Gale Sayers's professional football career burned so brightly 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. This list features the key Gale Sayers cards from his career.
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, take a look at the second Sayers card from 1966 Philadelphia. 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 an informational photo card in the 1977-79 Sportscasters Series. This 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 releases, 1997 Fleer Goudey used the 1934 Goudey baseball design with Lou Gehrig's famous player commentary replaced with quotes 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, the small collection of Gale Sayers cards issued during his active career makes each valuable and important.
Top 10 Gale Sayers Football Cards
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Sayers' tried to make a comeback in 1972 after having an 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 the 1971 Topps Gale Sayers 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 a reputation as one of the greatest running backs ever 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. There are many other Gale Sayers autographs available, as well.
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.
The Gale Sayers rookie card in 1966 Philadelphia is certainly his most popular card overall and, along the Dick Butkus rookie card, is also the jewel of the product. 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.