Beyond Borders: Comparing the 1965 Topps (AFL) and 1965 Topps/OPC (CFL) Football Card Sets

This article’s journey began a few months ago in The Post War Cards Newsletter. In Issue 49, I wrote that the 1965 Topps Canadian Football League (CFL) set was criminally underrated. The cards from this release have remained relatively obscure in the world of football card collecting, overshadowed by their Topps American Football League (AFL) counterparts. In Issue 54 of the newsletter, I unveiled an intriguing connection between the CFL and AFL sets that goes beyond the sport they share: their wax wrappers and wax boxes. The visual similarities sparked my curiosity and encouraged me to delve deeper into these two sets. I’ll start with a basic overview of each set in this article, highlighting a few unique attributes and hobby significance. Next, I’ll compare the wax wrappers and wax boxes before looking at the differences between the card fronts and the similarities on the card backs. 

1965 Topps Football (AFL)

1965 Topps #94 Buck Buchanan

The 1965 Topps Football set is known for two key things. First, the set only contains AFL players; Philadelphia Gum had licensing rights to the competing National Football League. Second, to stand out, Topps printed this set in the now famous “Tall Boy” format – 2 1/2″ x 4 11/16″. Because of that extra space, Topps included larger player photos on the front, with the same background colors for each team. That extra space and colorful backgrounds make the set one of the most eye-appealing sets in the hobby. The set has 176 cards, including the two checklists with the key rookie cards belonging to Joe Namath, Willie Brown, Fred Biletnikoff, and Ben Davidson. It also has cards of gridiron legends like Jack Kemp, George Bland, and Len Dawson. There’s some debate about how many cards in the set are truly short prints, but I’ll save that conversation for another time.

1965 Topps/O-Pee-Chee CFL

1965 Topps CFL #53 Ellison Kelly

I’ll summarize here what I wrote in Newsletter 49 and add a bit more detail. The 1965 CFL set was the last of an 8-year run to carry the TCG trademark, but they were printed (and only distributed) in Canada by O-Pee-Chee. The set has 132 cards, up from 88 the year before, organized by team, and measure the standard 2 1/2″ x 3 1/2″ size. Given the increase in card count, the set has at least 33 CFL Hall of Famers and ~52 “rookie” cards. Compared to its American counterpart, the CFL cards have a sort of weird colorization that makes the players look a bit unnatural. Needless to say, the design isn’t as iconic as the AFL cards. However, I still don’t think the CFL cards get the love they deserve, especially for how comparatively scarce they are compared to other CFL sets, particularly in nice condition. Plus, at this time, the CFL paid more than the NFL, so a lot of talented players chose to play in Canada. The set has many great players like Jim Kapp, Harman Harrison, Ellison Kelly, Angelo Mosca, Don Sutheran, Bernie Faloney, Ron Lancaster, and Jackie Parker. However, George Reed is the set’s key card.

1965 Topps Football Wrapper Comparison

After I shared both wrappers in the newsletter and on Twitter, a lot of folks thought it was interesting that the wrappers were so similar when the actual card fronts are entirely different. So, let’s dig in a bit. First, there are three 1965 Topps AFL Football Wrappers.

1965 Topps Football Wrappers

Andy from Collecting Canadian Football hooked me up with a photo of the following CFL wrapper. They’re incredibly rare, so I have no idea if there were other offer variations.

1965 Topps CFL Wrapper

Obviously, the wrappers have different dimensions with the AFL one holding the Tall Boys cards, but they share the same basic football player drawing, though the Topps variation has a bit more detail showing since it’s larger. The backgrounds on the “front” both have red over yellow backgrounds, and similar “Extra! Magic Rub-Off Emblem” offers “in each package!” However, the CFL emblem example overlaps the red over yellow background due to space limitations. The AFL cards say “Topps Pro Football,” while the CFL wrapper says “Canadian Football.” Also, the Canadian wrapper highlighted the set’s expansion to 132 cards with the words “Big New Series 132 Cards” in white text over a black bubble along the top. The CFL wrapper was only printed in Canada, so the company and printing details on the right side of the wrapper only have a single country referenced. However, the Topps AFL wrapper has American and Canadian licensing information – does anyone know if Topps released the Tall Boy cards in Canada, too (let me know in the comments)?

1965 Topps Football Box Comparison

1965 Topps and Topps CFL Wax Boxes

The boxes are also really similar. They share the same player cartoon in a passing motion. Just like the wrapper, the AFL box says “Topps Pro Football,” while the CFL box says “Canadian Football” on the top. Also, like on the wrappers, the CFL box highlights the “Big New Series 132 Cards” on the front-facing panel. Both front panels also highlight the emblem inserts. I imagine the boxes’ dimensions are different, with the Canadian Football box having 36 standard-sized card packs and the AFL Topps box having 24 Tall Boy packs.

1965 Topps Football Card Comparison

1965 Topps Joe Namath and 1965 Topps CFL George Reed – Fronts

With the wrappers and boxes sharing so many similarities, you’d think that would carry over to the cards, and if you thought that, you’d be half right. The fronts are very different, but the backs share a lot of similarities. The CFL fronts have a two-tone background and, as I said earlier, a weird colorization on the players, while the Tall Boy AFL cards have sharper images and single-colored backgrounds. 

The backs, however, are far more similar. Both have basic player vitals and a horizontal layout with a brief paragraph highlighting their career and/or previous season (black print on an orange background) and a cartoon on the right-hand side.

1965 Topps Joe Namath and 1965 Topps CFL George Reed – Backs

The big differences are:

  • The bilingual text on the CFL cards.
  • A lighter orange color on the AFL card backs.
  • A more “cartoony” cartoon on the AFL cards.

And just because I’m ChecklistGuy, both sets have incredible checklist cards, but they don’t share much in common.

1965 Topps Checklists – Fronts
1965 Topps Checklists – Backs
1965 Topps CFL Checklists – Fronts
1965 Topps CFL Checklists – Backs

Conclusion and Further Reading

This comparison of the 1965 Topps AFL and 1965 Topps/OPC CFL football cards has sparked a new interest in diving deeper into the licensing and design differences between Topps and O-Pee-Chee cards in the vintage hobby. I think there are a lot more hidden stories and unique stories to be discovered and discussed. 

If you enjoyed this look, you might also be interested in reading the following items here on the blog:

Happy collecting, and if you haven’t already, please sign up for The Post War Cards Newsletter!

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