Topps owned a virtual monopoly on football cards during the league’s explosive growth period following the AFL-NFL merger. Although it is easy to come by an ungraded version of most any 1970s Topps football rookie card, locating high-grade examples of some of them can be a challenge.
In 1970 Topps, the big rookie card out there is of a guy who is a bit more infamous now than he is famous. Rushing for 11,236 yards in his career and winning NFL MVP in 1973, O.J. Simpson is also a Pro Football Hall of Famer, not just a convicted felon. Despite his infamy, Simpson’s rookie card is still a key to the 1970 set.
Just 4.27% of the Simpson rookie cards graded without qualifiers have rated a PSA 9 grade with no 10s. While a PSA 8 is around $150, an O.J. Simpson rookie card in PSA 9 condition sells for around $800-900 when available.
As far as sets from the 1970’s go, the 1971 Topps cards are by far the toughest to find in high grade (PSA 9 or 10). Just 3.62% of the cards submitted in this set are at least a PSA 9 which is lower than every other set of the decade by far. This is because the borders of the cards are bright red and blue so the slightest imperfection sticks out like a sore thumb and almost automatically downgrades the card to somewhere in the PSA 6-8 range.
The ’71 set was an excellent year for rookie cards. Big names like Terry Bradshaw, “Mean” Joe Greene, Ken Houston and Willie Lanier all made their cardboard debuts. Just about 1% of the Bradshaw cards graded by PSA in the set are a 9 or better and as you can see here, there have been three PSA 10s among the more than 2,200 cards reviewed.
While a Joe Greene rookie card in PSA 6 condition goes for around $35, barely over 1% of his rookie cards graded by PSA are a PSA 9 and the last one sold in November for over $5,000. No PSA 10 Greene rookie cards exist.
Luckily for those who are looking for a Ken Houston rookie, a little over 4% of those are in PSA 9 condition. While a PSA 7 is usually under $15, a PSA 9 is a big deal and can command around $500 and up. There is only one PSA 10, so that could go for a mint. Willie Lanier is almost the exact same case, except for roughly five percent of his cards are a PSA 9. An 8 will run you about $40 but you’ll pay a lot more should a 9 come on the market.
A star quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys who graduated from the Naval Academy, Roger Staubach served America and played for America’s team. He is a highly collectible player and only about 2.5% of his rookie cards graded by PSA rate a mint grade. While a PSA 6 is not exactly cheap at around $100, paying $4000 for a PSA 9 sounds crazy, but that is what it might just take to get one in your hands these days.
Rushing for over 11,000 yards in his NFL career, the always interesting John Riggins was quite the popular player in his prime. Ninety-nine of the 972 graded Riggins rookie cards are a PSA 9 (and there are seven 10s). The Riggins rookie sells for $200-250 in a 9 holder, which actually makes it decent buy.
It was not until ’72 that Rayfield Wright got his first card even though he made his NFL debut in 1967. About 25% of his #316 graded by PSA are at least a 9, thanks to the fairly large quantities of unopened packs from that series being opened in recent years. An 8 still sells for $250 and you’ll pay much more should you see a 9 come on the market.
A great running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Franco Harris rushed for exactly 100 touchdowns in his career, going down with the all-time greats. Harris’ rookie card is one of the keys to the 1973 set. A PSA 8 can be yours for around $100 but the last 9 sold for over $900.
A teammate of Harris and an excellent linebacker, Jack Ham tackled his way into the record books while winning four Super Bowls. Luckily for Steelers fans, about 11% of his 1973 rookie card graded by PSA are a 9 or higher, keeping the prices down a little bit. The last PSA 9 sold for over $300.
Arguably the best guard in NFL history, John Hannah was for certain the best guard in New England Patriots history. Despite being on the smaller side, he made the All-Decade teams for the NFL in both the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. Unfortunately for offensive line enthusiasts, Hannah’s rookie card is hard to come by in mint condition only 17 of the 285 total graded cards without qualifiers reaching the 9 grade. Even 8s are selling for close to $80.
Ray Guy was the guy that the Oakland Raiders turned to on fourth down for many years. Regarded as the top punter in NFL history, only 204 of Guy’s rookie cards have been graded in all with 37 of them deemed to be good enough for a 9 on the Population Report. An 8 sells for over $100 with a 9 likely to bring $300-500.
A fantastic wide receiver for the Steelers on four of their Super Bowl Championship teams, Lynn Swann had hands of glue. One of the greatest receivers to ever play the game, Swann’s cards are chased by die-hard Steelers fans and those collecting Hall of Fame rookies.
About 15% of his rookie cards are in PSA 9 condition or better, making them a little cheaper than you might expect. While one in a PSA 7 costs around $35, a PSA 9 brings in about $250, which is not bad compared to some of the other big name receivers.
A longtime quarterback for the San Diego Chargers, Dan Fouts made it to the Hall of Fame despite never leading his team to a Super Bowl victory. Nevertheless, he did toss over 250 touchdown passes and his rookie card is highly sought after. About 15% of the 1362 graded with no qualifiers are at least a PSA 9, making a nice example pretty easy to find and available for around $300-325, sometimes less.
Although he never rushed for 2,000 yards in a season, Payton is the most prized rookie card of the entire decade. Of the over 5,000 submitted to PSA, just shy of 500 have come back as PSA 9 or better, which means there is often one available, but demand keeps prices high. PSA 9 Payton rookies are usually sold for around $1,000-$1,200 with 10s trading at ten times that amount (there are 42 of those).
Payton is one of a a few solid rookie cards in the 1976 set. Another great linebacker for the Steelers who also won four Super Bowls, Jack Lambert was one of the best middle linebackers in NFL history as he was excellent when he dropped back into pass coverage as well.
Of the 959 Lambert rookie cards submitted to PSA for grading, slightly over 15% of them are rated PSA 9 or better, meaning his cards in mint condition are not outrageously overpriced. A 9 runs $200-250 while one of the ten PSA 10 cards out there can garner more than $3,000.
The best wide out of his time, Steve Largent caught 100 touchdown passes in his career, earning his spot in Canton, Ohio. Although he never won a Super Bowl, Largent was a member of the NFL All-Decade team in the 1980’s.
For those in search of a Largent rookie card, they are in luck. A total of 312 of the 2,085 submitted are in at least PSA 9 condition, so they will not cost a mint. A PSA 8 is around $30, but a PSA 9 is quite reasonable as well at $150-200.
The best running back in Dallas Cowboys history before Emmitt Smith, Tony Dorsett rushed for the eighth most yards in NFL history with nearly 13,000. Smith joined the Dallas Cowboys just three years after Dorsett and shattered all of his records.
Even so, Dorsett is still popular amongst collectors. As a great running back with 12% of his cards graded by PSA coming back at a PSA 9 or better, Dorsett rookie cards are much cheaper than say Walter Payton but still commands respect at high-grade. A PSA 8 may go for around $40, but a PSA 9 tends to go for well over $200.
A powerful running back in his relatively short NFL career, Earl Campbell would have played longer if it weren’t for injuries. Even so, he rushed for 9,407 yards and 74 touchdowns and his powerful style made him extremely popular early in his career.
There are 263 Campbell rookie cards graded PSA 9 or better, so they are not nearly as rare as other Hall of Fame rookies from earlier in the decade. A PSA 8 goes for around $50, while a PSA 9 usually sells for $225-300. Two PSA 10 examples have sold in the last four months, at $3,880 and $3,999. The ’79 debut card is Campbell’s only solo card, despite his eight years in the league.