By Arnold Bailey
One of the 170 cards in Topps’ 1963 football set tells a story that is much too big to fit on a 2 5/8”-by-3 5/8” piece of cardboard.
Card number 97 is a photo of the entire 1962 Green Bay Packers team. It’s one of 14 team cards in the set during that pre-expansion era when the National Football League was about half the size it is today.
It’s not scarcity that makes the Packers team card interesting to collectors. It is one of four team cards that isn’t a short-print. The other 10 team cards are short-prints, the result of the number of cards in the set and Topps’ printing process. The short-prints are scarcer and, thus, a bit more pricey.
Star Quality of 1962 Packers Team
What makes card number 97 so special is the quality of the star players, the coaches, the entire 1962 championship team and the long history of a football franchise which, in 1962, was already in its 43rd pro season.
One chapter of the story this card can tell has a Pro Football Hall of Fame theme. This chapter begins with Vince Lombardi, the Packers’ head coach, who was inducted into the Canton shrine in 1971, five years before the first player from this team would join him. Lombardi’s career was so significant the NFL would name the Super Bowl Trophy in his memory.
Actually, the first member of the 1962 Packers to be elected to the Hall was Tom Fears, who coached offensive ends. But he was elected as a player, a pass-catching tight end with the Los Angeles Rams, and inducted in 1970. Fears, by the way, was one of five members of that Lombardi coaching staff who would eventually become head coaches. The others are Phil Bengston, Bill Austin, Norb Hecker and Dick Voris.
The Hall would eventually welcome 10 players from this Green Bay team, equally divided between offense and defense.
Opponents Faced Fierce Packers Offense and Defense
When Green Bay had the football, the opposition was lined up against five future Canton honorees: quarterback Bart Starr, halfback Paul Hornung, fullback Jim Taylor, center Jim Ringo and tackle Forrest Gregg.
When opponents had the ball, they had to face five more future Hall of Famers: linebacker Ray Nitschke, end Willie Davis, tackle Henry Jordan, safety Willie Wood and cornerback Herb Adderley.
Another chapter in this tale could focus on winning. The ‘62 Packers were perfection in the pre-season, winning all six warm-up games. Then they rolled to a 13-1 regular-season record, losing only on Thanksgiving Day to a Lions team that matched their five future Hall of Famers on defense.
Stellar Stats of Future HOFers From '62 Team
The Pack dominated NFL stats. They scored a league-leading 415 points, and had the top point differential of 267 (their 415 points minus their opponents’ total of 142). During their first four games the Packers had a 109-14 scoring advantage. They routed two teams – the Eagles and the Bears – by 49-0 scores.
Quarterback Bart Starr led the league in passing yardage (2,438). Fullback Jim Taylor led in rushing yards (1,474) and defensive back Willie Wood led in interceptions with 9.
In the championship game, the Packers edged the New York Giants 16-7 in a true grinder played in freezing temperatures that began at 20 degrees at game time and got worse from there. Gusty winds made a passing game hazardous at best. Taylor set a record with 31 carries during a game-long battle with Giants’ linebacker Sam Huff. The game symbolized Lombardi’s “3 yards and a cloud of dust” strategy in a true “rush to daylight” game.
The Giants outgained the Packers 291 yards to 244, but Green Bay’s defense kept the Giants out of the end zone. Linebacker Nitschke was named the game’s most valuable player.
The Packers also had beaten the Giants in the 1961 championship game and their consecutive titles earned them the label of the first “America’s Team.” Time magazine pictured the Packers team on the cover of its December 21, 1962 issue, to illustrate an article about pro football headlined “the sport of the ‘60s.” For Green Bay, that would prove prophetic. Three years later they would begin a run of three consecutive championships, bringing Coach Lombardi’s total titles to five.
It’s unlikely that the Packers teams of the 1960s could be replicated today. The NFL’s salary cap and the huge contracts paid to the game’s big stars are among the reasons. Beyond that,1962 was one of those rare times when just about everyone on the team played at his peak.
How were the 1962 Packers built? Sound drafting was a start – six players were first-round picks, six more came in the 2nd round and six more in the 3rd. There were two 4th-round picks and four 5th rounders. Most of the others came later on draft day. Two – defensive backs Willie Wood and Howie Williams – were undrafted signees. Ponder that for a moment or two – Wood, a future Hall of Fame defensive back, was passed over by every NFL team on his draft day. So, luck added to the Pack’s layers of invincibility.
For the Packers team card and 169 other cards in its 1963 football set, Topps arranged the cards alphabetically, by team. Each of the NFL’s (then) 14 franchises is represented by a team card and 11 that picture star players. Additionally, there are two checklist cards (numbers 85 and 170). Card-front photos are in color and the team cards are set against single-color backgrounds. The thin color borders tend to chip over time.
Special Elements Add to 1963 Set
The backs have some unique features. Half of each card back has very brief info about the pictured team or player. Orange was Topps’ choice for the card-printed material, set against white backgrounds. The bottom half of each card back features a trivia question, with answers revealed by placing over the card a small, thin sheet of red cellophane that was inserted into each card pack. (See sidebar article for the trivia question and answer for Packers team card number 79.) The packs came in both 1-cent and 5-cent versions.
Giants quarterback Y.A. Tittle’s image is featured on the display boxes. He’s also one of the star players in the set that has rookie cards of Cowboys defensive lineman Bob Lilly, Rams defensive end Deacon Jones, and Packers defenders Nitschke and Wood. Among other stars in the set are the Browns’ great running back Jim Brown and Baltimore signal caller Johnny Unitas. The Lilly rookie and the Brown card carry extra value because both are among the set’s many short prints.
Not included on individual cards are Packers back Paul Hornung and Lions defensive tackle Alex Karras. Both had been suspended by the league commissioner Pete Rozelle on April 1963 for gambling. Each is included in his respective 1962 team photo, however. Both cases were reviewed in 1964 and Hornung and Karras were reinstated in March of that year.
After close inspection, the Packers team card presents collectors and fans with a dilemma or two. Or, more accurately, nine dilemmas. Team cards do not include player identifications to accompany the team photos. And nine of the players in the team photo appear to be wearing jerseys with numbers (20, 23, 37, 42, 44, 48, 55, 67, 69) that are different than the numbers listed for them in the season’s game programs and other team records.
Arnold Bailey is a freelance contributor to SCD. He can be reached at email@example.com.