It can be a challenge to explain to some people how special some of the older football cards are. They just don’t understand the attraction of a tiny piece of cardboard with a faded out photo on the cover. Not only that, but they also cannot fathom these things would have actual value. Some great football cards can be worth thousands and sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The facts are that these cards carry enormous sentimental value to those who collected and traded them as kids. Moreover, some are valued higher than a luxury car or even the house where you live. In some expert opinions, the case for future price appreciation might be stronger for great old football cards than real estate. Consider these 10 great football cards to add to your collection.
1965 Topps Joe Namath Football Card – $264,000
One of my favorite football cards is the 1965 Topps Joe Namath rookie card. Recent sales include a PSA 9 graded card for over $260,000 in 2018. Topps designed the 1965 football cards with a tall 4 11/16″ height and a 2 1/2″ width. On the backside, there’s a cartoon with comments referencing Namath’s performance during the 1965 Orange Bowl while he played for the Alabama Crimson Tide.
A common issue with finding a good condition Joe Namath rookie card is the size. The “tall boy” sizing meant kids were more likely to dent the corners and edges of the card. It’s also challenging to find a Namath card with decent centering. A common issue for many old sports cards it the centering, which was not something that was focused on during card production back in the day.
There’s a wide range of recent sales for the card. In March of last year, a PSA 8 rated card went for $36,000. Another PSA 8 card sold for $23,800 just a month later. Lower-quality examples have sold for anywhere from $2,000 to $7,000.
1935 National Chicle Bronko Nagurski Football Card – $750,000
The 1935 Bronko Nagurski card is the most valuable football card out there. It’s nearly impossible to find a card in good condition. There are zero PSA 10 rated cards and only one PSA 9. The PSA 9 Bronko Nagurski has an estimated value of $750,000. Other recent auction sales saw a few PSA 6 cards sell from $10,000 to 30,000 over the last few years. The most recent purchase was a PSA 4, selling for $11,400.
Bronko was a charter member of the NFL Hall of Fame in 1963. One of the toughest players of his day. One opposing player, Steve Owen, of the New York Giants once said about Bronko, “The only way to stop Nagurski is to shoot him before he leaves the dressing room.” Bronko would win two NFL championships in his career and go down as one of the greatest players ever.
1957 Topps Johnny Unitas – $92,000
The Pittsburgh Steelers cut Johnny Unitas in 1955. Luckily he was given a second chance with the Baltimore Colts the following year, and the rest is history. Over his incredible career, he would end up owning almost every record kept for a quarterback. He was MVP three times and selected to the pro bowl ten times. In 1979 he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
As is the case with many great football cards, the 1957 Topps Johnny Unitas is extremely rare in good condition. Values have skyrocketed for the PSA 9 cards with only eight known examples. A Heritage Auctions sale in late 2018 saw the PSA 9 sale price of $92,000. There are no confirmed PSA 10 cards as of yet. There’s been a few PSA 8.5 cards change hands recently for anywhere between $18,000 to $26,000.
1958 Topps Jim Brown – $336,000
The Jim Brown rookie card is another one of my personal favorites. The front layout of the card is clean and well proportioned. Jim Brown was selected to the Pro Bowl every year he played. Over those nine seasons, he averaged 5.2 yards per carry which is still a record to this day. He was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1971.
Jim Brown became the NFL’s all-time leading rusher after only nine seasons with 12,312 yards. Brown was trying his hand in the acting world leading up to the 1966 season. The movie he was filming at the time, “The Dirty Dozen,” caused him to miss the beginning of his team’s training camp. Team owner Art Modell decided to fine Brown $1,000 for every day Brown was late joining the team in training camp. Jim Brown decided to retire rather than pay the fine so he could continue his movie commitments.
In 2017 a PSA 9 Jim Brown rookie card sold for $336,000 at a Heritage Auction. There are only five known examples of the PSA 9 card.
1976 Topps Walter Payton – $19,700
After 13 years as a running back in the NFL, Walter Payton finished with 16,726 yards making him the all-time leading rusher. Two-time league MVP, nine-time Pro Bowl selection, and hall of fame inductee in 1993. One of the most incredible stats, in my opinion, is that Walter Payton only missed one game in his entire career. The missed game occurred in his rookie season, after that he played in 186 consecutive games.
Values for the PSA 10 card are in the $20,000 range. Recently, a PSA 6.5 sold for $6,500. There’s a much higher quantity of Walter Payton rookie cards out there relative to some of the 1950s and 60’s rookie cards. This fact will hold down the value of the lower-rated Payton cards to just a few hundred dollars. Nonetheless, it’s still one of my favorite cards. Anyone who remembers watching Walter Payton play will know why.
1957 Topps Bart Starr – $288,000
Bart Starr is one of the most popular Green Bay Packers ever to play. He led his team to two championships and was named MVP in Super Bowl’s one and two. Star moved into coaching after his career, then selected into the football hall of fame in 1977.
There are only three cards with a PSA 9 rating and none with a 10 rating. The PSA 8 rated card can sell for $5,000 – $7,000.
1981 Topps Joe Montana Football Card – $10,900
A 1981 Topps Joe Montana rookie in good condition is a staple for any football card collection. There are over 100 PSA 10 rated cards out there. These cards can sell for roughly $10,000 each. The production numbers were much higher in the 1980s for Topps football cards compared to the 60s and 70s, but this card remains a favorite for collectors. The 1981 Topps Joe Montana rookie card is not the most difficult card to find and remains one of the most recognizable images in card collecting.
Montana led his team to the playoffs in 10 of the 14 seasons he played. He won four super bowls and was MVP in 3 of those games.
1989 Score Barry Sanders Football Card – $1,000
I would be crazy not to include Barry Sanders in my list of great football cards. The value for a PSA 10 rated card is only about $1,000. Compare this to the other cards on this list, and you would wonder why you need this card in your collection. The main reason any football card collection should have this card included is because of the player himself. Football fans can only wonder what Sanders would have done to the record books if he continued playing longer. He abruptly retired after only ten seasons.
There are over 1,700 PSA 10 Barry Sanders 1989 Score cards. Lower graded cards sell for under one hundred bucks. I would suggest adding this card to your collection if you don’t have it already.
1966 Dick Butkus Football Card – $31,000
The 1966 Dick Butkus rookie card is a difficult card to find in good condition. There are zero PSA 10 rated cards and only eight PSA 9’s, one which recently sold for over $30,000. Recent sales include PSA 8 rated cards for $2,000 – $3,000.
1933 Sport Kings Jim Thorpe – $119,500
The 1933 Sport Kings Jim Thorpe card is pretty amazing. Only four PSA 9 rated cards exist, making it one of the rarest football cards out there. A Heritage Auction sale in 2016 saw the PSA 9 card go for $119,500. Lower rated PSA 7 & 8’s can be had for $3,000 – $9,000.
Jim Thorpe is known as one of the best all-around athletes in all of sports history. He won 2 gold medals in the 1912 Olympics in the decathlon & pentathlon. Not only that, but he also played pro basketball and pro baseball part-time.
If you’re a collector deciding to add to your football card collection, some of the high prices for recent auctions might have you thinking the best cards are becoming unattainable or overpriced. While this might be true for the top PSA rated cards with a 9 or 10 rating, lower-rated cards are still attainable. Consider adding a few of these legendary football cards to your collection when the time is right. If your budget doesn’t allow for the highest PSA rated card, consider a near mint example. There’s nothing wrong with buying an affordable version of your favorite card to add to your collection.