Looking for a timely project? Try collecting a complete run of Super Bowl MVP rookie cards.
If the New York Jets hadn’t upset the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, the 1965 Topps Joe Namath rookie card would probably set you back about 200 bucks. Joe Willie was a popular, talented player for New York’s dynamic AFL upstarts so he wouldn’t have been totally forgotten if the Jets had lost that day but the outcome in January of 1969 made him a legend.
Namath’s first football card in the ‘tall boy’ ’65 Topps AFL set, too, is iconic. It’s the most expensive rookie card of any Super Bowl MVP in history. Because they’re so desirable and easier to sell, most 1965 Topps Namath cards wind up being graded. When you can find one in ungraded NM condition, it will cost you about $1500.
Rare football cards, however, don’t really populate the list of Super Bowl MVPs.
Namath is one of 37 different players who have won the award. With this year’s game possibly resulting in a new addition to the list, just how much would it cost for you to put together a complete set of every Super Bowl MVP rookie card in nice shape?
Let’s start with the first two Super Bowl games because one player won the MVP award for both games. Packers’ quarterback Bart Starr was nearing the end of his career by Super Bowl II. Starr had been drafted in 1956 and his 1957 Topps rookie card is one of the most popular and valuable in that set. It’ll set you back about $350. Finding a nice one isn’t easy because the ’57 set is plagued with poor printing quality, not to mention corner wear from kids who never pictured them as investments.
After Namath’s win in Super Bowl III, the AFL won again the next year and Chiefs’ quarterback Len Dawson was MVP for leading Kansas City past the Minnesota Vikings. Dawson first appeared in the 1963 Fleer set and his rookie card is neck-and-neck with Lance Alworth for the most valuable card in the set. It’ll run about $150 in near mint condition.
A defensive player finally earned the MVP award in Super Bowl V, as the Dallas Cowboys began their 1970s domination of the NFC. The first-year card of Cowboys’ linebacker Chuck Howley will only set you back about $15. But it won’t be long until you
The Miami Dolphins were the AFC powerhouse in ’72 and ’73. Jake Scott and Larry Csonka were MVPs. Scott’s 1971 Topps rookie card can still be found for less than $20 while Csonka’s 1969 Topps card is one of the keys to that set and sells for around $60.
The Steelers grabbed Super Bowls IX and X with Franco Harris and Lynn Swann earning top honors. Harris’ 1973 Topps rookie is typically priced at around $30 while Swann’s 1975 Topps card falls in the $35-40 range.
Super Bowl XII saw co-MVPs. Randy White and Harvey Martin both had rookie cards in the 1976 Topps set. Each runs $15-20 at most.
Pittsburgh was back on top the next two years with Terry Bradshaw earning his first and second MVP trophies. Bradshaw had come of age, and his 1971 Topps card now has tremendous respect in the hobby. It can set you back $125 or more in ungraded, near mint condition. The ’71 set is prone to chipping on the edges and corners and the second series, which includes Bradshaw, was printed in slightly lesser quantity than the first.
From the late 1970s on, most of the Super Bowl MVP rookie cards are reasonably priced, except for Joe Montana (1981 Topps; $125), Jerry Rice (1986 Topps; $70) and John Elway (1984 Topps; $50). Montana won three MVP awards before his career came to an end and the price of his rookie card in an otherwise pedestrian set reflects that success.
Redskins’ running back John Riggins won his first MVP during the strike-shortened 1982-83 season. Riggins’ 1972 Topps card would seem to be a bargain at $25, considering his Hall of Fame status and popularity with ‘Skins fans.
It’s easy to load up on high grade rookie cards of players who won MVP awards in the 1980s. Phil Simms (1980 Topps; $15), Doug Williams (1979 Topps; $10), Ottis Anderson (1980 Topps; $10) are examples. None are Hall of Famers and none of the sets which contain their rookie cards are especially popular or hard to find.
The rookie card/Super Bowl MVP chase gets a little complicated as the 1990s unfold. With new manufacturers entering the game, collectors sometimes have to choose from dozens of cards that are considered rookies. Troy Aikman’s 1989 Topps can be had for just a couple of dollars, but his 1989 Score seems to be the most popular and scarce. It runs about $25. The same goes for Emmitt Smith.
Steve Young had only one NFL rookie card—the 1986 Topps issue ($20), but Young began his career in the USFL and first appeared on cards in the 1984 Topps USFL set. Distributed only in a boxed set, the card is still considered by most to be Young’s rookie card and is generally found for around $75. Desmond Howard, Terrell Davis, Kurt Warner, Ray Lewis, Tom Brady, Dexter Jackson, Deion Branch, Hines Ward, Peyton Manning and Eli Manning all had multiple rookie cards issued. Lewis, Brady, Warner and the two Mannings are in some demand but the rest can sometimes be found in common boxes.
If you’re not necessarily concerned about investment value, the best advice would be to stick to the lower priced brands that are still produced today, like Topps, Upper Deck and Donruss/Playoff. They’ll be easier to locate and keep your cost no higher than about $10 each, even for mint condition cards.
So what’s the total investment to put together a run of Super Bowl MVP rookie cards? Thanks—or no thanks—to Joe Namath, it’ll cost around $3000 for a complete run of ungraded cards in about near mint condition. As mentioned, many of the cards from the last 30 years can be found at bargain prices, so you’ll have a nice group of modern era players even if your 1960s and early 70s material doesn’t feature razor sharp corners. One option to reduce the cost would be to accept lower grade Namath, Starr, Dawson, Staubach and Bradshaw cards in the beginning and upgrade as your finances allow.
Other collectors have pieced together investment type graded sets. PSA’s Set Registry shows 27 collectors with complete or in-progress sets, with the top graded set boasting a huge number of mint and gem mint examples, some of which are lilkely valued well into five figures.
Regardless of your budget and condition requirements, Super Bowl MVP rookie cards are a unique focus for a collection, and a project that isn’t difficult to complete.