By Doug Koztoski
Having scooped up his blocked field goal attempt was one thing; but then trying to throw a pass with the errant ball and inadvertently batting the pigskin up in the air, Dolphins’ kicker Garo Yepremian’s problems expanded when the ball floated into the hands of Washington’s Mike Bass, who returned the Super Bowl VII muff for a touchdown.
It was quite the sight to see the unbeaten Miami team starting to bend a little as their lead got sliced to 14-7 after Yepremian’s comedic display, and the Skins all of a sudden sniffed they had a chance against the Phins that day.
Unbreakable, the Dolphins proved to be, that historic day, however, as they finished a perfect 17-0 for the 1972 season – the only NFL team to run the table in the Super Bowl era.
No one could have predicted the memorable and unusual wrap up of the standout season. Only weeks before Miami finished undefeated, Franco Harris provided another thrill with “The Immaculate Reception,” to help Pittsburgh extend their NFL season; in the same vein, sports card collectors could not have guessed that Topps would provide a big surprise or two for them in the football card arena that year, as well.
Yet, it all made sense in a way, a pro football season they still talk about, and a gridiron card issue that, for many collectors, ranks at the top for that era.
Only in Milwaukee and a few other areas did Topps test-market the 1972 third series of cards. Unable to sell much of his Series 3 cases, a Wisconsin-based Topps sales representative called up Larry Fritsch of Stevens Point, Wis., to see if the longtime collector-turned-dealer had any interest in them.
As he said in an interview from the mid-2000s, Fritsch (1936-2007) bought “something like 50 wax cases,” in the deal. “Roughly $5 per case, (for only) the freight cost,” to acquire the load of 1972 Topps Football high numbers. Each case contained 15 wax boxes.
Without a doubt, many, if not most, of the ’72 Topps Football 3rd Series that circulate in the hobby today, certainly the top condition samples, likely came from Larry Fritsch Cards and that transaction.
Over a few decades, Fritsch sold several of the packs and opened many to have singles, full sets and complete runs of the high series to sell, according to his son, Jeff, who has owned the business and has headed up the day-to-day operations for years.
“Not too many of those packs are left (with Fritsch Cards) from the deal,” said the younger Fritsch, who added they have a PSA 9 pack priced at $300-$350 and some PSA 10s for around twice that amount.
Depending on how lucky one is, if they buy a Series 3 pack, originally 10 cents at retail, and open it, they just might find one of the highest-demand cards in the set, the Joe Namath “Pro-Action” pasteboard (No. 343). Even if a collector does not find a “Broadway Joe” action shot in a pack, other possibilities of note include rookie cards of Steve Spurrier and Rayfield Wright, and a Dick Butkus “Pro-Action,” to name just a few.
Recalling the ’72 high number case transaction from the early ’70s, Jeff, 54, said it was not as earthshaking as the average collector might think.
“From what I remember, it was not that big of a deal, since we were buying so much back then,” he said.
Ultimately, after cracking open many of those packs and sorting the cards over the years, Jeff said a few cards from the tough third series stand out as much more challenging than others: Jack Pardee, Horst Muhlmann, Rayfield Wright and Mercury Morris.
Lucky for the hobby, the elder Fritsch bought those 3rd Series cases over four decades ago, otherwise they may have been dumped at sea, just like some excess 1952 Topps Baseball high number cases were when they did not sell.
Crunching some numbers
Most collectors in 1972 only saw the first two series of football cards (263 total cards) and thought that was the complete set. The third series, meanwhile, is only 88 cards (Nos. 264-351) and even the mention that they existed came as a surprise to the average collector late in 1972 or even the next year, as very few packs hit retail shelves. The 1972 set also marked the last time of the era the company distributed cards in series.
The first 24 cards in Series 3 are an “All-Pro” subset, which includes several Hall of Famers such as the series-starter Charlie Sanders, as well as Paul Warfield, Bob Griese, Carl Eller and Bob Lilly, all in an old-style picture frame-like border.
On average, looking at the PSA Population Report, the All-Pro cards have been slabbed much more frequently than several of the other cards in the run, with some appearing 300-400 times.
At the end of the issue is a 14-card “Pro-Action” subset, where the Namath card (No. 343) shows up the most of any high number, with some 700 examples on the Population Report. That’s right, 700. Most “Action” subset cards check in, on average, a bit less than the “All-Pro” pasteboards.
A few cards in the series appear in much lower PSA Population numbers than most, about 110 times: John Gilliam (No. 290), Jim Kanicki (No. 305), Milt Morin (No. 315) and Bob Wallace (No. 320).
Miscuts are common for this third series. Even so, most cards have 20-30 PSA 9 samples and a few PSA 10s. Many of the PSA 8 commons in the series sell for about $15-$20 each.
One of the toughest to find centered high numbers is the set-ender, Ken Willard (Pro Action). It seems fitting, in its own way that the issue finishes with a player whose name includes the letters W-i-l-d, which kind of describes the ’72 NFL season and the card set.
Breaking it down
The following are the 1972 Topps Football high numbers by team (the 3rd Series checklist is No. 294).
Atlanta Falcons: No. 309 Tommy Nobis
Baltimore Colts: No. 278 Bubba Smith All-Pro (AP), No. 281 Ted Hendricks (AP), No. 297 Ray May, No. 326 Mike Curtis
Buffalo Bills: No. 319 Edgar Chandler
Chicago Bears: No. 320 Bob Wallace, No. 341 Dick Butkus Pro Action (PA)
Cincinnati Bengals: No. 307 Lemar Parrish, No. 328 Horst Muhlmann
Cleveland Browns: No. 292 Walter Johnson, No. 315 Milt Morin
Dallas Cowboys: No. 266 Rayfield Wright (AP), No. 268 John Niland (AP), No. 280 Bob Lilly (AP), No. 301 Walt Garrison, No. 316 Rayfield Wright, No. 329 John Niland
Denver Broncos: No. 274 Floyd Little (AP), No. 310 Rich Jackson, No. 339 Floyd Little (PA), No. 344 Jim Turner (PA), No. 350 Rich Jackson (PA)
Detroit Lions: No. 264 Charlie Sanders (AP), No. 288 Mel Farr, No. 302 Mike Lucci, No. 335 Dick Lebeau, No. 347 Steve Owens (PA)
Green Bay Packers: No. 273 John Brockington (AP), No. 304 Carroll Dale
Houston Oilers: No. 287 Ken Houston (AP), No. 313 Jim Beirne
Kansas City Chiefs: No. 270 Otis Taylor (AP), No. 276 Jerrel Wilson (AP), No. 283 Willie Lanier (AP), No. 312 Jim Marsalis, No. 333 Jerrel Wilson, No. 340 Len Dawson (PA), No. 349 Ed Podolak (PA)
Los Angeles Rams: No. 289 Kermit Alexander, No. 318 Travis Williams, No. 337 Tom Mack
Miami Dolphins: No. 267 Larry Little (AP), No. 271 Paul Warfield (AP), No. 272 Bob Griese (AP), No. 275 Garo Yepremian (AP), No. 308 Earl Morrall, No. 331 Mercury Morris
Minnesota Vikings: No. 265 Ron Yary (AP), No. 277 Carl Eller (AP), No. 279 Alan Page (AP), No. 290 John Gilliam, No. 300 Alan Page, No. 336 Jim Marshall
New England Patriots: No. 299 Larry Carwell, No. 324 Mike Montler
New Orleans Saints: No. 296 Hugo Hollas, No. 321 Delles Howell, No. 346 Edd Hargett (PA)
New York Giants: No. 305 Jim Kanicki, No. 325 Randy Johnson
New York Jets: No. 295 Winston Hill, No. 322 Emerson Boozer, No. 343 Joe Namath (PA)
Oakland Raiders: No. 285 Willie Brown (AP), No. 303 Nemiah Wilson, No. 323 George Atkinson, No. 348 George Blanda (PA)
Philadelphia Eagles: No. 286 Bill Bradley (AP), No. 314 Tom McNeil
Pittsburgh Steelers: No. 306 Preston Pearson, No. 330 Andy Russell
St. Louis Cardinals: No. 298 Jim Bakken, No. 327 Miller Farr
San Diego Chargers: No. 317 Jerry LeVias
San Francisco 49ers: No. 269 Forrest Blue (AP), No. 282 Dave Wilcox (AP), No. 284 Jim Johnson (AP), No. 291 Steve Spurrier, No. 311 Doug Cunningham, No. 332 Jim Johnson, No. 338 Steve Spurrier (PA), No. 345 Doug Cunningham (PA), No. 351 Ken Willard (PA)
Washington Redskins: No. 293 Jack Pardee, No. 334 Charley Taylor, No. 342 Larry Brown (PA)
Doug Koztoski is a frequent contributor to SCD. He welcomes comments and questions on this article at firstname.lastname@example.org.