It was a remarkable decade for the NFL and a period that launched the careers of some terrific stars. Pinning down the best football rookie cards of the 1960’s is a little like picking which child is your favorite. We start with a little history.
“The Sixties” stood for many things. In the sporting world, history was made across all leagues.
The NHL expanded from 6 to 12 teams.
The NBA was dominated by the Celtics 11 titles in 13 years, and saw Wilt Chamberlain score 100 points in a single game.
Major League Baseball started the decade with Bill Mazeroski’s historic home run to win the World Series in Game 7, and ended with the Amazin’ Mets being crowned champions as well.
But the 60’s may long be remembered in American sports history for the inaugural Super Bowl.
Looking back, the latter part of the decade was a great window into our current day football landscape. The two positions on a football team that simultaneously receive the most scrutiny and praise, are by far the coach and the quarterback. Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr set the trend in in the first two Super Bowls, and Joe Namath cemented the QB as the focal point of every team moving forward in Super Bowl III.
Namath wasn’t the best QB of all-time, but he definitely had the most memorable moment in football history, and it is because of his unique place in the game that he lands on the list of the Top 5 rookie cards of the 1960’s.
The 1965 Topps Joe Namath is legendary in the collecting world, and in 2001, a PSA Mint 9 sold for $20,000. But Namath isn’t popular in the hobby just because of his super bowl victory, or his 2 MVP awards, it’s because of his celebrity. His moxy, his character, his charisma set the tone for all future QB’s to be the stars of the show, and eventually the stars of the sport.
While the NFL has done a great job building a league built around parity and not just one single player, it is definitely a quarterback league. And with a glance over our collective shoulder, we can thank Mr. Namath for giving us a glimpse into the future back in the ’60’s.
While Broadway Joe may have put the game on the map and knew how to shine in the limelight, a quarterback that was more subdued and often overlooked during this time is Fran Tarkenton. Tarkenton was one of the most athletic QB’s of the era, and one of the first quarterbacks that forced defenses to game plan for an agile QB well before it became commonplace. Upon his retirement, Tarkenton owned most of the league passing records, and is still up there with 47,003 yards (6th), 342 touchdowns (4th), and 4th in career QB rushing yards, behind Randall Cunningham, Steve Young and Michael Vick. Fran took the Vikings to three Super Bowl games, but was unable to come away with a victory, which has always hindered his career record in many eyes.
Tarkenton’s 1962 Topps card mirrors his career popularity, and has never quite gotten the ‘due’ it deserves. But it’s scarcity makes it a valuable commodity if it can be find in mint condition, as there are only 6 cards graded as a PSA Mint 9, one of which sold for $10,000 in 2012. As the mobile quarterbacks of today get more popular, Tarkenton fans and collectors can only hope that more respect will be gained for this hall of famer, both in fans and hobbyists eyes alike.
If Namath and Tarkenton helped pave the way for the quarterback evolution, there’s no question that Mike Ditka helped set the bar for the tight end position. Ditka had 427 catches for 5,812 yards and 43 touchdowns in his career, becoming the first tight end ever inducted into the Hall of Fame. Of course, his coaching career may be more prevalent in fans minds, but he was a truly great player. In addition, he is one of only two people (Tom Flores) to win an NFL title as a player (Bears/Cowboys), an assistant coach (Cowboys), and a head coach (Bears).
Ditka’s rookie card comes from the same 1962 Topps set as Tarkenton, and is even a tougher find in good condition. Only 4 PSA 9’s are listed in PSA’s records, with one selling for $10,919 in 2010. Ditka was certainly a tough player and coach on the field, but it appears his rookie cards mirror his personality as well, a little rough around the edges.
Possibly one of the few players that was more unyielding than Ditka, was another Chicago Bear, linebacker Dick Butkus. Butkus was also a trailblazer, and widely considered one of the most intimidating defensive players of all-time. The Bears had three first round draft picks in 1965 due to some trades, and Butkus wouldn’t disappoint. Sports Illustrated immortalized him in 1970, simply titled:”The Most Feared Man in the Game.” In the collector land, Butkus’ 1966 Philadelphia RC is one of the most valuable ever for a defensive player. Similar to the ’62 Topps, not too many are graded in pristine condition. Of the 660 that have been submitted to PSA, only 5 are graded a pure MINT 9 (one sold for $14,792 in 2006).
In that same 1965 draft, the Bears were also lucky enough to select Gale Sayers. Wasting no time, he had an amazing rookie season, scoring 22 touchdowns (14 rushing, 6 receiving, 1 punt and 1 kickoff return), even scoring 6 in one game. In total, he amassed 1,374 yards from scrimmage and 2,272 all-purpose yards…as a ROOKIE. Although his career would be cut a little short to 6 years by injuries, he was elected into the hall of fame and will always be remembered as one of the most electrifying players to ever step foot on the gridiron.
Sayers RC comes from the same 1966 Philadelphia set as Butkus, but for some reason more have been found in good condition (no surprise, he was a star on offense!). Still a PSA 8 will garner around $800, and a PSA 9 sold in 2012 for almost $1,900.
The 1960’s were a tumultuous time of change in America, and the sporting world was a great distraction. It’s amazing to think about the things that athletes of this day had to endure to achieve their goals, and the best football rookie cards of the 1960’s are great symbols of the perseverance and greatness that was achieved in the decade. Even lower graded versions are worth a look, which you may not be able to say about another decade ever again.
Click here to see graded examples of the best 1960’s rookie cards for sale and auction on eBay.