The 1981 Topps football set has a clearly identifiable headliner in the Joe Montana rookie card. Montana’s rookie isn’t only the biggest card in that set, it’s one of the top football cards of the 1980s. But there’s more to the issue than simply that card. Here are five other rookies from the 1981 set worth chasing – and the great news is that they’re all highly affordable.
Montana isn’t the only Hall of Fame rookie card in the release. Art Monk is found here and is one of the most prolific NFL wide receivers of all time. Aside from Montana’s issue, this is generally the most sought after card in the set. He retired as the league’s all-time leader in receptions and while that record was later broken by Jerry Rice, Monk’s 940 catches is truly an impressive number. Monk was also a three-time Super Bowl Champion and you won’t find many more 1980s football bargains better than his rookie card, which can be found in high grade for about $10. As an aside, Monk also is featured on the Redskins’ Team Leader subset card, which sells for about $1-$2.
Winslow joins Montana and Monk as Hall of Fame players with first-year editions in the 1980 Topps football set. Winslow is heralded as one of the greatest tight ends in NFL history. He established several records during his career and was a five-time Pro Bowler. Winslow’s card is even more affordable than Monk’s and can be bought in high-grade condition for $5-$10. Like Monk, Winslow has more than one card in the issue. The tight end actually has three rookies if you count his Super Action and NFL Leaders subset cards. Both are also in the $1-$2 range ungraded.
Dan Hampton continues the parade of Hall of Fame rookies in this issue with his 1981 Topps football rookie card No. 316. Hampton was a mainstay on the Chicago Bears’ defensive line in the 1980s and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002. He was incredibly versatile on defense. Hampton not only played at both defensive tackle and defensive end, but achieved All-Pro status at both positions. In high-grade condition, Hampton’s card is generally in the $5-$10 range – sometimes less. Hampton is also found on the Bears Team Leader card, which sells for about $1-$2. As an added bonus, collectors will also find Walter Payton on that card as well.
A 10th Round pick in the NFL Draft, few could have envisioned the type of success 49ers wide receiver Dwight Clark would enjoy in the league. Clark first starred at Clemson and was eventually inducted into their Hall of Fame, but he wasn’t seen as a top NFL prospect. He quickly established himself as one of the top receivers in the game and was named an All-Pro in 1981 and 1982, leading the league in catches in the latter. He is most famous for his touchdown catch in the playoffs following the 1981 regular season where his score gave the 49ers a victory over the Dallas Cowboys to send them to the Super Bowl. But with 506 career catches, he also established himself as one of the top wideouts of the 1980s. His 1981 Topps football rookie card can generally be found in near-mint condition for $5 or less. Clark’s Team Leader subset cards are even more affordable at about $1-$2.
No rookie card list of 1981 Topps football cards would be complete without a nod to the former Detroit Lions running back. After winning a Heisman Trophy as college football’s top player, Sims was taken No. 1 overall by the Detroit Lions in 1980 after a fabulous career at Oklahoma. He didn’t disappoint, either. In 1980, he rushed for 1,303 yards and caught 51 passes for an addition 621 yards. Sims finished with 16 total touchdowns and being named the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year. His sophomore campaign was possibly even better as he rushed for 1,437 yards and had a 4.9 yard-per-carry average.
After solid seasons in 1982 and 1983, though, things took a turn for the worse as he suffered a career-ending injury in 1984. Sims rookie cards are still valued somewhat but generally under $5 each in high-grade shape. Sims also has a Team Leaders and Super Action cards in the $1-$2 range.