PSA Set Registry

Collecting the 1960 Fleer Football Card Set

A New League and New Set Provided New Challenges for Hobbyists

by Todd Tobias

As the fabulous fifties wound down and dawn broke on a new decade, the professional football world was in for major change with the beginning of the American Football League. The AFL, a direct challenge to the National Football League, had a tough road to hoe. The NFL had a track record. They had a fan base. They had connections with college athletes, and they had Topps bubble gum cards. The popular trading card company had issued its first professional football set featuring NFL players in 1956, which began an uninterrupted streak of Topps football sets featuring contemporary players that ran through the 2015 season. 

What did the AFL have in comparison? Well, they mostly had young and wealthy owners. They had a handful of top rookies, a bunch of NFL castoffs, no fan base, and Fleer trading cards. A relatively young company to this point, Fleer had produced a couple of small baseball sets, but like the AFL itself, their inaugural foray into professional football came in 1960. Also, like the AFL, their initial efforts were far from flawless.

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Composition

The 1960 Fleer design is simple. White borders with a player imposed over a solid-color background.  A small field and goalpost detail on the bottom left contains player name and position, while the team name is featured on the bottom right. Being the AFL's inaugural season, action shots of the players did not yet exist to be used on the cards. As a result, the majority of images feature players in their college uniforms. Set atop the solid color backgrounds, the result is somewhat lackluster. 

Player selection is an area in which 1960 Fleer suffered due to the necessity of producing the cards on a timeline that made them available in stores during training camp for that first AFL season. Oddly, it is not a book on trading cards that best illustrates the issue that resulted from this process of player selection. In Mavericks, Money and Men, a book about the AFL and the African American athlete, author Charles K. Ross included the following passage:

"In a memo to AFL general managers, [AFL Assistant Commissioner, Milt] Woodard asked that teams identify at least 25 players and have them sign releases that would allow bubble gum manufacturers to distribute cards. Woodard wanted releases signed by May 15, virtually two months before training camps were due to open." 

Obviously, general managers had to put a whole lot of guesswork into their choices, and so the resulting trading cards proved to be not so much a "Who's Who" as a "Who's That?" of the early AFL. In fact, an astonishing 42 of the 125 players featured on cards in the 1960 Fleer set never played a single down for an AFL team. That is 32% of the total set, if you include the seven coaches' cards in the total.

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For many of those 42 men, the training camp experience in 1960 represented their final connection to professional football, before they assimilated into a world where their popularity as football players quickly faded away.

And yet despite the abundance of little-known subjects, this set contains cards of players and coaches who made significant impacts on professional football:

George Blanda - Not an RC (1954 Bowman #23), but the first AFL issue of the HOF quarterback

Sid Gillman - Hall of Fame coach has his rookie card in this set

Hank Stram - Another HOF coach, and head coach of Super Bowl IV-winning Chiefs, whose RC is card #116

Billy Cannon - 1959 Heisman Trophy winner and source of great AFL & NFL Draft controversy

Abner Haynes - 1960 AFL Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player

Paul Lowe - Two-time AFL champion and 1965 league MVP

Al Carmichael - Scored the first touchdown in AFL history

Sammy Baugh - An NFL legend who makes his coaching debut in 1960 Fleer

Ron Mix - Perennial All-Pro and HOF tackle

Jack Kemp - Two-time AFL champion and 1996 Vice Presidential Nominee

Paul Maguire - Winner of three AFL championships and longtime ESPN commentator

Condition

One of the first things that collectors notice when beginning to assemble the 1960 Fleer set is the seeming lack of quality control that was applied during card production. Not so much errors in photos or the textual information on the cards, although there is a bit of that as well, but rather an apparent sloppiness in the manufacturing process that resulted in an inordinate number of cards being released with terrible centering, sizing differences, rough cuts, diamond cuts, and an array of printing defects. Over-saturation and under-saturation of the image, missing ink, and poor registration are but a handful of the issues plaguing this set. The combination of these widespread maladies results in high-grade 1960 Fleer cards being very difficult to obtain.

Of the 15,554 cards from this set to have been submitted to PSA to date, a mere 99 cards have earned a grade of PSA GEM-MT 10. That is barely over one-half of one percent. PSA MINT 9s are a bit more prevalent but still only hover around the 11% mark of total submissions.

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Mike Thomas of Nearmint's Vintage Football Cards is the undisputed champion of the 1960 Fleer Football PSA Set Registry. His Nearmint's Collection set has held the No. 1 position on the Registry for 14 consecutive years. One hundred percent complete and with a 10.04 set rating, Thomas's exhaustive efforts have resulted in cardboard gold.

Spending so much time working with these cards has given Thomas insights into this set that are well-beyond those of the casual collector. On his website, www.footballlcardgallery.com, he has constructed virtual uncut sheets based on information that he has gathered over the years. Having gathered such knowledge while building his set has led to new theories about the cards themselves.

"The cards with numbers divisible by six are really hard to find," says Thomas. "The ones with numbers divisible by 12 are even harder than the others. It is because of where they were situated on the uncut sheet. The full sheet had 22 cards across the bottom, and they were all of the cards that were divisible by six. My assumption is that when they were producing these cards, the edges of the sheets got damaged as they were being handled. I think that's why the ones divisible by six are more difficult to find. Maybe they even pulled them off the printer, stacked them on the edge, and damaged them. But it is pretty consistent; those are the ones that are toughest."

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As to which card is the most notorious for centering issues, Mike Thomas and other collectors are adamant in the assertion that card #84, Jim Woodard, is the most difficult card to find in high grade in the entire set. A look at the two forms of 1960 Fleer half sheets shows that the Woodard card is placed very precariously, appearing on the upper far-left row of one sheet and in the bottom-left corner on the other. This would make the card susceptible not only to damage via bumped sheets, but also to poor centering depending on the method by which the sheets were cut.

Popularity

The overall popularity of a vintage set can be a difficult thing to determine. Based on the inquiries that he has received from customers, Thomas feels that while collected intensely by a core group of people, 1960 Fleer does not have the widespread appeal of other vintage football sets. 

The PSA Set Registry is a great tool to use in this regard. A quick glance at the Registry shows the popularity of 1960s football sets, at least among Registry members. In looking over the numbers for the decade of the 1960s, it appears that set popularity runs not necessarily along AFL vs. NFL lines, but rather Topps vs. non-Topps. Only in 1961 and 1964 are other brands more widely collected among Registry members than the Topps issues of the same years. It is also worth noting that 1961 and 1964 are two years that many collectors consider to be Topps' weakest efforts in terms of card design.

Which 1960s Football Issue is Most Widely Collected on the PSA Set Registry?

Regarding 1960 Fleer, it is 15th out of 18 regular issues sets in terms of the greatest number of PSA Set Registry collectors.

Summary

The collectors that are willing to put in the effort necessary to move beyond the problems with 1960 Fleer will be rewarded with a historic set. It is the inaugural set of the only league to challenge and succeed against the NFL. It contains the rookie cards of two of the game's greatest and most innovative head coaches. It is loaded with the cards of NFL castoffs that refused to believe that they had no place in professional football and banded together to change the game. In the end, it may best be said that collectors of 1960 Fleer are more interested in history than simple popularity. 

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Where Are They Now?

Even though "Where Are They Now?" sections are normally reserved for individuals, the teams featured in the 1960 Fleer set are likewise deserving of such a segment. Of the eight original AFL teams, only the Buffalo Bills and Denver Broncos have not relocated, changed their name, or otherwise disrupted their fan bases.

Boston Patriots: After spending their initial 11 seasons in the city of Boston, the Patriots moved roughly 90 minutes southwest to Foxborough in 1971. The team then became the New England Patriots.

Dallas Texans: After the formation of the AFL was announced, NFL owners granted an expansion franchise to the city of Dallas in an attempt to thwart the new league, and thus were born the Cowboys. The Texans were successful in Dallas, and even won the league championship in 1962, but not successful enough to sustain the franchise. Lamar Hunt moved his Texans to Kansas City in 1963 and rechristened them the Chiefs.

Houston Oilers: After winning AFL championships in 1960 and 1961, the Houston Oilers never again won a league championship. When lobbying the city of Houston for a new stadium bore no fruit, Oilers owner Bud Adams moved the team to Nashville after the 1996 season. The franchise played as the Tennessee Oilers in 1997 and 1998, before changing their name to the Tennessee Titans the following year.

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Los Angeles Chargers: The Chargers spent just a single year in Los Angeles before moving south to San Diego, where they spent the next 56 years. After multiple discussions about a new stadium in San Diego ended with no progress, team owner Dean Spanos moved the club in January of 2017. The Chargers are scheduled to play three seasons in Carson, California, before moving again to Los Angeles to share a stadium with the L.A. Rams.

New York Titans: The New York Titans spent three seasons as an under-funded, poorly-run club in the city that never sleeps. The team was wrested away from owner Harry Wismer after the 1962 season. It was then purchased by media mogul Sonny Werblin, who changed the name to the Jets, drafted Joe Namath, and became the first AFL franchise to win a Super Bowl on January 12, 1969.

Oakland Raiders: One of the nation's most followed organizations, the Raiders spent their first 22 seasons in Oakland before moving to Los Angeles in 1982. They stayed through the 1994 season, before returning to Oakland. When negotiations for a new stadium in Oakland failed in recent years, owner Mark Davis struck a deal with the city of Las Vegas, where the Raiders will call home beginning in 2019.

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Autograph Challenges

Despite consisting of a mere 132 cards, the 1960 Fleer set provides autograph collectors with headaches worthy of 1,000-card projects. The combination of 42 subjects who have no professional playing record and men who passed away at young ages makes this set exceptionally difficult to build in an autographed format. Consider the following:

Card #44 - Ray Moss: A linebacker out of the University of Tennessee, Ray Moss was cut during the Buffalo Bills first training camp and never returned to the gridiron. He joined the family dairy business and later opened a series of convenience stores called The Golden Gallon. He was returning from a fishing trip in 1976 when the private plane that he was piloting crashed near Dalton, Georgia, killing Moss and his passenger. 

Card #49 - Bill Brown: Autograph collectors are faced with a trifecta of issues with card #49. The combination of no professional playing career, a fairly common name, and a death in 1989 make this signed card exceptionally difficult to find. Having died in the pre-internet days, searching directories for the appropriate "William Brown" to send a card to sign would have been a daunting task.

Card #70 - Don Hitt:  Don Hitt was a highly-touted offensive lineman coming out of college and, in fact, was the first player signed by the Houston Oilers. However, Hitt was diagnosed with a severe case of diabetes during training camp and was forced to quit football immediately. He never returned to the game and passed away on April 12, 1981.

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Card #104 - Charlie Kaaihue: A native of Hawaii, Charlie Kaaihue played collegiately at San Jose State University before attempting, unsuccessfully, to make the Oakland Raiders inaugural roster. He returned to Hawaii after his release from the team, where he coached at Iolani High School. Kaaihue passed away on March 28, 1991.

Card #131 - Eddie Erdelatz: After a successful coaching stint at Navy, Eddie Erdelatz became the Oakland Raiders' first coach. He led an under-funded and talent-poor squad to a 6-8 record in 1960 and was fired after starting the 1961 season at 0-2. Erdelatz left football after that and spent a handful of years in the business world before passing away from cancer on November 10, 1966.

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For more information on the 1960 Fleer football card set, please visit https://www.psacard.com/cardfacts/football-cards/1960-fleer/678.


Please feel free to contact Todd Tobias at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted and Set Registry rankings reported are those as of August 2018.