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    

Mcfarlane Sportspicks Nfl Dallas Cowboys Loose Aikman Sanders Smith Lot CustomMcfarlane Sportspicks Nfl Series Football 6 Figure Opener Lot: Wilson, Tebow++Walter Payton 12inch Mcfarlane Toys Action Figure Chicago BearsMcfarlane Nfl 1 Emmitt Smith Clean Blue Jersey Variant RareMcfarlane Nfl 1 Emmitt Smith No Helmet Variant Figure! Holy Grail Of Mcfarlanes!~16 Mcfarlane Toys *nfl Football* Action Figures - Bulk Closeout Collection LotMcfarlane Nfl Lot Of 10 Figures New Never Opened Nfl Slu Lot (40) Open Loose Starting Lineup 88, 89,90's Reggie White, MontanaMcfarlane Nfl 2 Pack Series 49ers Jerry Rice Cowboys Deion Sanders Check My ItemMagic Johnson La Laker Mcfarlane Lot Of 3 Series 2 + Series 5 Regular/variantRoger Staubach Demarco Murray Mcfarlane Nfl Loose Lot Figurines Dallas CowboysMcfarlane Nfl Series 35 Le'veon Bell Jersey Variant Cl Chase Silver 0758 / 1000Mcfarlane Nfl 3 Pack Series 49ers Rice Montana Lott Check My Items For Chase/clMcfarlane Sports Nfl Football Leveon Bell Steelers Rookie Variant Silver FigureNfl Legends Mcfarlanes Sportspicks, Lawrence Taylor 1981-19931995 Starting Lineup Timeless Legends Walter Payton Chicago Bears Black ShoesJames Worthy La Laker Mcfarlane Figures Lot Of 2 Yellow + Purple Jersey VariantMcfarlane Nfl Series 35 - Dez Bryant Dallas Cowboys Case New & In Stock!Jerry Rice 12 Inch Figure McfarlaneJordy Nelson Mcfarlane Nfl Series 32 Rare Variant 73/500 PackersMcfarlane Nfl Legends Series 2 Walter Payton Unopened Nip 6in. Action FigureMcfarlane Nfl Series 35 - Marshawn Lynch Seattle Seahawks Exclusive Variant! NewJoe Namath Mcfarlane Nfl Series 35 Premier Autograph And Big Head VariantsMcfarlane Nfl Series 35 - Johnny Manziel Collector Level Autograph #22 ChaseCustom Mcfarlane Nfl 6 " Dez Bryant Dallas Cowboys 2014 Pro Bowl FigureMcfarlane Nascar Lot Of 10 Figures New Never Opened 1995 Walter Payton -"timeless Legends" Starting Lineup - Slu - (white Shoes) Mcfarlane Nfl Series 35 - Leveon Bell Pittsburgh Steelers Rookie /new & In StockBrett Farve Favre 3 Mcfarlane Nfl Series 12 Packers Green Jersey Loose Mint HotClay Matthews Mcfarlane Nfl Green Bay Packers Figure Mcfarlane Nfl Lot Of 15 W/ Variants Favre Brady Holmes Williams MibCustom Mcfarlane Nfl 6 " Antwaan Randle El Steelers Super Bowl 40 FigureLot 19 Pittsburgh Steelers Slu Starting Lineup Football Figures Bradshaw BettisRicky Williams Mcfarlane Nfl Series 4 Rookie Miami Dolphins Jersey Loose Mint RcLadainian Tomlinson Mcfarlane Nfl Series 25 Rare Variant 169/250 ChargersDez Bryant Dallas Cowboys Mcfarlane 2011 Collector's Club Football Sports FigureMcfarlane Brett Favre Vs Brian Urlacher Dual MibTom Brady Mcfarlane Nfl Series 27 Rare Variant 862/2000 Patriots White Jersey1998 Nfl Slu Starting Lineup Football Lot Of 13 Hall Of Fame Action FiguresTom Brady Mcfarlane Nfl Series 22 White Patriots Jersey FigureMcfarlane Nfl Series 35 Le'veon Bell Silver ChaseLot Of Nfl Legends Action Figures - Unopened Joe Greene Ronnie Lott Jim BrownMcfarlane Brett Favre Variant Atlanta Falcons Mint!Dez Bryant Mcfarlane Nfl Loose Lot Figurines Dallas CowboysFranco Harris Mcfarlane Nfl Pittsburgh Steelers Figure Loose Walking Dead ~ B&w Rick And Andrea ~ Comic Series 3 Figures Mcfarlane ToysMcfarlane Nfl Tom Brady 2008 Sport Pics Super Bowl Mvp*new England PatriotsRobert Griffin Iii Mcfarlane Nfl Series 31 Rookie Redskins Variant Jersey LooseCustom Mcfarlane Nfl 6 " Allen Faneca Steelers 2007 Throwback Figure2013 Mcfarlane's Sportspicks Nfl Series 33 Russell Wilson (r) Variant Figure NmDerrick Rose Chicago Bulls Mcfarlane Lot Of 4 Series 17 20 24 Regular + VariantNfl Legends Mcfarlanes Sportspicks Troy Aikman 1989-2000Mcfarlane Assorted Nfl Min Figures, Steelers, Bears, Packers, Rams, Chiefs, Etc.Mcfarlane Nfl Series 7 Brett Favre 2 Green Bay PackersMcfarlane Nfl Series 35 - Russell Wilson Seattle Seahawks Case New & In Stock!Mcfarlane Toys Nfl Series 18 Chase Devin Hester Chicago Bears White Jersey FigMcfarlane Nfl 3 Pack Series Chase 49ers Rice Montana Lott Check My ItemsMcfarlane Nfl Series 35 Russell Wilson Variant Chase Collector Level Gold #434Mcfarlane Sports Figure Leveon Bell Collector Level Silver #532 Of 1000 SteelersMcfarlane Legend Troy Aikman Dallas Cowboys