By John McMurray
The 2013 Topps Archives Football issue has proven to be popular with collectors on the strength of a superb collection of insert cards and variations.
It’s easy to see why the product has been in demand. Packs may include autographs of current and former stars; inserts of current players portrayed on vintage cards from popular smaller sets, (such as the 1968 Stand Up cards); 40 high-number, short-print cards (Nos. 201-240), which are more difficult to locate; and variations of some of the regular-issue Archives cards. Yet, independent of the inserts and variations, it is worthwhile to evaluate the base set itself.
Paralleling the approach that Topps used in its 2012 Topps Archives Baseball set, the 2013 Topps Archives Football set depicts players on four different vintage Topps cards designs: 1959, 1976, 1985 and 1986. In this 200-card base set, there are exactly 50 cards of each card style, which means that each team typically has one or two players who appear on each of the four designs. Further, many longtime stars – from Roger Staubach to Joe Namath – are included in the various styles throughout the set.
The cards, clearly, are thoughtfully done. While the 2013 Archives cards have a glossier finish than was used for their original counterparts, the aesthetics of the Archives cards maintain a close fidelity to the originals. The descriptions on the card backs are also stylistically similar to the backs of the original cards. To its credit, Topps eschewed any kind of “Archives” logo on the front of the cards, thereby avoiding any visual distraction that would detract from the overall appeal of the cards.
Team set collectors could be disappointed with the 2013 Topps Archive Football series because of its small set size and varied designs. In the 1985 card style, for one, Andy Dalton is the only Cincinnati Bengals player pictured, while Mark Ingram is the only member of the New Orleans Saints included. More broadly, a Cleveland Browns team collector would find that Josh Gordon and Travis Benjamin are pictured on 1976-style cards; Trent Richardson and Brandon Weedon are on 1985-style cards; D’Qwell Jackson is on a 1986-style card; and Greg Little is on a 1959-style card. Since the Archives set typically includes about six players for each NFL team across the various card styles, the set lacks the breadth and continuity that other Topps products would provide.
With the exceptions of Brett Favre, Jim Plunkett, Phil Simms and Kurt Warner, all 20 of the retired players included are members of the Hall of Fame. The 2013 Topps Archives set surely provides the only opportunity to see Dan Fouts pictured on a 1959-style Topps card or Jim Kelly with the 1976 Topps design. The photography also is sharper on cards for current players than it on cards for some retired players, such as Emmitt Smith.
Neither Jerry Rice nor Steve Young debuted on NFL Topps cards until 1986. But the 2013 Topps Archives set includes cards of both of these Hall of Famers in the 1985 Topps style. If Topps was attempting to create “cards that might have been,” it would have been more realistic to show Steve Young in Buccaneers uniform on a 1985-style card, rather than as a member of the San Francisco 49ers, since Young began his NFL career in Tampa Bay. It is also surprising that Topps portrayed Warren Moon and Joe Montana as members of the Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs, respectively.
Moon only spent two years with Seattle near the end of his 17-year pro career, vs. the 10 he spent in Houston. Montana was with San Francisco for the first 14 of his 16 pro seasons.
Though the 2013 Topps Archives set was released this past May, it was originally scheduled to be issued in 2012. As a result, the card backs contain statistics only through 2011. While most of today’s current stars are included, the set lacks any rookies who debuted this year. These shortcomings are counterbalanced by the set’s thorough inclusion of young stars, like Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, as well and by the sharp photography of the many action shots.
What’s in the future?
Going forward, the central question revolves around what Topps intends its football Archives set to be. As is common in contemporary football sets, virtually every pose in the 2013 Topps Archives set shows players in action (with a few exceptions among the 1959-style cards). In the original 1985 Topps Football set, virtually every player photo is a portrait or a posed shot, while in the 2013 Topps Archives set, every single image on a 1985-style card is an action photo. The same is true for the other card years. The result is that the Archives cards maintain the design of the originals without retaining any particular link to their original photo presentation style.
Also, while there is something to be said for seeing Hall of Fame players on classic card designs, such cards can have an enhanced appeal when a given player’s card style maintains at least some connection to his playing era. Rather than depicting Y.A. Tittle (who retired in 1964) on a 1985 Topps-style card, or Bart Starr (who retired in 1971) on a 1986 Topps-style card, Topps could have created a “new” card of each in the 1959-style for the 2013 Archives set, thus giving Tittle and Starr a fresh look in a set in which both already appear.
The 2013 Topps Archives football set tries to do a bit of everything, which is a challenge in a small card set. The drawback of including longtime stars, up-and-coming prospects and a host of retired players across four different card designs is that the set can look more like an assortment than a unified collection. Considering the continued demand for current players on vintage card designs, Topps could adopt the approach that it has used with its well-received Heritage sets simply by issuing a larger set that employs any of these four designs and includes a broader collection of players. Either the 1976 or 1986 Topps Football card design would be particularly appealing for a more comprehensive Archives set.
Beyond insert cards and variations, Archives sets ideally need to appeal both to younger and older collectors if they are to be successful. Topps can strengthen its future football Archives card issue by releasing a larger base set, using a single card design and including more variation in its images.
There is no doubt that the 2013 Topps Archives base football set is a fun and creative addition to the hobby, and its collectability will be enhanced by making some refinements to the cards and by expanding the scope of the set.
John McMurray writes a monthly column for SCD. He can be reached at email@example.com.