Walter Payton Rookie Card Guide (Value & Investment Analysis)

February 1, 2023

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Few players in the history of the NFL have had the impact on the game that Walter Payton did.

A Hall of Fame running back for the Chicago Bears, Payton was known for his power, speed, and agility. Payton is one of the best running backs of all time

Walter Payton's 1976 Topps Rookie card is one of the must own rookie cards for vintage football card collectors. 

It is also (in high grades) one of the most valuable football cards in the hobby

In this blog post, we'll take a deeper look into the valuation, scarcity, and investment potential for Payton's 1976 Topps rookie card.   

In the end, we also take a closer look at the amazing career of 'Sweetness'. 

More...

The 1976 Topps Walter Payton Rookie Card 

The 1976 Topps Walter Payton rookie card #148 is one of the most popular and most valuable football rookie cards in the hobby.

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The 1976 Topps football set has a very simple an clean look, with white borders and a colorful football in the bottom left corner of the card. 

Payton's 1976 Topps rookie card is the most valuable card in the set. The card features a no-frills portrait pose of the Chicago Bears running back.

The set also includes the rookie cards of fellow Hall of Famers Randy White, Jack Lambert, and Robert Brazile. However, Payton is by far the highlight in the set in terms of overall value. 

The back of the #148 Payton rookie card provides a nice biography for 'Sweetness', recapping his 1975 rookie season with the Bears.

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Back of a 1976 Topps Walter Payton RC

Remarkably, Payton had an impressive 444 kickoff return yards, good for a 31.7 average!  

Can you guess the Mystery Bear?

How Much Is Walter Payton's Rookie Card Worth?

Gem-Mint PSA 10 copies of Payton's rookie card have averaged between $75K to $100K at auction, with recent prices on the low end of the range.

A PSA 10 Walter Payton RC recently sold at Goldin Auctions

PSA 10 copies are somewhat plentiful (54 exist), thus there is good auction data to help assess value. 

An investor who bought a PSA 10 Payton rookie card in 2019 has quadrupled their investment.  

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PSA 10 Walter Payton values, courtesy Card Ladder

A PSA 9 (Mint) copy, of which there are roughly 700, is worth about $5,000.

A PSA 8 Payton rookie card is even more affordable, with the latest auction sales ranging from $1000 to $1200.

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1976 Topps Walter Payton Rookie Card PSA Pricing

If you are on a budget, low to mid-grade or even ungraded Walter Payton rookie cards are quite affordable. 

As an example, PSA 4 (VG-EX) graded copies of Payton's rookie card are selling for $300 or less. 

And if you scour eBay for ungraded Payton rookies, you're bound to find a deal.

This one here recently sold for $125 at an eBay auction.

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Ungraded Walter Payton Rookie cards can be found on eBay at fairly affordable prices

How Rare Is Walter Payton's Rookie Card?

1976 Topps football isn't exactly junk wax, but Topps released sizeable quantities of the set. 

There are over 12,000 PSA graded Walter Payton rookie cards, making it the most graded football card in the 1976 Topps set (by a wide margin).

This doesn't include any ungraded copies or graded cards from Beckett or SGC.

Don't be fooled into thinking the Walter Payton rookie card is a rare card.

Why Are Rookie Cards More Valuable?

Of the 12,000+ PSA graded Payton rookie cards, only 54 have earned a Gem-Mint (PSA 10) designation (0.4% hit rate).

In total, PSA has graded over 65,000 1976 Topps Football cards, with only 4,200 earning a PSA 10 grade (6.5% hit rate).  

payton-rookie-psa-pop

As shown by the PSA chart above, even PSA 9 Payton rookie cards are accessible, with 860+ graded copies.

The numbers blast off once we reach PSA 8 (NM-MT) and lower. There are over 3,200 PSA 8 Payton rookies and over 2,500 PSA 7 (NM) copies.

How Much Is An Autographed Walter Payton Rookie Card Worth?

On average, autographed Walter Payton photos sell for under $200. Autographed Payton football cards range in value, but typically start at around $100.

Signed copies of Payton's rookie card, however, are quite expensive and not easy to find. PSA has authenticated only 24 autographed copies of the 1976 Topps Walter Payton rookie card.

Walter-Payton-Rookie-signed-HERITAGE

A signed Walter Payton Rookie card which was recently for sale at Heritage Auctions.

Sadly, Walter Payton passed away in 1999 at 45 from bile duct cancer.  Given his early death, Payton's autographs carry a premium.

Given the scarcity of signed Payton rookie cards, and his death at a young age, the value has skyrocketed in recent years. 

On average, signed Payton rookie cards are likely to fetch at least $10,000, with a premium based on card grade and signature quality. 

Note that I've seen a bunch of fake autographed reprint Payton rookie cards for sale on eBay. This card shown here is both a counterfeit card and a fake autograph.

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Don't fall for this trap. Fake Payton rookie card with a stamped, fake autograph.

Additionally, in 1998 Topps issued a Walter Payton tribute autographed rookie card. This was a fully authorized, reproduction card with an authentic Walter Payton signature.

PSA has graded about 70 of these.  So for a Payton collector, these are an interesting item. Still not cheap though, with average values starting at $1000. 

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Is Walter Payton's Rookie Card A Good Investment?

Walter Payton was one of the best running backs to ever step on the field.

Thus, collector demand should remain robust for the foreseeable future. 

But, there is no lack of supply of Walter Payton rookie cards: over 13,000 PSA graded copies exist. 

I expect his harder to find high grade rookie cards, particularly PSA 9 and PSA 10's will remain hot properties in coming years. 

But I struggle to get excited for low-grade Payton rookies, given the massive supply.

Authentic, signed Payton rookie cards are a great investment and have a much better chance of long-term appreciation.

The Legend Of  'Sweetness' 

Walter Payton was one of the most iconic players in the history of the NFL.

He was known for his athleticism and exceptional running back skills.

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Former Bears coach Mike Ditka says that 'nobody ran harder than Walter Payton'. 

Jackson grew up in rural Mississippi and started at a Division 2 College, playing for the Jackson State Tigers. 

In college, Payton turned in one of the most impressive collegiate football careers of all time.

He set an NCAA scoring record of 464 points and a Jackson State school record with 65 rushing touchdowns.

Scouts ignored his Division 2 status, recognizing his pure talent, as the Bears selected Payton with the 4th pick in the 1975 NFL Draft.

Payton played for the Chicago Bears for thirteen seasons, and during that time he set numerous records, including breaking Jim Brown's rushing title in 1984

How Did Payton Get The Nickname 'Sweetness'?

According to his brother, Walter Payton was given the nickname Sweetness while in college to make fun of his soft, high pitched voice. However, Walter soon found pride in the name, with reporters remarking how 'sweet' and fluid he was on the field. One reporter even stated that Payton"runs so sweet that it gives me cavities just watching him".  

- from 'Walter & Me: Standing In The Shadow Of Sweetness', by Eddie Payton

Payton was a true pioneer in the sport even reviving the stiff-arm as a runner.

He was well known for barely ever going out of bounds. His elusiveness and strength combined with his competitive spirit made for one 'nasty son of a gun' as one teammate' described him.

Mike Ditka called him a 'warrior and a gladiator' and most that played with Payton echoed those thoughts.  

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"Do you know what a winner is? A winner is somebody who has given his best effort, who has tried the hardest they possibly can, who has utilized every ounce of energy and strength within them to accomplish something. It doesn't mean that they accomplished it or failed, it means that they've given it their best'”

-Bears running back Walter Payton 

Payton's 1977 MVP season might ultimately be one of the best seasons ever for a running back

Payton played 14 games that year, rushing for 1852 yards and 16 total touchdowns, with over 2100 total yards. 

Over the course of his 13 year career, Payton missed only one game, during his rookie season.

He came close to missing another in 1977. Payton was recovering from the flu and didn't fell very well. 

He ended up gutting it out, starting against the Vikings and rushing for an amazing 275 yards.  

"Walter was so much more than a football player. I've known a lot of superb athletes in my life. Never have I met a guy who was or is as giving, sharing or understanding as Walter was. He took time to be with regular people. He visited kids who needed a hero. "

Former Bears coach Mike Ditka.

I don't have enough space here to discuss Payton's accomplishments.

But I'll try and keep it short and sweet. "Sweetness" rushed for over 16,000 yards during his NFL career, now second overall (behind Emmitt Smith) in NFL history.  

Payton was a 9 time Pro Bowl selection and a 5x first team All-Pro. He won the Super Bowl in 1985 when the Bears beat the New England Patriots.

You might remember the Super Bowl Shuffle with larger than life quarterback Jim McMahon).

Walter Payton was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993

Walter Payton Rookie Cards For Sale on eBay

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