Fact: Some football cards are just harder to tackle. Because of various factors like overall scarcity and condition sensitivity, these cards are tough to come by in general and tend to command the big bucks in high grade.
We put together a list of the upper echelon of these coveted cards featuring gridiron greats, using resources like PSA’s Auction Prices Realized, Price Guide and CardFacts. And, like a surprise all-out blitz, these numbers are apt to catch you off guard.
1935 #34 National Chicle Bronko Nagurski
We start with what is widely accepted as the most valuable of all football cards and the key to a classic set. Bronko Nagurski is the equivalent to the Babe Ruth of the gridiron — no contemporary rivaled his dominance and stories are told of his legendary toughness. Equally tough, however, is securing this card in high grade. No example has reached PSA 10, and the lone PSA 9 example is valued at approximately $750,000.
1958 Topps #62 Jim Brown
If the theme here is gridiron greatness, Jim Brown fits right in. With a rare blend of power, speed and agility, Brown took the ball where he wanted and there wasn’t anything opposing defenders could do about it. Like the aforementioned Nagurski, Brown’s rookie card is notoriously tough to tackle in high grade, and there are no PSA 10 examples. If you’d like to add one of five PSA 9s to your collection, you’re potentially looking at upwards of $330,000.
1957 Topps #119 Bart Starr
Part signal caller, part play caller, the only recognizes rookie card of legendary quarterback-turned-coach is next on the list. Reaching deity-like status with Packers fans, Bart Starr helped deliver six division and two Super Bowl titles during his playing days. As one of three keys to the iconic 1957 Topps set, Starr’s rookie card is among the most valuable out there, commanding upwards of $288,000 in PSA 9. No example has been graded higher.
1965 Topps #122 Joe Namath
With an iconic image that transcends the hobby, akin to the ’86 Fleer Jordan, ’89 Griffey Upper Deck or ’52 Topps Mantle, this might be the most recognizable football card out there. Though Namath isn’t the best quarterback on this list, statistically speaking, the beloved signal caller and Hall of Famer helped earn a Super Bowl title over the Baltimore Colts in a victory he guaranteed beforehand, further etching his name in the history of the game. His only recognized rookie card might as well serve as THE football card of the hobby. The difficulty of the card, namely the tricky, narrow borders and general wear, have prevented any example from PSA 10 status, and PSA 9s are valued around $250,000.
1957 Topps #138 Johnny Unitas
Rounding out the list is the only recognized rookie card of the legendary flat-topped quarterback Johnny Unitas. This iconic set is bolstered by the big three of Bart Starr, Paul Hornung and, you guessed it, Unitas. Even at the time of his retirement, Unitas held virtually every major quarterback passing record, and the asking price of his rookie card in high grade is indicative of his greatness. PSA 9 examples command figures around the $150,000 mark.
Now, countless collectors would absolutely love a shot at any of these cards, this author included, but if you had to pick one, which would it be? Let us know in the comments.