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The Tale of the Topps Mexicans

Author: Matt W.

As I mentioned in my introduction, I am one of only a handful of people to have ever completed the 1977 Topps Mexican football set. And while that is quite a hobby accomplishment (as Slowdog kindly noted in the comments), it’s the story behind my quest which is much more interesting than the accomplishment itself.

The story begins in the year the set was issued, 1977. I was in first grade and was just starting to collect cards. One of my best friends was a kid named Charles, who lived just up the hill from me in San Francisco. We did all sorts of things together, among them opening our first ever packs of baseball cards. Towards the end of the summer, Charles told me that he had some bad news…he was moving. I asked where to, and he said Mexico. Turns out that his dad worked for the State Department, and had just gotten posted to the US Embassy in Mexico City. We said our good-byes, promised to write letters to each other (yes, people still did that back then), and prepared to start 2nd grade fifteen hundred miles apart. Letters went back and forth, Halloween and Thanksgiving came and went, and soon Xmas was upon us. I sent Charles a package of Topps Basketball cards for his Christmas present, and in return he sent me a package of Topps Football cards. It wasn’t until I looked at them carefully that I realized that they were in Spanish. Suddenly Roger Staubach was a member of the “Vaqueros” and Terry Bradshaw was playing for the “Acereros”. And who were those “Pieles Rojas” anyway? Interesting cards to be sure, but as soon as the 1978 baseball cards started to show up, the Mexican football cards went into shoeboxes with all the other cards I owned, and there they sat, gathering dust, for almost fifteen years.

Fast-forward to 1991…I’m twenty years old, just finishing my junior year of college, and my Mom’s arthritis is becoming much more severe. My parents decide to sell our house and move into a smaller one with fewer stairs. I spend a significant part of the summer going through boxes in the basement filled with stuff from my childhood, deciding what will be kept, and what will be donated to charity. I discover the box filled with these weird Spanish football cards.

By this time I had become fairly knowledgeable about the hobby, and am aware that these cards are pretty rare. I take them out of the box and count them up…just under 200 different cards. I decide that it would be a nice challenge to try and complete the set. Little did I know what I was getting into. I did a little research and discovered that while single cards were very hard to come by (this being four years before Netscape and eight years before Ebay), several people had substantial stashes of unopened boxes (Mark Murphy and a guy named Steve whose last name I don’t remember). Although some of these were boxes of the rarer 4-card packs, mostly these were the infamous 2-card packs (usually one of the two cards had a gum or wax stain). Two or three times a year I bought a new box to open, a pattern which would continue for the next few years until I realized that the law of diminishing returns was starting to take effect and that I was getting more duplicates than new cards. I’m not sure exactly when I decided that opening boxes was no longer the most cost-efficient way to proceed, but it might have had something to do with the box I opened that featured 17 Brian Sipe and 14 Ken Anderson cards out of the seventy-two cards in the box (yes, the distribution was sometimes that bad!). By this time I was at roughly 400 cards, constituting roughly ¾ of the set.

As the years passed and the Internet started to make it easier to meet other collectors, I started to find other people also working on the set with whom to trade. My wantlist slowly started to shrink, until by the turn of the century I was down to about twenty-five cards. Although by this point I was well aware of the huge number of cards owned by Michael Hattley at Touchdown Treasures, I realized that it would be far too easy (never mind expensive) to simply buy all the cards I needed from him. So I vowed to try to complete the set by either trading with other collectors or finding cards on Ebay. By 2005, my list was down to single digits, and by 2009 I was down to just one last card (of course one of the Dirty Dozen). Early last summer it popped up on Ebay as part of a lot from a seller in Mexico and I was able to win the auction at a very reasonable price. This was the final piece of the puzzle:

While it took 32 years and caused me much aggravation, it remains one of the most challenging and fulfilling things I have ever accomplished as a collector. I met numerous new collectors along the way and made several new friends, and although I was not the first to finish the set (several other people with the $$$ to buy cards at full price beat me to it), I can pride myself on having been the first to start it.

And if anybody else reading this is working on the set, I’ve still got several hundred duplicates looking for a nice home…

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21 Responses to "The Tale of the Topps Mexicans"

  1. Wax Wombat says:

    Oh wow, I didn’t even know these existed. Great story and nice, unique set!

  2. That is an awesome collection. Especially because it took so much to get. There is nothing better than a feeling of accomplishment when it comes to a set completion.

    I’m not working the set but I have occasionally tried to track down all the Acereros. Once I found them all in an auction but they wanted over $700 starting bid. The only ones I have are #140 Jack Ham AP and #526 AFC Championship card. Both of them are in pretty bad shape, though. I never even thought about them until I saw your post.

  3. mfw13 says:

    Dogfacedgremlin,

    Thanks for the nice words. I’ve got duplicates of most of the Steelers if you still want them, and would be happy to sell them to you for a reasonable price. Mario has my email.

  4. Michel Rivolta says:

    Congratulations, terrific job…!!!!!
    Now you can go for UD CC spanish version….I have a bunch of then, if you are in let me know….!!!!!

  5. Dave says:

    Wow that is a GREAT story – what a great accomplishment! Thanks for sharing. Do you still keep in touch with Charles?

  6. El Palmeiro says:

    Great article! I had no idea this set even existed, but that’s still quite the collecting accomplishment. I’d love to acquire some of your duplicates (especially any Bengals). Please let me know!

  7. mfw13 says:

    Dave,

    Lost touch with Charles a few years later…he never came back to San Francisco because his dad was posted somewhere else after Mexico City.

    El Palmiero,

    As I mentioned to Dogfacedgremlin, you can get my email from Mario. Would be happy to sell you my extra Bengals.

  8. Slowdog says:

    One of my collections is a complete run (all major manufacturers and some minor) of all Cleveland Browns cards from 1950 to about 1985. I first discovered 1977 Topps Mexicans at a card show when a dealer (Kevin Savage) had an odd Brian Sipe card. By chance, a few years later, I found a partial Browns team set on ebay for $80 for my birthday. The team set was missing three cards, Mike Phipps which I easily found on ebay, Greg Pruitt which I found on ebay from dealer in Mexico and Mike Pruitt (one of the “dirty dozen”) this year on ebay in PSA 1 condition at $65 (most dirty dozens in any decent condition cost $250 plus). The PSA 1 actually looks great and one of only two graded cards that I own at the moment (guys – if you really need something, don’t overlook the beauty and cost savings of a low graded card, not everything has to be mint).

    After studying this issue for about eight years since I picked up that first Browns card, I have never read a better story about how a rare collection started than Matt’s and hope he never breaks his set given the great memories.

    Anyone desiring a good read on a rare card set, or a reference if you think you will dive in as to your favorite player (Payton, Staubach, Largent (a dirty dozen himself) or the Super Bowl card (also a dirty dozen) will enjoy this link.

    http://toppsmexican.com/

    Thanks, Matt, for a wonderful story.

  9. Fuji says:

    Congratulations on completing your set. This was a very interesting article… I’ve only seen these cards a few times in my life.

  10. R- says:

    Gerat story, thank you. The Slowdog link is fantastic as well.

  11. Michael Herman says:

    I am working on completing my collection of Aceros. I need Larry Brown, L.C. Greenwood, Franco Harris, and Jon Kolb. Could you send me a price list if you have these cards. Thanks!!

  12. Michael Herman says:

    e-mail me @ mjherman12@yahoo .com

  13. michael Herman says:

    I am interested in purchasing the Aceros that i need to complete my collection I need Jon Kolb, Larry Brown; L.C. Greenwood, and Franco Harris. If you have any of these for sale could please send me a price list. My email address is mpkherman@verizon.net. Thanks

  14. Ray C says:

    Nice job on the set and a good story to go with it. Took a lot of patience to complete I bet!! I’m looking for some Dolphins from the set if you have any LMK what you would want for them.

    54 Freddie Solomon
    278 Nat Moore
    299 Wayne Moore
    316 Benny Malone
    372 Jim Mandich
    515 Bob Griese

    Thanks, Ray

  15. mfw13 says:

    Ray…if you post your email, I’ll get back to you with what I’ve got…

    Matt

  16. Ray C says:

    Matt, Thanks for the quick response. my email is rcwik@wabtec.com LMK if you have any of these and the prices.
    54 Freddie Solomon
    278 Nat Moore
    299 Wayne Moore
    316 Benny Malone
    372 Jim Mandich
    515 Bob Griese

    Thanks again!

    • JOSE-LUIS says:

      Hi Ray! it’s been a while since your message but if you’re still interested I have card no.515_bob griese in a rather good condition…. let me know!

      josé

      i’ll send you an email too.

  17. Alex says:

    I live in Mexico City. Last night I was wondering if I could find any information about my collection of cards. Then I happen to find a website (http://www.toppsmexican.com/) and realized that this cards are highly collectable! I didn’t know that! I am not a professional collector. In fact, I started collecting this cards in 1977 when I was 11 years old, and my friends and I used to sat down outside our houses to trade, fight, shout for getting the missing cards. Well, we were a bunch of kids trading cards.

    From time to time I look into my cards, and many years before, I think during college I realized of a tiny detail: there were no logos on any helmet!! how could this happen? Well, I thought it was a sales promotion from some guys in Mexico who manage to sell this cards with gum without any permission from NFL or something (very bad gum by the way – but you don’t really care about that when your are 11!) Being honest with you, just until last night I realized about the Topps signature.

    As I started reading to that website and others, I realize how big this was, so late last night I looked for the Kodak instamatic plastic box where I keep all my cards, you know, my infancy treasure! After looking and them I decided first thing in the morning was to see if I had any of those hard to find, the so called Dirty Dozen. What surprise I had when one by one I was founding every card from the Dirty Dozen! In that website mention other hard to find items: 3, 147, 295, 332, 374, 417, 453, 474, 470. I have all of this except for 147 and 474.

    In fact I have 83 cards missing. Since I have all of the Dirty Dozen, I might think getting the rest (hopefully) won’t that that expensive. I have my wanted list, if anyone has duplicates willing to sell it would be great see any match from my wanted list. My email alexgab@gmail.com

  18. Ed says:

    Great article. Interested in any extra Broncos you might have.

  19. JOSE-LUIS says:

    Hi everyone!

    I just found my old cards too!!!!!!!

    I have around 200, but from what I have read on internet, these ones may be of someone’s interest:

    098_ray rhodes
    100_ oj simpson
    269_archie griffin
    295_fred biletnikoff
    434_eric torkelson
    470_cliff branch
    480_jack lambert
    515_bob griese

    mail me if interested: jlbenavides@libero.it

  20. Mike Caballero says:

    Hey guys!!!! I have a complete set for a Mexican Tops 1977 I was a 9 years old in 1977 and, I try to sell complete set.

    Please this is not a its joke!!! If anyone interesting please contac me, Im in Mexico City.

    Its to glad for me sale it for a people value

    mike-caballero@hotmail.com

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