A Different Kind Of “Unlicensed”: Fleer Action Football

So you might know that through the 1970s, Topps had a license with the individual football players but not with the NFL teams, which is why those sets have all of the logos removed via airbrush.


But did you know that in the 1970s and 1980s Fleer made football cards which *were* licensed by the NFL?

Ah, but there’s a catch…  Fleer was licensed by the NFL, but not by the NFL players… So while Topps featured the players but had to gloss over the teams, Fleer featured the teams and had to gloss over the players.

So their general ‘gambit’ was along these lines… They created cards like these, packaged them with team logo stickers and gum, prominently feature the NFL logo on the wrapper, usually include “Action” in the set name somewhere (NFL Action, NFL Teams In Action, NFL Football Action Photos, Live Action Football) and hoped that unsuspecting kids would plop down their allowance and not discover until it was too late that each card featured several players you could only identify if you were up on your uniform numbers.

Sure, there were stats on the back… but they were generally game stats or team stats.

I was reminded of these cards at a recent card show when I bought a few for my Steelers collection, and then later went and updated my football wantlists to include these justly maligned sets.

I mean, it sounds great to say that a card features Rocky Bleier, Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris, but the reality is a little less than you might expect…

These new cards I got are from 1980 Fleer.  Here’s another one where the most easily identifiable player is #72, right guard Gerry Mullins

They’re kind of fun… and yet they’re not.  I held on to mine, but I can imagine a lot of kids flipping them, putting them in bike spokes and doing other things one does to unwanted trading cards.

As it turns out, I got two different cards of the same Super Bowl… Here’s the 1980 Fleer card for Super Bowl XIII between the Steelers and Cowboys… It appears that Bradshaw is looking for an open receiver.

And here’s the 1979 Fleer card of the same game.  Bradshaw’s still looking.

Just to prove that I did buy a couple of packs of these back in the day, here’s a wrapper from 1981 Fleer Football that I’ve saved for 40 years (damn, that makes me sound ancient… and like a hoarder).  I’ll point out that the left hand side (which would be the back of the pack before it’s opened) features the Eagles and Raiders who had faced off that January in Super Bowl XV.

And here’s another one from 1982 Fleer.  I don’t remember what the deal was with the “Solid Gold” stickers.  I don’t think they featured the Solid Gold Dancers (I think you’d have to be at least 40 years old to get that reference)

Don’t they look enticing?  All bright and colorful and NFL-y, but the pack contained only disappointment.  And gum.

Did anybody collect these back then?  Does anybody actively collect them now?

7 thoughts on “A Different Kind Of “Unlicensed”: Fleer Action Football

      • I had a high school trip to Gettysburg and Washington in 1988. I went in to a store and found these Fleer football packs for sale and bought about ten packs or so.

        I didn’t try to complete any sets, but do believe that I have all the Browns cards that I need from them.

  1. I bought at least a few packs. There are still some in my non-baseball box. They were definitely underwhelming back in the day.

  2. Fleer also did world series cards back in the 70’s. I also had Topps 70’s football, but didn’t realize that Topps had no license back then. I can see where Topps air brushed over the logos on the helmets to give it a metallic look.

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