The 1980s gave us Ronald Reagan. MTV. Big hair.
And a boatload of great football players.
The greatest draft of all-time took place in 1983 when the first round was simply loaded with can’t miss Hall of Famers, opening with John Elway and closing with Darrell Green, who spent 20 Hall of Fame years in the league.
The list of the most popular 80s rookie cards is hardly debatable. 1981 Montana. 1984 Marino. 1984 Elway. 1986 Rice. If you want to count Topps’ USFL sets, throw in Steve Young, Jim Kelly and Reggie White.
Are there any other 1980s football rookie cards that fly under the radar but really shouldn’t?
You bet your parachute pants there are.
We found five you can buy in graded, mint form for under $200 total–maybe under $150 if you shop around.
1981 Topps Art Monk #194. Before Rice, the list of the best wide receivers in football began with Monk. Monk was simply the most productive, reliable set of hands Washington Redskins fans had ever seen. He played 15 seasons, caught 940 passes (a record until Rice came along) for 12,721 yards and 68 touchdowns. He was the first player to reach 100 receptions in a season and 900 in a career. The Redskins won three Super Bowls while he was a player and that’s not a coincidence. Monk went into the Hall of Fame with his old teammate, Darrell Green and drew the longest standing ovation ever, over four minutes. His rookie card is less than $35 in mint, graded shape.
1982 Topps Lawrence Taylor #434. Taylor shares the spotlight in this set with another great defensive player’s rookie card. Ronnie Lott and Taylor will both run about $50, but Taylor is on a special level. Ray Lewis’ play has overshadowed how great he was. LT’s off-the-field issues have clouded his legacy a bit, too, but when all is said and done, owning the rookie card of perhaps the greatest defensive player of all-time for next to nothing has to put him on the underrated list.
1983 Topps Mike Singletary #38. $20 for a player who symbolized one of the greatest teams of all-time and is in the Hall of Fame? What’s the deal? Singletary’s passion and intelligence made him the perfect linebacker for Mike Ditka’s Bears. OK, we know it’s not a rare set –and not very attractive–but come on.
1983 Topps Marcus Allen #294. Allen had two careers, really. He was a legendary USC tailback, good enough to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. As a pro, he was just as good. 12,000+ rushing yards, 5412 receiving cars, six Pro Bowls and productive right up until the end of his career. A stormy relationship with Al Davis left a sour taste but Allen finished strong in Kansas City. He was voted one of football’s 100 all-time greatest players. So what’s with the $25 rookie card?
1989 Score Barry Sanders #257. Like Jim Brown, Sanders walked away while he still had some records left in him. When his star was streaking across the NFL sky, though, Sanders was without peer. He had moves that defied gravity and it was almost a given that he’d lead the league in rushing. 10 years. 10 Pro Bowls. He came into the league as the football card universe was expanding and Score somehow emerged as the set to get in 1989. His card has dropped in value since he shocked us by retiring a little early in the late 90s. Why? They’re not hard to find, really, but compared to some of the baseball cards of the era, they’re scarce. At $35-40, it’s hard to go wrong.