Collecting sports cards is a hobby as old as professional sports themselves. For over a century, NFL football fans have enjoyed buying, collecting, and trading sports cards of all kinds. From baseball cards to football cards to signed player items, the market for sports memorabilia has exploded over the past few decades. To honor the age-old hobby of sports collecting, we’re breaking down the best football cards of all time.
For collectors, various sports cards can certainly be worth a lot of money. So, who knows, some of those old football cards you have lying around might be worth something. And speaking of items lying around collecting dust, a recent survey found that the average person has nearly $300 worth of clothes in their closet that they’ve never worn.
Very rarely do people find a rare card collecting dust in a closet somewhere. Collecting sports cards is about more than just keeping a card for display and aesthetic purposes, though. Today, sports card collecting is more like an investment. The value of various cards rises and falls with demand and circulation. Collectors need to be savvy investors if their purchases are going to pay off in the end. However, a recent survey suggests that only one in three Americans are confident in their investing skills. A poll of 2,000 Americans found that only 45 percent of respondents understood how inflation works while less than 30 percent of respondents felt confident in their knowledge of stocks and bonds. Perhaps some would feel more confident in their ability to invest in football cards.
So, which football cards are the most valuable collectors’ items? StudyFinds did the research, consulting 10 expert websites to track down the best football cards of all time and deliver them to you. Our list comprises the five most frequently listed football cards from across the sites we visited. Think we might have missed one? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!
The List: Best Football Cards, Per Sports Fans
Topping the list of the best football cards of all time is none other than the iconic Tom Brady. Brady’s 2000 Playoff Contenders Championship Ticket Rookie Card, with an autograph imposed, is one of the best football cards you’ll ever come across. Of course, when this card was produced, no one could have predicted the type of career that Brady would go on to have in the NFL.
“It is becoming increasingly hard to argue that anyone but Tom Brady is the best quarterback ever. Tom was a rookie in 2000 when rookie autos were starting to become a thing. So, a Tom Brady rookie auto in the iconic rookie ticket format has an understandable cache. PSA only has 186 2000 Playoff Contenders Championship Rookie Ticket Tom Brady Autograph #144 on its population logs,” explains Cardbase.
Tom Brady took over for an injured Drew Bledsoe and never looked back. The fact that Brady was one of the last draft picks of his draft class makes this card even more special. No one could have thought the sixth-round rookie quarterback would go on to become the winningest quarterback in NFL history.
“Tom Brady’s most coveted card now reaches thousands, but was once a castoff of the former sixth-round draft pick. With an on-card autograph, it’s now the most valuable football Rookie Card of all-time. Brady holds more Super Bowl titles than any quarterback in history. He’s a three-time NFL MVP and a 14-time Pro Bowler,” writes Beckett.
The autograph on Tom Brady’s Championship Ticket Rookie Card makes this card all the more valuable. Of course, the experts can’t help but compare Tom Brady’s card to his longtime rival’s card.
“Tom Brady’s 2000 Playoff Contenders Championship Ticket has become red hot over the years after he’s racked up six Super Bowl championships. This is the Tom Brady rookie card everyone dreams of owning. This card used to sell for less than Peyton Manning’s card from the same set but it’s no longer even close: Brady’s card has surpassed his by a long shot,” adds Old Sports Cards.
The second spot on the list of the best football cards of all time belongs to Patrick Mahomes and another NFL quarterback’s autographed rookie card. The 2017 National Treasures NFL Shield Patrick Mahomes Autograph Rookie Card is one of the most sought-after football cards on the market today, and collectors are willing to pay big money for this card.
“On March 21, 2017, Panini released 2017 National Treasures as a premium football card product, highlighting Patrick Mahomes’ NFL Shield Rookie Patch Autograph card as the most valuable football card in the hobby. The illustrious serial numbered 1/1 card acquired a BGS 8.5 for its condition and a BGS 10 for Mahomes’ signature. After signing the richest contract in NFL history for ten years, $450 million, expectations are high for Mahomes, the Chiefs, and collectors who latch onto his coveted football cards,” explains Public.
The great thing about this Mahomes football card is that the value is expected to rise. Mahomes is only 27 years old, so he has a lot of football left in him, and the more he succeeds, the more valuable this card becomes.
“Anytime a collector unpacks a 1/1 card, chances are they made their money back and more. The Patrick Mahomes National Treasures 1/1 rookie auto is one of the most prestigious cards in existence. A BGS 8.5 sold for $4,300.000.00 in July of 2021 and is the most expensive football card to date. If Mahomes continues his NFL dominance, this card could find itself north of $10,000,000.00 at some point in time,” furthers The Sportster.
Mahomes’ Rookie Card and the aforementioned Brady Rookie Card are both expected to keep going up in value. As the experts explain, the next sale of a Tom Brady Rookie Card is liable to top the Mahomes Rookie Card.
“Given how the football market has been moving in 2021, this card is still number 2 on this list because it’s believed (with recent sale data that if another Brady Championship Contenders Autograph BGS 9 went up for auction, it would fetch an even higher price. Both quarterbacks dominate this list of most valuable rookie cards and it’s no surprise as Mahomes has been called the face of the NFL and Brady has more Super Bowl victories than any other NFL franchise,” adds One37PM.
3. 1935 National Chicle Bronko Nagurski #34 Rookie Card
The third spot on the list of the best football cards of all time takes us away from the modern era and back in time to Bronko Nagurski. The 1935 National Chicle Bronko Nagurski #34 Rookie Card is a coveted football card for collectors and enthusiasts everywhere because it’s one of the oldest cards in existence.
The 1935 National Chicle set, consisting of 36 cards, was the first dedicated football card set. The most valuable card in the set is the Bronko Nagurski rookie card, which has sold for more than $350,000 in it's highest grade. pic.twitter.com/Fs4YUXcgCv
— CardHedge (@CardHedge) May 4, 2023
“It might surprise you, but American football has been around for over a hundred years, and the NFL was founded in 1920. This means that there are a lot of cards out there to collect, but only a few of these cards from the early days are worth more than their ‘old’ factor. Famous linebacker and fullback for the Bears Bronko Nagurski is a football legend. Of course, it only makes sense that his rare rookie card would pull in over a hundred thousand at auction,” writes Love to Know.
Bronko Nagurski was one of the NFL’s first star players and one of the first NFL Hall of Fame inductees. Nagurski’s football card is a top collector’s item and this card even draws a few comparisons to another old sports card.
“Baseball has its Honus Wagner T206, and football has this National Chicle Bronko Nagurski. For decades it was the most valuable football card ever made, and still holds tremendous value. Although it illustrates Nagurski during his college days, the National Chicle set is not a college set. He was a bruising fullback for the Chicago Bears during the 1930s, and a charter member of the Hall of Fame,” explains Beckett.
“Bronko Nagurski was one of the early legends of football. A Canadian two-way player, built like a freaking brick house, Nagurski won three NFL championships. Back then, football was a form of warfare, and Bronko was as tough as they came. Unfortunately, football cards from that era are scarce, so this gem of the legend is worth a fortune. The price the 1935 National Chicle #34 Bronko Nagurski sold for is far less than the PSA 9 would be worth today since the last sale was made in 2011,” adds Cardbase.
The fourth entry on the list of the best football cards of all time is the 1958 Topps Jim Brown Rookie Card. Of course, Jim Brown is one of the best NFL running backs to ever play professional football, and it stands to reason his rookie card is incredibly sought after and valuable.
“Folks lucky enough to have seen Jim Brown in his prime insist he was the best running back ever to play the game. Jim still makes the All-Time NFL teams, most recently the 100th anniversary one in 2019. And as an 8 times NFL yards rushed leader, it is easy to see why. Indeed, in 2002, the three-time MVP was named the most outstanding professional football player by Sporting News. His 1958 Topps #62 Jim Brown rookie card is iconic and the closest thing football has to the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle,” explains Cardbase.
Jim Brown is undoubtedly one of the best NFL running backs of all time, but that’s a story for another time. Jim Brown played for one of the NFL’s most revered franchises – the Cleveland Browns. “The 1958 Topps Jim Brown rookie card is also an extremely popular card among collectors. ‘Jimmy’ is widely considered the greatest fullback to ever set foot on the gridiron. Centering and print defects are typically the toughest challenges for anyone collecting this card so high grade examples fetch big money on the auction block,” furthers Old Sports Cards.
There aren’t many of these Jim Brown Topps Rookie Cards left in circulation. And the way Jim Brown ended his career by announcing his sudden retirement makes this football card all the more special.
“After nine unparalleled NFL seasons, Jim Brown, recognized as one of the greatest running backs in NFL history, was inducted in 1971 to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. There are 3,619 Jim Brown 1958 Topps rookie cards in PSA’s population report, though only five cards, around .001%, merited a PSA 9, the card’s highest grade. While fans can only wonder about the potential statistics Jim Brown could have accumulated after abruptly ending his NFL career, the intrinsic value of his rookie card is unmatched by rookie cards of any non-quarterbacks,” adds Public.
Rounding out the list of the best football cards of all time is another quarterback rookie card, but this time it’s Joe Namath. ‘Broadway‘ Joe’s Topps Rookie Card is one of the most desired football cards you can find.
“After leading the New York Jets to their only Super Bowl victory in franchise history in Super Bowl III, ‘Broadway’ Joe Namath is one of the most recognizable NFL players. Namath’s rookie card from 1965 Topps is by far the most coveted card of the set. With a PSA population of 1,402, only five cards, approximately 0.003%, have earned a PSA 9,” explains Public.
Joe ‘Willie’ Namath was the first player to guarantee a Super Bowl victory and deliver. Namath’s Jets beat the favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III to cement his legacy.
“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 is the centering, which was not 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 Topps rookie card sold for $23,800 just a month later,” notes Attic Capital.
‘Broadway Joe’ Namath is one of the most popular players of his era, and that makes his Rookie Card highly sought after by collectors and sports enthusiasts. Since Namath retired, the Jets have struggled to get back to a Super Bowl.
“One of the most popular players ever, ‘Broadway Joe,’ is so beloved by his generation that the US Federal Government uses him to promote Medicare. And if you don’t want to get your health insurance from the man who led the New York Jets to (their only) Super Bowl, you don’t deserve healthcare. Joe Namath was larger than life on and off the field, pioneering drip before the word was invented. The beautiful 1965 Topps #122 Joe Namath rookie card captures the glamor and glitz of this unforgettable football era and is, therefore, remarkably valuable,” furthers Cardbase.
You might also be interested in:
- All Vintage Cards
- Old Sports Cards
- Attic Capital
- Love to Know
- The Sportster
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