Thirty years ago, Topps produced a football card set in a baseball card era. As was generally the case then, the cards were never all that popular compared to their baseball counterpart and a lot of product went unsold. However, the 1986 Topps football set now stands out as one of the better products from the 1980s in any sport.
Putting it bluntly, the cards aren’t all that beautiful. With the green borders and diagonal yard marker lines, it’s easy to see that Topps was duplicating a football field. The end result, though, just wasn’t all that easy to look at. In addition, the color borders also display the slightest flaws, making them more noticeable. The backs are arguably even worse. With a greenish-brown border, the only redeeming quality is having the names stand out and a short biography that is front and center along with statistical information.
A total of 396 cards are found in the set, printed off three uncut sheets with no double prints.
What the ’86 Topps football set lacks in aesthetics, it makes up for in rookie cards. Easily one of the premier football sets for rookies, this one is loaded. Leading the way is the inimitable Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice. He’s followed by an impressive slate of Hall of Famers like Steve Young, Reggie White, Bruce Smith, Andre Reed, and Bill Fralic.
Other rookies include numerous All-Pro and Pro Bowl players such as Boomer Esiason, Bernie Kosar, Gary Clark, Al Toon, Anthony Carter, Jim Lachey, Wilber Marshall, Charles Mann, Mark Bavaro, Ernest Byner, Kevin Mack, and many more. Another popular rookie is that of Chicago Bears defensive lineman and part-time running back William ‘Refrigerator’ Perry. While Topps’ 1985 and 1987 football sets were lacking in rookie cards, a superstar-laden team could be constructed with the talent from this Topps release.
Part of the reason for the large crop of rookies is that some of these players were previously in the USFL. Young and White, for instance, have USFL cards which some collectors consider their true rookie card. But after that league folded in 1986, those players joined the NFL, getting their first Topps cards in the process.
One player that didn’t show up in the 1986 Topps rookie checklist? Hall of Famer Chris Doleman. Though Doleman was a top five NFL Draft pick in 1985 (going to the Minnesota Vikings at No. 4 overall), Topps didn’t think to include him in their set.
Production wasn’t the problem, as he recorded a career-high 113 tackles in his rookie season in 1985. It’s difficult to fathom why, but Doleman didn’t actually make his Topps debut until 1988 after he had been in the league for several years. Not that it needed it, but Doleman’s inclusion would have given the set yet another Pro Football Hall of Famer.
There’s more to this set than the first NFL cards of big names. As usual, Topps included a litany of stars in this issue and many are early cards of well-known players. Dan Marino, John Elway, Eric Dickerson, and Roger Craig, for example, have their third-year cards included in the set. Warren Moon’s and Irving Fryar’s 1986 Topps cards are their second year issues with their rookies appearing in the 1985 release.
In addition to those stars, also included are players such as Hall of Famers Joe Montana, Walter Payton, Lawrence Taylor, Steve Largent, Marcus Allen, and others. Montana and Allen not only have base cards, but are also featured on League Leaders, giving them more exposure in the set. Another popular subset, the Team Leaders, also include more stars, such as Payton, Allen, Craig, and many more. Same goes for the Record Breakers subset in the beginning of the checklist, where Payton, Allen, Dickerson, and Largent all appear.
The lone insert from the 1986 Topps Football set was the company’s 24-card glossy 1,000-yard inserts, which highlighted players who had at least 1,000 rushing or receiving yards from the previous year. Unfortunately, none of the big name rookie cards made the cut, but the set does feature a number of star players, such as Tony Dorsett, Payton, Allen, Largent, Monk, Craig, Dickerson, and others. A few of the smaller rookies in Mack and Byner are in there, however.
1986 Topps Football Pricing
Despite the star-studded release, 1986 Topps football cards remain very affordable. The Rice rookie, easily the set’s highlight, is a $30-$40 in raw near-mint condition. Graded Rice rookies have been a great investment along with other older iconic rookie cards and are readily available on eBay.
Complete sets are very affordable, too, given the many key cards. Pricing, of course, depends on the grade of the Rice and other major cards in the set.