Top 100 Football Cards of All-Time


The NFL played its first official season in 1920. 2019 marks the league’s 100th season, so we thought we’d rank the top 100 NFL football cards of all-time. We had one main rule: no college sets. The list does include cards from the AFL since it eventually merged with the NFL.

AFL cards were considered since the AFL and NFL completed their merger in 1970. Looking back on history, football cards in the late-1960s were a perfect reflection of the changes happening with the two leagues during that time. So many stars from the AFL eventually joined the NFL in a seamless transition, so we thought it only made sense to include those AFL cards.

Ranking the Top 100 cards can be an ever-evolving process, sparking immense conversation and arguments. We want to select individual cards that matter most, the ones that have made the biggest impact, and cards that collectors are mostly likely to connect with or instantly recognize. Some cards are significant because of the legendary players on them. Some are worthy because they changed the way we collect. Others brought innovations to the hobby that were years ahead of their time.

Here is the list, ranked #100 to #1.

Top 100 Football Cards

100. 1995 Select Certified #126 Terrell Davis RC

John Elway and the Broncos couldn’t win a Super Bowl until Terrell Davis arrived. This card was released in the popular Select Certified set two years before Denver won back-to-back titles.

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1995 Select Certified Terrell Davis

99. 1993 SP #6 Jerome Bettis RC

“The Bus” rolled to more than 13,000 career rushing yards. The 1993 SP set was the first in the brand’s long history. This card was one of the hottest of the mid-to-late-1990s.

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1993 SP Jerome Bettis

98. 1996 Bowman’s Best #164 Ray Lewis RC

One of the greatest linebackers of all-time has an affordable Rookie Card that continued to rise in popularity as he closed out his Hall of Fame career. Ray Lewis retired with an NFL all-time record of 2,055 tackles.

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1996 Bowman's Best Ray Lewis

97. 1989 Score Supplemental #384S Bo Jackson

This card doesn’t carry a big value, but any collector who was around in the late 1980s or early 1990s instantly recognizes it. The shoulder pads and baseball bat perfectly illustrate Bo Jackson as the ultimate do-it-all athlete of the time.

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1989 Score Supplemental Bo Jackson

96. 1983 Topps #294 Marcus Allen RC

The Super Bowl XVIII MVP rushed for a record 191 yards in the title game, including a famous 74-yard touchdown run that is still regarded as one of the greatest Super Bowl plays of all-time.

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1983 Topps Marcus Allen RC

95. 1948 Bowman #12 Charley Conerly RC

Charley Conerly quarter-backed some great New York Giants teams during the 1950s. His Rookie Card is one of the four most valuable cards in the iconic 1948 Bowman set.

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1948 Bowman Charles Conerly

94. 1988 Topps #327 Bo Jackson RC

Bo Jackson’s Rookie Card released one year after his first NFL season and right before the hobby exploded in popularity. It’s an easy pick-up but a key card of the ’80s.

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1988 Topps Bo Jackson RC

93. 1976 Topps #220 Jack Lambert AP RC

Jack Lambert epitomized Steeler football, and this card highlights his 1975 Pro Bowl season. It’s a great deal for one of the greatest linebackers of the mid-1970s through mid-1980s.

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92. 1958 Topps #90 Sonny Jurgensen RC

Sonny Jurgensen led the NFL in passing yards five times. He’s a Hall of Famer with more than 32,000 career years. This Rookie Card is a key card in the third Topps NFL set.

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91. 1969 Topps #120 Larry Csonka RC

Larry Csonka was a bruising running back and a five-time Pro Bowler in the early ’70s during some of the Miami Dolphins’ best years. This 1969 Topps Rookie Card has one of the iconic designs of its era.

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90. 1994 SP #3 Marshall Faulk RC

Marshall Faulk’s masterful 12 NFL seasons saw the Hall of Famer total more than 19,000 yards and 136 touchdowns while winning two Super Bowls. His best Rookie Card is from the SP brand — one of the premium card products of the mid-1990s.

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89. 2003 SP Authentic #217 Tony Romo AU RC /1200

Tony Romo was an undrafted free agent for the Cowboys, and this card was a castoff until he finally got his shot in 2006. Then this card caught fire and was one of the most sought-after Rookie Cards in the hobby. It’s autographed and limited to 1,200 copies.

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88. 1979 Topps #390 Earl Campbell RC

The “Tyler Rose” was an absolute bull during his short Hall of Fame career. His Rookie Card is a reminder of his 1978 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign.

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1979 Topps Earl Campbell RC

87. 1957 Topps #85 Dick Lane RC

Dick Night Train” Lane will always be remembered as one of the most ferocious defenders and hitters of all time. His pro career began in 1952, but his Rookie Card didn’t appear until 1957.

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86. 1972 Topps #291 Steve Spurrier RC

Steve Spurrier is known more for his college football coaching success, but he was an NFL punter and quarterback for ten seasons. His Rookie Card appears in one of the most popular vintage sets ever produced.

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85. 1982 Topps #434 Lawrence Taylor RC

L.T. set the standard for the modern linebacker. He was an eight-time All Pro. This card is one of the must-haves from the 1980s.

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1982 Topps Lawrence Taylor Rookie Card

84. 1969 Topps #26 Brian Piccolo RC

Brian Piccolo’s death at the age of 26 shocked the NFL. His friendship with Bears teammate Gale Sayers was told in the movie “Brian’s Song,” adding to this card’s significance. His Rookie Card misspells his first name as “Bryon.”

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1969 Topps Brian Piccolo

83. 2004 Playoff Contenders #151 Larry Fitzgerald RC

There were just 50 total copies produced of Larry Fitzgerald’s best Rookie Card. He’s a Hall of Fame lock, ranking second in career receptions and receiving yards behind Jerry Rice.

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2004 Playoff Contenders Larry Fitzgerald

82. 1989 Score #246 Deion Sanders RC

The 1989 draft class is the only one in history to include four Hall of Famers within the top five picks. Deion Sanders was one of those, and arguably the greatest cornerback of all-time. This card is one of the few that highlighted elite prospects with a unique design.

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189 Score Deion Sanders RC

81. 1948 Bowman #3 Johnny Lujack RC

The iconic image on this Johnny Lujack Rookie Card shows the former Heisman Trophy winner about to throw a pass. The helmetless photos of the era are timeless.

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1948 Bowman Johnny Lujack

80. 1971 Topps #245 Joe Greene RC

Mean Joe was the anchor of Pittsburgh’s feared Steal Curtain defense. His Rookie Card is a must for anyone collecting significant cards of impact players of the 1970s.

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1971 Topps Joe Greene Rookie Card

79. 1963 Topps #44 Deacon Jones RC

The man who coined the term “quarterback sack” revolutionized the defensive end position. Jones played before sacks were an official stat but is unofficially credited with 173 career sacks, which would rank third all-time.

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78. 1978 Topps #315 Tony Dorsett RC

Tony Dorsett joined the Cowboys near the end of their dominance in the 1970s, but was one of the premier offensive players of his time.

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77. 1950 Bowman #43 Marion Motley RC

Marion Motley was one of the most effective running backs to ever play, averaging 5.7 yards per carry. He preceded Jim Brown for the Cleveland Browns. His Rookie Card from the 1950 Bowman set measures 2 1/16-by-2 1/2 inches.

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76. 1999 Collector’s Edge First Place #201 Kurt Warner RC /500

When Kurt Warner came out of nowhere to lead the Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf” offense, this card was the first that collectors fought for. There are just 500 copies hand-numbered on the back.

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75. 1977 Topps #177 Steve Largent RC

Steve Largent was a seven-time Pro Bowler, totaling more than 1,000 receiving yards eight times. He spent his entire career with Seattle, making this card even more attractive to Seahawks fans.

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1977 Topps Steve Largent Rookie Card

74. 2012 Panini National Treasures #325 Russell Wilson JSY AU RC /99

Russell Wilson exploded in the card hobby as a rookie in 2012, just two seasons before he led Seattle to a Super Bowl title. His Panini National Treasures RC has been one of the most sought-after cards since its release.

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2012 Panini National Treasures Russell Wilson

73. 1986 Topps #374 Steve Young RC

Steve Young had an impossible job — replace Joe Montana. But he built a legendary career of his own. This Topps RC isn’t his first card, but it is his first NFL card when he was running for his life in Tampa Bay.

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1986 Topps Steve Young

72. 2012 Panini National Treasures #301 Andrew Luck JSY AU RC /99

Andrew Luck walked away from the NFL in his prime after constantly battling injuries, but his best Rookie Card was a major collector target for years.

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2012 Panini National Treasures Andrew Luck RC

71. 2000 SPx #130 Tom Brady RC /1350

You’ll have to shell out quite a bit of cash for any significant Tom Brady RC. The value of the SPx rose sharply a few years ago, and it is Brady’s third-most valuable RC.

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2000 SPx Tom Brady RC

70. 1966 Philadelphia #58 Bob Hayes RC

“Bullet” Bob Hayes changed the receiver position with his unmatched speed, running deep routes and stretching defenses to average 20 yards per catch for his career. His RC is a must if you collect players who impacted the game forever.

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1966 Philadelphia Bob Hayes

69. 1956 Topps #60 Lenny Moore RC

Lenny Moore topped 1,000 yards from scrimmage six times during his Hall of Fame career with the Colts. He was one of the most dangerous offensive weapons of the ’50s and ’60s. His RC remains a great deal.

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68. 1952 Bowman Large #127 Ollie Matson SP RC

Matson was a five-time All-Pro early in his career. This card is a short-printed release from arguably the most popular set of the 1950s.

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67. 1970 Topps #90 O.J. Simpson RC

Despite O.J.’s infamous life after football, he was an elite Hall of Fame running back. This RC released one year after his rookie season.

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66. 1973 Topps #89 Franco Harris RC

The focus of the Steelers offense for most of the 1970s, Franco Harris rushed for at least 1,000 yards in seven of his first eight seasons. His RC is a key card from the entire 1970s decade.

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65. 1950 Bowman #5 Y.A. Tittle RC

The man nicknamed “Old Reliable” performed at an elite level for 17 seasons, posting his best stats late in his career. This is one of the three most valuable RCs in the 1950 Bowman set.

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64. 1962 Topps #36 Ernie Davis SP RC

The first black player to win the Heisman Trophy, Ernie Davis was supposed to join Jim Brown in the Cleveland backfield, but died of leukemia at the age of 23 before ever playing in the NFL. His Rookie Card is a reminder of his amazing story.

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63. 1975 Topps #282 Lynn Swann RC

As Terry Bradshaw’s favorite receiver during Pittsburgh’s dynasty of the ’70s, Lynn Swann was part of four Super Bowl championship teams in his nine seasons.

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62. 1948 Leaf #22 Steve Van Buren RC

Steve Van Buren led the NFL in rushing and rushing touchdowns four times. His 1948 Leaf RC has different variations of different color jerseys and socks.

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61. 1963 Fleer #47 Len Dawson RC

Len Dawson was a pro from 1957 to 1975. This card released the same year the Dallas Texans became the Kansas City Chiefs. He was instrumental in elevating the legitimacy of the AFL.

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60. 1963 Fleer #72 Lance Alworth RC

Alworth was so quick and nimble that he earned the nickname “Bambi.” He led the NFL in receiving yards three times and in receiving touchdowns three times. His Fleer RC is a gem of the early 1960s.

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59. 1999 Playoff Contenders SSD #146 Kurt Warner AU RC

This was one of the hottest cards of the late-1990s when former arena league QB Kurt Warner lit up the NFL in his first full season. There were fewer than 1,900 made.

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58. 2002 Donruss Elite Throwback Threads #TT-21 Jim Thorpe/Red Grange HEL /25

There are just 25 copies of this card featuring game-worn memorabilia of Jim Thorpe and Red Grange. It raised the bar for memorabilia cards and sparked several more cards from the two legends.

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57. 2007 Exquisite Collection #133 Adrian Peterson JSY AU RC /99

Adrian Peterson is a Hall of Fame lock, and was an elite player from his first season. He will finish his career among the top five all-time rushers. This is one of the most valuable modern-era RCs of a running back.

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56. 1989 Pro Set Promos #1989 Santa Claus

No, Santa never officially played or coached in the NFL. But this promo card was a hit upon its release and has remained a top target for collectors who remember when the football card hobby exploded in popularity.

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1989 Pro Set Santa Claus

55. 1963 Topps #96 Ray Nitschke RC

Apply nicknamed “Wildman,” Ray Nitschke set the tone at middle linebacker for the Green Bay defense through the championship years of the 1960s. His Rookie Card didn’t release until his sixth season.

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54. 1948 Leaf #52 Leo Nomellini RC

Leo Nomellini was one of the greatest defensive tackles of all time, playing until he was 39. He was a six-time All-Pro. This RC is known to have a version with a blue background and one with a white one.

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53. 1957 Topps #94 Raymond Berry RC

Johnny Unitas’ favorite target, Raymond Berry was one of the NFL’s most dominating receivers for more than a decade. His Rookie Card is an underrated gem of the classic 1957 Topps set.

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52. 1961 Fleer #41 Don Meredith RC

Dandy Don was at his best later in his career when Dallas became a title contender. This card is one of the earliest Cowboys released and pictures Meredith in the original Cowboys jersey.

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51. 2000 Bowman Chrome #236 Tom Brady RC

It’s impossible to keep this lower-end Tom Brady Rookie Card off this list. A regular Bowman Chrome RC topping out at $600 is unheard of. This card has made many Hot Lists over the years.

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50. 1990 Pro Set Lombardi Trophy Hologram

Adding holograms to a card caught on fast in the early 1990s. This Lombardy Trophy card with fireworks popping in the background is still a coveted item even though there are 10,000 copies.

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1990 Pro Set Vince Lombardi Hologram

49. 1998 SP Authentic #18 Randy Moss RC /2000

The 1998 SP Authentic set included some of the first Rookie Cards to be serial numbered. Randy Moss led the NFL in receiving TDs as a rookie, so this card was a perfect storm that made a huge and lasting impact on the hobby

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48. 2005 SP Authentic #252 Aaron Rodgers JSY AU RC /99

Aaron Rodgers has one of the highest career passer ratings and is a sure Hall of Famer. His SP Authentic Rookie Card has held strong value for years.

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47. 1948 Bowman #107 Sid Luckman RC

Sid Luckman excelled as a passer during the 1940s when the NFL still was a rushing league. This card is a key member of the first Bowman football set.

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46. 1963 Topps #82 Bob Lilly RC

The first Cowboys draft pick ever turned out to be one of the most feared defensive linemen in the game’s rich history. Any Cowboys collection must have Lilly’s Rookie Card.

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45. 1962 Topps #90 Fran Tarkenton SP RC

One of the most prolific passers ever, Fran Tarkenton played at an elite level for 18 seasons. His Rookie Card has an iconic design, and the smaller action photo is actually an airbrushed picture of Sonny Jurgensen.

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44. 1952 Bowman Large #48 George Halas RC

George Halas was one of the most impactful figures in NFL history, and was instrumental in the creation of the league. He appears as a coach on this iconic card in the famous 1952 Bowman Large set.

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43. 1999 Donruss Elite Passing the Torch Autographs #1 Johnny Unitas/Peyton Manning

In 1999, Donruss paired a current player with a legend in a dual-autographed insert. Passing the Torch is one of the longest-running inserts in football card history, and this Unitas/Manning is always a card to gawk at.

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42. 1962 Topps #17 Mike Ditka RC

Mike Ditka earned his way into the Hall of Fame as a tight end and head coach. His Rookie Card pictures him in his early ’20s as a bruising tight end while his coaching days ended nearly 40 years later.

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41. 1965 Topps #133 Fred Biletnikoff SP RC

One of the greatest receivers during Oakland’s best years, Biletnikoff was effective well into his 30s. This card is also impactful being a key part of the famous “tall boy” 1965 Topps set.

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40. 2001 Playoff Contenders #124 Drew Brees AU RC /500

This Drew Brees autographed Rookie Card skyrocketed in value when he became the NFL’s all-time leading passer. It’s now one of the most valuable football RCs ever.

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2001 Playoff Contenders Drew Brees Rookie Card Autograph

39. 1997 Upper Deck Legends Autographs #AL9 Johnny Unitas

Just about any Johnny U autograph is highly desirable, but this one is part of arguably the greatest autograph insert ever made. It’s getting more and more difficult to find an example for sale.

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38. 1998 Playoff Contenders Ticket #92 Randy Moss AU

The Contenders Tickets from 1998 ushered autographed rookies into the hobby, and the Randy Moss was on fire. It’s still one of the most impactful cards of the modern era.

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1998 Playoff Contenders Randy Moss Rookie Ticket Autograph

37. 1989 Score #270 Troy Aikman RC

The top draft pick in 1989 quarterbacked the Cowboys back to a powerhouse, winning three Super Bowl victories in four years. This is a cornerstone card that helped propel the hobby into the mainstream.

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1989 Score Troy Aikman RC

36. 2001 SP Authentic #91 Michael Vick JSY AU RC /250

Michael Vick had an up-and-down career, but this SP Authentic card set the standard for elite modern Rookie Cards. It was one of a few to feature an autograph and jersey patch.

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35. 1952 Bowman Large #16 Frank Gifford RC

This Frank Gifford Rookie Card features a classic photo of him running the ball with a facemask-less leather helmet. He was an all-around elite offensive weapon for the Giants in the ’50s, and later a recognized voice on Monday Night Football.

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34. 1999 Donruss Elite Passing the Torch Autographs #4A Walter Payton/Barry Sanders

Just like the Unitas/Manning dual autograph earlier on this list from the same set, this Walter Payton/Barry Sanders is one of the greatest autograph cards ever produced — a gem any collector would love to have.

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33. 1957 Topps #151 Paul Hornung RC

Heisman winner, No. 1 overall NFL draft pick, Hall of Famer and four-time NFL champion . . . it’s no wonder Paul Hornung is known as the “Golden Boy.” His RC is one of the three key cards in the 1957 Topps set.

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32. 1966 Philadelphia #38 Gale Sayers RC

Gale Sayers was ahead of his time. The do-it-all threat known as the “Kansas Comet” had a short career but was dangerous as a runner, receiver and kick returner. His Rookie Card shows him striking a Heisman pose even though he never won the award.

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31. 1997 Upper Deck Legends Autographs #AL4 Walter Payton

When Walter Payton passed away in 1999, his autographed cards carried a premium. Many are locked away in collections, but this might be his best ever created in the 1997 Upper Deck Legends set that’s loaded with all-time greats.

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30. 1990 Score Supplemental #101T Emmitt Smith RC

Emmitt Smith’s most desirable Rookie Card was a top target for collectors in the early ’90s. He turned out to be the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, making this card an all-time great as well.

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29. 1948 Leaf #34 Sammy Baugh RC

Slingin’ Sammy was a forerunner for the NFL passing quarterback. This card re-leased during his 12th season after he solidified a Hall of Fame career.

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28. 1991 Stadium Club #94 Brett Favre RC

Brett Favre held just about every passing record after his 20-year career. His top Rookie Card misspells his last name as “Farve,” adding to its charm. It’s a must-have for building a collection of impact cards.

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27. 1951 Bowman #20 Tom Landry RC

Before he was a legendary head coach, Tom Landry was a star defensive back for the Giants. His Bowman Rookie Card has a dramatic photo and an overall classic vintage look.

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26. 1996 Upper Deck Game Jerseys #GJ9 Barry Sanders

The hobby’s first football jersey cards forever changed the way we collect. The Barry Sanders is the top card in a small insert set full of all-time greats.

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25. 1966 Philadelphia #31 Dick Butkus RC

Arguably the greatest linebacker of all-time, Dick Butkus played the game with a nastiness that’s still modeled today by the NFL’s best defenders. His Rookie Card appears in the same set as the Gale Sayers RC.

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24. 1950 Bowman #45 Otto Graham RC

Otto Graham led the Browns to seven titles and 10 straight championship games from 1946 to 1955, dominating the AAFC and NFL. His RC is the most valuable card in the 1950 Bowman set.

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23. 1998 SP Authentic #14 Peyton Manning RC

The SP Authentic Rookie Cards in 1998 were nearly impossible to find. This Peyton Manning has been one of the most impactful football cards in history for more than 20 years.

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22. 1948 Leaf #6 Bobby Layne Red Pants RC

Bobby Layne’s famous nickname “The Blond Bomber” is highlighted on this Rookie Card, and his first name is misspelled “Bobbie.” He led the Lions to two NFL titles and was part of a third championship team.

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21. 1948 Bowman #22 Sammy Baugh RC

Leaf and Bowman both had NFL card sets in 1948. This Sammy Baugh is the top card in the basic black-and-white Bowman set. Baugh led the NFL in completion percentage eight times and in passing yards four times.

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20. 1952 Bowman Large #144 Jim Lansford SP RC

Jim Lansford played just one season for the Dallas Texans, but this card has long been one of the most desirable vintage cards in the hobby. It’s the last card in the famed 1952 Bowman Large set, and is notorious for severe condition issues as the final card cut from the print sheet.

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19. 1933 Sport Kings #4 Red Grange RC

Sport Kings featured legends from several sports, and this card of “The Galloping Ghost” is one of the most desirable in the set. Red Grange was one of the fathers of the NFL, and one of the country’s most popular athletes of his time.

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18. 1991 Upper Deck Joe Montana Heroes AU

This, along with a Joe Namath in the same Upper Deck product, were the first NFL autographed cards. The Joe Montana was the perfect chase element to launch the Upper Deck brand in football, teased on the boxes and packs. It was a precursor to what collectors have some to expect in modern card products. The hand-numbering to 2,500 added to its appeal.

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17. 1986 Topps #161 Jerry Rice RC

The NFL’s greatest receiver ever dominated the game for more than 20 years. Jerry Rice led the NFL in receiving yards and touchdowns six different times. No one in history reached the end zone more than Rice. His Rookie Card features the familiar striped borders of 1986 Topps and is quite affordable.

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16. 2000 SP Authentic #118 Tom Brady RC /1250

Tom Brady’s top two Rookie Cards became huge investment targets a few years ago. This is the second-most valuable at $6,000 even though it doesn’t feature an autograph or memorabilia swatch. There are 1,250 copies, and high-grade examples can top $10,000.

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15. 1984 Topps #63 John Elway RC

John Elway’s career ended like a fairytale with back-to-back Super Bowl titles after failing to win titles throughout his Hall of Fame career. He was the first pick in the famed 1983 NFL Draft that saw six QBs go in the first round. Elway’s Rookie Card is a staple of ’80s football.

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14. 1984 Topps #123 Dan Marino RC

Dan Marino retired as the NFL’s all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns. Even though he never won a Super Bowl, he is regarded as one of the greatest pure passers to ever play. This 1984 Topps RC is easy to find and a must for any collection.

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13. 1998 Playoff Contenders Ticket #87 Peyton Manning AU

Just 200 examples of this card were made and autographed by Peyton Manning during his rookie season. If you had to choose one card that is responsible for modern autographed Rookie Cards, this is the one. It’s a pivotal card that forever changed the way we collect.

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1998 Playoff Contenders Peyton Manning Autograph

12. 1971 Topps #156 Terry Bradshaw RC

The first player taken in the 1970 NFL Draft, Terry Bradshaw was at the core of Pittsburgh’s dynasty during the decade. He led the Steelers to four Super Bowls titles. His Rookie Card is a great place to start when collecting impact cards from the ’70s.

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11. 1972 Topps #200 Roger Staubach RC

Roger Staubach was one of the most accomplished players in history as a Heisman winner and the leader of the Cowboys’ dominating 1970s teams that earned the franchise its “America’s Team” moniker. Staubach’s Rookie Card is also the top card in the most popular card set of the decade, and the most difficult to complete.

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10. 1933 Sport Kings #6 Jim Thorpe RC

Few photos of Jim Thorpe exist, much less football cards. He’s one of the greatest all-around athletes in American history. He also served as the NFL’s first president near the end of his playing days with the Canton Bulldogs. This Sport Kings card is one of the oldest significant football cards that exists.

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9. 1989 Score #257 Barry Sanders RC

The 1989 Score set gave top rookies special treatment with a unique design, and this was the leading card. Perhaps no other football card is more responsible for the hobby’s popularity explosion in the early 1990s. Many believe Barry Sanders would be the NFL’s all-time leading rusher had he not retired before the 1999 season.

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1989 Score Barry Sanders RC

8. 2000 Playoff Contenders #144 Tom Brady AU RC

Tom Brady’s most coveted card now reaches thousands, but was once a castoff of the former sixth-round draft pick. With an on-card autograph, it’s now the most valuable football Rookie Card of all-time. Brady holds more Super Bowl titles than any quarterback in history. He’s a three-time NFL MVP and a 14-time Pro Bowler.

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2000 Contenders Tom Brady RC

7. 1981 Topps #216 Joe Montana RC

Joe Cool was at his best when it mattered most. He went 4-0 in Super Bowls with three Super Bowl MVPs. He was one of the winningest quarterbacks in history. His Rookie Card is the most important card of the 1980s and one that just about any collector can obtain.

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6. 1957 Topps #119 Bart Starr RC

One of the most successful quarterbacks in NFL history, Bart Starr led the Packers to five NFL titles and won the first two Super Bowls. His Rookie Card has always been a key vintage selection in the loaded 1957 Topps set, but it increased in value significantly close to his death earlier this year.

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5. 1976 Topps #148 Walter Payton RC

Walter Payton may have been nicknamed “Sweetness,” but his running style was anything but sweet. He was one of the toughest players to ever play. The photo on his 1976 Topps Rookie Card is a perfect illustration of Payton’s soft-spoken demeanor and likeable personality.

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4. 1958 Topps #62 Jim Brown RC

Even though he ended his career in 1965, many fans still say Jim Brown is the greatest running back the game has ever seen. He led the NFL in rushing in eight of his nine seasons and was an eight-time All-Pro. His 1958 Topps Rookie Card is always on collector want lists. The oval design perfectly frames a young, helmetless Jimmy Brown.

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3. 1957 Topps #138 Johnny Unitas RC

Everything about this card is just perfect. Johnny U’s smile and signature flattop. The dual photos and colorful design. The dramatic pass. The 1957 Topps set is packed with significance. It’s an awesome representation of the NFL in the ’50s. Unitas set NFL quarterback records during his career and was a three-time champion.

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2. 1935 National Chicle #34 Bronko Nagurski RC

Baseball has its Honus Wagner T206, and football has this National Chicle Bronko Nagurski. For decades it was the most valuable football card ever made, and still holds tremendous value. Although it illustrates Nagurski during his college days, the National Chicle set is not a college set. He was a bruising fullback for the Chicago Bears during the 1930s, and a charter member of the Hall of Fame.

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1. 1965 Topps #122 Joe Namath SP RC

The greatest football card of all time is more about its undeniable historical impact than being Joe Namath’s Rookie Card. Namath certainly was a key pro football figure in the 1960s, and this card perfectly represents the pro football landscape of the late 1960s. Topps lost the rights to produce NFL cards in 1965, and opted to produce AFL cards instead. To help the cards stand out, they were oversized at 2-1/2-by-4-11/16 inches, known as “tall boys.” It also was Namath’s rookie season, in which he opted for the AFL instead of the more popular NFL. Of course, a few years later he would make his famous guarantee before the Jets beat the Colts in Super Bowl III. Two years after that, the NFL and AFL completed their merger.

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  1. Laith Agha 11 January, 2020 at 09:23

    Interesting list. I would say many of the key cards are here. (Some of the order is arbitrary, but that’s fine.) And I appreciate inclusions such as the 1990 Pro Set trophy card and the 1989 Santa card. But I do have some thoughts on what I found to be curious inclusions and omissions…

    No 1955 Topps All American cards? I have to imagine most collectors would prefer the Jim Thorpe from that set over the ’02 Elite relic card. And the Four Horsemen card is one of the more iconic pieces of cardboard out there. It certainly is more significant than Kurt Warner’s Collector’s Edge 1st Place rookie (if a second Warner card belongs on the list, it would be the Pacific, which actually existed before Warner exploded, but otherwise no second Warner is necessary), or any Andrew Luck card—especially considering that Luck retired early and never really accomplished much beyond a few impressive statistical seasons. (I was a big Luck fan, but the lasting power won’t be there. At this point, it would make more sense to include a Lamar Jackson or Patrick Mahomes.) And the ’55 All American cards should be on this list before Randy Moss has multiple cards. Yes, the ’98 Contenders and SP Authentic sets were groundbreaking, but that point is already made with the Manning cards.

    Speaking of groundbreaking modern sets, the 1996 Select Certified was the first extremely rare parallel of notable interest. They’re more popular (or at least more valuable) in baseball, but the Mirror Golds/Blues/Reds/Red Premium Stocks sparked an element to football collecting that hadn’t been there before. A Mirror Gold of Barry Sanders or one of Emmitt Smith/Favre/Elway/Marino would have been a nice edition to the list. That was also the set of Marvin Harrison’s rookie.

    Another set that absolutely should be represented in a list like this: 1984 Topps USFL. In particular, the cards of Steve Young, Reggie White, Jim Kelly and Hershel Walker are all a big deal. And I would add the ’85 USFL Doug Flutie to the group, though it’s not necessarily list-worthy.

    While the 1991 Stadium Club is Favre’s rookie, his ’92 Stadium Club is the card to have.

    Also, while defensive players and linemen obviously aren’t the collecting darlings that skill-position players are, these legends deserve to make the list, again, before a Kurt Warner Collector’s Edge, a second Moss, or any Luck:

    1948 Leaf Chuck Bednarik
    Kellen Winslow 1981 Topps
    Ronnie Lott 1982 Topps
    Anthony Munoz 1982 Topps
    Mike Singletary 1983 Topps
    Reggie White 1986 Topps (although his USFL card would suffice)
    Bruce Smith 1986 Topps
    Derrick Thomas 1989 Score
    Junior Seau 1990 Score
    Tony Gonzalez 1997 SP Authentic or Topps Chrome
    Charles Woodson 1998 Ultra (the image is an all-time classic)
    Ed Reed 2002 Playoff Contenders or Topps Chrome
    Troy Polamalu 2003 Playoff Contenders or SP Authentic
    Rob Gronkowski 2010 Playoff Contenders or Topps Chrome autograph
    J.J. Watt 2011 Playoff Contenders

    As for skill-position players, here a couple of important cards:

    Eric Dickerson 1984 Topps
    Warren Moon 1985 Topps

    I would recommend looking up the PSA 10’s of the older cards above (particularly the ones from the ’80s) to see just how much clout they carry.

    Also, Topps Chrome played an integral role in the modernization of football cards. I have to imagine there’s a TC card out there that’s worthy of the list: ’96 Harrison or Eddie George, ’97 Gonzalez or Jake Plummer (certainly more for the image than its financial lasting power), ’98 Manning, ’01 LaDainian Tomlinson (this one is probably most deserving). or possibly the ’02 Brady—which, despite being a 3rd year card, has garnered attention for the very fact that it’s Brady’s first Topps Chrome card.

    And finally… Tony Romo? Really?? If you felt compelled to squeeze in another Cowboy, at least go with Michael Irvin or Randy White.

    • Ryan Cracknell 13 January, 2020 at 23:50

      @Laith – Part of the fun of lists like this are the debates and discussions they generate. When David was compiling the list, he was looking primarily at overall impact rather than strictly value. Also, there’s no college sets like 1955 All-American as the set is centered on NFL and AFL sets.

  2. Bilko Glasier 11 January, 2020 at 16:43

    Joe Montana RC, Jerry Rice RC , Bo Jackson RC were the 3 iconic cards I wanted when I was a teen in the late 80s to early 90s. Also anything from 89 Score and that 1990 score E Smith RC were popular too.

  3. Richard 13 January, 2020 at 12:51

    How about an article on the cards that changed things?
    A bit less controversial than the “top” cards, instead you could do an article on the cards that changed
    the market/hobby and show the evolution.

    One note, I don’t remember the Kurt Warner Edge being the “first” in demand.
    When he first became active,he had all of one card at the time as a pro, and “that” was the card to have.

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