Skip to main content

One Fair Catch: A Review of the 1974 Topps Football Set

A look at the 1974 Topps Football set, from its stars to its role in the Parker Brothers game, Pro Draft.

By Doug Koztoski

Wow, talk about some “hang time.”

Starting in 1973, after being picked in the first round of the NFL draft out of Southern Mississippi, punter Ray Guy went on to produce a ground-breaking career with the Oakland and later Los Angeles Raiders through the mid-1980s. But it took until this summer for Guy, who many consider the best punter in NFL history, to get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In a way it makes sense that the first pure punter in the Hall took some extra ticks off the clock to land in Canton. His kicks often went so long and high, i.e. lots of “hang time,” that his teammates had no problem covering punt returners who tried catching a pigskin launched by the Georgia native.

Supposedly John Madden, the kicking specialist’s first NFL head coach, labeled Guy’s powerful punts as having “hang time.” Madden, of course, has been known for creating some interesting words and phrases. One might recall he reportedly invented the term “cankles.”


The origins of “hang time” aside, Joe Mancino said Guy’s Hall of Fame nod was “significant, well-deserved and overdue.” Mancino owns the No. 4-ranked 1974 Topps football set on the PSA Set Registry and, as an aside, has done some NFL sideline photography for several years.

Guy’s rookie card appears in the 1974 Topps offering (No. 219), and Mancino feels the picture, like the set’s average “game” image, which were relatively rare back then, does not visually make the cut. The key reason? “The action photos all look airbrushed,” said Mancino, sharing a widespread feeling in the hobby. Instead of “Photoshop,” one might say, the trading card airbrushing of the era is more like “Photoslop.”

Yet, overall, Mancino likes the design of the 528-card ’74 issue, one featuring mostly posed players, without helmets, within a goal post framed format.

While the set’s look “splits the uprights” for many collectors, several see it more as an offering that never quite made it above the crossbar. In a coincidence of sorts, a major NFL rule change in 1974 involved moving the goal posts from the goal line to the back of the end zone, so perhaps the tweak inspired Topps’ design that year.

The good, the bad and the “What can you do?”
“The set has some good collectability,” said Jeff Fritsch, one of the owners of Larry Fritsch Cards LLC. The dealer said his company regularly sells singles and complete runs of the issue.


“Cowboys, Steelers, Dolphins and Vikings from the set sell well,” Fritsch said.

The set-starter, the O.J. Simpson Record Breaker card, highlighting the running back’s 1973 season of breaking the 2,000-yard rushing mark in one year for the first time in NFL history, remains somewhat in demand. But Fritsch said Simpson’s off-the-field problems over the years have dampened hobbyists’ interest in the player’s items.

Fritsch did say, however, that collectors clamor for cards of many of the other stars in the issue, including Roger Staubach, Terry Bradshaw, “Mean” Joe Greene and Guy. He added that the San Diego Chargers-clad Johnny Unitas, in his last regular card appearance, “is always popular, but it is strange to see him in a Chargers uniform.” Unitas played the bulk of his career with the Baltimore Colts.


Quarterback Bert Jones, a first round pick in 1973 who went on to lead the Colts through much of the 1970s, debuts in this issue and deserves inclusion in the semi-star rookie cards of the set, along with Greg Pruitt, John Matuszak and Terry Metcalf. But except for Ray Guy, the only other Hall of Fame rookie cards in the collection are John Hannah and Joe DeLamielleure. So, it’s a lukewarm set for rookies.

Cardboard clusters
A solid spot to look for additional star cards in this or any issue of the era is subsets. In the case of 1974 Topps Football, that boils down to the “All-Pro,” League Leader and Postseason cards. Within those groups, one can find the names Simpson, Staubach and Tarkenton – each pops up twice.

Like the average set of the era, the 1974 Topps football cards were issued all at once, even though there are different “series” checklists, and they landed into collectors’ hands through wax, cello and rack packs and vending boxes. The football wax that year jumped up a nickel to 15 cents per pack and they included team checklists in each pack. The team checklists were also available through a mail-in offer.

Fritsch said demand for the team checklists is not as hot as it once was. Plus, the checklists tend to be off-center. When you couple that with the reported recycled paper the 1974 cards were printed on, in general, a lower quality material, finding the checklists in higher grade is a chore.

Mancino underscored the point when he said the team checklists in top shape are “expensive and tough to find; everybody threw them out.”

About 70 percent of the 1974 gridiron set has at least one example in PSA 10, and most cards each list a handful in PSA 9, too. |

But the one player who, for now, maxes out at a PSA 8 in the issue is (No. 85) Jim Tyrer of the Kansas City Chiefs. Tyrer only had 15 samples graded at press time. Four other ’74 cards have only one PSA 9 and zero 10s: (No. 193) Jim Kearney, (No. 218) Buck Buchanan, (No. 347) Tommy Casanova and (No. 424) Bob Johnson, with a few of those with double the population numbers of Tyrer.


For Mancino, one of the elusive top grade cards for his set is Washington wide receiver Roy Jefferson (No. 119). Out of 20 graded overall, a dozen are 8s, 6 are PSA 9s and there is a lone 10.

While the general demand for the 1974 Topps football issue is lighter than many gridiron sets of the period, with each passing year the chances keep rising for more competition collecting the better condition cards.

So, for now, it appears the offering, enjoying its 40th birthday this year, will still have time for hanging around in the “available” category, somewhat like Ray Guy did for decades, waiting for his call from the Hall.

Collect at your own asterisk*
Another choice football collectors had in 1974 involving Topps cards came out in a game form. Distributed by Parker Brothers, Pro Draft gave hobbyists a glimpse of sorts in what it was like to assemble a team. The game includes 50 1974 Topps cards plucked from among the first 127 in the regular set.

At first glance, Pro Draft features the same cards in the game as came out in the Topps packs, yet some differences exist. Early runs of the game cards have 1972 instead of 1973 stats and a pair of asterisks as part of the copyright line. Later runs of the Draft cards have the correct (1973) stats.

Six of the game cards are easily discernible from the mainstream Topps counterparts in that they have different photos. Norm Snead, Bob Windsor and Charlie (sic) Johnson go from horizontal action shots in the regular set to vertical posed pictures with the Parker Brothers product.

Meanwhile, Forrest Blue, Tom Mack and Bob Tucker appear in posed photos for the game cards, instead of the “All-Pro” subset format in the typical issue. Based on the common airbrushing in the “All-Pro” subset, the alternative is welcomed by many collectors.

Mack (No. 126) is the lone Hall of Famer in the “Parker Pic Six.” Other Canton enshrinees in the game cards include Bob Hayes, Dan Dierdorf, Rayfield Wright and Gene Upshaw.

Although the Pro Draft cards do not carry any real premium, they do offer an added choice to team and player collectors. Fritsch called them “quite collectable” and that they sell well in their company’s catalogs.

Doug Koztoski is a frequent contributor to SCD. He welcomes comments and questions related to this article at