Why Vintage Football Cards Could Blow Up and the 46 to Look Out For
2020 has been quite a year for sports cards. The pandemic seems to have set off a perfect storm, temporarily shutting down live team sports and leaving bored fans at home looking for some excitement. The nostalgia behind getting reacquainted with a childhood hobby, combined with the hunger for sports (and sports gambling) culminated in explosive growth in the industry.
The trading card and memorabilia market has “increased exponentially since the lockdown,” said Ken Goldin, CEO of Goldin Auctions, “because a lot of wealthy people don’t have anything to spend their money on. A lot of them pulled their money out of the stock market and they want hard assets... It’s been on an upward trajectory for the past several years—the modern card market started taking off with six-figure numbers in 2015—but the past six months have been unbelievable. And the past three months have just been shocking.”
Record prices are being shattered at auctions almost daily. A 2003-04 Upper Deck Exquisite LeBron James rookie patch auto sold for $1.8 million on July 19th, which was the record for the highest price ever paid for a modern day card. That record was broken a month later when a Mike Trout 2009 Bowman Chrome Superfractor sold for $3.9 million (8/23), becoming the highest sale of ANY single card, breaking the previous record of $3.12 million paid for a 1909 Honus Wagner T-206 card in 2016. On August 30th, a Michael Jordan 1986 Fleer rookie SGC 10 sold for $420,000, more than 4x the price of it’s previous record sale, when a PSA 10 closed in May for $96,000.
According to vintagecardprices.com, which tracks total sales of sports cards across all the top auction houses, a total of $216,773,658 was spent on sports cards in 2019. So far in 2020, in just over 8 months there has already been $357,434,618 spent on cards.
It comes as no surprise that the biggest increase has come in the basketball card market. With the NBA currently winding down their season in Orlando, they have taken over the eyes of the sports world since late July. The games have been exciting, and the top young players throughout the league have seen major spikes in their value in what has amounted to the sports card version of day-trading stocks.
All it takes is one big game, and the value of the card rises. Take Bol Bol, for example. His cards were selling for $5 until he had one game where he scored 15 points, and all of a sudden his auctions were closing for $50 with buyers looking to get in cheap and invest in his potential. There is, however, plenty of downside with that type of fluctuation. Zion Williamson cards were absolutely on fire for the last few months, until the Pelicans were knocked out of the bubble. His value has since taken a dip, so if you bought in at the peak, you now have to decide whether to sell at a loss or hold on to the card(s) until next season when he becomes relevant again.
The much safer play long-term is to invest in the icons. With iconic players, their story has already been written. You don’t have to worry about Michael Jordan or Wilt Chamberlain having a bad series. There is no guessing how the rest of Larry Bird’s career will play out. Also, as I alluded to previously, the nostalgia factor is huge in the vintage market. If you grew up a Knicks fan and collected cards, there is just something special about purchasing a Walt Clyde Frazier or Willis Reed card that brings you back to your childhood.
A few weeks ago, we tracked the Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) 1969 Topps PSA 8 rookie, which was selling for $4751 in March, and most recently sold for $30,201.99 on August 23rd. In a recent “Data Debates”, we made a case for why the Jerry West 1961 Fleer rookie was undervalued at the $5199.95 it had sold for in July. The most recent auction for that same card closed at $23,659.99..
Football is Back!
You may be asking yourself why all of this information is relevant for a football card article? With the return of football coming this week, a sleeping giant is about to be awakened. According to Ad Age, in 2019, 42 of the top 50 (73 of the top 100) most watched television shows in America were football broadcasts. 7 million more people watched the AFC Championship game than the State of the Union address. Almost the same number of people watched a week 12 Cowboys vs Patriots game as the Academy Awards. By comparison, the highest rated NBA game in 2019 was game 2 of the NBA Finals, ranked 89th on that same list. With attendance across the NFL this season limited in some cities and completely empty in others, there is every reason to believe that this year will have their highest television ratings of all-time. That type of attention should be great for the football card market.
It is also important to note how much consumers enjoy betting on all aspects of football. Whether it’s daily fantasy sports (DFS), season-long fantasy leagues, betting on NFL futures (like who will win the Super Bowl), prop bets (like who will win MVP), parlays (betting on multiple games at the same time), or just betting on single games, America has an unquenchable thirst for getting in on the action in football like no other sport. According to ESPN, of the estimated $150 billion dollars wagered on sports every year in the United States, $95 billion is bet on football.
Much like the NBA with Zion and Ja Morant, the cards to chase amongst collectors this offseason have been Joe Burrow and Tua Tagavailoa, but both have question marks that could greatly affect their value. Will Burrow be able to live up to the early expectations on what is believed to be a very bad Bengals team? If not, his value could take a dip. Will Tua ever recover 100% from his hip injury that he sustained at Alabama, and if so, will he be able to elevate a poor Dolphins team and live up to his pre-draft hype?
As collectors watch these storylines play out, many will decide to get nostalgic. For instance, if a Jets fan wanted to buy a card that would be considered a safer investment, would they choose the upside of Sam Darnold? Or would they spend that same money on the cultural icon, Joe Namath. If you are a Dolphins fan, are you investing in Tua rookie cards instead of Dan Marino? If your answer is yes, you are gambling.
It is entirely possible that one of the rookies in this class is the next Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson, who have seen huge rises in the value of their cards in the last year. However, the majority of the players in every rookie class never live up to the hype. When investing in vintage cards, you don’t have to worry about speculating. Joe Montana isn’t going to be a bust. Johnny Unitas isn’t going to tear his ACL next week.
Basketball vs Football: The Data
1986 Fleer Charles Barkley PSA 10 vs 1984 Topps Dan Marino PSA 10
ESPN Top 74 Ranking #23
PSA 10 Total Population: 225
Most Recent Sale: $7,999.99
PSA 10 Market Cap: $1,799,998
% change: +774.32%
USA Today Top 100 Ranking: #20
PSA 10 Total Population: 380
Most Recent Sale: $2,383.33
PSA 10 Market Cap: $905,665
% change: +114.71%
Dan Marino and Charles Barkley are a perfect match to kick off our comparisons. Both are known in their sport for being one of the best to ever play, but never winning a championship. Both are relevant in their post-playing days with Barkley a host on TNT and Marino starring in movies and commercials. Marino was ranked the 20th best football player ever by USA today, Barkley was ranked 23rd best basketball player ever by ESPN. So why does a Barkley rookie card have a market cap twice the size of Marino’s? I don’t see any reason why, making Marino extremely undervalued in my opinion.
1986 Fleer Michael Jordan PSA 10 vs 1986 Topps Jerry Rice PSA 10
ESPN Top 74 Ranking #1
PSA 10 Total Population: 315
Most Recent Sale: $86,000
PSA 10 Market Cap: $27,090,000
% change: +272.29%
USA Today Top 100 Ranking: #1
PSA 10 Total Population: 57
Most Recent Sale: $34,788
PSA 10 Market Cap: $1,982,916
% change: +278.95%
This matchup is GOAT vs GOAT. There is no point breaking down both of their accomplishments as players, because those speak for themselves. Both were ranked #1 of all time on the lists we cited, so their playing careers were very similar. However, as far as cultural significance goes, Jordan clearly has set himself apart from every other athlete maybe on the planet. The only question is whether or not his market cap should be 14x the size of Rice’s. I don’t think the gap is nearly that wide between the two, and I feel that the 1986 Topps Jerry Rice PSA 10 is one of the most undervalued rookie cards on the market.
1980 Topps Larry Bird, Magic Johnson & Julius Erving PSA 9 vs 1981 Topps Joe Montana PSA 9
ESPN Top 74 Ranking: Erving #15 - Bird #7 - Johnson #5
PSA 9 Total Population: 607
Most Recent Sale: $20,300
PSA 9 Market Cap: $12,322,100
% change: +446.19%
USA Today Top 100 Ranking: #6
PSA 9 Total Population: 1894
Most Recent Sale: $2,600
PSA 9 Market Cap: $4,924,400
% change: +280.19%
This is an interesting comparison because it’s 3 players against 1, with this being the only multi-player card we break down because Larry Bird and Magic Johnson’s rookie card is the same card. However, the market cap on these two cards seems out of whack with Bird/Magic/Erving at 2.5x of the player that is in most comparisons for best quarterback of all-time along with Tom Brady. Since the number of Montana PSA 9’s on the market is 3x higher than the Bird/Magic/Erving, you should be able to find one. I would not be surprised if the market heats up for Montana rookies and closes that gap.
1972 Topps Julius Erving PSA 9 vs 1976 Topps Walter Payton PSA 9
ESPN Top 74 Ranking: #15
PSA 9 Total Population: 159
Most Recent Sale: $24,500
PSA 9 Market Cap: $3,895,500
% change: +704.2%
USA Today Top 100 Ranking: #5
PSA 9 Total Population: 663
Most Recent Sale: $4000
PSA 9 Market Cap: $2,652,000
% change: +206.6%
Walter Payton is widely considered the greatest running back of all time and was ranked #5 on the USA Today list, while Erving was ranked #15 on ESPN’s list. It’s hard to understand why the market cap is almost 50% higher for an Erving rookie than a Payton rookie, giving plenty of room for upside on Payton’s value. If the market cap evens out, that would put the value of the Walter Payton PSA 9 around $5875.
1986 Hakeem Olajuwon Fleer PSA 10 vs 1982 Lawrence Taylor Topps PSA 10
ESPN Top 74 Ranking: #12
PSA 8 Total Population: 322
Most Recent Sale: $9,999
PSA 10 Market Cap: $3,219,678
USA Today Top 100 Ranking: #3
PSA 10 Total Population: 156
Most Recent Sale: $4551
PSA 10 Market Cap: $709,956
We don’t have a chart for this breakdown because Lawrence Taylor rookie cards are not currently tracked by CardLadder, but this spread is possibly the most baffling one of all of the comparisons. Why should Hakeem Olajuwon, who is ranked 12th of all time, have a market cap 5x the size of the best defensive player and #3 ranked player of all-time, Lawrence Taylor? It’s my opinion that Lawrence Taylor rookie cards are significantly undervalued. If the market cap evens out, you would be looking at a $20,000 price target.
1986 Karl Malone Fleer PSA 10 vs 1984 John Elway Topps PSA 10
ESPN Top 74 Ranking: #17
PSA 8 Total Population: 207
Most Recent Sale: $4,499
PSA 10 Market Cap: $931,293
% change: +675.73%
USA Today Top 100 Ranking: #18
PSA 10 Total Population: 172
Most Recent Sale: $3706
PSA 10 Market Cap: $637,432
% change: +64.65%
Karl Malone, like Charles Barkley, is an all-time great who never won a championship. However, unlike Dan Marino, John Elway won two Super Bowls. Malone was ranked #17 by ESPN, Elway was ranked #18 by USA Today. John Elway is currently the GM of the Broncos, where he has brought them an additional ring and has potential for more in the future. With Malone having a market cap almost 50% higher, I love John Elway rookies at their current price.
The Full List of 46 Vintage Cards To Look Out For:
This list of the 46 most interesting vintage cards to look out for is based on my analysis of each card's current price, population and availability. All recent sale prices and market caps are current as of 9/8/2020.
46. 1984 Topps USFL Reggie White #58 RC
USA Today Top 100: #7
PSA Pop: 10 (7) 9 (419) 8 (905) 7 (297)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 10 $7400 - PSA 9 $277 - PSA 8 $82
Teams: Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers & Carolina Panthers
Reggie White’s illustrious career actually started in the USFL, where he played for the Memphis Showboats. This iconic Topps 1984 USFL set also featured the rookie cards of Jim Kelly, Steve Young, and Herschel Walker. White finished his professional career as a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, 13-time Pro Bowler, and 13-time All-Pro selection and is still ranked second all-time among career sack leaders with 198.
45. 1976 Topps #220 Jack Lambert AP
USA Today Top 100: #29
PSA Pop: 10 (26) 9 (252) 8 (693) 7 (338)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 10 $2938 - PSA 9 $374 - PSA 8 $77
Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
Lambert played his entire 10 year NFL career (1974-1984) for the Pittsburgh Steelers, The 1974 Defensive Rookie of the Year starred on the legendary “Steel Curtain” defense, and was the 1976 Defensive Player of the Year, a 7x First Team All-Pro and 9x Pro Bowler. In 2004, Fox Sports ranked Lambert as the “toughest player of all time”.
44. 1979 Topps #390 Earl Campbell RC
USA Today Top 100: #59
PSA Pop: 10 (30) 9 (391) 8 (1395) 7 (995)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 10 $4760 - PSA 9 $1102 - PSA 8 $22.50
Teams: Houston Oilers & New Orleans Saints
Campbell was 5x Pro Bowler, 3x First Team All-Pro, 3x Offensive Player of the Year, 1978 Rookie of the Year and the 1979 NFL MVP. Campbell played his college ball for the Texas Longhorns, where he won the 1977 Heisman Trophy and was the first overall draft pick in 1978.
43. 1969 Topps #120 Larry Csonka RC
USA Today Top 100: #NA
PSA Pop: 10 (0) 9 (11) 8 (150) 7 (232)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 9 $2550 - PSA 8 $279
Teams: Miami Dolphins & New York Giants
The 1969 Topps football set is one of the most iconic ever made. A member of the 1972 Dolphins perfect season, Csonka was a 2x Super Bowl champion, Super Bowl MVP (VIII), 5x Pro Bowler and 3x First Team All-Pro.
42. 1963 Topps #44 David “Deacon” Jones RC
USA Today Top 100: #15
PSA Pop: 10 (1) 9 (38) 8 (519) 7 (545)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 9 $3561 - PSA 8 $435 - PSA 7 $115
Teams: Los Angeles Rams, San Diego Chargers & Washington Redskins
Nicknamed the “Secretary of Defense”, Deacon Jones was a terror in opposing team’s backfields. He played before the “sack” was an actual stat, but has unofficially been credited with 173 of them, which would be good for #3 all-time.
41. 1971 Topps #245 Joe Greene RC
USA Today Top 100: #11
PSA Pop: 10 (1) 9 (116) 8 (527) 7 (480)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 9 $6900 - PSA 8 $690 - PSA 7 $208
Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers
“Mean” Joe Greene played his entire 12-year career as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Another member of the famed “Steel Curtain Defense”, Greene was a 4x Super Bowl Champion, 10x Pro Bowler, 5x First Team All-Pro and 2x NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Off the field, he was the star of one of the most iconic commercials of all time for Coca-Cola.
40. 1973 Topps #89 Franco Harris RC
USA Today Top 100: #99
PSA Pop: 10 (0) 9 (14) 8 (261) 7 (475)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 9 $2032 - PSA 8 $227
Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers & Seattle Seahawks
Franco Harris was a 4x Super Bowl Champion and Super Bowl MVP (IX) with the Steelers. He was the centerpiece of their offense throughout the 1970’s going to 9 straight Pro Bowls from 1972-1980 and was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1990. Harris was at the receiving end of one of the most famous catches in NFL history, the “Immaculate Reception”.
39. 1950 Bowman #5 Y.A. Tittle RC
USA Today Top 100: #NA
PSA Pop: 10 (0) 9 (3) 8 (59) 7 (87)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 8 $2100 - PSA 7 $689.99
Teams: Baltimore Colts, San Francisco 49ers & New York Giants
Tittle was a 7x Pro Bowler, 4x First Team All-Pro, NFL Player of the Year (1957) and NFL MVP (1963), He is most well known for taking the New York Giants to three straight NFL Championship games (1962-1964) and was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1971.
38. 1975 Topps #282 Lynn Swann RC
USA Today Top 100: #68
PSA Pop: 10 (12) 9 (255) 8 (615) 7 (486)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 10 $4150 - PSA 9 $575 - PSA 8 $147.50
Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
Swann is yet another member of the Steelers 1970’s dynasty to make our list. The 4x Super Bowl champion, Super Bowl X MVP and 3x Pro Bowler was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001.
37. 1963 Fleer #47 Len Dawson
USA Today Top 100: #NA
PSA Pop: 10 (0) 9 (26) 8 (169) 7 (147)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 9 $2173 - PSA 8 $850 - PSA 7 $525
Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns & Dallas Texans/Kansas City Chiefs
Len Dawson was a Super Bowl champion and MVP (IV) and 3x AFL Champion (1962, 1966 & 1969) as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs.
36. 1963 Fleer #72 Lance Alworth RC
USA Today Top 100: #62
PSA Pop: 10 (1) 9 (16) 8 (110) 7 (137)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 9 $3450 - PSA 8 $964.99 - PSA 7 $498
Teams: San Diego Chargers & Dallas Cowboys
Lance Alworth was a multi-sports athlete and was actually offered contracts by the New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Pirates after high school. He decided to play football, starring for the AFL’s San Diego Chargers for 8 years and won a Super Bowl, an AFL Championship and was a 7x AFL All-Star. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1978.
35. 2000 Bowman Chrome #236 Tom Brady RC
USA Today Top 100: #2
PSA Pop: 10 (1047) 9 (1375) 8 (344) 7 (43)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 10 $10250 - PSA 9 $3000 - PSA 8 $1725
Teams: New England Patriots & Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The first of three Tom Brady cards on our list, Brady is the only active player here.
34. 1988 Topps #327 Bo Jackson RC
USA Today Top 100: #NA
PSA Pop: 10 (521) 9 (2503) 8 (1913) 7 (302)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 10 $590 - PSA 9 $51 - PSA 8 $42.55
Team: Los Angeles Raiders
It can not be overstated what a cultural icon Bo Jackson was in such a short period of time. Bo was a Heisman Trophy winner, Pro Bowl running back AND an MLB All-Star while playing for the Kansas City Royals. Off the field, he was the star of the iconic “Bo Knows” Nike advertising campaign and made guest appearances on television shows such Fresh Prince of Bel Aire and Married with Children. Unfortunately in 1991, Bo suffered a football career-ending hip injury and fans were robbed of the prime of his career.
33. 1989 Score #246 Deion Sanders RC
USA Today Top 100: #16
PSA Pop: 10 (649) 9 (2309) 8 (1410) 7 (113)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 10 $510 - PSA 9 $76 - PSA 8 - $10.84
Teams: Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins & Baltimore Ravens
“Primetime”, like Bo Jackson, played two professionals sports and is the only athlete to ever play in a Super Bowl and World Series. He is a two time Super Bowl Champion, 8x Pro Bowler, 6x First Team All-Pro and 1994 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Off the field, he had endorsement deals with Nike, Pizza Hut, Pepsi, Burger King & American Express and starred in the MC Hammer video “Too Legit To Quit”. He currently works as an analyst for the NFL Network.
32. 1962 Topps #90 Fran Tarkenton SP RC
USA Today Top 100: #92
PSA Pop: 10 (0) 9 (6) 8 (71) 7 (224)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 8 $2280 - PSA 7 $736
Teams: Minnesota Vikings & New York Giants
Tarkenton’s 18-year career was played mostly for the Minnesota Vikings where he was a 9x Pro Bowler and the 1975 NFL MVP. At the time of his retirement, he held almost every major QB record and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986. Interestingly, the smaller photo on this card is actually an airbrushed image of Sonny Jurgensen.
31. 1965 Topps #133 Fred Biletnikoff SP RC
USA Today Top 100: NA
PSA Pop: 10 (0) 9 (3) 8 (62) 7 (127)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 9 $10984 - PSA 8 $1260 - PSA 7 $710
Team: Oakland Raiders
Biletnikoff played his entire 13-year NFL career for the Oakland Raiders. He was a Super Bowl champion and MVP (XI), 4x Pro Bowler and First Team All-Pro (1972). He is so iconic that the “Fred Biletnikoff Award” is handed out every year to college football’s best receiver. This particular card is a member of the iconic 1965 Topps “tall boy” set, their first and last time using this size format.
30. 1970 Topps #90 O.J. Simpson RC
USA Today Top 100: #40
PSA Pop: 10 (1) 9 (115) 8 (602) 7 (671)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 9 $2650 - PSA 8 $491 - PSA 7 $210
Teams: Buffalo Bills & San Francisco 49ers
OJ Simpson was an absolute legend at USC, where he won the Heisman Trophy in 1975. His 11-year NFL career played out mostly in Buffalo, where “the Juice” was a 5x Pro Bowler, 5x First Team All-Pro, NFL MVP (1973) and NFL Offensive Player of the Year (1973). He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1985. Off the field, OJ was an accomplished television and movie actor before being found “not guilty” in one of the most famous murder trials in American history. This “rookie” card was released a year after his rookie season.
29. 1989 Score #270 Troy Aikman RC
USA Today Top 100: #100
PSA Pop: 10 (1330) 9 (4691) 8 (4551) 7 (457)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 10 $449 - PSA 9 $66 - PSA 8 $15.50
Team: Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys took Aikman with the #1 overall pick in the 1989 NFL Draft, and he rewarded them with three Super Bowl Championships and a Super Bowl MVP (XXVII). He was a 6 Pro Bowler and 3x All-Pro.
28. 1966 Philadelphia #38 Gale Sayers RC
USA Today Top 100: #21
PSA Pop: 10 (0) 9 (33) 8 (343) 7 (457)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 9 $4550 - PSA 8 $1350 - PSA 7 $561.25
Team: Chicago Bears
The “Kansas Comet” career lasted only 6 years for the Bears. In his rookie season, he scored 22 touchdowns, including SIX!!! in one game before being named Rookie of the Year. He went on to be a 5x First Team All-Pro and was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1977. This is the only recognized Gale Sayers rookie card.
27. 1986 Topps #374 Steve Young RC
USA Today Top 100: #56
PSA Pop: 10 (9) 9 (174) 8 (2798) 7 (2767)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 10 $35302 - PSA 9 $1750 - PSA 8 $66
Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers & San Francisco 49ers
This is Steve Young’s first NFL card, as he also had a card in the iconic 1984 USFL set. Young was drafted by the Bucs but was traded after two years to the San Francisco 49ers, where he was Joe Montana’s backup for four seasons. He went on to win 3 Super Bowls over the 7 seasons after taking over the starting job and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005. Highly graded cards in this popular set are hard to come by because of their easily damaged green borders.
26. 1948 Leaf #34 Sammy Baugh RC
USA Today Top 100: #22
PSA Pop: 10 (0) 9 (1) 8 (10) 7 (16)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 8 $6344 - PSA 7 $3000 - PSA 6 $862.40
Teams: Washington Redskins
“Slingin” Sammy was another two sport athlete, signing with the St Louis Cardinals to play 3rd base before making his switch to football. Baugh led the Redskins to 5 championship games and was one of the charter members of the Hall of Fame in 1963. He didn’t only play quarterback and in 1943, Baugh led the NFL in passing, punting and interceptions.
25. 1998 SP Authentic #18 Randy Moss RC /2000
USA Today Top 100: #24
PSA Pop: 10 (9) 9 (76) 8 (67) 7 (2)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 10 $5030 - PSA 9 $998 - PSA 8 $389.34
Teams: Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders, New England Patriots, Tennessee Titans & San Francisco 49ers
Moss took the NFL by storm as a rookie in 1998, setting the rookie single season touchdown record (17). He was traded to the Raiders, and then to the Patriots where he set the single season wide receiver touchdown record (23) en route to the Pats 16-0 perfect season, before losing in the Super Bowl. This set was one of the first to put serial numbers on their rookie cards.
24. 1990 Score Supplemental #101T Emmitt Smith RC
USA Today Top 100: #19
PSA Pop: 10 (733) 9 (4087) 8 (3685) 7 (179)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 10 $1875 - PSA 9 $72.50 - PSA 8 $45.51
Teams: Dallas Cowboys & Arizona Cardinals
Emmitt Smith is the leading rusher in the history of the NFL, collecting 18,335 yards throughout his career. He is also the all-time leader in rushing touchdowns with 164. Smith also won 3 Super Bowls, was elected to 8 Pro Bowls and won an NFL MVP (1993). This card was only available through the factory as part of a supplemental set. The packaging and colored borders led to major condition issues, keeping the number of PSA 9’s and 10’s relatively low.
23. 1991 Stadium Club #94 Brett Favre RC
USA Today Top 100: #26
PSA Pop: 10 (1781) 9 (4958) 8 (4488) 7 (459)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 10 $380 - PSA 9 $52 - PSA 8 $14.50
Teams: Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, New York Jets & Minnesota Vikings
The NFL’s ultimate warrior, Favre started an NFL record 237 consecutive games. He led the Packers to two straight Super Bowls, winning one (1996) and was the NFL MVP in three consecutive seasons (1995-1997). This card spelled his name wrong (Farve) and is his most popular rookie.
22. 1950 Bowman #45 Otto Graham RC
USA Today Top 100: #17
PSA Pop: 10 (0) 9 (9) 8 (90) 7 (123)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 9 $13301 - PSA 8 $2130 - PSA 7 $1108.99
Teams: Cleveland Browns
In Graham’s short 10 year career, he led the Browns to a 105-17-4 record and won 3 NFL Championships, collecting two NFL MVP’s along the way. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1965.
21. 1933 Sport Kings #4 Red Grange RC
USA Today Top 100: #47
PSA Pop: 10 (0) 9 (4) 8 (31) 7 (33) 6
Most Recent Sales: PSA 9 $81000 - PSA 8 $10800 - PSA 7 $2040
Teams: Chicago Bears & New York Yankees (Football)
The “Galloping Ghost” is one of the most collectible cards in one of sports card’s most iconic sets. He was another one of the charter members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963. The population on these cards is so low that finding one in a high grade for sale is near impossible.
20. 1933 Sport Kings #6 Jim Thorpe RC
USA Today Top 100: #45
PSA Pop: 10 (0) 9 (4) 8 (22) 7 (17) 6 (28) 5 (46) 4 (42)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 9 $138000 - PSA 8 $9125 - PSA 7 $5000 - PSA 6 $1525 - PSA 5 $1084
Team: Canton Bulldogs, Cleveland Indians, Oorang Indians, Rock Island Independents, New York Giants, Tampa Cardinals and the Chicago Cardinals.
Jim Thorpe was the original multi-sport athlete, playing baseball for the New York Giants before winning two gold medals in the 1912 Stockholm Summer Olympics in the decathlon and pentathlon before his football career even began. He is widely regarded as the best athlete in the history of sports.
19. 1996 Bowman’s Best #164 Ray Lewis RC
USA Today Top 100: #23
PSA Pop: 10 (224) 9 (432) 8 (181) 7 (22)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 10 $200 - PSA 9 $71.70 - PSA 8 $34.50
Team: Baltimore Ravens
Ray Lewis played his entire 17 year career for the Baltimore Ravens and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2018. He is a 2x Super Bowl champion including a Super Bowl MVP (XXXV), and was selected to 13 Pro Bowls. He also was a 7x First Team All-Pro, 2x Defensive Player of the Year and holds the NFL all-time record for most career tackles (2,055).
18. 2000 SP Authentic #118 Tom Brady RC /1250
USA Today Top 100: #2
PSA Pop: 10 (99) 9 (298) 8 (126) 7 (19)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 10 $43602 - PSA 9 $10200 - PSA 8 $8865 - PSA 7 $5000
Team: New England Patriots & Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The second Tom Brady card on this list, there were only 1250 of these cards produced. With such a low population of the “GOAT”, what will happen to the value of this card if he wins a Super Bowl with the Buccaneers? What about when he is inducted in to the Hall of Fame. This card is not a cheap investment, but it’s about as safe as they come.
17. 1935 National Chicle #34 Bronko Nagurski RC
USA Today Top 100: #50
PSA Pop: 9 (1) 8 (6) 7 (17) 6 (13) 5 (22) 4 (21)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 8 $66354 - PSA 7 $38240 - PSA 6 $30000 - PSA 5 $9560
Team: Chicago Bears
This is one of the most valuable cards in the game and features Nagurski in his college gear, even though at the time it was produced, he was already a member of the Chicago Bears. Bronko was another charter member of the Hall of Fame in 1963. Fellow Hall of Famer Ernie Never said that “tackling Bronko was like tackling a freight train going downhill.” This super-rare card from the high-number series is the cornerstone of the historically important National Chicle football set.
16. 1971 Topps #156 Terry Bradshaw RC
USA Today Top 100: #75
PSA Pop: 10 (3) 9 (20) 8 (447) 7 (725) 6 (802)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 10 $18233 - PSA 9 $18600 - PSA 8 $1500 - PSA 7 $595
Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
Bradshaw was the quarterback of the Steelers 1970’s dynasty, winning 4 Super Bowls. He has had a very successful post-football career as a broadcaster. Top grades of this card are extremely rare due to their easily damaged edges on it’s solid red border.
15. 1972 Topps #200 Roger Staubach RC
USA Today Top 100: #48
PSA Pop: 10 (2) 9 (50) 8 (396) 7 (569) 6 (689)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 10 $22161 - PSA 9 $11000 - PSA 8 $850 - PSA 7 $720
Team: Dallas Cowboys
The quarterback of the Cowboys 1970’s dynasty that earned the nickname “America’s Team”. The 1972 set is the most popular set of the decade, with Staubach’s rookie the star of the show.
14. 1957 Topps #138 Johnny Unitas RC
USA Today Top 100: #9
PSA Pop: 10 (0) 9 (8) 8 (189) 7 (4255760)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 9 $92063 - PSA 8 $5499 - PSA 7 $3000 - PSA 6 $2247 - PSA 5 $500
Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Colts & San Diego Chargers
“Johnny U” was actually cut by the Steelers as a rookie in 1955 and signed as a free agent with the Baltimore Colts in 1956, where he went on to break most of the NFL’s major passing records. Unitas won 3 NFL championships and a Super Bowl (V). He was a 10x Pro Bowler, 5x First Team All-Pro and 3x NFL MVP. The dual-photo layout and vibrant colors of the 1957 set make it one of the most iconic in the game, and this card is the star of the set.
13. 1989 Score #257 Barry Sanders RC
USA Today Top 100: #10
PSA Pop: 10 (1790) 9 (7523) 8 (9425)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 10 $1152 - PSA 9 $181 - PSA 8 $55
Team: Detroit Lions
Barry Sanders was a cheat code. His highlight film runs are legendary and the only thing that stopped Sanders from becoming the NFL’s all-time leading rusher was an early retirement. This was the most popular football card during one of the golden era’s of sports card collecting.
USA Today Top 100: #1
PSA Pop: 10 (87) 9 (1016) 8 (11642)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 10 $34788 - PSA 9 $5350 - PSA 8 $351
Teams: San Francisco 49ers & Oakland Raiders
Jerry Rice was ranked by USA Today as the greatest football player of all-time. He holds virtually every major receiving record in both the regular and postseasons. Rice made 13 Pro Bowls and won 3 Super Bowls over his epic 20 year career. There were a ton of these cards produced but because of the easily damaged green borders, there is an extremely low population of PSA 9’s and 10’s.
11. 1982 Topps Ronnie Lott #486 RC
USA Today Top 100: #13
PSA Pop: 10 (89) 9 (479) 8 (1644)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 10 $1145 - PSA 9 $125 - PSA 8 $62
Teams: San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, New York Jets & Kansas City Chiefs
Ronnie Lott was so tough that he opted to have the tip of his left pinky finger amputated rather than having surgery and missing the start of the 1985 season. He was a 4x Super Bowl Champion, 10x Pro Bowler, 8x First Team All-Pro and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2000.
10. 2000 Playoff Contenders #144 Tom Brady Auto RC
USA Today Top 100: #2
PSA Pop: 10 (13) 9 (17) 8 (81) 7 (26)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 10 $135102 - PSA 9 $44000 - PSA 8 $28999 - PSA 7 $13249
Teams: New England Patriots & Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The 3rd and final Brady card on our list is his most sought after and is the most valuable football rookie card on the market. As we previously mentioned, there is very little downside to a Brady investment and if he wins in Tampa Bay, what happens to his value? However, with such a low population and high price tag, this card is not going to be an easy one to get your hands on.
9. 1976 Topps #148 Walter Payton RC
USA Today Top 100: #5
PSA Pop: 10 (52) 9 (663) 8 (2548) 7 (1865)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 10 $62000 - PSA 9 $3427 - PSA 8 $859 - PSA 7 $750
Teams: Chicago Bears
In his 13 years with the Chicago Bears, Walter Payton was a 9x Pro Bowler, 2x NFL MVP (1977 & 1985) and a Super Bowl champion. “Sweetness” was the NFL’s all-time leading rusher until Emmitt Smith broke his record and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993. Centering issues in this set make PSA 10’s very hard to find.
8. 1957 Topps #119 Bart Starr RC
USA Today Top 100: #63
PSA Pop: 10 (0) 9 (3) 8 (93) 7 (314) 6 (422)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 9 $288000 - PSA 9 $8250 - PSA 8 $2950 - PSA 7 $925 - PSA 6 $630
Teams: Green Bay Packers
Bart Starr was a 5x NFL Champion and was named Super Bowl MVP in the first two Super Bowls as a member of the Packers. One of the most sought after cards from the iconic 1957 Topps set, this card is rarely found in high-grade with poor centering and print defects keeping the population of PSA 8’s and 9’s very low.
7. 1984 Topps #123 Dan Marino RC
USA Today Top 100: #20
PSA Pop: 10 (380) 9 (3558) 8 (11461)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 10 $2475 - PSA 9 $250 - PSA 8 $61
Team: MIami Dolphins
Although Marino never won a Super Bowl, he is widely considered one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. The 9x Pro Bowler was elected into the Hall of Fame in 2005. This card is relatively easy to find in high grades, so getting your hands on one shouldn’t be too difficult.
6. 1984 Topps #63 John Elway RC
USA Today Top 100: #18
PSA Pop: 10 (172) 9 (2466) 8 (8599)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 10 $3051 - PSA 9 $362 - PSA 8 $60.77
Team: Denver Broncos
This card is from the same 1984 Topps set as the Dan Marino rookie, however, there are less than half the number of PSA 10’s in the population. Unlike Marino, Elway won two Super Bowls to close out his illustrious career. In 1998, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen offered to sell Elway a 10% stake in the Broncos for $15 million dollars with the option to purchase another 10% by forgoing the $21 million in deferred compensation that Bowlen owed Elway, but he never closed the deal. According to Forbes Magazine, the Broncos are currently valued at $2.7 billion dollars, meaning Elway’s 20% is currently valued at $540 million dollars. It’s fair to say that his rookie card might not see those kind of returns, but with such a relatively low population, you can’t go wrong.
5. 1983 Topps Mike Singletary RC
USA Today Top 100: #46
PSA Pop: 10 (113) 9 (935) 8 (952) 7 (197)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 10 $508 - PSA 9 $41.03 - PSA 8 $15.50
Team: Chicago Bears
Singletary was a key member of the “Monsters of the Midway”, the famed defense of the 1985 Super Bowl Champion Chicago Bears. During that season, he was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year, which he won again in 1988. He retired as a 7x First Team All Pro and 10x Pro Bowler and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1995.
4. 1958 Topps #62 Jim Brown RC
USA Today Top 100: #4
PSA Pop: 10 (0) 9 (5) 8 (196) 7 (476) 6 (734) 5 (650)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 9 $336000 - PSA 8 $9294 - PSA 7 $10101 - PSA 6 $4650 - PSA 5 $999
Team: Cleveland Browns
Jim Brown lettered in 3 sports while at Syracuse University and was an All-American in both football and lacrosse. The first running back on USA Today’s “Top 100 Players of All-Time list”, Brown only played 9 years and was a 9x Pro Bowler, 8x First Team All-Pro, 3x NFL MVP and Hall of Famer. After his football career, he had a successful career in acting. The low population of PSA 9’s and 10’s can be blamed on the fact that the cards in this set were often found with print defects, poor centering and edge chipping.
3. 1965 Topps #122 Joe Namath SP RC
USA Today Top 100: #68
PSA Pop: 10 (0) 9 (5) 8 (78) 7 (171) 6 (305) 5 (269)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 9 $264000 - PSA 8 $35000 - PSA 7 $6000 - PSA 6 $5000 - PSA 5 $3854
Teams: New York Jets & Los Angeles Rams
I promise that the high ranking of this card has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I am a die-hard Jets fan and Joe Namath is the only person on this planet who has quarterbacked them to a Super Bowl (well... maybe it has a LITTLE to do with it). Namath was so full of swag, with his white shoes and sideline fur coats. The fact that his rookie card happens to be in the 1965 Topps “tall boys” set with the striking yellow background, combined with his cultural significance makes this one of the most collectible and sought after cards on the market.
2. 1981 Topps #216 Joe Montana RC
USA Today Top 100: #6
PSA Pop: 10 (108) 9 (1893) 8 (7061) 7 (4260)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 10 $18988 - PSA 9 $3000 - PSA 8 $416 - PSA 7 $169.95
Teams: San Francisco 49ers & Kansas City Chiefs
When arguing who is the greatest quarterback of all-time, most people debate Montana vs. Brady. Montana spent most of his illustrious career with the San Francisco 49ers, leading them to 4 Super Bowl victories and taking home 3 Super Bowl MVP’s. There are plenty of PSA 9’s out there but a PSA 10 is not easy to locate.
1. 1982 Topps #434 Lawrence Taylor RC
USA Today Top 100: #3
PSA Pop: 10 (156) 9 (821) 8 (1697) 7 (639)
Most Recent Sales: PSA 10 $4100 - PSA 9 $417 - PSA 8 $122 - PSA 7 $30
Team: New York Giants
Lawrence Taylor is widely considered to be the best defensive player to ever play the game and earned the #3 spot in the USA Today “Top 100 NFL Players of All Time” list. LT won 2 Super Bowl rings and was a 10x Pro Bowler, 8x First Team All-Pro, NFL MVP (1986), 3x NFL Defensive Player of the Year,