The Most Valuable Football Cards of All Time

namath-rookieIn continuation of our coverage of the most valuable sports cards of all time (see our recent Baseball and Basketball pieces) in this article we present the Most Valuable Football Cards of all time.

Many older vintage football cards don’t quite get the same level of respect as their baseball counterparts.  Sometimes I wonder why; I guess baseball being America’s past time has led to a sort of lack of attention for older football players.

Because of this, I do believe that vintage football cards offer good value for collectors seeking a good investment opportunity.  The only problem is that I’m not sure what the catalyst would be to help close that gap between older baseball and football cards.

I’m all ears–let me know in the comments if you can envision a scenario in which vintage football cards start to appreciate significantly versus vintage baseball cards.

Whatever the case, we hope you enjoy the following list of the most valuable football cards of all time.  Some of the cards are quite rare, such as the first card on our list (N302 Dunlop) and some are not as rare and are mostly supported by the strong demand for the player and card.

We try to update these lists every year, but if you see something that should be on the list, let me know via email at chris@allvintagecards.com.

1894 N302 Mayo’s Cut Plug- John Dunlop (Anonymous)

Estimated Value (PSA 3, VG)- $22,750

This one is sometimes referred to as the ‘holy grail’ of football cards and is a part of the first football cards in history-the N302 Mayo’s Cut Plug set.

The cards featured ivy league football stars of the day and are the first 19th century trading cards dedicated solely to football players.  Issued in plugs of tobacco, the Mayo cards are hard to find in good condition mostly because of the black borders which are prone to chipping.

The John Dunlop card is the rarest in the set and was issued without any identification of the player, whereas all other cards feature the players name on the front of the card.  At first, the card was referred to as ‘Anonymous’ but later identified as John Dunlop of Harvard.  Dunlop was a reserve player so the value is solely based on the scarcity of the card itself.   Other cards from the set are still pricey, with cards ranging from $300 to $1000 in Good condition.

Based on my research there are likely only around 10 of the Dunlop cards in existence, making this scarcer than a T206 Honus Wagner.  The reason behind the scarcity of the card is unknown, but likely that Mayo pulled card after realizing hat they failed to print Dunlop’s name on the front of the card.

dunlop-mayo

1935 National Chicle – Bronko Nagurski (RC)

Estimated Value (PSA 9 – Mint): $750,000

The Nagurski rookie card is THE most valuable football card in the hobby.  Nagurski was a big, big man and at 6’3″ and 235 pounds he used to demolish opposing players when he played at fullback while attacking with a vengeance on defense. If you’re not familiar with Nagurski, definitely check out this NFL films video which has some great footage from his playing days.

The appeal to Nagurski was not only due to his size and his prowess in football, but also for the fact that he was a dual sport athlete, even leaving football in 1937 to become a full time professional wrestler (maybe this is where Gronk got his recent ideas?)

Thus, it’s no surprise that there is significant demand for Nagurski’s Chicle rookie card, which isn’t exactly rare per se (PSA has graded nearly 200) but highly sought after. Good condition Nagurski cards are likely to set you back close to $20,000 with Mint condition Nagurski rookies estimated to be worth near $750,000.

nagurski-chicle

Did you know Bronko left football to become a full time wrestler?  Bronko = Gronko? 

1935 National Chicle – Knute Rockne

Estimated Value (PSA 9 – Mint): $16,500

Knute Rockne is one of the most well known and regarded football coaches of all time.  In his 13 years as head coach of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Rockne led his team to 3 national championships, including five undefeated seasons.  Rockne even helped popularize the forward pass in football.

His speeches were a thing of beauty–i’m sure most readers are familiar with Rockne’s ‘Win One For The Gipper’ speech which helped propel Notre Dame to an upset win over Navy.  The video below just shows why Rockne still holds such a legendary status to this day.

Rockne’s 1935 Chicle card was designed a tribute card as only four years prior he died in a plane crash. Rocke’s card is the second most valuable card in the set (behind Nagurski) and in mint condition is valued at $16,500. Good to Very Good copies however can often be found for under $1000.  The card isn’t exactly scarce (PSA has graded over 300) but still, given Rockne’s popularity, it’s a reasonable price for the card of one of the all time great coaches.

rockne-chicle

1948 Leaf – Bobby Layne (RC)

Estimated Value (PSA 9 – Mint) : $45,000

Bobby Layne was known as a hard partier but was one of the best quarterbacks to play the game during the 1950’s.  Layne led the Detroit Lions to three titles and was a six time pro bowler.  Layne was known as a great leader on and off the field, even if it might have not exactly been the norm as compared to the NFL of today:

“When Bobby said block, you blocked,” said another former teammate and Hall of Famer, Yale Lary. “When Bobby said drink, you drank.” (link)

Here’s a video of Layne as a Marlboro spokesman—yes this was a different world.

His Leaf rookie card sports Layne featuring his ‘Blonde Bomber’ moniker and as a member of the Texas Longhorns.  Leaf produced two versions of Layne’s rookie card, one with him wearing yellow pants and another with red pants.  The card is the most valuable in the Leaf set with a Mint copy estimated to be worth $45,000. Cheaper copies in lower grade condition can be found of course; note that PSA has graded around 300 copies of the card.

layne-leaf

1948 Leaf – Chuck Bednarik (RC)

Estimated Value (PSA 9 – Mint): $30,000

Outside of vintage football circles, Bednarik isn’t exactly a household name, but ‘Concrete Charlie’ was one of the most fiercest defenders to ever play the game.  Bednarik was a 10-time first team All Pro, a 2x NFL Champion and a Pro Football Hall of Famer.  Bednarik was also one of the last two way full timers in the NFL, playing both Center and Middle Linebacker while only missing three games over the course of a 14 year career.

Bednarik is famously known for a hit on Frank Gifford which put Gifford out of football for over 18 months.

Bednarik’s 1948 Leaf rookie card is the second most valuable issue in the set (behind Layne) with a Mint copy estimated to be worth $30,000.  PSA has graded around 160 of the cards and to note there are three different variations–copies with a yellow, white and orange background.  A good condition example of the card can often be found for under $1000.

bednarik-leaf

1948 Leaf – Sammy Baugh (RC)

Estimated Value (PSA 9 – Mint): $17,500

‘Slingin’ Sammy Baugh is well regarded as one of the best quarterbacks of all time.  Baugh played his entire professional career with the Washington Redskins, winning two championships, garnering six All-Pro nominations and leading the league in completion percentage eight different years.  In 1943 he accomplished the unthinkable, leading the league in passing, punting, and interceptions (as a defensive back).  As Bill Belichick notes in the video below, Baugh was the equivalent of Tom Brady, Ed Reed and Brian Moorman all wrapped into one.

Baugh’s 1948 Leaf rookie card is a prized card for all vintage football collectors.  A Mint condition Baugh will set you back big bucks, but one in Good condition can be found for around $300 which I think makes for a good investment, considering that PSA has only graded around 250 of the cards.

sammy-baugh

1948 LEAF SAMMY BAUGH RED JERSEY VARIATION #34 PSA 4 VG-EX

$229.95
End Date: Sunday Dec-22-2019 13:41:24 PST
Buy It Now for only: $229.95
Buy It Now | Add to watch list

1948 LEAF #34B SAMMY BAUGH RC (HOFer) RED JERSEY #34B

$59.99 (0 Bids)
End Date: Wednesday Dec-4-2019 15:44:43 PST
Bid now | Add to watch list

1948 Leaf Sammy Baugh QB Washington Redskins PSA 4 VG-EX #34

$165.00
End Date: Tuesday Dec-3-2019 22:08:44 PST
Buy It Now for only: $165.00
Buy It Now | Add to watch list

1948 Leaf Sammy Baugh HOF ROOKIE RC #34 PSA 5 EX

$534.99
End Date: Monday Dec-30-2019 17:05:41 PST
Buy It Now for only: $534.99
Buy It Now | Add to watch list

1948 Leaf – Doak Walker (RC)

Estimated Value (PSA 9 – Mint): $15,000

Not everyone is familiar with Doak Walker, as the name isn’t quite as household as some of the other players from the era.  Doak Walker had the shortest career (six seasons) of any player in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, yet his six years as a player were quite remarkable.

Walker’s versatility was one of the reasons for his popularity, with stat lines in rushing, passing, receiving, kickoff returns, punting, and even interceptions.  In six years, Walker was named All-NFL five times and was selected to five Pro Bowls.

Yet ANOTHER card from the ’48 Leaf Set, which is yes, chock full of some great rookies and some harder to find valuable cards.  In fact there are a grand total of EIGHT cards from the 1948 Leaf Set, which is why many consider this to be the most prized vintage football set in the hobby.

Walker’s ’48 Leaf Rookie card isn’t scarce, as over 200 have been graded by PSA, although a Mint copy is tough to come by and is valued at $15,000.   Good to VG copies however can be found quite easily for less than $100;  quite a deal for this Hall of Famer.

walker-leaf

1948 Leaf – Bob Waterfield (RC)

Estimated Value (PSA 9 – Mint): $15,000

Known as one of the best passers, punters, and place-kickers in the NFL, Waterfield was an all-around great, even winning the MVP award and NFL Championship game in his rookie campaign in 1945.  Waterfield took the Rams to three straight title games from 1949 to 1951, winning the Championship in 1951.  He led the NFL in passing in 1946 and 1951, a two time Touchdown leader and Pro Football Hall of Famer.

Waterfield’s 1948 Leaf rookie card can be found in two variations–one with white lettering (much scarcer) and another with black lettering.  The card features Waterfield in his standard quarterback pose.   PSA has graded around 300 of his rookie card (although only 11 of the one with white lettering).  If you aren’t willing to pony up the near $15K it would set you back for a Mint condition copy of the card, lower grade versions  in good to very good condition can be found for under $100.

waterfield-leaf

1948 Leaf – Leo Nomellini (RC)

Estimated Value (PSA 9 – Mint): $15,000

Leo Nomellini was a Hall of Fame football player who spent his entire 14 year career with the San Francisco 49ers.  Nomellini played both offensive and defensive tackle, finishing his career as a 10-time Pro Bowler.  Like other players of the day, Nomellini also wrestled in the off-season under the moniker Leo ‘The Lion’ Monellini.  He was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2008.

nomellini-leaf

Nomellini’s 1948 Leaf rookie card can be found in two variations–one with Nomellini in a red jersey and another in a maroon jersey.  The card features ‘The Lion’ in a rather intimidating pose!.   PSA has graded only around 100 of his rookie card, making this one of the scarcer cards in the set.  If you aren’t willing to pony up the near $15K it would set you back for a Mint condition copy of the card, lower grade versions  in good to very good condition can be found for under $500.

1948 Leaf – Charlie Conerly (RC)

Estimated Value (PSA 9 – Mint): $12,500

Charlie Conerly was an excellent football player (although not quite good enough for the Hall of Fame) and played quarterback for the Giants from 1948 to 1961.  Conerly won rookie of the year in 1948 and MVP in 1959 while also winning the NFL Championship with the Giants in 1956.   Conerly found even more popularity in later life as he became the ‘Marlboro Man’ in various cigarette advertisements (one is shown below).

Conerly’s 1948 Leaf rookie card is a highly demanded card among vintage football card collector’s, especially Giants fans.  It’s also one of the harder to find cards, with only 110 having been graded by PSA.  If you don’t want to splurge for a high grade copy, a good condition Conerly rookie can be found for around $150 to $200.

leaf-conerly

1948 Leaf – Steve Van Buren (RC)

Estimated Value (PSA 9 – Mint): $11,500

If you can ‘imagine John Riggins in a leather helmet..playing in the 1940’s’ as detailed in the below video produced by NFL Films, then that’s what Van Buren is best recognized as.  NFL Films named Van Buren the #58 best player of all time in the NFL.

Steve ‘Big Boy’ Van Buren’s 1948 Leaf rookie card has five, yes FIVE different variations.  They are as follows: Blue Jersey/Green Socks, Green Jersey/Blue Socks, Green Jersey/Green Socks, Green Jersey/Yellow Socks (most common), Yellow Jersey/Yellow Socks.   PSA has graded over 200 copies, making this one a little bit easier to find.   If you don’t want to spend the near $12K for a Mint copy, shoot for a good version condition of the card can be found for $50 or less.

48-leaf-van-buren

1950 Bowman – Y.A. Tittle (RC)

Estimated Value (PSA 9 – Mint): $17,500

Tittle had a tremendous career lasting 17 years, reaching 33,070 passing yards and 242 touchdowns.  Tittle never won an NFL Championship, but he was the first of only seven quarterbacks in NFL history to have achieved consecutive 30-touchdown passing seasons.   Title was named to the Pro Bowl 7 times and retired as the NFL’s all-time leader in passing yards, passing touchdowns, attempts, completions, and games played.  Title was named to the NFL Hall Of Fame in 1971.

Here’s Tittle in 1962 shredding the Redskins for 7 touchdowns and over 500 yards passing.

Tittle’s rookie card is one of the key card in the 1950 Bowman set and one of my favorites, although the card is hard to find in mint condition.  The card isn’t exactly scarce, as PSA has graded over 500 copies, although only 3 have received a PSA 9 (Mint) grade. Excellent condition copies of Tittle’s rookie card can often be found for $300.

tittle-bowman

Y.A Tittle 1950 Bowman Rookie Card

1950 Bowman – Otto Graham (RC)

Estimated Value (PSA 9 – Mint): $13,500

‘Automatic’ Otto was a legend behind Center, and one of the most successful quarterbacks to ever play the game.  In his 10 years as quarterback of the Cleveland Browns, he led his team to the Championship in every single year; he won each of the AAFC’s four championships between 1946 and 1949  and then three additional times once the Browns moved to the National Football League.  NFL Films ranked Graham as the #5 quarterback of all time as shown in the following video.

Graham’s 1950 Bowman rookie card is a striking piece of artwork with Graham looking ready to do what he did best.  Vintage football collectors hold the Graham rookie as one of the hobby’s most desired cards.  The card isn’t necessarily scarce (PSA has graded over 600 copies) although Mint condition copies are tough to find (only 9 have been graded a PSA 9 or Mint condition).   If you want to buy a Graham rookie, hunt for an excellent copy which can be found for around $200 or less.  Quite a deal for one of the all time greats.

otto-bowman

💎 1950 Bowman Otto Graham #45 - ‘High End’ HOF Rookie RC - PSA 8 NM-MT

$2,299.00
End Date: Sunday Dec-22-2019 5:17:41 PST
Buy It Now for only: $2,299.00
Buy It Now | Add to watch list

1950 Bowman - #45 - Otto Graham - Browns - Rookie HOF - PSA 4.5 - 0479

$330.00
End Date: Thursday Dec-19-2019 10:35:01 PST
Buy It Now for only: $330.00
Buy It Now | Add to watch list

1950 Bowman Otto Graham HOF ROOKIE RC #45 PSA 6 EX-MT

$481.99
End Date: Thursday Dec-19-2019 13:24:26 PST
Buy It Now for only: $481.99
Buy It Now | Add to watch list

💎 1950 Bowman Otto Graham #45 - HOF Rookie RC - SGC 4 VG-EX

$274.99
End Date: Friday Dec-6-2019 7:21:33 PST
Buy It Now for only: $274.99
Buy It Now | Add to watch list

1952 Bowman Large – Jim Lansford (RC)

Estimated Value (PSA 9 – Mint): $23,000

Jim Lansford wasn’t a particularly great football player; it’s the scarcity of his 1952 Bowman Large card that makes it so valuable.  It’s the last card in the beautiful 1952 Bowman Large set and one of the most notable short prints in the hobby.   PSA has only graded 130 Lansford cards, where on average, star players have numbers closer to the 200 range.  Plus, the fact that it’s the last card means tough conditions are likely given the position on the sheet and the tendency for old collectors to rubber band their sets tight.   Only 2 PSA 9 (Mint) Lansford cards have been graded by PSA, although lower grade copies can be found for under $100.

bowman-lansford

1957 Topps- Bart Starr (RC)

Estimated Value (PSA 9 – Mint): $125,000

Unbelievable to think that Bart Starr was a 17th round draft pick of the Green Bay Packers in 1956.  Starr went on to become one of the best quarterbacks of all time, leading the Packers to 5 NFL and 2 Super Bowl titles.  Starr didn’t throw a lot, never reaching more than 300 attempts per season, but he was the glue that led to the Packers’ success and the reason behind his Pro Football Hall of Fame election in 1977.

The 1957 Topps football card set is considered to be one of the most landmark sets among vintage football cards.  And one of the keys to the set is Starr’s ’57 Topps rookie card which is the most valuable in the set.  A Mint condition copy will set you back low six figures, although a lower grade condition Starr can be found for close to $500.

starr-rookie

1957 TOPPS #119 BART STARR ROOKIE - PSA 4 VG-EX (SVSC) - CENTERED!

$499.99
End Date: Thursday Dec-26-2019 15:00:50 PST
Buy It Now for only: $499.99
Buy It Now | Add to watch list

1957 Topps 119 Bart Starr Rookie HOF PSA 1.5 Green Bay Packers

$285.00
End Date: Saturday Dec-28-2019 4:57:19 PST
Buy It Now for only: $285.00
Buy It Now | Add to watch list

1957 Topps- Johnny Unitas (RC)

Estimated Value (PSA 9 – Mint): $110,000

NFL Films calls Unitas the #6 greatest player of all time and for good reason.  Unitas was a one of a kind quarterback, the first to throw for over 40,000 yards, leading the Colts to two NFL Championships and one Super Bowl victory.

One of the most notable things about Unitas was his drive and hunger to succeed.  In high school Unitas weighed only 140 pounds and seemed like he might never reach the big time.   Unitas was drafted, but in the ninth round by the Steelers in 1955, and then soon released before the season started.  The Colts took a shot on Unitas and it paid off handsomely.

"I came into the league without any fuss. I’d just as soon leave it that way. There’s no difference I can see in retiring from pro football, or quitting a job at the Pennsy Railroad. I did something I wanted to do and went as far as I could go.”  

Johnny Unitas

HOF QB

Although Starr’s ’57 Topps rookie card is the most valuable, Unitas’ rookie card in the set isn’t too far behind.  Mint copies are valued at $110,000, although good copies can be found for between $200 to $300.

Let’s be straight, this card is by no means scarce–PSA has graded over 2800 Unitas rookie cards, but given the high demand, this is still a highly collectible card.

unitas-rookie

1957 Johnny Unitas Rookie Card, Baltimore Colts Topps #138. EXMT/EXMT+

$276.00
End Date: Saturday Dec-21-2019 0:15:24 PST
Buy It Now for only: $276.00
Buy It Now | Add to watch list

1957 Topps Johnny Unitas HOF ROOKIE RC #138 PSA 6 EX-MT

$550.99
End Date: Thursday Dec-26-2019 6:48:46 PST
Buy It Now for only: $550.99
Buy It Now | Add to watch list

John Johnny Unitas Colts 1957 Topps #138 Rookie RC PSA 5 EX Excellent

$399.99
End Date: Wednesday Dec-11-2019 15:09:40 PST
Buy It Now for only: $399.99
Buy It Now | Add to watch list

1957 Topps- Paul Hornung (RC)

Estimated Value (PSA 9 – Mint): $20,000

The ‘Golden Boy’ played ten years for the Green Bay Packers with Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi calling him “the most versatile man who ever played the game.”

Hornung was a halfback along with placekicker for several years, tacking up four NFL Championships along with being named to the NFL’s’ 1960 All-Decade team.

In a set filled with big time stars, Hornung’s  1957 Topps rookie card isn’t the most valuable but still one of the most desired cards in the set.  While a Mint copy goes for $20,000, a lower grade Hornung can be  found for a little over $100.

Once again, not exactly a scarce card (PSA has graded over 1200 Hornung rookies) but typically a must have for vintage football card collectors.

hornung-rookie

1957 Topps- Dick Lane (RC)

Estimated Value (PSA 9 – Mint): $12,500

Some might not be familiar with Dick “Night Train” Lane, who in his thirteen year playing career was known as one of the most feared tacklers in the game.  The NFL even instituted new rules, mostly because of the play of Lane to keep offensive players safe.  Lane set a record as a rookie in 1952 with 14 interceptions, a mark that still hasn’t been surpassed to this day.  NFL Films named Lane the 30th best player in the history of the game–see video below.

A Mint Lane rookie card is valued today at $12,500; note that PSA has only graded 3 Lane Rookie cards as a PSA 9 (although over 900 in total). Lane’s rookie in Excellent condition can be found for around $50, a true bargain in my opinion.