Starting the season with 13 straight wins, the 2005 Indianapolis Colts looked to boldly put their stamp on the pro football record book.
The deeper the 2005 Colts ventured into the streak, the more you heard about the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins squad that went 17-0, the only team to run the table in NFL history. An Indy loss in Week 14 halted such comparisons.
But the talk about the 1972 Dolphins and names like Don Shula, Bob Griese, Larry Csonka and defensive stars Jake Scott and Nick Buoniconti still getting good mileage from their amazing year, reminded me of a gas station promotion from the same season.
At 624 pieces, the Sun Oil Company's football stamp campaign, "NFL Action '72," still ranks as one of the largest football collectibles offerings ever. You obtained packs of nine stamps directly from Sun Oil's Sunoco and DX brand stations, partial sponsors of Sunday and "Monday Night Football" games that year, by buying certain amounts of gasoline.
Twenty-four, blank-backed unnumbered stamps, each about half the size of a regular trading card, appeared for all 26 NFL teams in this set - each with an equal representation of 12 offensive and defensive players. Featuring an inset oval with mostly "in-action" pictures, on thin paper stock, the stamps provided basic player information at the bottom.
Plus, you can see team logos on the helmets. Players on the majority of Topps football cards back then did not get photographed wearing helmets much or if they did the team logos were often airbrushed out. So compared to cards of the era, in a sense, the '72 Sunoco stamp shots shine like a set of freshly polished rims on a muscle car.
Objects in Mirrror are Closer Than They Appear
Mike Klotz fondly recalled the hunt for the stamps in 1972.
"I remember forcing my dad to stop at the local Sunoco stations every time I rode in his car," he said. "I would run into the office and beg and plead with the attendant to give me a 'million packets.' Sometimes he gave me one, sometimes a whole handful."
After a 20-year break, the White Plains, N.Y., collector returned to the hobby in 2005. The wheels of collecting soon led him down a familiar road.
"After a few months I got to wondering whatever became of those stamps that I loved to collect in my youth, so I did an eBay search to look for some and voila. The initial idea was to simply purchase a few unopened packs since I remembered that I had never totally completed my own book from 1972," said Klotz.
He bought 100 unopened packs at first. Soon after that it was 1,000. Now Klotz sells unopened Sunoco packs on eBay.
"Generally speaking they run anywhere from around 80 cents per pack to well over a dollar at times," he said. eBay auction results consistently prove those figures accurate for lots of 50 packs and under.
Vintage football card and memorabilia dealer A.J. Firestone said many collectors are still working on the 1972 Sunoco issue and "the stamps continually sell."
"Some people want stars, some like all the stamps and some people like team sets and ask me to put them together," Firestone said.
Your Mileage May Vary
Firestone said the update stamps, which came out later in the season to reflect roster changes, are much harder to locate, as are the occasional regular stamps.
"A few years ago one collector I was selling stamps to was looking to fill in some gaps, including Bryant Salter of the San Diego Chargers," said Firestone. Since he didn't have a Salter handy, the Mercersburg, Pa., dealer figured he'd open a few packs at the most and fill out the order.
"I opened about 30 packs and still couldn't come up with a Salter stamp for the collector," said Firestone. It took him a year to find the regular stamp of the San Diego safety.
Collector/dealer Bob Swick said certain team fans ask for the stamps on a regular basis.
"It seems like there is a great demand for any Steelers, Raiders, Cowboys and Dolphins stickers from this set," said Swick. He also said he gets requests for the "rookie" stamps as well as the legends, "like Dick Butkus, Bart Starr, Fran Tarkenton and Lenny Dawson, to name a few."
Other established star stamps from Sunoco's 1972 set include Joe Namath, Terry Bradshaw, O.J Simpson and Johnny Unitas.
Although he had been in the league a few years, the "rookie" stamp of Roger Staubach is available - the same season as his Topps debut.
In the 1971 Super Bowl, Staubach led the Cowboys over Miami. A drawing of a generic helmeted player from both of those teams, by the way, along with the Eagles and Jets, appears individually on Sunoco pack front variations.
"Rookie" stamps of Hall of Famers John Riggins, Ted Hendricks and Larry Little as well as standouts Archie Manning and Jim Plunkett also appear in the issue.
A year before their first Topps cards came out you could get Sunoco stamps of Dan Dierdorf and future Canton residents Jack Ham and Jack Youngblood. And, Hall of Famer Mel Blount's stamp shows up a full three years before his first Topps card.
Two different albums were issued to house the premiums. The 56-page standard "Saver" album contained six perforated sheets of 24 stamps, a recap of the previous year's Super Bowl, the 1972 NFL schedule and a page to list the standings along with two sheets of tiny "lick and stick" squares to help mount the stamps.
The "deluxe" album was 128 pages and came with information on each franchise, illustrations and more color action photos on top of the standard album features.
As expected, commons comprised most of the 144 "starter" stamps in each album but star players included Herb Adderley, Lyle Alzado, Carl Eller, Jim Otto and Bubba Smith.
A total of 82 "new" stamps highlight the updates, which came out in complete team sheets and usually start at $10-$15 each for franchises with few if any star players that season.
The stamps on the team sheet bottom rows are about one-half inch longer than the other stamps to accommodate the "new player" designation when it applies, otherwise that space is blank.
Swick has searched for a solid deal on the update stamps for some time.
"I'm still trying to collect the update series and in particular, the complete team sheets," said the Wallingford, Conn., hobbyist. "I see them from time to time at auction but I'm usually outbid on them and in 20 years of actively going to shows I have yet to see an update stamp or set."
Regular commons list for 10 to 15 cents each, while update commons are $1 apiece. Regular star stamps book for as much as $12 for the Simpson, $10 each for the Namath and Staubach and $7.50 for Bradshaw. Bobby Moore, a.k.a. Ahmad Rashad, tops the update stamps at $8.
Set prices are $125 (for 624 players) and $75 (for the 82 update stamps), respectively.
Regular Sunoco albums in nice condition (with "starter" stamps) sell for about $25, the deluxe version usually costs around $35-$40.
If a collector had some extra stamps they wanted to easily carry with them there was the Sunoco trader wallet option. These vinyl four-slot wallets can be found for under $5.
A few samples of about 10 percent of the regular 1972 Sunoco set can be found in the PSA Population Report. Only a handful of the updated stamps have been graded. The "slabbed" stamps are virtually all 8's and better.
Gas And Go
Swick recommended the "NFL Action '72" Sunoco stamp set in general as a fun addition to any football card collection.
"For team set collectors they are great, as you will find several players who did not have a regular football card," he said.
Toss in the moderately vintage element, solid photos and availability of the Sunoco issue and you definitely get many more miles to the collecting gallon than several other offeri ngs of the era.