Bazooka version, which can be supported by the PSA population report. Only 10 Twin Blony checklist have received grades as compared to 56 Bazooka versions. The fronts of both checklists are identical and as is the case with most checklists, finding one that is in good condition and that has not been marked on, has proven to be the real challenge. Having the entire 154 card set and one checklist is considered a basic 1957 Topps football set, while having the 154 card set and both checklists is considered a master set.


The first card in the set ( #1 Eddie LeBaron) and the last card in the set (#154 Fred Morrison) are slightly more valuable because they are harder to find in a higher grade. A simple reason for this is that they are the bookends to the set and, as a result, were exposed to more damage when organized in numerical order. There is one key error card in the set of #58 Williard Sherman. The error version of this card does not have the team name "Rams" in the white box on the right front of the card while the corrected version does. The error version is one of the most desirable cards in the set and does demand a substantial premium compared to the corrected version. The good thing is that this card can be found at card shows and on web auction sites such as eBay rather consistently. The set has one known uncorrected error card which is #132 Howard Ferguson whose last name is misspelled "Furgeson."


The front of each 2 ½ x 3 ½ numbered card in the 1957 Topps set contains two horizontally presented photos. On the left side of the card front is a player in a close up headshot and on the right side of the card front the same player is in a pose or action photo. A thick white line divides these two photos down the middle of the card with the entire card front being framed in a white border. Each photo has a solid color background that is one of seven colors, orange, blue, light blue, red, yellow, green, and light green. These are the standard print colors that Topps used on the majority of its card sets during the 1950's. The player's name can be found in a small white-bordered colored box at the bottom of the headshot photo in either black or white lettering. The majority of the player names are in black lettering with twenty-one cards showing names in white lettering. The player's position and team name is located near the bottom of the right side front photo in a small white box with black lettering. Since space was limited for the player position and team in the lower right box, quarterbacks were often listed as backs and receivers as ends. Another distinction is that most portraits and action photos in the set show a helmetless player.


There are a number of classic poses in this set which express the players' personalities and the creativity used by Topps early decision makers. Some of the better examples in the set include #20 Lou Creekmur running with his teeth clenched, #26 Ollie Matson with mouth wide open, #36 Leo Elter doing the classic high stepping pose, #46 Elroy Hirsh fully extended to make the catch, #49 Chuck Bednarik with a cool hand extended looking up pose, #54 Gordy Soltau executing a hurdle jump with the ball, #58 Bill Sherman flying through the air sideways to catch a pass, #65 Art Donovan with a hands up pose, #67 Harlon Hill fully extended to make the catch, #70 Bob Boyd about to catch the ball, #85 Dick Lane extending to catch a ball, #113 Ted Marchibroda getting ready to pass, and #151 Paul Hornung doing a jump pass, just to name a few.

The card back consist of three colors, black, red, and a lighter shade of red, almost pinkish with the gray cardstock as the main background color. On the card back, you will find the card number in the upper left hand corner inside a football with the player's name immediately to the right. Below the name and number is the player bio, a short information blurb, and a box showing his career and previous years' statistics. The right portion of the card back is a cartoon with short bits of information about the player. Overall Topps did a good job at creating an informative and lively card back.


To help promote it's 1957 football set, Topps created a number of three card advertising panels that were distributed to stores which sold the Topps products. The front of the advertising panel shows three player card fronts while the back would have ad copy and the back of another player. There are two advertising panels that are known to exist, one has Bobby Watkins, Gino Marchetti and Clarence Peaks on the front with Ollie Matson's card back on the reverse side. The other has Al Dorow, Harlon Hill, and Bert Rechichar on the front with Ollie Matson's card back again on the reverse side. Value of these panels vary depending on condition with the Watkins, Marchetti, Peaks, and Matson example believed to be the more valuable of the two.


For everyone who does or has collected sports cards over the years, one of the biggest thrills a collector can relate to in the hobby is the opening of packs. Nothing beats the excitement of tearing open recently purchased wax packs with the anticipation and adrenaline running in full gear. Whether you are old enough to have opened 1957 Topps football wax, or some of the more recent products, the thrill is the same and the memories of pulling that favorite player or rare card is entrenched in one's mind forever. In 1957, there were two different 1957 Topps football wax packs. There was the one-cent wax pack that was red, white, blue, and black in color containing a stick of gum and one card. The drawback with the one-cent pack, as with any gum yielding pack, was the ever dangerous gum stain possibility which, over the years, has devalued a number of great cards. All one-cent card wax was subject to possible gum stain damage and it was possible to see the card that was inside the pack through the wrapper because of the white wrapper color, but nonetheless as kids we never seemed to care.


The five-cent wax pack has two different wrapper versions, like the hard to find short printed checklists, the five-cent wrappers had either Twin Blony gum advertisement or Bazooka gum advertisement. The wrappers are very colorful showing a picture of a player about to catch a ball and contain the colors yellow, blue, red, brown, and black. The pack is marked 5 cent and has the words "Topps Pro Football Bubble Gum". On the right edge of the wrapper when it is folded out are the gum ingredients, a listing of the pack contents, and license and location information all in black lettering. The left side of the wrapper is where the gum advertisement is located. The Bazooka wrapper reads "Young America's favorite bubble gum", "Biggest Comics, Big Twin Chews", " Save Bazooka Comics For Free Prizes". The Twin Blony wax pack says "You'll Love New Twin Blony Bubble Gum", "Made Of Sugar "N" Spice "N" Everything Nice". The colors for both are red, white, blue, and black.


Examples of unopened 1957 Topps football wax can occasionally be found in graded form on various auction web sites, with the very scarce cello pack demanding a premium on the open market.

The 1957 Topps football set with its solid rookie cards and abundant Hall of Famers definitely earn it the right as one of the best football card sets of all time. An attainable set indeed, the set is approaching its fiftieth anniversary and yet has withstood the test of time and remains as attractive as ever!

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