1976 Topps Walter Payton Rookie Card: A Closer Look

January 28, 2022


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.

He holds many records and is considered one of the best players to ever play the game.

Payton’s 1976 Topps Rookie card is one of the most highly sought-after football cards.

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

In this blog post, we’ll take a look at the career of ‘Sweetness’ and step deeper into the valuation, population, and investment potential for his 1976 Topps rookie card.   

Walter Payton As A Player

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.

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.  


"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.  

1976 Topps Walter Payton RC PSA 7 "Sweet"

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Walter Payton 1976 Topps #148 Chicago Bears HOF Freshly Graded PSA 4 VG-EX

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"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

The 1976 Topps Walter Payton Rookie Card 

The 1976 Topps Football set is one of the more recognized football card sets from the 70s, because of the Walter Payton rookie card.

The cards have a very simple, clean look, with white borders and a colorful football in the bottom left corner of the card. 

The 1976 Topps #148 Walter Payton rookie card is the most valuable card in the set. The card features a no-frills portrait pose of the rookie running back.

The set also includes the rookie cards of fellow Hall of Famers Randy White, Jack Lambert, and Robert Brazile. 


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

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

Can you guess the Mystery Bear?


Back of a 1976 Topps Walter Payton RC

How Much Is A Walter Payton Rookie Card Worth?

PSA 10 copies of Walter Payton's rookie card are more available than some might think (53 copies exist).  

A PSA 10 Walter Payton RC recently sold at Goldin Auctions

Thus, thankfully, us collectors have good data points to evaluate the change in values over time.

As shown below, prices on PSA 10 (Gem Mint condition) Payton rookie cards have dipped of late, right alongside the rest of the vintage card market. 


PSA 10 Walter Payton values, courtesy Card Ladder

Still, an investor who bought a PSA 10 Payton rookie card in 2019 has tripled their investment.  

Based on the latest auction data, a PSA 10 Walter Payton rookie card is valued at around $60,000, about half the value from early 2021!

There many more PSA 9 Walter Payton cards in circulation (nearly 700 copies) and values reflect this, with current values of around $5,000.

Roughly 1/12 of the price of a PSA 10 Payton rookie card.

A PSA 8 Payton rookie card is even more affordable, with the latest auction data showing recent sales averages of $1500.


1976 Topps Walter Payton Rookie Card PSA Pricing

If you are on a budget, lower graded or even ungraded Walter Payton rookie cards are affordable. PSA 4 and lower copies sell 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.


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

What Is The Current Graded Population For Walter Payton's Rookie Card?

There are over 11,000 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.

Why Are Rookie Cards More Valuable?

Of the 11,000 PSA graded Payton rookie cards, only 53 have earned a Gem-Mint (PSA 10) designation (0.4% hit rate).

In total, PSA has graded over 61,000 1976 Topps Football cards, with only 3,975 earning a PSA 10 grade (6.5% hit rate).  


1976 Topps Walter Payton PSA Population Report

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

As shown by the PSA chart above, even PSA 9 Payton rookie cards are accessible, with 682 graded copies.

The numbers blast off once we reach PSA 8 (NM-MT) and lower. There are over 2700 PSA 8 Payton rookies and over 2100 PSA 7 (NM) copies.

Thus, don't be fooled into thinking the Walter Payton rookie card is a rare card. It has a VERY large PSA graded supply. 

How Much Is An Autographed Walter Payton Rookie Card Worth?

Sadly, Walter Payton passed away in 1999 at 45 from bile duct cancer.

Given his early death, Payton's autographs carry a premium.

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


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

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.


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. 


What's The Investment Potential?

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. 

Yet, there is no lack of supply of Walter Payton rookie cards: over 11,000 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. 

I have a hard time, however, getting too excited for lower grade Payton rookies, given the massive supply. 

Walter Payton Rookie Cards For Sale on eBay

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