By Doug Koztoski
Going by the somewhat lengthy name of the American Professional Football Association, the gridiron league formed in 1920. Two years later the organization’s business card had a pithier punch to it: the National Football League. Sandwiched in between those events, another “up-and-comer” made its initial splash into the corporate pool: Wonder Bread.
Both the league, where sometimes the ball is carried “like a loaf of bread,” and a company that makes the actual sustenance rose, of course, to highly successful levels over time. And for three straight years starting in 1974, the two entities teamed up for some football card sets.
The cards were not baked into the bread, mind you, just included in the packaging. That being said, the first card of this collaboration is St. Louis Cardinals kicker Jim Bakken, which rhymes with rockin’ but could be mistaken for bakin’.
The 1974 Wonder Bread football cards, made by Topps, look a lot like the 1971 Topps football set on the fronts, sometimes even using the same photo from ’71. The 30 cards of the ’74 card backs, meanwhile, normally feature a black-and-white photo with a player or two demonstrating a football technique.
The key stars from the 1974 Wonder Bread offering all come from the top team of the time, the Miami Dolphins, who won back-to-back Super Bowls for the 1972 and 1973 seasons: Larry Csonka, Bob Griese and Paul Warfield. Other big names from the issue include Chris Hanburger, Jim Otto, Alan Page, Willie Brown, Willie Lanier and a Hall of Famer who appears in all three of the Wonder issues: Tom Mack.
Finding the 1974 Wonder Bread cards can be “a little tough” compared to the other two sets in the run, according to Mike Mosier of Columbia City Collectibles.
“The ’74 set is in more demand” than the ’75s and ’76s, he said, “and a set sells for around $25-$30,” in his experience. Plus, he noted, the borders on the ’74 Wonder issue make them more challenging to find in higher end condition.
Maybe in 1975, the Wonder people decided to cut back on their carbs (carbohydrates), since they trimmed the football set that year to 24 cards.
Dolphins QB Bob Griese returned for this issue, but some of the newer faces were a partial reflection of the blossoming Pittsburgh Steelers team, as Franco Harris, L.C. Greenwood and Jack Ham worked their way into the bread offering.
A few other stars in the ’75 set included Alan Page, Emmitt Thomas, Chuck Foreman, Larry Little, Ray Guy and Ted Hendricks. Like the ’74s, Mosier said the “same border issues” exist with the ’75s, which, he said could be a chore to locate in sharper shape. The Indiana-based dealer of various oddball cards and sets said a ’75 Wonder collection sells for $12-$15 “on a good day.”
The 1976 Wonder Bread issue, meantime, another 24-piece set, rounded out the trio of football cards in this particular collaboration for the era. Steeler Nation, led again by Ham and Harris, are tops on many collectors’ want-lists for this issue, but the Cowboys’ Rayfield Wright and the Rams’ Jack Youngblood also attract some attention, among a few other names.
“The ’76s are everywhere,” said Mosier. “That is a very common set, and they are all clean, minty and cheap.” He said a complete set in “out of the oven” condition sells for $2 to $3 “at best.”
Another menu option
Yet, to a degree, one man’s hard bread crust is another man’s crouton. Barry Call likes several points about the ’76 Wonder Bread set. “It has many major and minor stars,” he said, and he gravitates toward the offering’s colors and general ease of putting the small grouping together. The collector from Massachusetts has two complete sets at the Gem Mint PSA 10 level and lists Foreman, Ham, Harris and Youngblood among his favorites in the issue.
While Call first started on the two dozen ’76 cards about a decade ago, he noted that a few of the pasteboards in particular were, back then, much harder to find on the high end: Ham, Rich Caster of the Jets and the Packers’ Fred Carr. Over the past few years, Call said, several top condition cards of each of those players have been slabbed.
With all three sets from 1974 through 1976, during the same period there was a virtual exact duplicate that appeared in the Town Talk Bread bags, sold in the Western Pennsylvania/Eastern Ohio area.
Call and many other collectors shy away from the Town Talk cards since they are “too hard to complete.” Mosier understands that thinking since he said they were “very tough” to track down, especially “in really nice shape.”
Mosier said there is some demand for the Town Talk cards, the ’74s, in particular.
The veteran sportscard dealer ballparked his experience for the selling prices for Town Talk sets, in raw and top condition, as follows: 1974 ($150), 1975 ($100) and 1976 ($75).
The PSA Population Report gives a glimpse of just how much of a chore it is to find the Town Talk cards: In 1974, for example, regular Wonder Bread cards normally show up at least five to 10 times more often than their “twins”; in 1975, there is a bit less of a gap; meanwhile, 1976 Wonder cards usually appear dozens and dozens of times more frequently compared to the Town Talk option.
Distinguishing the Wonder Bread cards from the Town Talk set is easy in 1975 and 1976, as the bread brand appears before the words “All-Star Series” on the respective card backs. In 1974, meantime, the difference is much more subtle, as the Town Talk card backs are missing a credit line at the top, just above the card number area.
Now there’s an idea
In the late 1920s, pro football jockeyed for some position in the hearts and minds of American sports fans, and going up against big league baseball and boxing, in particular, the gridders had a tough experience getting decent footing.
About that same time Wonder Bread became an early adopter of a new approach on a wide scale: commercially marketed “pre-sliced” loaves. This innovative convenience reportedly helped generate the popular line: “The greatest thing since sliced bread.” While the 1970s bread-related football cards are not “the greatest thing,” by far, in the annals of trading cards, they do offer up something different, which, for some, is a thing of wonder.
A little slice of life
The following are recent eBay auction results for Wonder Bread and Town Talk football cards, rounded to nearest dollar, with shipping.
Regular Wonder Bread cards
• 1974 PSA 8 Willie Lanier: $12
• 1974 PSA 8 Paul Warfield: $19
• 1974 set of 30 (NM): $26
• 1975 set of 24 (EX+): $23-$35
• 1975 PSA 7 Ted Hendricks: $12
• 1976 PSA 8 Ray Guy: $10
• 1976 PSA 10 Cedrick Hardman: $5
• 1976 set of 24 (NM): $5.
Town Talk (TT)
• 1974 TT lot of 19 (VG-EX) with Csonka, Griese, Lanier, Mack, D. White: $33
• 1974 TT lot of 13, with two each of Csonka and Griese (VG-EX): $39
• 1975 TT set (EX+): $30
• 1975 TT set (EX): $76
• 1976 TT lot of 17, with Ham, Mack, Charley Taylor (NM): $29.
Doug Koztoski welcomes comments and questions related to this article at firstname.lastname@example.org.