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The sport of football has its roots deep in American culture and can be claimed by the USA to be its own. Each year the Super Bowl is one of the premier events across the entire sports world and draws millions of viewers from around the globe to watch the representatives from each conference compete for the Lombardi Trophy

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The game is a way of life in many areas of the country and no matter if it is played at the high school, college, or professional level it can be sure to attract a crowd.

Many of the best talents to ever touch a football field have made a name for themselves in NFL history as legends of the game and are remembered and commemorated by many far and wide. 

Rookie cards hold a special place in many people’s hearts, and they often carry the most value for different superstar athletes. For collectors, rookie cards are often the goal, and when discussing players, it is often solely rookie cards or very limited-edition cards that are really the topic of discussion. 

Owning a football card of one of these legends can be a very special thing to many collectors. While there are many different reasons to collect cards, one thing that is common across them all is the ability to appreciate unique football cards.

This list contains the seven all-time greatest football rookie cards that have ever been produced and spans several different NFL eras. 


7. 1986 Reggie White Topps Football Rookie RC #275

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Reggie White was one of the most dominant defensive players of all time, as he dominated opposing offensive lines before he would destroy the quarterback.

White could wreak havoc on an offensive game-plan like so few players in NFL history have been able to do and caused headaches for offensive coordinators across the league. 

White finished his career with 198.0 sacks and was inducted into both the Professional Football Hall of Fame as well as the College Football Hall of Fame in the early 2000s. During his illustrious NFL career, White played for the Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers, and had one forgettable season with the Carolina Panthers after returning from his first retirement. 

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This rookie, Reggie White card, pictures him on the Eagles, and it is a photo of him on the sideline. The 1986 Topps Football set is one of the more iconic football sets ever created and one reason is the green border that each card has. 

While the green border may give the cards a unique look, they also have not held up great over the many years since the set was released and means that it can be hard for collectors to find 1986 Topps Football cards with high grades.

This Reggie White card was not exempt from this issue and PSA 10s can be hard to find. 


6. 1981 Joe Montana Topps Football Rookie RC #216

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Joe Montana is one of the greatest NFL players and helped create a dynasty with the San Francisco 49ers. Montana would win four Super Bowls during his 14-year tenure with the 49ers and then he was replaced by another legendary quarterback in Steve Young. 

This 1981 Topps Football card is the only recognized rookie card for Montana, and he was one of four future Hall of Famers that would have their debut card be included in this set. The card has a white border and features Montana midway through his throwing motion. 

One issue that this card suffers from is poor centering which can make receiving a high grade on the card difficult, no matter how much care was taken by collectors. Because of this, PSA 10s and other similarly highly graded cards will fetch a large amount on the re-sell market. 


5. 1998 Peyton Manning Playoff Contenders Rookie Ticket RC #87

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Peyton Manning was one of the greatest NFL quarterbacks of all time and still holds the record for most passing touchdowns in a season with 55 in 2013. Then, he was a member of the Denver Broncos, but for most of his career, he was the face of the Indianapolis Colts. 

During his NFL draft year, it was a contest between Manning and another quarterback, Ryan Leaf, to see who the first overall selection would be. The Colts selected Manning with the first overall selection and would be very grateful that they did as Manning would be the starter from 1998-2011.  

Manning won one Super Bowl as a member of the Colts and would win another during his next stop in Denver. During his time in Denver, Manning would lead one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history made it to two Super Bowls, winning one. 

This Playoff Contenders card is one of the most sought after in the entire industry, especially the autographed version. There were only 200 copies made of the 1998 Playoff Contenders Rookie Ticket Autographed Manning card and if you possess one of these then you are a very lucky collector. 


4. 1958 Jim Brown Topps Rookie RC #62

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This card is the only known rookie card for legendary fullback Jim Brown and is the oldest on this list. The card writes Brown’s first name as Jimmy, compared to the shorter name “Jim” that he is more commonly known by today. 

Brown was the number one pick in the NFL draft after playing three sports at Syracuse University

Brown is widely considered to be one of the greatest of all time and he has plenty of accomplishments and accolades to back his case. Every single season that Brown played in the NFL he was invited to the Pro Bowl and on top of that, he led the league in rushing yards in eight of those nine seasons. 

Brown was a ferocious runner and to this day is the only running back to have a career average of over 100 yards per game. Because of the age of this card, it will often have issues with chipping as well as print defects.

Another common issue that collectors have seen is poor centering among these cards. Nevertheless, this is one of the most amazing NFL cards ever produced and a real treasure for collectors to chase after.  


3. 1982 Lawrence Taylor Topps Football All-Pro Rookie RC #434

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Lawrence Taylor may be the most feared man ever to step foot upon an NFL field. Taylor’s dizzying combination of speed and strength was enough to destroy any offensive lineman. Quarterbacks had to always keep an eye on the talented linebacker to ensure they wouldn’t end up on the receiving end of devastating Taylor tackle. 

Taylor managed to help the Giants to two Super Bowl victories as well as was the first-ever defensive player to be voted unanimous NFL MVP.

Taylor won many other awards throughout his career and to this day holds many records. One accomplishment that Taylor holds is that he is the only player ever to win the Defensive Player of the Year Award as a rookie. 

Taylor’s 1982 Topps card has the words “All-Pro” plastered across the top of the card as well as has a Giant’s helmet in the bottom left. The photo features him kneeling on the sideline, two gloves on as he gazes off into the distance. 


2. 1986 Jerry Rice Topps RC #161

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Jerry Rice is considered by many to be the greatest wide receiver in NFL history. Rice had the luxury of playing with two great quarterbacks in Joe Montana and Steve Young but also had some of the best route-running skills we have ever seen. Pair those skills with silky hands and freak-of-nature athleticism and it’s no wonder why Rice was as dominant as he was. 

Rice has written his name all over the record book and his records are even more impressive when you consider that he didn’t play in the overly pass-heavy NFL of today.

Rice didn’t have the advantage of the coaches that are happy to throw the ball on almost every play that present-day receivers have had on their way to changing the record books. 

This Jerry Rice rookie card comes from the same 1986 Topps Football set that the Reggie White card does.

Thus, it has the same green borders that have struggled to stay in perfect condition on many cards across the set. If you can find a Jerry Rice card with a high grade then you are in luck as many of them suffer from poor grading due to this issue. 

However, even owning a lower-graded version of this card would be a treat due to the amazing player pictured and the iconic green borders of the 1986 Topps Football set.

This is a true holy grail for collectors. 


1. 2000 Tom Brady SP Authentic RC #118

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Tom Brady. The man has been the definition of a winner and created one of the greatest dynasties’ sports have ever seen with the New England Patriots.

It is now time for him to start a new chapter in his career, and he will be wearing the red of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

Brady will not be by himself in Tampa Bay as his old running mate Rob Gronkowski has come out of retirement to join Brady in the nice weather of Tampa Bay.

How the team will fare is yet to be seen, but with the two parts of one of the most dominant duos we have seen in recent years, they are in a great position. 

Brady has cemented his legacy in NFL history no matter what happens in this new chapter and it is not surprising that his rookie card comes in at number one on this list.

SP Authentic was for a long time one of the leaders in the football card industry and the brand did a good job of creating a strong image that led to them producing some of the more iconic rookie cards of the time. 

This Brady card was limited to a print run of just 1250 cards which helps keep the price high due to the scary nature of the card. Yet it is not just the scarcity of this card that has led to it becoming the best rookie football card of all time.

Something about the nature of the card has managed to catch the collector’s imaginations and created an aura that has turned it into one of the most desired cards across all sports. 

Brady’s career is not finished yet and if he can bring some of the magic he created in New England to Tampa Bay then it will only do good things for the value of his cards.

He has a plethora of weapons available that he did not have during his final years with the Patriots and it will be interesting to see how he adjusts to a new environment. 

This will be the fans’ first chance to see Brady play without legendary coach Bill Belichick and Brady has his doubters to silence. If Brady can bring to the Buccaneers the attitude and talent that they signed him to bring, then it will only cement Brady’s legacy among the all-time greats. 


Investment Outlook

These seven cards are some of the most sought-after across all football cards and for good reason.

Not only do they all feature a legend of the game, but many of them have interesting designs or come from brands that have done a great job at cementing themselves as leaders in the industry. 

Risk/Return Analysis: Low Risk/Moderate to High Returns (HOF Player Rookie Cards have low risk as their careers are already cemented in stone and the returns should be solid moving forward. The only risk HOF cards inherit is a collapse of the total sports card hobby (which could happen but we don’t foresee it)

Investment Rating: Strong Buy

Ownership Disclosure: 1981 Joe Montana Topps Football RC #216 PSA 8

To own one of these cards will always be a good investment as well as a rare opportunity to own the fabric of the game that has embedded itself into American culture.

Football as a sport has been under some pressure in recent years and changes are being made to adapt the sport to a future that is safer for everyone. 

Rookie cards will continue to be popular and owning a rookie card of one of these legends will always be a good idea. As time goes on, we will be sure to see the new superstars of the NFL carve out their place in NFL history and establish their names on this list.

However, even as the new-age superstars progress and succeed, the old legends will always be remembered as the ones that paved the way and created the path that the modern-day players have used.

These legends were not paid the extreme salaries that are common today or received the first-class treatment that athletes have become accustomed to. 

Therefore, these cards will always be remembered as rookie cards of some of the first trailblazers that helped turn the NFL into what it is today.

While there are many other rookie cards that could have made this list, these seven are truly special and are great cards that can be at the middle of a wonderful collection.

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