The 1960s saw three different companies produce mainstream football cards for the NFL and AFL. The decade had several Hall of Famers make their cardboard debuts. A handful of football rookie cards from the 1960s have reached iconic status, remaining extremely desirable with collectors five decades later.
Topps was the only company to produce football cards throughout the decade. In 1960 they had the NFL license. They added the AFL in 1961. In 1964, the company dropped the NFL and was strictly AFL through 1967. Beginning in 1968, they were the only football card maker. Fleer made football cards for the early part of the decade. They held the AFL license in 1960 and added the NFL for 1962 and 1963. The Philadelphia Gum Company took over as the lone NFL card maker from 1965 to 1967.
The decade brought the hobby several memorable designs, both vertical and horizontal. Topps also experimented with an over-sized format in 1965. Their lone "tall boy" gridiron set remains a favorite in the hobby today, bolstered immensely by Joe Namath's rookie card.
Here's a look at the ten best football rookie cards of the 1960s. Cards were selected largely based on secondary market value today, however their lasting appeal in the hobby was also taken into consideration. Some of the notable cards that just missed out include 1960 Fleer Jack Kemp, 1961 Fleer Don Meredith, 1961 Fleer Don Maynard, 1968 Topps Bob Griese, and 1969 Topps Brian Piccolo.
Winner of the 1961 Heisman Trophy, Ernie Davis proceeded to become the first pick in the 1962 NFL Draft. In the process, he became the first African American to be selected first overall. The Redskins promptly traded the running back to the Cleveland Browns. Tragically, Davis was diagnosed with leukemia before he could make his NFL debut. Davis passed away less than a year later at the age of 23. The short-printed 1962 Topps Ernie Davis rookie card is extremely condition sensitive due its black borders.
Bob Lilly was the first inductee into the legendary Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor. Between 1961 and 1974, the defensive tackle never missed a regular season game. He was an 11-time Pro Bowl selection and named to the NFL's 75th Anniversary All-Time Team. The value of the 1963 Topps Bob Lilly rookie card is bolstered by the fact that it's a short print.
Although Ray Nitschke debuted with the Packers in 1958, he didn't get his rookie card until 1963. A hero in Green Bay, Nitschke was a key player for the Packers in both of their Super Bowl I and II victories. Nitschke played his entire career in Green Bay and was named to both the NFL's 50th and 75th Anniversary All-Time Teams.
Lance Alworth is viewed by many as the greatest receiver in football during the 1960s. He won an AFL Championship with the San Diego Chargers in 1963 and a Super Bowl with the Cowboys in Super Bowl VI. The Universal Press named Alworth as the AFL's Most Valuable Player in 1963. In 1978, he became the first AFL player to be elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
One of the best quarterbacks in AFL history, Len Dawson led the Kansas City Chiefs to three AFL Championships. That success transferred over to the Super Bowl, bringing Super Bowl IV to Kansas City. He was the game's MVP. Following his playing days, Dawson had a successful career in the broadcast booth. Dawson was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987.
One of football's most recognizable players, Gale Sayers is one of football's all-time great rushers. The fourth pick in the 1965 draft, Sayers won two NFL rushing titles. He gained further notoriety when his 1971 autobiography was made into the film, Brian's Song, which documented his experiences with teammate Brian Piccolo and Piccolo's battle with cancer.
Other than a year in the Canadian Football League, Fred Biletnikoff spent his entire career with the Raiders franchise, helping the team to a Super Bowl XI. The wide receiver was a six-time Pro Bowl selection and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988. His rookie is a short print in the classic 1965 Topps Football set.
One of the biggest personalities in football history, Dick Butkus remains extremely popular with collectors today. One of the game's greatest linebackers, he was an eight-time Pro Bowl selection. A legend at the University of Illinois, Butkus has remained in the public eye since retiring thanks to many roles in movies and TV shows.
The third member of the Chicago Bears on the list, Mike Ditka isn't only one of football's best-ever players, but also one of its most famous coaches. Picked fifth overall in the 1961 NFL Draft, Ditka is credited as helping evolve the tight end position. He added a new dimension to the spot by taking it from a tackling spot to a receiving one. As a coach, and a very colorful one at that, he was at the helm of the Chicago Bears during their victory at Super Bowl XX.
There's really no contest when it comes to the top rookie football card in the 1960s. The 1965 Topps Joe Namath is easily the most popular card of the decade. In fact, it's up there as one of the most recognizable sports cards of all-time. Part of the over-sized 1965 set, Namath described how the iconic photo came to be on David Letterman. The photo was taken in a hospital as he was recovering from a knee operation.
Related Topics: Football Cards: Guides