Back in June 2013, I reviewed a set of World Football League trading cards produced by a quartet of fans and historians who grew up following the WFL during its brief and wacky run in 1974-1975. The WFL came and went just before the trading card boom of the early 1980’s, so no contemporary card sets were issued during the league’s short existence.
So Greg Allred, Richie Franklin, Bill Jones and Willie O’Burke decided to rectify that with a lovingly curated 70-card series of cards, featuring players from the WFL’s first (and only) full season of 1974. After an enthusiastic reception by football collectors, the group is back with three new WFL issues, including a Series II devoted to the WFL’s abbreviated 1975 season and a unique “Die-Cut” helmet & logo sub-set, which pays tribute to the Sunbeam Bread grocery store inserts of the mid-1970’s that featured NFL helmets of the era.
Fun While It Lasted caught up Bill Jones & co. for a look at the latest issues in their World Football League retro series.
So give me the lowdown on the current state of your WFL Card Series. How many series are there now, covering how many cards?
We currently have 3 series of 70 cards each and the Die-Cut helmet set. The Series I and III sets feature the 1974 WFL season, while the Series II set features the 1975 season. We would love to print a card of every player who played in the World Football League, but we know that is not possible.
With our new WFL Die-Cut cards we have paid a great tribute to the WFL and it’s unique style. Our cards have been a way of keeping the spirit of the World Football League alive.
Talk more more about the Die-Cut series. It features helmets and logos of all the WFL franchises, along with one which never took the field, the Washington Ambassadors. What was the inspiration there?
That credit goes to Willie O’Burke. They were influenced by the Sunbeam Bread NFL cards from 1976. Sunbeam Bread came out with a series of die-cut helmets cards for the NFL. It was one of the best football card sets every produced. The WFL folded before Sunbeam ever had a chance to produce a set for the league, so we’re just trying to capture the same excitement and design of that NFL die-cut series with a version of WFL die-cut cards. Gene Sanny did the artwork for the set and did a fantastic job. We all wanted to produce something that would give a nod to the early to mid 1970’s while using today’s higher quality technology and materials.
After you issued Series I in 2013, did you have any new photo discoveries that you were especially excited about for Series II or III?
Actually, every photo we have used on these cards is a “discovery.” Photos of WFL players are very rare in general, so they are each very special. And that’s what makes these cards that much more exciting…they are like little rare photo treasures of a league that made a quick entrance & exit on the pro football landscape. The best part has been our willingness to open our own collections to allow the best photos to be used in these sets. The four of us together have an extensive collection of photos. For us, we have been re-discovering WFL photos from our own collections that we forgot we had. Together we select the very best we have on each player. We have a few contributors who have lent us photos from their private collections as well. We are very grateful to Chris Gmyrek and Jim Cusano, who both have many great photos. We have even reached out to a few former WFL players.
How were sales of the 1st Series compared to your expectations?
I’m not sure we had any clear sales expectations when we started out. The WFL was not around long enough to have a set of cards made. Fans of the WFL have been waiting for these cards for almost 40 years, and we get to satisfy their long wait. That’s ultimately why we’re doing this: to honor the WFL…a league we loved dearly…and to bring joy to all of the WFL fans we can!
Series I has been our overall best seller. When collectors discover our Web site or read a review on our cards they usually order Series I. Most have been repeat customers, and they end up buying Series II and now Series III. Our die-hard customers also request our Die-Cut cards too.
I continue to be impressed with the card stock especially. Comparing your WFL series to the recent Topps Archives issues, your cards actually have a much more authentic look and feel than Topps own in-house retro productions. How did you work to get that authentic/vintage look & feel in the age of digital printing?
First of all, thank you for the compliment. The four of us were clearly influenced by the Topps cards we collected growing up in the 1970’s. One of our initial goals was to create a set of cards that looked like it came from the mid-70’s, both in the art design and the materials. The grey card stock gives the WFL cards that authentic feel. We had many prototypes that we came up with, and we worked diligently together to come up with our design. It was a total team effort that the four of us are very proud of. It was also important to all four of us to produce a product that we would want to buy and add to our personal collections.
Do you each have a favorite card from the entire series?
I love all of our cards. I don’t think I have a particular favorite, but a few do stand out for me. I love the Series II Title card with the painting from Gene Sanny. Gene did an outstanding job on that card for us. I like our Virgil Carter (Fire) and Tom Sherman (Stars) cards in Series I. The Don Horn (Thunder) and Anthony Davis (Sun) are great cards from Series II. Our new Series III cards have some great photos of Gerry Philbin (Stars) and Ron Porter (Fire), and they made excellent cards. Again, there are a lot of great cards in all of our sets with rare WFL photos.
Personally, I’m a fan of the quarterbacks. Even in my NFL football card collection, I mainly stick with the quarterback cards. So each of the quarterback cards in the WFL set stand out to me. I grew up in Houston so the Houston Texans cards are also special.
As a fan of the Southern California Sun, I am really excited to have cards of players from this team. As a helmet enthusiast, I also really like the cards that feature great shots of helmets. I am particularly happy with the Don Horn (Thunder) card, which shows a helmet stripe combination that was rarely photographed.
I think mine would have to be Johnny Musso. I’ve always been a big University of Alabama fan and Musso fan. He played in the CFL, WFL, & NFL, but only had CFL cards. I’ve never seen an NFL card of his (I don’t think any were ever produced of him) so I’m really grateful to actually be able to have a card of his in this series.
WFL Trading Cards Series I, II, III and Die-Cut Helmets Cards are available at: