Football! Football is back. With the Mets being so terrible for most of the year (and with no love whatsoever for Derek Jeter or his day), I have been aching in anticipation for the return of the gridiron where at least one of my teams might not suck. To open up this year's weekly Sunday spectacular, I figure I would do a nice "What I Did Last Summer" review. Now, I have done decade breakdowns before, one of them - the 1970's version - is the second most viewed post on this site. This summer, I focused on building nine pocket pages, via ebay and shows, for the decade of the 1960's, the NFL's big turning point decade. How did Topps cover this turbulent decade? Let's take a look...
I covered the first two years of the 60's back on that 70's post, but for the sake of continuity, I will cover them again. I kinda like the '69 design, it is simple and effective with little quirks. The most striking quirk is that some of the backgrounds are full bleed and some of them are white-bordered. I haven't quite figured out if there is a pattern to that, but it is definitely hard to miss once you realize it. Perhaps I would find a pattern if I had the whole set in front of me, alas, building a vintage football set is not in the cards for me.
I stand by my earlier analysis that these cards totally look like time-release capsules. It reminds me of an old commercial where they would split the capsules and all the little dots of medicine would spill everywhere and my OCD, even as a child, would just start screaming "nooooooooooooooo!" Anyway, this was the first year in a few where both the AFL and NFL were seen together. I guess when they merged the leagues, they saw fit to have only one card maker.
In the decade of drugs, this is as psychedelic as it gets. Sad. We'd have to wait until 1972 baseball to get pure colorful explosions. For the Summer of Love, these aren't the grand Lucy In The Sky artifacts they could have been, more like staring at your gramma's cameos after a single hit of blotter acid.
Topps went all TV set in 1966 and they even synchronized the hockey and the football designs but I guess they didn't feel like aping the 1955 Bowman baseball design. This was a much more effective design for hockey because they used the fun rink backgrounds and here you just get head shots and blue sky. But really, Topps had already done the perfect horizontal card, which we will get to in a moment.
Tall boys! Now these cards are the ones I picture when I think of the 1960's. I don't think I saw a 1967 Topps football card until I was at least 20 years old but these are ubiquitous in their familiarity. Sure, their size makes them annoying but man, who cares, just look at those. The colors, the photos, it all works. It helps that probably the iconic football card of all time is in this set - the equivalent to the 1952 Mantle.
And look at these amazing backs:
The extra real estate makes room for an enormous cartoon. All the players get a long write up. The pink and black on off white make them very easy to read. Topps tried to reprint these in the regular size two years ago, which misses the point. I really wish they would do a separate throw-back Heritage set in this size and design.
If the size of these bugs you, there is always 1965 Philadelphia to soothe your soul. You will also see that the Fleer cards (Philadelphia was the name of their football sets) of the era had the NFL and the Topps cards had the AFL. This was true from 1964 to 1967, probably the last time there was any real friction in the card world between leagues and the only time between 1955 and 1981 Topps had any real competition in any sport.
A while back I wondered why Topps didn't use the stars they use on their printer's sheets as part of a design, completely forgetting that the 1964 football cards exist. I must say, my musing that this would make a good border was a proper one, these look great. Plus, if the 1970's was the decade of the ribbon, the 1960's is the decade of the solid color background. No less that 4 of the sets use it, plus 2 others have a majority of the cards with the sky as the background.
I would really like to know if the dude who designed these also designed the 1975 baseball because, whoa, colors. Twelve years before that seminal set, these were the obvious prototype: greens, reds, blues, yellows everywhere. My favorite thing about this page, though, is the position on the center card, you just don't see that anymore in the age of specialization.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the best sports card design ever. Not just football, not just horizontal, but the best period. I will not accept any other applicants. I will fight you if you disagree with me. This is it, this is the pinnacle. It has been a slow decline ever since. The large square color portrait. The small black and white action shot. The blast of color with the text box. It is perfect composition. It is all very De Stijl; they are of its age but timeless. The black borders tie the whole thing together, keeping everything in balance. Topps has been doing baseball cards in older past designs of other sports, I would kill to see them do a baseball set like this. My love of this set is very violent. I take it back, I might build a vintage football set after all and this one would be it.
Okay, let's calm down and look at the backs.
The only thing that isn't perfect about this set is that they backs are "eh.." I mean, the cartoons are nice and big but the write ups and stats leave something to be desired. Not to mention the red is also too drab. I guess you can't have everything.
Between this and the baseball set, 1961 could very well be the most dull year ever in terms of set design in Topps' history. I mean, a simple text box on the bottom can be very dynamic if you want it to be, but let's face it, this is not. All black backgrounds, all yellow text. Yawn. No wonder they had to step up their game in '62 on both fronts. I will try not to fall asleep before I finish the last year.
See? This set proves that simple doesn't have to be boring. The texture of the photos are reminiscent of the 1957 baseball set and I believe this is the first appearance of the "chubby football" element I am so fond of that Topps uses from time to time. I do like how the simplicity of the '60 and '69 sets nicely bookend the decade. Plus, look at that helmet Middleton is leaning on in the bottom center card, is that a leather helmet? In 1960? No wonder all these guys died in their 50's.
Speaking of the 50's, I have precious few Topps cards from that decade. If I am going to do a 1950's version of this post, I am gonna have to step up my eBay purchases. Luckily, the first Topps set from that decade didn't happen until 1955, so I only have to do half the work I did here. Heck, I don't even have all the 1990's sets covered in full nine pocket page form, so that one is gonna have to wait too. For now, you will have to be satisfied with this glorious post and the return of football. Really, what more do you need?
And 64 silver dollars if you got the post's title reference...