Collectible Football Action Figures

For baseball fans who love their toys, a player bobblehead is often a must-have addition to a collection of baseball cards, autographed baseballs, and game-worn uniforms. Bobbleheads have been made of football players, too, but toy-happy football fans have tended to collect action figures of their gridiron heroes.

Action figures of sports stars are a relatively new phenomenon. While baseball and football cards date to the 19th century, the idea of collectible sports action figures was not really hatched until 1986, well after the success of G.I. Joe and “Star Wars” figures.

In fact, G.I. Joe was probably the impetus behind the predecessors of the modern sports action figure. The first of these was a doll (sorry, guys, but there’s just no other word for it) named Johnny Hero. Manufactured by Rosko Industries and sold in Sears catalogs from 1966 to ’67, Johnny figures were generic, which meant kids could accessorize the figure’s standard jersey and pants with kits from one of 22 NFL teams Rosko represented.

A Broadway Joe Namath action figure from Mego in 1971 came next. This was one of numerous celebrity actions figures produced by Mego, which did not specialize in sports action figures per se. Still, Mego’s Namath could throw a forward pass and could be costumed in any of a dozen different outfits, including “Bachelor” attire.

In 1977, Action Team Mates were sold through Sears, as well as J.C. Penny’s. These 7 1/2-inch figures representing each of the NFL’s then-roster of 28 teams were held together inside with rubber bands, which was the same technology used by other articulated action figures of the day.

But the person credited with seeing the true opportunity of sports action figures is Pat McInally, a former punter for the Cincinnati Bengals. In 1986, while still a player, he convinced Kenner to create Starting Lineup, which began producing football action figures in 1988, the year after McInally retired from the pros. It wasn’t until 1997 that Starting Lineup, by then a division of Hasbro, honored McInally with a figure of his own.

The 1988 Starting Lineup (or SLU) figures were roughly five inches tall and came packaged on a card, with its memorable green background (cards for SLU baseball figures had blue ...

Starting Lineup dominated the market through the 1990s, but a few other companies tried to get a piece of the action. In 1996 and ’97, Best Card Company released several lines of football action figures, a dozen featuring college players (the 11-inch figures had a battery in their bases that enabled them to talk) and that many more for the pros. Topps tried out a line called Action Flats in 1999, but the three-inch figures, which came with a foil Topps card, were discontinued almost as quickly as they began.

After Starting Lineup lost the licensing rights to NFL players in 2001, McFarlane Toys, which got its start making highly detailed, and collectible, Spawn figures in 1994, entered the fray. That first year, the eclectic toy maker (2001 also saw McFarlane figures for Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead and all four members of Metallica) released two small football-player sets. The first group of six players included Emmitt Smith of the Dallas Cowboys; the second half-dozen offered later in the year included Brian Urlacher of the Chicago Bears.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Vintage Football Card Gallery

Vintage Football Card Gallery

This great database of pro and collegiate football cards from the 1950s and 1960s offers scanned images of cards fo… [read review or visit site]

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Emmitt Smith Super-rare 12 Inch Mcfarlane Figurine Dallas Cowboys Variant Piece!2002 Mcfarlane Nfl Series 5 Tom BradyMcfarlane Nfl Football Legends Hof Detroit Lions Barry Sanders Case Fresh Mcfarlane Nfl 35 Le'veon Bell Silver Collector Level Chase #566Jerry Rice Series 5 Mcfarlane 49ers Jersey Black Belt With Logo2002 Mcfarlane Nfl Series 5 Tom Brady2002 Mcfarlane Nfl Series 5 Tom Brady2001 Mcfarlane Nfl Series 1 Emmitt Smith1988 Reggie White Kenner Nfl Football Starting Lineup EaglesMcfarlane Cooperstown Collection Series # 3 New York Yankees Don MattinglyMatrix Reloaded Revolutions 27" Sentinel Deluxe Box Mcfarlane 2003 Nib NewMcfarlane Nfl 30 Andrew Luck Bronze Collector Level Chase Variant #1512/2000 Lot2002 Mcfarlane Nfl Series 5 Jerome BettisJames Harrison Pittsburgh Steelers Mcfarlane Nfl Figure Exclusive2003 Mcfarlane Nfl Series 6 Emmitt SmithMcfarlane Colin Kaepernick Nfl Series 33 Red Variant Numbered To 500 Rare & VhtfEmmitt Smith Mcfarlane Series 6: Arizona Cardinals And Chase Dallas Cowboys Lot!Mcfarlane Nfl Bo Jackson1988 Neil Lomax Kenner Nfl Football Starting Lineup Cardinals 1988 Lawrence Taylor Kenner Nfl Football Starting Lineup Giants2002 Mcfarlane Nfl Series 5 Ray LewisBob Lilly Dallas Cowboys Custom McfarlaneRandy Moss Mcfarlane Action Figure 12 Inches Nfl Series 2 VikingsAmari Cooper Oakland Raiders Alabama Nike Custom 6in Mcfarlane Nfl FigureMcfarlane Nfl Legends Series Randall Cunningham Eagles Figure Unopened2001 Mcfarlane Nfl Series 1 Warren Sapp Nfl Loose Mcfarlane Lot: Gore, Romo, Driver, Holt, JamesBrian Urlacher 12 Inch Mcfarlane LooseMcfarlane Ncaa College Tom Brady Michigan Wolverine Figure Unopened2003 Mcfarlane Nfl Series 7 Hines WardNfl Jason Witten & Tony Romo Cowboys Action Figure 2pack Mcfarlane Toys Custom Mcfarlane- Melvin Gordon - Chargers #1 PickMcfarlane Nfl Football Legends Hof Green Bay Packers Bart Starr Case Fresh 2001 Mcfarlane Nfl Series 2 Brian UrlacherMcfarlane Nfl Series 35 Dez Bryant Thanksgiving Day Collector Level Chase BronzeMcfarlane Baseball Babe Ruth Cooperstown Collection Box Edition*new York YankeesMcfarlane Allen Iverson Action Figure Factory Sealed1989 Charles Mann Kenner Nfl Football Starting Lineup Redskins2001 Mcfarlane Nfl Series 1 Kurt WarnerMcfarlane Nfl Andrew Luck NewRicky Williams Mcfarlane Chase Variant New Orleans Saints Series 4Brett Favre Series 4 Mcfarlane White JerseyEagles12" Inch Mcfarlane Toys Action Figure Terrell Owens Sealed Box Nfl2008 Upper Deck 10" Figure Tom Brady Series 1 All Star Vinyl Nrfb/mibMcfarlane Nfl Football Legends Hof San Francisco 49ers Steve Young Case Fresh Mcfarlane Nfl Lawrence TaylorMcfarlane Nfl New York Giants 3-pack - Strahan, Manning, Burress + Tiki Barber1995 Starting Lineup - Slu - Nfl - Michael Irvin - Dallas CowboysMatt Ryan Mcfarlane Nfl Series 22 Figure, Football, Loose, Atlanta Falcons2001 Mcfarlane Nfl Series 2 Marshall Faulk2001 Mcfarlane Nfl Series 1 Randy MossLot Of Starting Lineups Slu 1988-90 Football, Baseball 18 Total Nib MontanaAfa 90 Nm /mt Graded Mcfarlane Sportspicks Nfl Series 5 Tom Brady Blue Jersey. Starting Lineup Nfl Lot Of 41 Moc Dent Free, Crack Free Nice Lot!Custom Mcfarlane Football Figure Bobby Bell Kansas City Chiefs 1965Nfl 5, Tom Brady, 6 In. Mcfarlane Action Figure, New England-patriots (loose)Nfl, Jerry Rice, 6 In. Mcfarlane Action Figure, Oakland-raiders (loose) Towel OkMcfarlane Custom - Jameis Winston Buccaneers 1st Pick -1st Round Draft - AwayMcfarlane Custom - Jameis Winston Buccaneers 1st Pick -1st Round Draft - Home2003 Mcfarlane Nfl Series 6 Mike Alstott