2016 marks the 40th anniversary of a key vintage football card issue – the 1976 Topps football set. The release isn’t short on quality rookie cards – all of which are pretty affordable. Here’s a look at seven of the best first-year cards from that set.
1. Walter Payton Rookie Card (No. 148)
Not only the most important card in the 1976 Topps football set, but one of the most popular trading cards ever made.
Payton is on the short list of the best running backs in NFL history; an eight-time All-Pro, the league’s Most Valuable Player on two occasions, at one time the league’s all-time top rusher– and a Super Bowl champ.
While the highest graded Payton rookie cards have gotten expensive, they’re plentiful enough that you can still own a very respectable copy for under $300.
While Payton’s rookie card is king when it comes to the 1976 Topps football set, there’s another pretty good one in Hall of Famer Jack Lambert. Playing linebacker for the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers, Lambert helped lead the famed Steel Curtain defense to four Super Bowl championships. He was an All-Pro in nine of his 11 NFL seasons and clean copies of his rookie card can be found for under $20.
3. Randy White Rookie Card (No. 158)
Yet another Hall of Fame rookie card is found in the set in Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman and linebacker Randy White. White accomplished just about everything as a collegiate and professional player. In college, he was a two-time All-American, won several prestigious awards, including the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award, and was named to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1994. In the NFL, he was a nine-time All-Pro, Super Bowl Champion, Super Bowl Most Valuable Player, and made the Pro Football Hall of Fame (also in 1994).
At under $10, his rookie card is a steal.
Nicknamed ‘Too Tall’ because of his 6’9″ stature, Jones had quite the NFL career. he was the first overall pick in the 1974 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys but didn’t land on his first Topps card until two years later. He quickly became a starter and helped lead the Cowboys to their Super Bowl XII win. Football wasn’t his only specialty, either. He had the interest of Major League Baseball teams out of high school, was a high school All-American in basketball, and interrupted his NFL career briefly to become a boxer, where he maintained a perfect 6-0 record.
Mid-grade Jones rookies start at only a few dollars.
Immediately preceding Jones’ rookie card in the set is another notable first-year issue in that of Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback Ron Jaworski. ‘Jaws’ also played for the Los Angeles Rams, Miami Dolphins, and Kansas City Chiefs, but gained notoriety when he led the Eagles to their first-ever Super Bowl in 1980 when he also was a Pro Bowler and was named the NFC’s Player of the Year. Since his career ended, Jaworski has gone on to a long career in sports broadcasting.
Jaws’ 1976 Topps rookie cards are available at $5 or less.
Before Bernie Kosar, there was Brian Sipe. The Cleveland Browns have had their problems at quarterback lately, but that wasn’t the case in the 1980s when the duo was around. Sipe began his career in 1974 and was a two-time Pro Bowler, winning the NFL’s Most Valuable Player Award in 1980 when he threw for more than 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns. Not too shabby for a 13th round draft pick out of San Diego State.
Browns cards have been popular over the years but ungraded Sipe rookies can usually be had for $5 or less.
7. Harvey Martin Rookie Card (No. 44)
Rounding out our list is the first card of Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Harvey Martin. Like White, Martin helped the Cowboys to a Super Bowl XII title. In addition, he was named Co-Most Valuable Player with him in that game. He was a four-time NFL All-Pro and was the 1977 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Martin’s 1976 Topps football rookie card in decent condition often sells for $10 or less.