Football is the most popular sport in America, and football cards are a great way to be a part of the action. The market for football cards is booming, and now is the time to collect. But with so many options, it can be hard to know which football cards are worth money and which ones are worthless.
Football cards range in value from a few cents for the cheapest cards, to well over $3 million for an autographed Tom Brady card from 2000. Some variables that affect a card’s value include the player on the card, the rarity of the card, autographs, the card’s condition and the football card market.
There is a wide range in the values of football cards. Cards that have the same player won’t all have the same worth. Even two copies of the same exact card can differ in value based on their condition. Keep reading to find out more about how these factors can affect your football card collection.
The Player Makes The Card
The most valuable football cards are popular because of the player represented on them. One of the main reasons collectors start collecting is that they are a fan of a certain player or team. To give you an idea of how the player affects the card, here are a few examples of some of the most valuable football cards of all time.
1935 Bronco Nagurski Rookie Card – $750,000 (Estimated)
For many years, this was the most valuable football card of all time. And even though most of us weren’t around to see Bronco Nagurski play, his name is familiar to us because of the Bronco Nagurski Award that is given to the best defensive football player in college football. He also played offense, and was known for his brutal running style.
2000 Tom Brady Playoff Contenders Autograph – $3,107,132
This card shattered previous football card sales records when it was sold in June 2021. The reason for the impressive value of this card is that Tom Brady had just won his historic seventh Super Bowl, cementing his legacy as one of the greatest players of all time. Other Tom Brady cards recently sold for around a million dollars.
1971 Topps Terry Bradshaw Rookie Card – $16,000 (Estimated)
This is a vintage card, and not nearly the same value as Tom Brady’s cards, but it is still valuable for a reason. Terry Bradshaw was a very popular and successful quarterback on a very popular team: The Pittsburgh Steelers. But he’s now better known for his work as a broadcaster, and he’s even got his own reality show now with his family.
2018 Patrick Mahomes II National Treasures – $840,000
After Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes was the next most sought-after player from the recent card boom. This stems from the fact that Patrick Mahomes has only been in the league a few years and he has already won a super bowl. This immensely popular player also has a large upside in terms of collector value, since he is likely to play for many more years.
Jim Brown 1958 Topps – $358,500
This card didn’t sell as part of the recent boom, but it still commanded an impressive sum. Jim Brown was a legendary running back for the Cleveland Browns, and was maybe the best of all time. But he also stayed in the public eye after football, by acting in multiple films and continuing to be involved in the sports world through boxing and MMA.
These are just a few examples of some of the most valuable football cards of all time. As you can see, the player on the card is one of the most important factors when determining how valuable your card is. But there are many other factors to consider as well.
Rarity Creates Demand
You just opened a pack and there’s an awesome Tom Brady card inside. You’re jumping up and down because you think it’s worth millions but, in fact, it may not be worth much at all. Tom Brady has played for over two decades and there have been many, many cards that have been produced with his likeness. So how can you know if you’ve just struck gold, or if you’re only holding a fancy piece of paper?
Cards are rare if there weren’t very many of them produced. This isn’t just true for cards, and is the case for most collectibles. Very few game-console collectors are searching high and low for a Nintendo Wii. That’s because the Wii was a hugely popular console and they can find them everywhere for sale, and for very little money. The same principle applies to football cards.
Still keep in mind that the player is a major factor. You may have an extremely rare card for some obscure player. The card may be rare, but it won’t be valuable if nobody knows the player. If collectors don’t have a connection to the card, they won’t pay money for it. The most valuable cards will have both a popular player and a rarity factor.
One of the main ways that cards can be rare is if they are autographed. While it would be great if you could get Patrick Mahomes to sign your card (if you can get it authenticated), the chances are high that you won’t be hanging around with him any time soon. The good news is the major card producers have gotten the autographs for you. These cards are highly sought after because they are unique.
Many card makers have started to include other one-of-a-kind memorabilia in their cards. This could be a piece of a jersey that Aaron Rodgers wore in a big game, or other collectible items that fans would want. While these cards may be unique and worth more than common cards, they are generally not worth as much as autographed cards are.
Rarity comes from a low supply. The card companies know that too, and that is why they have started producing some cards in very limited sets. This increases demand for their cards from the start and affects the likelihood that you may stumble upon a valuable card. You will know a card is from a limited set if you see a notation on the card like “1 of 5” or “3 of 10.”
The Condition Of The Card Matters
Let’s say you have a 1976 Walter Payton rookie card. You know that Walter Payton was a very famous running back for one of the most famous teams of all time: The 1985 Chicago Bears. You look around and see that one of these cards sold for over $124,000, and you think that you’re rich. But the card that sold for that much was a perfect card, with not a single hint of damage.
Football cards have been around for nearly a century. But the market for them as collectibles is a fairly recent trend. Many of the early football cards were bent or scratched or stored poorly, so they didn’t stand the test of time. Collectors who are willing to pay large amounts of money don’t want cards that are falling apart. That is why it is so important to take care of your cards.
But maybe you have a Walter Payton card that looks great to you. No marks, no creases, and everything is in the right place. You may still have trouble selling it, especially online, because buyers will be wary of ungraded cards. The good news is you can send your Payton card off to be graded.
Grading will make sure that everyone knows that your card is legit and is what you say it is. If you look at the most valuable cards, you’ll see a PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator) rating beside most of them. There are a few different grading companies for sports cards, and PSA is one of them.
The Factors That Determine Your Card’s Condition
PSA grades on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the best. Anything above 9 will be highly desirable if you have a rare card. Some factors that can affect the rating are centering, corners, edges, and surface.
Centering is how well the image is centered on the card. Because many of the older cards were printed in a different way, there will be centering issues on some of them.
Corners are one of the issues that can really affect the value of your card. Many of the older cards were handled roughly, stuffed into boxes, thrown under the bed, etc. Cards that were stored or handled incorrectly will have visible corner issues, and this degrades their value.
Edges also make a difference when it comes to value. Much like corners, improper storage or handling can affect the edges. Also, the printing process can produce cards that are imperfect at the edges.
Finally, the surface is important as well. Cards can fade over time, or scratches or damage to the front or back of the card can occur. Sometimes the cards are folded and have creases, or perhaps they have a coffee stain on them. Moisture and marks on a card can decrease the value significantly.
Other Factors To Consider
Aside from the physical factors, there is the authenticity of any autographs or apparel that come with the card. This won’t be a concern with cards you’ve gotten from a major manufacturer. But if you’re purchasing an autographed Johnny Unitas card off eBay, you’ll want to make sure that the autograph is authentic.
In general, the most valuable cards are the cards that are nearest to mint condition. On the PSA scale, that means a 9 or better. You can send your cards off to be graded, and then you will know for sure what the number will be.
But you may be buying a card that hasn’t been graded. You want to make sure that the card has sharp corners, crisp edges, and there are no visible defects on the surface of the card. Then, of course, there is the player and the rarity to consider as well. But you also need to consider the state of the football card market.
The Market For Sports Cards
Just like anything, cards are only worth money if people are willing to pay money for them. You could have a one-of-a-kind, autographed figure skating card in perfect condition. You may be able to find a buyer who is very interested in figure skating memorabilia, but chances are you won’t receive anywhere near what you would get for a football or baseball card.
The market for sports cards has fluctuated over the years. As with any collectible, interest will come and go. The good news for you as a football card collector is that the sports card market has exploded in recent years. There are various reasons for this, and a lot of it has to do with the general state of the economy.
Either way, the market is hot. Card makers are producing some of the best products they have in years, and the chances are high that you can find valuable cards, even if not quite to the level of the Tom Brady cards! Also, add in the ease with which you can purchase the cards you want through sites like eBay, and you have a winning combination for collectors!
The player, rarity, condition, and card market are all factors that will help you understand which football cards are worth money. Sports cards are still very popular, and football cards in particular are increasing in popularity. Investing in this trend now may set you up to have a very valuable collection of football cards in the future.