Former NFL signal-caller Fran Tarkenton played in an era that wasn’t known for featuring 6’ 5” quarterbacks. Standing six feet tall, Tarkenton was a proficient passer but an even better improviser. Many times, “The Scrambler” went into full throttle as he often turned busted plays into long gains. He probably spent as much time running side-to-side to avoid would-be tacklers as he did passing for first downs. To watch Tarkenton play on Sunday afternoons was pure joy for football fans.
A standout QB at Georgia, Tarkenton was taken by the Minnesota Vikings in the third round of the 1961 NFL Draft. In his very first pro game, against the Chicago Bears, the 21-year-old upstart came off the bench to lead the Vikings to a 37-13 win after throwing four touchdowns and running for another. He was the only player in league history to pass for four TDs in his first game until Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota repeated the feat in 2015. Tarkenton was also quite durable as he started 239 games behind center during a time when regular season schedules consisted of 14 games. In 1978, his final season, the NFL upped the season schedule to 16 games and “Scrambling Fran” started every game.
During the time he played, Tarkenton’s stats were second to none. In 18 NFL seasons, 13 of which he played for the Vikings, Fran completed 3,686 of 6,467 passes (57%) for 47,003 yards and 342 touchdowns, both of which were NFL records at the time of his retirement. His passing yards total currently ranks 12th all time, while his 342 career passing TDs places him 10th in league history. The one knock against Tarkenton is that he never won a Super Bowl despite leading the Vikings to three of them. Tough defeats to Miami (’74), Pittsburgh (’75) and Oakland (’77) in football’s biggest game spelled his legacy.
Despite never winning a Lombardi Trophy, Tarkenton took his rightful place at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986. Let’s now take a look at his impressive career on the gridiron through four key cards found in his 18-card Basic Set checklist.
The ’62 Topps set consists of 176 cards, each card measuring 2-1/2” high by 3-1/2″ wide. It also holds Tarkenton’s only recognized rookie card, which remains a sought-after commodity by football card aficionados. It’s also one of the set’s short prints, which only heightens its desirability. Based on its black borders, the horizontally oriented card is subject to the typical condition obstacles, including chipping. Tarkenton’s card (#90) shows a player portrait of the signal-caller with a football in hand, ready to launch, occupying the right side with a smaller in-action shot on the left, which is where the athlete’s name, team name and position appear. This was the first in a slew of trading card releases showing a helmetless Tarkenton poised to throw a pass.
In attempting to put together Tarkenton’s 18-card Basic Set checklist on the PSA Set Registry, this is the most heavily weighted card (10.00) of them all. This is the one that brings the most trading card value at 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. The card has a PSA population of 1,137 without a single submission having earned the coveted PSA Gem Mint 10 grade. Only six others have been deemed PSA Mint 9, with 71 others earning PSA Near Mint-Mint 8 status.
Using three different PSA grades for the card, here are its current industry average auction prices:
PSA Very Good 2: $43.00
PSA Excellent 5: $148.58
PSA Near Mint-Mint 8:$3,240.00
The Topps 1963 Football set consists of 170 cards, each one measuring 2-1/2″ wide by 3-1/2″ high. The cards feature a vivid player likeness set within a striking dual-colored border; the bottom of which showcases the player’s name, team and position. The set includes 12 cards (11 players and a team card) of all 14 NFL teams at that time, plus two checklist cards. Tarkenton’s card (#98) is one of the set’s more sought-after issues, along with the rookie cards of Bob Lilly (#82), Deacon Jones (#44), Larry Wilson (#155), Ray Nitschke (#96) and Willie Wood (#95).
Due to its color border, the card is highly susceptible to chipping. The card has a PSA Population of 436 of which no submission has ever received a PSA Gem Mint 10 rating. Three others have been deemed PSA Mint 9, while 72 more have been labeled PSA Near Mint-Mint 8. This ranks as his second most heavily weighted card (5.00).
PSA Very Good 3: $19.99
PSA Excellent 5: $20.16
PSA Near Mint-Mint 8: $125.26
The 1965 Philadelphia Football set boasts 198 cards, each measuring 2-1/2″ wide by 3-1/2″ high. The card fronts offer a simple portrait photo of the player along with his name, team name and position inside a black box along the bottom, with the NFL logo in red-white-and-blue situated at the lower right corner. Tarkenton’s white-bordered card, which shows him dropping back for a pass during the team’s photo day, has a PSA Population of 333 of which not a single submission has ever been graded PSA Gem Mint 10. Twelve others have been deemed PSA Mint 9 (APR price: $536.50), while 125 more examples have been graded in PSA Near Mint-Mint 8 condition.
As always, its white borders pose a hurdle in obtaining a high grade. This ranks as his third most heavily weighted card (3.00).
PSA Very Good-Excellent 4: $11.70
PSA Excellent-Mint 6: $13.48
PSA Near Mint-Mint 8: $65.34
The 1966 Philadelphia Football set consists of 198 cards, each measuring 2-1/2″ wide by 3-1/2” tall. The cards feature bright colored inner border designs and Tarkenton’s #114 is no exception with a hot pink presentation near the top that showcases his name, team and position. The NFL logo completes the design at the top left. It features a portrait-like photo showing the helmetless QB gripping a football, peering down field for a receiver. Its white border always presents a challenge with finding perfect centering. Tarkenton’s fifth-year card is considered one of the set’s anchors along with Johnny Unitas (#24), Bart Starr (#88) and the rookie card issues of Bears standouts Dick Butkus (#31) and Gale Sayers (#38).
The card has a PSA Population of 205 of which zero submissions have ever been graded in PSA Gem Mint 10 condition. A total of six submissions have earned PSA Mint 9 ranking, while 59 more have been labeled PSA Near Mint-Mint 8. This card ranks fourth among Tarkenton’s most heavily weighted (3.50) issues.
PSA Excellent 5: $28.50
PSA Near Mint 7: $52.00
PSA Mint 9: $1,736.65
Fran Tarkenton Cards Required to Complete the Set
(with PSA weights included)
- 1962 Topps #90 Fran Tarkenton (10.00)
- 1963 Topps #98 Fran Tarkenton (5.00)
- 1964 Philadelphia #109 Fran Tarkenton (4.00)
- 1965 Philadelphia #110 Fran Tarkenton (4.00)
- 1966 Philadelphia #114 Fran Tarkenton (3.50)
- 1967 Philadelphia #106 Fran Tarkenton (4.00)
- 1968 Topps #161 Fran Tarkenton (3.50)
- 1969 Topps #150 Fran Tarkenton (3.50)
- 1970 Topps #80 Fran Tarkenton (2.00)
- 1971 Topps #120 Fran Tarkenton (2.50)
- 1972 Topps #225 Fran Tarkenton (2.00)
- 1973 Topps #60 Fran Tarkenton (2.00)
- 1974 Topps #129 Fran Tarkenton (2.00)
- 1975 Topps #400 Fran Tarkenton (1.50)
- 1976 Topps #500 Fran Tarkenton (1.50)
- 1977 Topps #400 Fran Tarkenton (1.50)
- 1978 Topps #100 Fran Tarkenton (1.00)
- 1979 Topps #200 Fran Tarkenton (1.00)
Browse through images of the entire set within the image gallery section of the Set Registry.
In his 18 NFL seasons, Tarkenton completed 3,686 of 6,467 passes (57%) for 47,003 yards and 342 touchdowns, which were NFL records at the time of his retirement. His total in passing yards ranks him 12th all time, while his 342 career passing TDs places him 10th in league history. A gregarious sort, Tarkenton had a second career on TV, first as a football color commentator on Monday Night Football (1979 to ’82), and then as a co-host of the popular ABC show That’s Incredible! from 1980 to ’84.
If you are looking for a fun project to complete during the stay-at-home pandemic, collecting the 18-card Basic Set of Hall of Fame scrambler Fran Tarkenton on the PSA Set Registry could be your best distraction yet.
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