It was before the Super Bowl. Before the AFL. Long before the guaranteed contract. “Football rookie cards” wasn’t even a phrase in the 1950s. In fact, football cards were still a relatively new concept, unless you’re counting the handful of sets produced in the 1930s and 40s.
From 1950-59, the NFL would come of age…and so would its football cards. From the little 1950 Bowmans to the star-packed sets of the late 50s, you can find plenty of value. Which 1950s football rookie cards rise above the rest? With a new season approaching, here’s a collection of ten cards that should be on your list.
We’ve eliminated the 1955 Topps All-Americans set since most of the ‘rookie cards’ were of players who weren’t active in the era.
1950 Bowman Otto Graham: Those who saw him play insist Graham was one of the top ten best quarterbacks ever. Already an AAFC veteran when the Browns joined the NFL in 1950, Graham wound up leading Cleveland to ten division or league titles in ten seasons. His rookie card in PSA 9 grade sold for $26,000 in 2006. Expect to pay $250-300 for a respectable one.
1950 Bowman Y.A. Tittle: Tittle, too, began his pro career in the AAFC. His greatest success came late in his career with the New York Giants when he won a pair of NFL MVP trophies. Brett Favre isn’t the only quarterback to be active and prolific in his late 30s. Tittle played 17 seasons. You’ll spend $250 on his rookie card which shows him wearing #63.
1951 Bowman Tom Landry: Quite possibly the best conversation piece a football card collector can own. Long before he wore his trademark hat while stoically pacing the Dallas Cowboys’ sideline, Landry was a player with the New York Giants. This card proves it. A PSA 10 copy sold last year for nearly $20,000. A decent one will cost you $300-400.
1951 Bowman Norm Van Brocklin: How great was Van Brocklin in 1951? He threw for 554 yards in one game. In 1960, he won the NFL MVP. In 12 years, he led the league in passing three times. He could also punt with the best of them. Probably the most desirable card in the ’51 Bowman set, next to Landry. Grab your tribute to the leather helmet for $250-350.
1952 Bowman George Halas: Whether you collect the ‘small’ or ‘large’ version, what self-respecting Bears fan wouldn’t want this card in their collection? Halas was the Bears for decades. He wasn’t a ‘rookie’ of anything then, but you won’t find him anywhere else. Save a few hundred bucks and buy the big one.
1954 Bowman George Blanda: Quarterback. Kicker. AFL pioneer. Blanda’s career stretched from the post-World War II era to the end of the Vietnam war. Very easy to find, even in high grade, this piece of NFL history is well worth the $100-125 you’ll pay.
1957 Topps Bart Starr: The first in an amazing trio of ’57 Topps football rookie cards. The set is simply loaded, even if it’s not a work of art. Starr was a low-round draft pick still a couple of years away from being molded into a championship QB under Vince Lombardi. Not difficult to find, this card will set you back $300-400 in nice shape.
1957 Topps Johnny Unitas: Luckily for collectors, this card is a double-print. It’s not hard to find, but it’s a little more expensive than the Starr. Johnny U, too, wasn’t given much of a chance as a young player. Luckily, someone believed in him. What fan of NFL history, even if they’re not a collector, wouldn’t like to see a real Unitas rookie card?
1957 Topps Paul Hornung: A converted quarterback, the Heisman Trophy winner from Notre Dame was losing again when he first got to Green Bay. Lombardi changed his fortunes too. The Golden Boy lasted ten solid years in the league, then went onto success in TV, movies and media. Hornung was Joe Namath before Joe Namath. $350-400 will buy a really good Hornung rookie.
1958 Topps Jim Brown: Last year, someone paid $5,000 for a PSA 8.5 Brown rookie card. A steal, if you ask us. How many NFL players were better than this guy? More than 40 years after he quit, many still think Brown was the best ever. The 1958 Topps football cards are notoriously hard to find without scuffing and wear, so if you can lasso a really good “8” for around $1500-2000, go for it. Ungraded ones can be had in EX-NM for $250-300.