Like a delicious helping of homemade gumbo, professional football in 1970, both on and off the field, contributed its fair share of the expected and some surprises—a little extra kick here and there.
At the top of the “Expected” list, stars with surnames such as Brodie, Tarkenton, Eller, Namath, Unitas, Butkus and a second-year player named Simpson, among others, made their marks. Also, 1970 featured the first year of the NFL-AFL merger, where now the former rival leagues played under the same structure, divided up into the National and American Football Conferences.
In January 1970, at New Orleans’ Tulane Stadium, where patrons likely consumed some gumbo, the AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs surprised many by beating the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV to even the championship game victories between the opposing leagues.
One of the biggest ’70 season moments also took place in Tulane Stadium in November, when with two seconds left in regulation and down 17-16 to Detroit, Saints kicker Tom Dempsey nailed a 63-yard field goal to win the game. That kick stayed atop the NFL record book for over 40 years.
A couple other notable surprises of sorts that spiced up the gridiron campaign: the debut of “Monday Night Football,” and the premiums in specially marked boxes of Kellogg’s Cornflakes and Raisin Bran cereal—three-dimensional football cards. The Kellogg’s 3-D Pro Football Cards, as they were known, first came in a paper envelope, one to a box.
Kellogg’s did a comparable 3-D card promotion with pro baseball players earlier in 1970, but with both sports Topps still ruled the trading card landscape.
“I pulled these cards out of Raisin Bran boxes when I was in grade school,” said Doug Steinsiek. When the collector first created his eBay account, some early searches in essence brought him back to his boyhood breakfast table and those eye-catching ’70 3-D football cards. Now Steinsiek owns a highly graded complete collection, #12 overall, but many ahead of him on the PSA Set Registry remained knotted for the top spot.
Ken Marks owns one of those #1 positions on the Set Registry’s Current Finest section. College age when the cards first surfaced, Marks recalls their debut nearly a half century ago. “Plus, I am a bit of an oddball collector and at 60 cards, collecting them graded is a lot easier than the Topps set of the time (263 cards).”
Available through a mail-in offer as well, the 1970 Kellogg’s series differs from the 1971 Kellogg’s sets, which only came in the cereal boxes. That scenario bodes well for ’70 Kellogg’s fans. “If you just wanted a decent specimen of the cards, none from 1970 are particularly hard,” Marks said. “They are much easier to find and in better condition (than 1971s).” In graded fashion, by PSA Population reports, every 1970 Kellogg’s football card shows up over 200 times. The O.J. Simpson rookie, Gale Sayers and Johnny Unitas have over 500 samples. Virtually all cards, even in a Gem Mint 10 holder, commonly appear in several dozen instances. That’s a lot of pristine layered plastic.
And then there is the Big 3. “Mike Garrett (#25) is the absolute toughest in a PSA 10,” Marks said. The Pop Report shows only 12 of those razor sharp cards. Steinsiek noted Carl Garrett (#27, 21 PSA 10s) and Bobby Bell (#42/16) round out the most difficult to locate in the ultimate grade.
Marks puts the Mike Garrett on his favorites list, a “10” can bring around $700; one of Steinsiek’s main interests includes legendary pass receiver Lance Alworth (#40), also challenging to find in top shape (23 samples).
From High Grade To What Just Happened?
Raw or graded, collecting vintage 3-D cards comes with concerns. If left alone by themselves and not in some sort of holder or storage page many of the cards tend to curl, some end up with more of a severe horseshoe shape. Increasing one’s chances of “taming the curl” normally takes a blend of luck and approach.
One collector said to avoid putting the cards in a book and/or under any pressure to speak of, otherwise they could crack. He recommended placing the card in a polysleeve and then in a nine-pocket storage page, with the card(s) resting upright in a binder.
Graded 3-D cards occasionally develop a crack, seemingly out of nowhere, even with proper handling. Marks works to combat cracking issues with an extra step. “I try and keep my graded cards in a cool spot of the house.”
A Few More Spoonfuls
The cereal box advertising the 3-D cards sparks some collector’s interest, including Marks. For the 1970 football set, one mid-season box variation includes a pumpkin pie recipe. “My belief is that with this series of boxes, it was the first time customers had the opportunity to purchase the entire set because there is a (football) stamp on the box that you need to send in, well two stamps, along with $1.50 to get your complete set,” the collector noted.
Usually only a box panel comes up for sale, expect to pay upwards of $75-$100 minimum for those, sometimes double or triple that depending on condition. Complete boxes can run several hundreds of dollars.
While the popularity of the 1970 Kellogg’s 3-D Pro Football Cards set remains modest, both Marks and Steinsiek said its future generally looks bright. Steinsiek said one caveat to that educated guess concerns the relatively large increases the past few years in the population of PSA 10s (driving down their prices).
The 1970 season boiled down to the Dallas Cowboys and Baltimore Colts in the Super Bowl. The game was filled with turnovers; an interception gave Baltimore the ball deep in Dallas territory with about a minute remaining. With about five seconds left Colts’ rookie Jim O’Brien made a field goal, the kick of his life, to win the contest. A multi-dimensional championship game with some spice in a multi-dimensional year, with several three-dimensional cards to join the ride. What could have rounded out the season even better? If only O’Brien was a New Orleans native and loved gumbo. But, he came from Texas. His stance on gumbo is uncertain. So much for one more Tulane Stadium connection to end the piece on the 1970 season and the accompanying Kellogg’s set. Well, at least the 1971 Kellogg’s football issue began with a Saints player: Tom Barrington. Who dat?
PHOTO CREDIT: Doug Koztoski for the individual cards and group shots
PHOTO CREDIT: Ken Marks for the Kellogg’s Cornflakes box images
Cereal cards are not just for breakfast
Here is a look at some recent auction prices realized, rounded to the nearest dollar and including shipping, for 1970 Kellogg’s 3-D Pro Football Cards:
Johnny Unitas (PSA 10) $150
Bill Brown (PSA 10) $82
Gale Sayers (PSA 10) $51
O.J. Simpson (PSA 8) $38
Dick Butkus (PSA 8) $24
Deacon Jones (PSA 9) $11
Bob Hayes (PSA 8) $9
Lance Alworth (NM) $14
Butkus (G) $13
Sayers (VG) $13
Bobby Bell (MT) $8
Larry Csonka (VG+) $8
Carl Eller (EX) $6
Commons (NM) $3-$4
Doug Koztoski is a longtime SCD contributor. He can be reached at email@example.com.