When collectors finish the 1974 Topps Football set, you could say that they've kicked one through the hobby uprights.
With player photos nestled between goalposts on the fronts of most cards, this gridiron offering is most noted for its design.
"I remember I liked the 1974 [Topps] cards because of the goalposts that were on them," explained Mick Daly, who owns the registry's No. 5 Current Finest, 1974 Topps Football Set.
Mike Thomas, owner of www.footballcardgallery.com, feels similarly about the layout.
"I kind of like the design," he said. "It's a more interesting design than the 1973 [Topps Football cards]. I like the goalposts. It's sort of a clean, symmetrical design."
The fronts of these standard-sized, white-bordered pasteboards also present the player name and position, as well as the team in a rectangular block across the bottom. The colors of the goalposts and team name are the same for each member of a specific franchise. Most cards boast a vertical orientation, but some present horizontal action shots.
"The design, in my opinion, is simple but clean," said Ken Owens, who has assembled the registry's top 1974 Topps Football set. "The graphics on the front [i.e., the goalpost] make it very condition sensitive. Most collectors refer to the design as 'boring.' I prefer to think of it as conservative and refined."
The backs of the regular player cards flaunt blue and yellow print on gray stock. The card number appears in a football design in the upper-left corner along with the player's position, team and vitals (e.g., Height, Weight, Birthdate, etc.). A cartoon illustrating a fact about the player can be found in the upper right, while the player's name is highlighted in bold, blue letters across the middle, followed by biographical information and statistics. (Some defensive players don't have stats.) The card bottom showcases data for a simulated game that could be played with the cards.
This was the second of 10 consecutive, 528-card Topps Football issues. This set was distributed in one series and the price of wax packs rose from 10 cents to 15 cents from the previous year. Each pack houses 10 cards, a stick of gum and one of 26 team checklist inserts.
These unnumbered checklists feature the Topps logo and the team's name at the top, followed by their respective list of players. This listing includes each player's card number, name, uniform number and position. An advertisement encouraging collectors to obtain all 26 checklists adorns the bottom portion. The backs exhibit rules for the aforementioned simulated football game that could be played with the regular cards.
Daly says these checklists are difficult to track down in top condition.
"One of the most challenging cards for me was the [Pittsburgh] Steelers checklist," he said. "It's one that has a low population because most of those early 1970s checklist cards are miscut. I have found guys selling clumps of the checklists and they were pretty nice, but they were all off-center."
The PSA Population Report indicates that only three of the 207 team checklists submitted have been deemed PSA GEM-MT 10s.
The team checklists were also reportedly available in two, 13-card sheets as part of a mail-away offer from Topps. The blank-back checklists on these sheets boast an advertisement for an action poster at the bottom.
On top of wax packs, the regular 1974 Topps Football cards were distributed in 25-cent cellos, 39-cent racks, wax trays and 500-card vending boxes.
The O.J. Simpson Record Breaker single, the set's first card, is also one of its most coveted. This white-bordered card, which pays tribute to Simpson breaking the single-season rushing record in 1973, flaunts a photo of Simpson inside a flashy, multi-colored, marquee-like frame. The back documents Simpson's game-by-game rushing totals for the 1973 season and also offers a section of "Notes" about his accomplishment. The third sentence of the "Notes" portion mistakenly says "years gained" rather than "yards gained." There has yet to be a PSA 10 and one of the 17 PSA MINT 9s sold for $429.99 on eBay in May 2011.
Three subsets are also part of this issue. The All-Pro singles (#121 to #144) offer player photos inside a thin green frame that's enveloped by a larger black frame. The words "All-Pro" extend across the top in red lettering, followed by the player's position and team. The player's name is emblazoned across the bottom. The card backs of these All-Pro singles bear the same design as the regular player cards.
Joe Mancino, who has assembled the registry's No. 4 Current Finest, 1974 Topps Football set, says the Fran Tarkenton (#129) and Simpson (#130) All-Pro cards have been tough to track down in higher grade. There has been just one PSA 10 Tarkenton and there has yet to be a gem-mint example of Simpson. The sole PSA 10 Tarkenton fetched $2,049.67 in a Mile High Card Company auction a few years ago.
AFC and NFC statistical leader cards (#328 to #333) and pasteboards shining the spotlight on the previous season's playoffs (#460 to #463) are the other subsets in this offering.
If you look closely, you'll also notice variations in the copyright information on some cards. A single asterisk is featured in the majority of the copyright lines, but there are two asterisks in the copyright line on the following cards: #26, #129, #130, #156, #162, #219, #265 to #364, #367 to #422 and #424 to #528.
The 1973 Topps Football set housed the cardboard debuts of seven players who have busts in Canton, but this set only has two - Joe DeLamielleure (#183) and John Hannah (#383).
"Both of those guys are linemen, and linemen don't get very much attention," noted Thomas.
Mancino says the Hannah rookie has been tough for him to find in mint condition. There are 16 PSA 9 Hannah cards, one of which garnered $369 on eBay in May 2012.
Mancino, Daly and Thomas believe that Ray Guy - whose rookie card (#219) is also in this set - deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. But Daly says the long-time Raiders kicker's pasteboard is already very popular. There has been one PSA 10 and 34 PSA 9s. The PSA 10 sold for $3,750 on eBay in September 2012.
Several other notable players also debut in this issue, including Ahmad Rashad (#105), Chuck Foreman (#113), Harold Carmichael (#121), Terry Metcalf (#444) and Bert Jones (#524).
Joe Greene (#40), Larry Csonka (#131), Johnny Unitas (#150), Bob Griese (#200), Franco Harris (#220), Dick Butkus (#230), George Blanda (#245), Bob Lilly (#250), John Riggins (#280), Terry Bradshaw (#470) and Roger Staubach (#500) are among the Hall of Famers highlighted on non-rookie cards in this issue.
One superstar that's conspicuously absent is Joe Namath. A definitive reason why the iconic quarterback isn't included was not uncovered for this article, but a safe guess would be that there was some sort of dispute with Topps. A rare, blank-backed, 1974 Topps Namath proof card commanded $2,340 in a Heritage Auctions sale in 2004.
According to the PSA Population Report, the toughest card in this set to obtain in PSA 9 or better is Jim Tyrer (#85). This is the set's only card that doesn't have a PSA 9 (or higher) example.
"Right below [Tyrer's] numbers on the left-hand side of the card is a very consistent, round pinkish print dot," noted Daly. "I probably have 10 PSA 9 quality-type cards of him, but every one of them has that print dot."
Mancino and Owens also cite the Carl Eller single (#5) as evasive in flawless form. Of the 24 submitted, there has been one PSA 10 and one PSA 9. The Eller card is located on the top right edge of a print sheet, a position that traditionally makes cards vulnerable to condition woes like miscuts.
Mancino adds that the Bob DeMarco single (#491) is almost always found off-center. One of the two PSA 9s sold for $120 on eBay in October 2013.
Centering is one of the most common condition flaws with cards from this series.
"The goalpost on the front makes centering a real problem," explained Owens. "After searching literally thousands of raw cards, there are very few with perfect centering on the front of the card."
Owens and Mancino say that the card stock is also fragile.
"As with most older Topps issues, the cardboard itself has a tendency to fray at the corners," said Owens. "I do not know if it is true, but a dealer told me Topps used recycled paper to produce the 1974 issues. It seems this year does have particularly fragile paper. Again, I'm not sure that [the dealer's information] is factual, but I have experienced a lot of problems with separation of the paper at the corners."
One confusing aspect of this series is that 50 cards with the same design were produced for a Parker Brothers board game called Pro Draft. The 50 cards were selected from the first 132 pasteboards in the regular series and were all offensive players. Thomas also notes that they were all from one section of a print sheet.
One way to differentiate the Parker Brothers cards from the regular cards was that the initial run of the Parker Brothers cards showcases 1972 player stats and two asterisks in the copyright line. The equivalent regular cards, of course, offer 1973 stats and one asterisk in their copyright line.
In an excellent blog entry on his site, Thomas also points out that six Parker Brothers cards showcase different images from their regular 1974 Topps cards. Three of these - Norm Snead (#23), Bob Windsor (#49) and Charlie Johnson (#116) - boast horizontal action scenes on their regular 1974 Topps singles, while their board game counterparts flaunt vertical, posed photos.
Three other cards - Forrest Blue (#124), Tom Mack (#126) and Bob Tucker (#127) - were featured on All-Pro cards in the regular series, but were presented with different photos and in the regular 1974 Topps player card format in the Parker Brothers game.
Thomas notes that in later editions of the board game the cards were updated to feature 1973 stats and that the Parker Brothers cards don't seem to command a premium.
On top of the aforementioned error on the Simpson Record Breaker card (#1), there are several other uncorrected miscues in this issue. For example, Falcons quarterback Bob Lee is listed as a member of the "Atlanta Hawks" on the back of his card (#265) and Garry Lyle's first name is erroneously spelled "Gary" on his single (#393). And Topps once again misspelled Charley Taylor's first name as "Charlie" on the checklist (#498) and on both sides of his regular card (#510).
Although these idiosyncrasies certainly make this set interesting, they haven't been enough to propel it to widespread hobby popularity.
"I think there are going to be more people like me that recognize the 1974 set has been undercollected," noted Daly. "I have no idea what Topps's print runs are, but I have a very good friend who runs a card shop and he told me he never has hobbyists bring in collections that include 1974 [Topps football cards] in them."
Taking all of this into account, now might be the perfect time to quietly kick one through the hobby uprights and complete this little talked-about set. After all, who knows what goalposts you might have to move to finish it in the future?