Gale Sayers's professional football career burned so bright that he earned the reputation as one of the best running backs ever despite losing considerable time to injury. Sayers was still able to re-write the records books and begin the tradition of elite Chicago Bears running backs that continues to this day. In the top list of his best football cards, we feature the key Gale Sayers trading cards appearances from throughout his career.
Gale Sayers first came to fame at the University of Kansas where he earned the nickname the "Kansas Comet" with his amazing open-field running ability. He was selected twice as an All-American and was an early pick in the 1965 draft which saw him drafted in the top five by both the Chicago Bears of the NFL and by the Kansas City Chiefs of the AFL.
Sayers choose the Bears and exploded onto the scene with possibly the greatest rookie season of any running back in NFL history. He set a league record with 22 total touchdowns, including scores running, receiving, and on kick-off and punt returns. Named the 1965 Rookie of the Year, Sayers would improve even further the next year and set the record for all-purpose yards in a season with 2,440. Although Sayers would only have four injury-free seasons in the league, he would be elected to the Hall of Fame in 1977, making him the youngest inductee ever.
Outside of the gridiron, Gale Sayers earned the reputation of being a kind and generous man when he cared for his backfield teammate, Brian Piccolo, who became suddenly ill from cancer. Largely based on Sayer's autobiography, the story of their friendship was made famous in the 1971 movie Brian's Song.
For collectors who are looking to build a comprehensive Sayers collection beyond this top list, take a look at the second Sayers card from the 1966 Philadelphia set. This one features an action shot of #40 on the move against the New York Giants and is typically available at a fraction of the cost of his rookie card.
Gale also has a informational photo card in the 1977-79 Sportscasters Series. This set was part of a trading card subscription service in which collectors could receive a group of oversized cards each month featuring superstars from every sport imaginable.
In more contemporary sets, Sayers was featured in 1997 Fleer Goudey that used the 1934 Goudey baseball design with Lou Gehrig's famous player commentary replaced with commentary attributed to Sayers. 2008 Upper Deck Masterpieces has a beautifully painted card featuring Sayers and fans can have fun tracking down the plethora of framed color parallels that accompany it.
Due to his short career and the state of the hobby that saw few card makers, Gale Sayers' small collection of trading cards makes each valuable and important. In constructing this list, card design and desirability for collectors was balanced with the more limited availability to build a comprehensive group of choices.
Top 10 Gale Sayers Football Cards
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Sayers' tried to make a comeback in 1972 after having a injury-shortened 1971 season but he was only able to play in one pre-season game before retiring. This would make Gale's 1972 Topps card his final one as a player.
In 1970, Kellogg's branched out into 3-D football cards after the success of their baseball releases and collectors could find these in cereal boxes as well as through mail order. The process of creating the three-dimensional effect on the cards also results in the cards being susceptible to cracking and mint condition versions are tougher to find.
Given away in American Oil gas stations in 1968, if customers were able to match the illustrated action shot on the left with the portrait on the right, they could claim the prize listed at the bottom of the card. As you might suspect, game cards featuring a Babe Ruth portrait have a premium value attached to them.
The reverse side of Sayers' 1971 Topps card reminds us that excellence at the running back position ran in the Sayers family. Gale's brother Ron was also a standout running back at the University of Nebraska and played for the San Diego Chargers in the AFL during the 1969 season. Unfortunately, there does not appear to have been any trading cards produced for Ron's short time in the league.
Along with his 1970 Topps base card from the flagship set, Sayers also appeared in two other Topps products from that same year. In the first series of the set, pack rippers could find one poster folded into the size of a standard card. Sayers was featured on one of the posters and because they were often folded and unfolded multiple times, the posters are rarely in mint condition. He also has a card in the Topps Super set which features tall photo cards on thick cardboard.
Collectors looking for a budget-friendly Sayers card from early in his career should focus on his second-year card in 1967 Philadelphia. Using a cropped shot from the photograph on Sayers' rookie card, fans can own a very similar version of it for a much cheaper price. The 1967 set would prove to be Philadelphia's last football release for more than 20 years as Topps would make cards for both the NFL and AFL starting in 1968.
Having the reputation as one of the greatest running backs ever has resulted in Sayers being included in many high-end sets and collectors can easily search for the perfect autograph that fits their design taste. One of his earliest certified autographs can be found in the 1999 Fleer Sports Illustrated set. Sayers' autograph is legendary for having the "G" in Gale look like an oversized number nine.
Along with Sayers' hot pink Topps card from the 1969 set, fans of the Brian's Song film can also find one of the few Brian Piccolo trading cards appearances. Interestingly, Topps made a double error on Piccolo's card as they misspelled his first name twice on the trading card. The front has "Bryon" while the reverse side has "Bryan" but Piccolo used his middle name "Brian" as his given name.
As the Philadelphia Chewing Gum held the rights to produce cards for NFL players in 1966 and 1967, it wasn't until 1968 that Sayers made his Topps debut, making it one of his most popular cards. Overall, the 1968 set was the largest set Topps had made to that point and the first time in five years they were able to include players from the NFL and AFL.
Sayer's 1966 Philadelphia card is certainly his most popular card overall and, along with his Bears teammate Dick Butkus' rookie card, is also the jewel of the set. You might notice subtle coloring differences between this card and the 1967 Philadelphia card (at #5 on the list) as both cards use the same black-and-white photograph that was re-colorized between the issuing of the 1967 set. At auction, near-mint graded copies of this card can top $700.