When the Chicago Bears selected Gale Sayers with the No. 4 overall pick in the 1965 NFL Draft, the speedy halfback out of the University of Kansas was bringing impressive credentials to the professional gridiron. During his three-year varsity career with the Jayhawks, Sayers rushed for 2,675 yards and 18 touchdowns. As a sophomore, he once rushed for a Big Eight Conference record 282 yards in a single game against Oklahoma. During his junior and senior campaigns, 1963 and ’64, he was a consensus pick for the College Football All-America Team. He was so quick, he was nicknamed the “Kansas Comet.”
When Sayers arrived at Soldier Field in Chicago, he started playing for legendary NFL head coach, George Halas. As a rookie, he did not disappoint. During the Bears 14-game, regular-season schedule, Sayers started 11 games and scored an NFL-record 22 touchdowns: 14 rushing, six receiving and one each on punt and kickoff returns. He was a blur to most defenses and was as elusive as a ghost. He was named Rookie of the Year after finishing with 867 rushing yards. As a side note, during training camp and beyond, Sayers befriended and eventually roomed with fellow ’65 rookie Brian Piccolo, an undrafted running back out of Wake Forest. Their pairing marked the first interracial roommates in NFL history. This was significant at the time and the two players forged a remarkable friendship that became the inspiration for the movie, “Brian’s Song.” Piccolo died of cancer in 1970 at the age of 26.
Sayers’ career in the NFL was short (seven seasons) but extraordinary. A devastating injury to his right knee suffered in Week 9 of the ‘68 campaign sidelined him for the remainder of the season. He finished with 856 yards that year and rehabbed his way back – with Piccolo’s help – to a 1,032-yard campaign the following season. He was even named the “NFL Comeback Player of the Year.”
Though he hung on for two more seasons, Sayers agility and gains were never quite the same. Due to additional injuries, he played in just two games apiece for the ’70 and ’71 seasons. He announced his retirement before the start of the 1972 season. Let’s now take a look at his impactful career through four key cards found in his seven-card Basic Set checklist.
This is Sayers’ sought-after 1966 Philadelphia #38 rookie card and shows the fleet footed running back striking a helmetless, pre-game pose. The 198-card set is anchored by the rookie cards of Dick Butkus (#31) and Gale Sayers (#38), and the last regular season card of Jim Brown (#41). Not an easy card to find with perfect centering, the card has a PSA Population of 2,075 of which not a single submission has ever earned the elite PSA Gem Mint 10 grade. Thirty-three others have been deemed PSA Mint 9 (APR price: $4,550), while 339 more have been labeled PSA Near Mint-Mint 8.
In attempting to put together Sayers’ seven-card Basic Set checklist on the PSA Set Registry, this is the most heavily weighted card (10.00). This is the one that brings the most trading card value to an auction. Weights are determined by the card’s secondary market value using a scale from 1.00 to 10.00 with 10.00 being the most expensive. Using three different PSA grades for the card, here are its current industry average auction prices:
PSA Good 2: $68.00
PSA Excellent 5: $158.49
PSA Near Mint-Mint 8: $779.97
The 1967 Philadelphia Gum Company’s Football set also consists of 198 cards, each one measuring 3-1/2” high by 2-1/2.” Gale’s second card (#35) is considered one of the set’s anchors, along with Johnny Unitas (#28), Dick Butkus (#28), Mike Ditka (#29) and Bart Starr (#82). Sayers’ card, which reuses his ’66 card photo only cropped tighter, has a PSA Population of 487 of which none has ever been graded PSA Gem Mint 10. Twenty-five others have been deemed PSA Mint 9 (APR price: $1,527), while 120 more examples have been labeled PSA Near Mint-Mint 8.
Its colorful yellow border is highly susceptible to chipping and always poses a big challenge in obtaining a high grade. This ranks as his second most heavily weighted card (5.00) Using three different PSA grades for the card, here are its current industry average auction prices:
PSA Good 2: $35.96
PSA Excellent 5: $27.70
PSA Near Mint-Mint 8: $210.25
The 1968 Topps Football release consists of 219 cards, each measuring 2-1/2″ wide by 3-1/2” high. The set was issued in two series and was the first set since Topps’ 1961 edition to feature players from the AFL and the NFL. Gale’s inaugural Topps card (#75) shows him up close in uniform sporting a very short haircut and is featured in the company’s first of 21 consecutive sets in which it was the only major manufacturer of football cards.
Sayers’ card has a limited PSA Population of 643 and only two have ever earned a grade of PSA Gem Mint 10, one of which sold at auction for $2,438 in April 2011. Twenty-eight others have been deemed PSA Mint 9 (APR price: $338.00), while 166 more submissions have earned PSA Near Mint-Mint 8 status. This ranks tied for third amongst his most heavily weighted cards (4.00). Using three different PSA grades for the card, here are its current industry average auction prices:
PSA Good 2: $7.50
PSA Excellent 5: $18.48
PSA Near Mint-Mint 8: $101.30
The 1970 Topps Football set consists of 263 cards, each one measuring 2-1/2″ wide by 3-1/2” high. The set is anchored by Len Dawson (#1), Bart Starr (#30), Gale Sayers (#70) and Joe Namath (#150), as well as rookie cards of Jan Stenerud (#25), O.J. Simpson (#90) and Bubba Smith (#114). Sayers’ card features a posed portrait of him placed within an oval and surrounded by a tan border; a color banner beneath that likeness reveals his name and team while a football design at the bottom right corner identifies him as a running back. The white border often makes it difficult to find with perfect centering.
The card has a PSA Population of 1,121 of which four have been graded PSA Gem Mint 10 (APR: $3,552.11). Seventy-one other submissions have earned PSA Mint 9 status, while 296 more have been labeled PSA Near Mint-Mint 8. This card ranks amongst his most heavily weighted (2.50) issues. Using three different PSA grades for the card, here are its current industry average auction prices:
PSA Excellent 5: $80.25
PSA Near Mint 7: $25.84
PSA Mint 9: $310.03
Gale Sayers Cards Required to Complete the Set
(with PSA weights included)
- 1966 Philadelphia #38 Gale Sayers (10.00)
- 1967 Philadelphia #35 Gale Sayers (5.00)
- 1968 Topps #75 Gale Sayers (4.00)
- 1969 Topps #51 Gale Sayers (4.00)
- 1970 Topps #70 Gale Sayers (2.50)
- 1971 Topps #150 Gale Sayers (2.50)
- 1972 Topps #110 Gale Sayers (2.00)
Browse through images of the entire set within the image gallery section of the Set Registry.
Sayers ended his professional career with a phenomenal average of 5.0 yards per carry. Though none of the Bears teams he played on ever made it to the postseason, it wasn’t for a lack of trying on Sayers’ part. He twice led the league in rushing (1966 and ’69), and ended his tenure in the Windy City with a total of 4,956 rushing yards and 39 touchdowns to go along with 1,309 receiving yards and nine more TDs. And remember, most of this was accomplished over the course of just five seasons. His subsequent induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977 came as a surprise to absolutely no one.
If you are looking for a cool project to tackle during the stay-at-home pandemic, collecting the seven-card Basic Set of Chicago Bears icon Gale Sayers on the PSA Set Registry is your ticket to ride.
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