The American Football League (1960-1969) offered some of most innovative and exciting football the game has ever seen. While the NFL was generally known for game plans that resulted in three yards and a cloud of dust, AFL teams threw the ball far and often. With strong-armed quarterbacks like “Broadway Joe” Namath, Daryle “The Mad Bomber” Lamonica, Len Dawson and John Hadl implementing Weeb Ewbank, Al Davis, Hank Stram and Sid Gillman’s game plans, passing yardage was accumulated like never before. After 10 years of fun football, the AFL became the first (and still only) league to successfully challenge the NFL for legitimacy. In fact, when the leagues merged after the 1969 season, the NFL absorbed all 10 AFL teams.
On the receiving end of those John Hadl passes was a fleet-footed flanker by the name of Lance Alworth. Nicknamed “Bambi” because of his doe-brown eyes, blazing speed and leaping ability, Alworth is one of the greatest receivers the game has ever known.
After a leg injury limited him to just four games as a rookie in 1962, Bambi rebounded to earn Player of the Year honors the following season as the Chargers won the AFL championship. It was also the first of his six consecutive seasons earning First Team All-Pro honors and making seven straight trips to the AFL All-Star Game. During that period, Alworth led the AFL in catches, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns three times each.
After nine seasons in San Diego, the Chargers traded Alworth to the Dallas Cowboys. Head Coach Tom Landry already had a speedy receiver in Bob Hayes, but he was impressed with Alworth’s toughness. “I traded for you because I know you will block,” Landry told Alworth. “If you will block, we will win the Super Bowl.” And so Alworth blocked and the Cowboys won Super Bowl VI, though No. 19 did score the Cowboys first touchdown of the game on a seven-yard pass from Roger Staubach.
Lance Alworth retired after the 1972 season, and did so as one of the greatest receivers to ever step on a field. In 11 years of professional football, Alworth hauled in 452 receptions for 10,266 yards and 85 touchdowns. He is an AFL and Super Bowl champion, and a member of the First Team All-AFL. In 1978, Lance Alworth became the first player from the AFL to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and he was later selected as a member of the NFL’s 75th and 100th Anniversary teams.
One of the game’s greats, Alworth is still celebrated in football card sets today. His six decades of trading cards offer much for collectors to enjoy. However, we will simplify things and recognize the man they called Bambi by studying his 11-card Basic Set.
Along with fellow Hall of Fame members Len Dawson and Nick Buoniconti, Lance Alworth’s rookie card was issued in the 1963 Fleer set. This was the last Fleer football set until the brand was resurrected in 1989. The Alworth card shows the young star in his college uniform, though the jersey was airbrushed in Chargers blue. Centering issues plague the entire set and this card is no different. Well-centered examples are a rarity. Also of note is that every fourth card in this set can be found with and without a red stripe at the base on the back of the card. Though there is no difference in price, the version without stripe is the rarer of the two.
In attempting to put together Alworth’s 11-card Basic Set checklist on the PSA Set Registry, this is the most heavily weighted card (10.00). As you can see, it also boasts 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. Using three different PSA grades for the card, here are its current industry average auction prices:
PSA Very Good-Excellent 4: $336.50
PSA Excellent-Mint 6: $380.50
PSA Near Mint-Mint 8: $964.99
Most collectors consider the 1965 Topps “tallboys” to be the most popular of all AFL sets. While known primarily for containing the Joe Namath rookie, this set also contains a popular Alworth card. The young receiver is shown from the chest up and smiling atop a solid red backdrop. Cards from this set are difficult to find in top grade, primarily because their odd size made them ripe for dinged corners and creases. While registration is typically good, centering is a problem with this set.
PSA Very Good-Excellent 4: $36.00
PSA Excellent-Mint 6: $58.00
PSA Near Mint-Mint 8: $462.23
With player images set within a television frame, the 1966 Topps football set is reminiscent of 1955 Bowman baseball. As such, collectors typically have strong opinions one way or the other on the design; there is not a lot of middle ground there. One thing that is not debatable is the wood grain borders chip easily and amplify the appearance of any flaws. This has kept the population of high-grade examples very low. Just 30 PSA 8 examples of the Alworth card can be found in the Pop Report, with only two PSA 9s and no PSA 10s.
PSA Near Mint 7: $67.00
PSA Near Mint-Mint 8: $305.63
Though he did his best work in Chargers blue and gold, it is hard to overlook Alworth’s two seasons on America’s Team. The ’72 cards are the last Topps football set issued in multiple series. Alworth is found in Series Two, and is considerably easier to locate than rare Series 3 cards. Again, simple quality control issues challenge those hoping to collect high grade examples. Poor centering and diamond cutting (crooked look) is prevalent. Of note is that Topps listed Alworth as a tight end on the front of this card and wide receiver on the back. The error was never corrected, so it does not affect the card’s value.
PSA Near Mint 7: $10.66
PSA Near Mint-Mint 8: $13.58
Lance Alworth Cards Required to Complete the Set
(with PSA weights included)
- 1963 Fleer #72 Lance Alworth (10.00)
- 1964 Topps #155 Lance Alworth (4.50)
- 1965 Topps #155 Lance Alworth (5.50)
- 1966 Topps #119 Lance Alworth (4.50)
- 1967 Topps #123 Lance Alworth (4.00)
- 1968 Topps #193 Lance Alworth (2.00)
- 1969 Topps #69 Lance Alworth (2.00)
- 1970 Topps #240 Lance Alworth (2.00)
- 1971 Topps #10 Lance Alworth (2.00)
- 1972 Topps #248 Lance Alworth (1.00)
- 1973 Topps #61 Lance Alworth (1.00)
People who saw Alworth play recall him fondly. The combination of his good looks, incredible talent, those fantastic Chargers uniforms and playing in the San Diego sunshine when much of the country was buried in snow made Lance Alworth a favorite of football fans everywhere. That the Chargers were one of the most exciting teams in the game only added to his allure.
In spite of his football heroics, Alworth’s cards are often valued less than many of his NFL counterparts. The reason why is unclear, but the benefit to collectors is the ability to acquire cards of one of the games all-time greats at a reasonable price. To learn more about this gridiron legend and begin your own set, take a look at Alworth’s Basic Set on the PSA Set Registry today.
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