PSA Set Registry
Collecting the 1965 Topps CFL Set
An "Eh"-lusive Vintage Football Card Issue
by Kevin Glew
It must seem like third and long for many attempting to complete the 1965 Topps CFL set.
This 132-card offering is one of the more challenging vintage sets devoted to Canada's idiosyncratic three-down league.
"It's a daunting set to put together with limited distribution and centering issues," said Will Tudoroff, who owns the top 1965 Topps CFL set on the PSA Set Registry.
Darrell Swigart, who has also assembled a PSA-graded 1965 Topps CFL set, offers a similar assessment.
"The 1965 cards were produced in very low numbers," he noted. "I see them when I go up to Canada to a card show in Toronto, but it's not like I see many of them. I see other CFL sets and singles with more availability, but the 1965s are not as common and to find them in high grade is challenging."
The last CFL cards to be marketed under the Topps brand, these 1965 singles were actually printed north of the border by O-Pee-Chee and were distributed solely in Canada. These cards were released in five-cent wax packs with gum and a Magic Rub-Off insert. Tudoroff, who possesses a rare wrapper from this series, has heard that these cards were also available in cello packs.
"You can find unopened packs of the 1964 Topps [series], but I've never ever seen a 1965 Topps CFL football pack," said Swigart.
The standard-sized 1965 Topps CFL singles present colorized player photos against two-colored backgrounds. The player's position, team, and name are highlighted at the top. Swigart has been captivated by the design ever since he purchased his first 1965 Topps CFL card.
"The only way I can put it is that they were unique - the colors were just so vivid and retro," he recalled of his reaction to his first 1965 Topps CFL card. "It was like the players were jumping out of the card at you. The design was so different than anything I had ever seen before."
The horizontal backs are divided into two sections. The left side offers the card number, player name, position, team, and vitals (Height, Weight, Age) followed by biographical information in black print against a red background. The bio is presented in English and French.
The right side showcases a cartoon that generally illustrates a standout achievement, skill, or the player's link to a college or American professional team. The information on the card backs reinforces that the CFL was in its golden era. News from the league dominated Canadian sports pages at the time when there were only two Canadian NHL teams (Toronto and Montreal), no Canadian Major League Baseball or NBA teams, and the NFL was not nearly the juggernaut that it is today.
"Back in the 1960s, there were some U.S. college stars that went to play in Canada because, frankly, the CFL paid them more than the NFL," said Tudoroff.
"I look at this set as one from a pinnacle era in the CFL," added Swigart.
In 1965, there were nine CFL teams and the cards in this series are sequenced alphabetically by team city and then within each squad by the player's last name. The teams are almost equally represented. The B.C. Lions, Edmonton Eskimos, Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Ottawa Rough Riders, and Toronto Argonauts have 15 cards each, while there are 14 Calgary Stampeders, Saskatchewan Roughriders, and Winnipeg Blue Bombers and 13 Montreal Alouettes.
By my count, there are 33 CFL Hall of Famers in this set.
"As you flip through it, you see so many Hall of Famers," noted Tudoroff. "That was the golden age of the CFL. Things were good in the league and there were just some amazing players in it."
Six CFL Hall of Famers have rookie cards in this offering: Larry Robinson (#27), Ellison Kelly (#53), Don Sutherin (#57, though mistakenly numbered as #51), Kenneth Lehmann (#81), Hugh Campbell (#91), and George Reed (#98). Of these rookies, the Reed is the most coveted.
"George Reed had over 16,000 rushing yards in his CFL career," noted Swigart. "There's only one CFL player that recently passed him - Mike Pringle ... And before I started collecting this set, I didn't know who George Reed was, so now I have a higher appreciation for who he was."
Ranked as the No. 2 player in CFL history by Canadian sports network, TSN, in 2006, Reed played his entire 13-year career with the Saskatchewan Roughriders and holds the league record for most rushing touchdowns (134).
The Roughriders have arguably the most passionate fan base of any CFL team, and Tudoroff has noticed this when bidding for the Reed card, which showcases a head-and-shoulder image of the legendary running back and is often hampered by centering issues. Of the 21 submitted, there have been three PSA MINT 9s and four PSA NM-MT 8s.
Some of the other most sought-after Hall of Famer cards include Willie Fleming (#8), Joe Kapp (#12), Herman Harrison (#22), Angelo Mosca (#55), Bernie Faloney (#67), Ron Lancaster (#96), and Jack Parker (#110).
Swigart points out that the Mosca card has some additional appeal because he doubled as popular professional wrestler, King Kong Mosca, in the off-season. His card features a full-length image of him in his Hamilton Tiger-Cats uniform that looks like he's going to run right out of the card. The four PSA 8s are the highest-graded examples.
The Lancaster card is also in high demand. He was an all-star Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback and later an outstanding CFL coach and executive.
"He was like 5-foot-5, but on the cards they would say he was 5-foot-10," said Swigart. "They would call him the 'Little General' and he was a quarterback. To be 5-foot-5, he was just a very effective, prolific quarterback in the CFL."
This card, which features a headshot of a young Lancaster, is regularly plagued by poor centering. The three PSA 8s are the highest-graded specimens.
The Jack Parker single (#110) is another key card. A star quarterback with the Toronto Argonauts at the time, his card back states that he was "considered by many to be the best all-around player ever to come from the U.S. to Canada." Of the 19 Parker cards evaluated, the five PSA 8s are the top-graded examples.
Swigart and Tudoroff cite the set's first card, Neal Beaumont, as one of the most evasive in pristine condition. Tudoroff, who possesses the only PSA 8, notes that this card suffered additional wear and tear being at the top of collector piles.
But the Jim Thomas single (#43) is even more evasive in flawless form. It's the only card in set that has yet to have an example grade above PSA NM 7 (without a qualifier).
"I've bought several of those and I've been really trying to get the first [PSA] 8, but I've had no luck," said Tudoroff. "You just don't find them centered, and when you do, it has something else wrong with it."
The first- (#60) and second-series (#132) checklists are also important cards in this set.
"The checklist cards were always checked off," noted Swigart.
Tudoroff adds that they also often exhibit poor centering.
The sole PSA 8 is the highest-graded copy of the first-series checklist, while there are seven PSA 8s of the second-series checklist.
As noted earlier, not only are these cards generally more difficult to track down than most Topps CFL issues from the same era, they're also harder to find in pristine form. Only seven PSA GEM-MT 10s have been uncovered in total.
"There are really thin borders on the 1965 cards and they make it extremely difficult to complete the set in high grade because of the centering," explained Tudoroff. "Even a card that's slightly off-center looks really off-center because there's just no border there."
But despite their condition sensitivity, their age, and their relative scarcity, the 1965 Topps CFL cards remain affordable compared to their American football cardboard contemporaries.
"I don't think that a lot of people in the U.S. really appreciate Canadian football. I really enjoy it. I just like learning about the players," said Swigart.
And CFL cards represent an interesting and challenging alternative for hobbyists who have finished their vintage American football sets. Tudoroff adds that American collectors will likely recognize some of the names in the 1965 Topps CFL set.
"The 1965 [Topps CFL] set is just a nice little collectible set," said Swigart.
For more information on the 1965 Topps CFL set, please visit https://www.psacard.com/cardfacts/football-cards/1965-topps-cfl/18692.
Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Thank you to Darrell Swigart for providing cards for the article. Please note the PSA Population Report statistics and Set Registry rankings quoted are as of April 2018.
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