Football cards that provide extra shine, extra size

By Doug Koztoski

It was January 1970, time for Super Bowl IV. Yet again, however, oddsmakers branded the American Football League team, this time the Kansas City Chiefs, heavy underdogs.

A sampling of cards that were included in the special issue of Supers cards that were released by Topps in 1970.

The year before, many thought the New York Jets beating the Baltimore Colts in the battle between the AFL and NFL champs was a fluke, partly because quarterback Joe Namath and the Jets were 17 to 18 point underdogs.

And now the Chiefs, losers to Green Bay in what was retroactively named Super Bowl I, might as well have been known as the KC Chips, since they had a chip on their collective shoulder pads. With the beginning of the 1970 regular season, a complete merger between the leagues would commence, but, in the interim, KC wanted to KO the critics.

Without AFL, one cannot spell “A FLuke,” but for the second straight time, the AFL held their NFL opponents to a mere touchdown in the big matchup, as the Chiefs sunk the Minnesota Vikings with authority: 23-7. As a result, any “fluke talk” between the leagues all but evaporated and the former AFL teams entered the 1970 regular schedule with solid street cred.

The Fran Tarkenton Super Glossy card released by Topps in 1970.

As the season began, however, it is an easy bet most collectors paid relatively little attention to merger matters and looked to rip open packs of 1970 Topps football cards. They found pack bonuses for each series, as well: folded posters in Series One and Super Glossy inserts in Series Two. The Glossy pack premiums far outstrip the posters in the popularity category for the year.

The Glossies, with a thin layer of clear plastic on them, looked almost as though a fresh coat of clear floor wax had been applied to each insert. When seeing a sample that survived in even solid condition, much less near mint or better, the glossy finish still grabs one’s eye, almost a half-century later.

“They are beautiful cards and I’ve had hundreds of them over the years,” Chandy Greenholt said of the Super Glossy issue. Greenholt has dealt sports memorabilia for decades and said the Glossies are common, but only in the availability department, not with respect to condition.

“A lot of them are off-center,” he said. “They crack a lot, you see them in decent shape, but not great condition, for the most part.”

Glossies also have a tendency to peel. Greenholt said that he often “sees 40 to 50 of them in a group” when buying a collection.

The North Carolina-based dealer said the 33-card 1970 Glossy issue is “not wildly popular,” but it sparks some interest featuring players such as Namath, Bart Starr, Fran Tarkenton and Johnny Unitas. The O.J. Simpson rookie also appears in the offering, but lacks the prominence it once held.

“His downfall, his troubles, took the luster off his cards,” Greenholt said.

About half the players in the insert set are now permanent members of The Pro Football Hall of Fame. And although offensive players drive the issue, Canton inductees Jim Johnson, Mel Renfro and Willie Wood chiefly lead the defensive roster.

George Webster, who earned a spot on the AFL All-Time Team for his linebacker skills with the Houston Oilers, also shows up as a Super Glossy, but he plays a more important role in another Topps issue that season, and that will be addressed in a moment.

Super-size me

While the regular Topps cards and their inserts occupied much of the 1970 season for collectors, they could also buy some Topps Supers, an oversized set, that came three cards to a pack for a dime.

The back of the Supers cards included an enlarged version of the regular 1970 Topps card backs.

The Supers are nearly twice the basic size of a trading card and about five times as thick and while the Glossies contain virtually no information on the back, the Supers essentially have an enlarged version of the regular ’70 Topps card backs, so you can really enjoy the stats, thumbnail bio and cartoon.

One of the better Supers cartoons comes from Hall of Fame safety Larry Wilson of the St. Louis Cardinals. As a football is partially wedged between two hands, where each appears to be covered by a bee’s nest, but it is really something else, the caption reads: “Larry intercepted a pass with casts on both hands.”

“That set is infinitely harder than the Glossies,” Greenholt noted. “I get Supers fairly often, in small quantities.”

The dealer said when he purchases cards from that era the Glossies seem to outnumber the Supers “by about 50-to-1.”

Greenholt said the 35-card Supers own a modest rating in the “interest” department within the hobby.

“It is easy to build and it has most of the same guys (especially stars) from the Glossy set,” he said.

Two of the biggest names in the Supers but not the Glossies: Chicago Bears legends Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers.

The Standard Catalog of Vintage Football Cards lists both sets in near-mint shape at $300. Perhaps the biggest difference between the pair of ’70 Topps football products? The Supers issue contains seven short-prints, and they round out the set: Tommy Nobis, Bob Hayes, Joe Kapp, Daryle Lamonica, Joe Namath, George Webster and Bob Griese.

The ’70 Supers and its short-prints have been the word in the hobby for decades, but Greenholt questions the “SP” designation of the last seven cards.

“There doesn’t seem to be any less of them in general, none any more difficult than any others in my experience,” Greenholt said.

Perhaps in raw form that is true, on average, for Greenholt, but looking at PSA Population numbers another layer of the story unfolds, at least in terms of graded cards.

The ’70 Supers “short-prints” are less prevalent via PSA, than most other cards in the set, by far. Where many Supers show up in PSA holders 70 or more times, often a lot more, three of the “SPs” appear less than 60 times, with George Webster owning the lowest Population, of cards without qualifiers, with a mere 50 encapsulations. Griese, the set-ender, clocks in with 68 appearances. Namath, meanwhile, has been slabbed some 175 times. Glossy insert versions of these players, in comparison, normally deliver two to three times more availability than the oversized Supers.

So with both ’70 Topps sets approaching AARP membership eligibility, the 50-year mark, one might look to snag some of these for their collection sooner than later. You know for sure that if given the chance Larry Wilson would do it, even with casts on both hands.

Doug Koztoski is a longtime contributor to Sports Collectors Digest. He can be contacted at dkoz3000@gmail.com.

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