Like their baseball brethren, quality vintage football rookie cards have shown some significant price increases in the last year or so. Major rookie cards of NFL icons can sometimes catch five-figures when only a small number exist at a certain grade level. Unitas, Starr, Brown, Staubach, Namath and Payton rookie cards are among the hottest.
As a whole, though, card prices for football Hall of Famers represent a decent bang for the buck. Far fewer even exist since the popularity of baseball cards in the 1950s, 60s and 70s ranked far above football. Population reports and sales figures reflect that.
We’ve come up with a list of 10 pre-1975 football cards that offer pretty good value at current prices and might also be prime candidates to see some growth in future years as long as you’re buying nicer examples.
- 1951 Bowman Tom Landry: Not many professional coaches have had great rookie cards but this is one of them. His greatest football successes came later in life and honestly, there are a lot of casual collectors and new investors who don’t even realize this NFL icon has a rookie card in one of the earliest bubble gum card sets. As interest grows among newcomers, demand for the rookie card of “Thomas” Landry will likely increase and somewhat remarkably, you can still grab graded, near mint type copy of this 65-year-old gem for $500-$700.
- 1958 Topps Johnny Unitas: Prices for Johnny U’s 1957 rookie cards have soared and the ‘58s are simmering but still haven’t really exploded. The 1958 set is very condition sensitive and the Unitas card is also prone to centering issues. Owning a quality copy of his second card is a pretty good strategy. Remember, too, this was the year he played in what many call the NFL’s ‘Greatest Game’, which adds a little allure. Compared to his rookie card, what you’ll spend on a good one (still under $400 for NM) still seems very modest.
- 1958 Topps Bart Starr: Like Unitas, this is a second-year card and very much undervalued. Even with a fairly low population of high-grade copies, prices remain within reach. The winningest quarterback of the 1960s, Bart owns five championship rings. Remember that when rookie card prices get too high, the herd often moves toward the second year and right now, Starrs aren’t that pricey.
- 1959 Topps Jerry Kramer: He’s not a Hall of Famer but there’s been a groundswell of support for the long-time Lombardi-era guard. He’s usually on any list of the best players who haven’t been enshrined. It’s not out of the realm of possibility he’ll get there eventually and there isn’t a huge supply of high-grade examples of his rookie card. Kramer is immensely popular thanks to his block in the Ice Bowl, his highly regarded books and his handful of championship rings. $75-$85 can still buy you a very nice one from a truly vintage set.
- 1959 Topps Jim Brown: While Brown’s 1958 rookie card has always been the gold standard for collectors of vintage football cards, his 1959 card is better looking. Look at him. Would you like to tackle that? Many still believe he’s the best running back of all-time. The ‘59s were produced in good quantity but owning the second oldest card of one of the NFL’s all-time greats in NM condition for under $250 is not likely something you’d ever regret, would you?
- 1963 Topps Johnny Unitas: This card is very tough to find centered. Add on corner wear issues from being the first card in the set along with the player’s popularity and you have the recipe for a very desirable card. It’s worth acquiring a centered example in the best grade you can afford. Besides, it’s a terrific photo of Johnny and his famous crew-cut. As vintage football star cards continue to rise, this one will be along for the ride. The going rate for a 7 is still under $150.
- 1966 Philadelphia Jim Brown: Because of his relatively short career, Brown doesn’t appear on that many football cards. This one is his last and among his best. The ’66 Philly is far from rare but it’s hard to imagine a world where Jim Brown cards don’t continue to appreciate, especially at current prices.
- 1966 Topps Joe Namath: Joe Willie’s second year cards have been on the rise but even 8s and 9s remain more affordable than you’d think. The population of nicer 1966 Topps football cards is somewhat limited because of those “wood grain” borders and the usual centering woes. Going out and grabbing a higher grade example at current levels is probably time well spent.
- 1973 Topps Roger Staubach: His rookie card has gone wild in mint 9 because of inherent centering and other issues but a quick check of prices reveals a second year card that’s available and still extremely affordable, even at the top levels. A classic Staubach look, too.
- 1974 Topps Ken Stabler: Sadly, he won’t be able give an induction speech. The Snake will go into the Hall of Fame posthumously this summer. Among the most popular players of the decade with Alabama and Raiders connections to boot, it’s surprising Stabler cards don’t sell for more. Interest in his 1973 Topps rookie card has increased since the Hall call and while prices for his other cards have spiked a little, you can still own his second most valuable vintage card for the price of a nice dinner. Centering issues mean there won’t likely be a huge number of them entering the hobby anytime soon. The toughest part right now is finding them for sale.