In this new, ongoing series, we explore various sets on the PSA Set Registry, featuring the trading cards of iconic athletes. Select cards will be highlighted and the requirements of each set will be included. The following article reviews the Walter Payton Basic Topps Set.
There are few professional athletes as universally admired as Walter Payton. The man they called “Sweetness” was a generational-type player, fierce competitor and wonderful person, making him appreciated by opponents and fans of all teams. Payton spent the entirety of his career with the Chicago Bears and during that time cemented his name as one of the greatest running backs in football history. The Bears star averaged 295 carries for 1,287 yards and 8.46 touchdowns over the course of his 13 seasons in the NFL. He earned nine trips to the Pro Bowl, five appearances on the All-Pro team, and was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 1977. He is a member of the NFL Team of the Decade for both the 1970s and 1980s, the NFL’s 75th and 100th Anniversary Teams, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993.
It is safe to say that Walter Payton left a significant mark on the game. Thankfully for collectors, Payton was well-represented in trading cards, with multiple mainstream and regional/oddball issues. A number of serious Payton collectors gravitate towards the Walter Payton Basic Set on the PSA Set Registry for a bit of fun and competition surrounding a favorite player. Let’s take a closer look at some of the key cards and trading card value from this popular set.
Walter Payton’s rookie card is the crown jewel of the 1976 Topps set. The card suffers from the standard quality control issues that were prevalent with Topps issues at the time, mainly centering and print defects, in addition to the passage of more than 40 years time. The result is that of the 9,000+ examples that have been submitted to PSA for grading, less than 1% have been worthy of a PSA 10 grade. Still, they do come up for sale on occasion. After hovering around the $15,000 mark for the past few years, a PSA Gem Mint 10 sold for $21,860.40 in a January 2020 auction.
If you are trying to complete Payton’s Basic Topps set checklist on the PSA Set Registry, this is the most heavily weighted card (10.00) of the bunch. Weights are determined by the card’s secondary market value using a scale from 1.00 to 10.00 with 10.00 being the most expensive. Using three varying PSA grades for the card, here are its industry average auction prices:
PSA Good 2: $112.00
PSA Excellent 5: $130.11
PSA Near Mint-Mint 8: $415.86
Walter Payton was a bonafide star by the time his second Topps card was released in 1977. The card has all of the hallmarks of a 1970s football gem, featuring a star player and with “All-Pro” and “1,000 Yarder” designations on front. Additionally, Payton won his lone NFL MVP Award in ’77, which adds a bit of significance to the issue. Fewer than 2,000 examples of this card have been submitted to PSA for grading, and there are less than a dozen currently residing in PSA 10 holders, making it much more difficult to locate than Payton’s rookie card. The $6,763.50 average price for this second-year card illustrates its desirability.
PSA Good 2: N/A
PSA Excellent 5: $13.16
PSA Near Mint-Mint 8: $79.47
Oddly enough, none of Payton’s basic Topps cards feature action images. The 1979 issue is no different, showing the Bears star in what appears to be a quiet moment on the Chicago sideline. Reflecting the lack of agreement between Topps and the NFL Players Association at the time, the classic Bears C logo has been airbrushed from Payton’s helmet. Despite what some might consider to be detracting elements, collectors still crave the cardboard. This final issue of the 1970s is a bit more lenient in terms of condition, with more than 1.2% receiving a grade of PSA 10. Still, that accounts for just 17 examples in the PSA Population Report at the moment, and a PSA 10 example has not sold publicly since May 2018.
PSA Good 2: $7.99
PSA Excellent 5: $9.28
PSA Near Mint-Mint 8: $30.13
The final card in the Walter Payton Basic Set is a testament to the man’s greatness. The card is a Record Breaker issue, recognizing Payton’s then NFL-leading 110 career rushing touchdowns. In the card image, Payton almost appears to be acknowledging his own greatness with a slight smile and nod of the head. It is a classy card to be designated as the send-off for the future Hall of Famer. Fortunately for collectors this card is neither rare nor expensive. More than 350 examples can be found in PSA 10 condition, and they currently trade for around $20 apiece. This makes the possibility of owning a career-contemporary PSA 10 Walter Payton card a reality for everyone.
PSA Near Mint-Mint 8: $6.50
PSA Gem Mint 10: $21.08
- 1976 TOPPS WALTER PAYTON 148 (10.00)
- 1977 TOPPS WALTER PAYTON ALL-PRO 360 (2.50)
- 1978 TOPPS WALTER PAYTON ALL-PRO 200 (2.00)
- 1979 TOPPS WALTER PAYTON AP 480 (2.00)
- 1980 TOPPS WALTER PAYTON ALL-PRO 160 (2.00)
- 1981 TOPPS WALTER PAYTON ALL-PRO 400 (1.00)
- 1982 TOPPS WALTER PAYTON 302 (1.00)
- 1983 TOPPS WALTER PAYTON 36 (1.00)
- 1984 TOPPS WALTER PAYTON PB 228 (1.00)
- 1985 TOPPS WALTER PAYTON ALL PRO 33 (1.00)
- 1986 TOPPS WALTER PAYTON AP 11 (1.00)
- 1987 TOPPS WALTER PAYTON 46 (1.00)
- 1988 TOPPS WALTER PAYTON 5 (1.00)
Walter Payton is appreciated by most every football fan that is familiar with his name. His accomplishments on the gridiron ranked him as one of the all-time greats. But his manner and community involvement off the field helped to illustrate him as a person. Sadly, Payton died in 1999, the result of a rare liver disease. He was only 45 years old.
At just 13 cards, the Walter Payton Basic Set is not a particularly daunting task on its own. However, depending on the grade you desire for your set, the rarity and cost of his earlier issues can pose significant challenges. But offering something for collectors of all levels is just one of the elements that make this particular set so enjoyable. Give this lineup a bit of your time. Study the individual cards and develop a game plan. Then try to tackle Walter Payton’s Basic Card Set. You’ll be glad you did!
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