If you grew up in the decade or have developed a fondness for the NFL’s modern history, coming up with a list of the best 1970s football cards is like a parent trying to pick a favorite child. We’ve listed some of the obvious choices in past articles about the best of all-time (like this one) but narrowing it down to a particular decade is harder than you think and besides, it’s all subjective anyway.
What factors do you include? The most valuable? Rookie cards? Importance to the market overall? The truth is that there’s no right or wrong answer but taking all of those into account is probably a good idea.
1972 Topps Roger Staubach. If you caught the recent Sports Illustrated article on Staubach, you know that Roger the Dodger has made way, way, way more money after football than he ever did playing for the Cowboys. He’s a better businessman than he was a quarterback and that’s saying something. This card is hugely important because it represents the prime reason for the Cowboys’ success in the 70s and it’s also difficult to find in high grade because of centering and other printing issues. Ungraded Staubach cards in EX condition are easy. Mint, graded Staubachs are considered investments.
1976 Topps Walter Payton. Truth be told, this is the most popular 1970s football rookie card. So why second on the list? Well, it’s incredibly easy to find. Just about any medium sized card show will yield at least a couple. High grade examples still bring big bucks and Payton’s greatness is still fondly recalled. If you collect football cards, it’s one you simply have to have a card that belongs on the Mt. Rushmore of all football rookie cards. High grade examples will always be a solid investment.
1971 Topps Terry Bradshaw. Those ’71 Topps cards are enough to kill a mint freak. The centering issues, the colored borders that will show wear if you so much as breathe on them. When they’re nice, they are spectacular. Bradshaw’s first card represents the years before Steeler greatness and for a while a lot of folks preferred Terry Hanratty in Pittsburgh. The Super Bowl rings. The personality. Pretty hard to forget and pretty challenging to find a nice one.
1972 Topps Joe Namath in Action. The only set with true ‘high numbers’ during the decade was this one. They were a dud in ’72 and very tough to find by the middle part of the decade but thankfully Larry Fritsch bought massive amounts of unsold cases and so we have a supply of high-grade third series cards. It still hasn’t killed prices. Centering, again, is tough on these. It’s not a great looking card but it’s Joe and he’s on the field rather than in some staged photo. Expect to pay around $250-300 for a mint copy of this card…if you can find one.
1971 Topps Joe Greene. The Steelers had a lot of great defensive players in the Steel Curtain days but Mean Joe was the best of the best. Not many knew him in 1971 and that’s the beauty of this card, which is sort of a portrait shot. You’ll spend $100-150 for a high-grade example but even a pedestrian copy is worth owning and it’s a sort of holy grail for Steeler fans. One of only 11 ever graded 9 is up for bid here.
1977 Topps Walter Payton. The fact that a second-year card makes the list speaks volumes about his popularity. A mint, graded 9 will likely run you $400.
1973 Topps Franco Harris. This is why sideline shots from the past are so great. Franco donning a vintage 1970s era winter stocking cap while watching the last moments of a game tick down (or maybe he’s waiting to go back in?). If not for the Immaculate Reception would be remember his quite as well? Maybe not, but the fact that he was a key player on one of the most well-known playoff games in history should count for something, let alone his Hall of Fame career.
1977 Topps Steve Largent. He would have a mega star in a major market but Largent is still among the top two or three receivers of his era. When his career ended in 1989, he simply owned the NFL record book with most catches (819), most receiving yards (13,089), and most TDs (100). Along came Jerry Rice and that was that, but Largent should never, ever, be an afterthought. His ’77 Topps card is relatively easy to find.
1978 Topps Tony Dorsett. Certainly not among the most valuable rookie cards of the 1970s, but so much time has passed that it’s easy to forget how big of a star he was. Monday Night Football was his stage and if you grew up in the era when MNF was a big deal, you know why this one is on the list.
1979 Topps Earl Campbell. Dorsett wasn’t the only star in Texas 25 years ago. Earl Campbell went from Longhorn to Oiler and didn’t miss a beat. A bulldozing back who made five Pro Bowls and won three rushing titles, Campbell is the one guy former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer said could have gone from high school to the NFL and been a star. You’ll pay $250-300 for a graded ‘9’…or around 15 bucks for a decent, ungraded one.
Honorable mention: This could be a long list, but we could have gone with the 1973 Topps Ken Stabler (forgive us, Raider Nation), the 1975 Topps Dan Fouts and/or Joe Theismann, the 1975 Topps Lynn Swann or the ’76 Jack Lambert. Steve Spurrier’s pro career wasn’t that great, but of course he became a star in college coaching and his 1972 Topps rookie card was in that tough third series.
Believe it or not, the 1972 Topps Rayfield Wright high number is very, very tough in high grade and is among the most valuable cards because of that, but is it one of the best cards in the decade? Probably not.
The 1972 Topps Gale Sayers represents the end of a great career—just like the 1971 Topps Bart Starr and the 1974 Topps Johnny Unitas. Johnny U’s 1971 Topps is the #1 card in the set and wouldn’t have made a bad choice.
There’s the 1975 Topps Lynn Swann, of course, one of several rookie cards from what is a very underrated set.
What about the Miami Dolphins? Griese, Csonka, Warfield? It’s hard to ignore the ’72 team that went undefeated but really, that’s what they were—a team—so it’s hard to pick one specific card, especially since many of them were on 1960s rookie cards.
And yes, we know O.J. Simpson’s 1970 Topps rookie card is still valuable and would have once been at or near the top of the list.
You probably have your own list of the best 1970s football cards but I think we can all agree the cards listed here are worth owning. You can sell all Topps football from the decade on eBay by clicking here.