The Most Expensive Football Cards Ever Sold: A Complete Guide

Posted on 1/4/2023

Football cards are popular collectibles that can be worth a lot of money. This guide looks at the most expensive football cards ever sold and how they are graded.

Football is one of the most popular sports in the world. Millions of people tune in to watch their favorite teams play every week. As with any sport, there is a large market for merchandise and collectibles, including graded football cards. While many collectors focus on jerseys or footballs, the card market is where some of the most valuable pieces can be found. This article will look at the football card market and some of the most expensive cards that have ever been sold.

The Football Card Market

Football cards have been around since the late 19th century, when cigarette companies would include them in packs of cigarettes as promotional items. The first set of football cards was produced in 1894 by a company called Mayo and featured players from the Yale and Princeton university teams. These cards were trendy, and soon other companies began producing their own sets.

Over the years, the football card market has grown significantly. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, the football card market experienced a massive boom, especially after Upper Deck began producing high-quality cards. Just as Upper Deck shook up the baseball card market with glossy paper and foil wrappers, they did the same for football cards.

Looking ahead, the sports trading card market is expected to reach nearly $100 billion by 2027. Some of the most valuable cards are from modern football sets, including players like Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes. However, some older cards still command high prices at auction due to their rarity and historical significance.

There are many different types of football cards, from those that feature current players to those that focus on retired legends. Cards can be bought individually or in sets and are often traded between collectors. The most valuable football cards usually feature rare or unique images or have been well-preserved over the years.

So what does the future hold for football cards? Many collectors believe that the market is due for another boom in the coming years as interest in the sport and its collectibles continues to grow. In particular, sales of rookie cards (cards featuring players who are just starting their careers) are on the rise as collectors look to invest in young stars before their values increase even further.

The current state of the football card market is healthy, and there are plenty of opportunities for collectors to find valuable pieces at reasonable prices. As an investment, football cards are a solid choice, as they have proven to be resilient even during tough economic times. With the proper knowledge and a bit of luck, any collector has the potential to find some truly valuable cards.

If you're interested, we've also covered the best selling graded cards for the other major sports; baseball, basketball, and hockey.

The Most Expensive Football Cards Ever Sold

As the football card market has grown, the prices collectors are willing to pay for rare and valuable cards have increased as well. Several record-breaking sales have occurred in recent years, with some cards selling for millions of dollars. Here are the most expensive football cards ever sold:

2017 Panini National Treasures Platinum #161 Patrick Mahomes II NFL Shield Rookie Autograph 1/1 ($4,300,000)

Patrick Mahomes II is the star quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs who has already become one of the most decorated players in NFL history at only 27 years old. In fact, the Chiefs just won their second Super Bowl since Mahomes has taken over under center. As a 2-time Super Bowl champion, 2-time Super Bowl MVP and 2-time NFL MVP, the sky is the limit for Mahomes who could be one of the top players in the league for years to come.

With so many accolades to his name at such a young age, collectors are already clamoring for the opportunity to own some of Mahomes' rarest football cards. That was proven in July 2021 when a 2017 Panini National Treasures Platinum #161 Patrick Mahomes II NFL Shield Rookie Autograph 1/1 became the single most expensive football card ever sold, fetching an astounding $4.3 million in a private sale.

The rookie card features an image of a young Mahomes in his red Chiefs uniform, looking for a receiver downfield. The right side of the card has a large red, white and blue NFL shield patch and also features Mahomes' signature below his image. As one of the most exciting players in the NFL, Mahomes could be a famous player among collectors for years.

2000 Playoff Contenders Championship Ticket #144 Tom Brady Rookie Autograph 8/100 ($3,107,372)

Tom Brady is arguably the greatest quarterback to ever throw a football. He led both the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers to Super Bowl victories, ending his career after the 2022 season with 7 Lombardi Trophies, which is more than any other player has won in NFL history. Brady is also a five-time Super Bowl MVP, three-time NFL MVP and a 10-time Pro Bowler.

While Brady was somewhat of a polarizing player throughout his career, his greatness can't be questioned, and the market for his football cards reflect his place in NFL history. Only one month before the Patrick Mahomes rookie card broke the record once again, a Brady rookie card became the most expensive football card ever sold.

A 2000 Playoff Contenders Championship Ticket #144 Tom Brady Rookie Autograph 8/100 sold for $3,107,372 in June 2021. The rare rookie card features the QB stepping back to throw a pass in his white Patriots jersey. Brady autographed the card at the bottom of his image. Although it sold for a record-setting amount, it now sits as the second most expensive football card ever sold thus far.

1958 Topps #62 Jim Brown ($358,500)

Jim Brown was a dominant force on the field, and his achievements as one of the NFL's all-time great running backs are still celebrated to this day. Throughout his career, Brown set numerous records and won several awards. Additionally, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971 and became well-known for his philanthropic endeavors following his football career.

The 1958 Topps #62 Jim Brown card features an action-shot of the player running with the ball. The image is contained in a circular border with a solid black background. Brown's name, position and team are featured at the bottom. A high-grade version of this card sold for $358,500 in November 2016, making it one of the most valuable football cards ever made.

1935 National Chicle #34 Bronko Nagurski ($350,000)

Bronko Nagurski was a powerhouse on offense and defense, and was well-known for his hard-nosed playing style. He is also credited with helping to popularize the NFL in the early years of the league's existence.

Nagurski is an all-time NFL great who won three NFL championships, made the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as part of the inaugural 1963 class. Additionally, the famed player was honored in 1993 with a collegiate football award under his name. The top defensive player in college football is awarded with the Bronko Nagurski Trophy at the end of each season.

Nagurski's popularity was on display once again when one of his cards sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars in a private sale. A 1935 National Chicle #34 Bronko Nagurski sold for a whopping $350,000 in January 2011. The card features a portrait of Nagurski in his Bears uniform running straight toward the viewer, with a blue and yellow background. It's one of the rarest and most expensive football cards in existence.

1957 Topps #119 Bart Starr ($288,000)

Bart Starr is one of the most iconic players in the history of the NFL. He was a vital member of the Green Bay Packers dynasty of the 1960s and was a two-time MVP of the earliest Super Bowls played. In fact, the legendary QB led the Packers to five NFL championships and an additional two Super Bowls victories. Starr was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977, and his legacy continues to be celebrated.

Unlike many other cards on this list, Bart Starr's rookie card features two images of the player. On the left side of the card is a headshot of Starr in his Packers uniform, and on the right is a photo of him throwing a pass. His 1957 Topps #119 rookie card is one of the most expensive football cards on the market, with one selling for $288,000 in February 2017.

1965 Topps #122 Joe Namath ($264,000)

Joe Namath was selected by the New York Jets in the 1965 NFL Draft. He played for the franchise for 12 seasons before playing for the Los Angeles Rams during his final season in 1977. He's famously known for guaranteeing a win in Super Bowl III, and Namath delivered on the promise as he led his underdog Jets to their first and only Lombardi Trophy. Following his retirement, Namath was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985.

His popularity transferred to his football cards as well, with a 1965 Topps #122 Joe Namath rookie card selling for $264,000 at auction in February 2018. The card features a simple design, with Namath in his green Jets uniform holding the ball while scanning the field. The background is a solid yellow, with his name and position written at the bottom.

1976 Topps #148 Walter Payton ($228,000)

Walter Payton was one of the most successful and popular running backs in the history of the National Football League. He spent his entire 13-year career playing for the Chicago Bears and was an NFL MVP and nine-time Pro Bowler. At the time, Payton became the NFL's all-time leader in rushing yards and touchdowns and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993.

Payton's success on the field was matched by his popularity off of it. He was known for his work ethic and charitable contributions and was widely respected by fans and fellow players.

As a result of his incredible career and legacy, Payton's rookie card was sold at autction in February 2021 for $228,000. The card featured a closeup of Payton's face, with the camera taking a top-down view. On the bottom left of the card is the Bear's old, bright-green logo, making the card easily recognizable.

193 Goudey Sport Kings #6 Jim Thorpe ($138,000)

Jim Thorpe is considered by many to be the greatest American football player during the first half of the 20th century. Thorpe began his career playing for the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, where he became a star player. In 1915, he was drafted by the Canton Bulldogs and became one of the most successful players in the league.

In 1921, he joined the newly-formed Cleveland Indians of the NFL. He went on to play for several teams until his last year with the Chicago Cardinals in 1928.

His 1933 Goudey Sport Kings card is one of the most iconic football cards ever produced. Like many of the cards from this set, it features a beautiful color portrait of the player, set against a solid yellow background. In July 2020, a copy of the card in Mint condition sold at auction for $138,000.

The Importance of Graded Cards

Third-party companies are essential for grading the most expensive football cards. Having your collection certified and graded is vital for determining a card's value, as it assures collectors that the card is authentic and in good condition.

Cards are graded on several factors, including centering, corners, edges and surface. A well-centered card with sharp corners will be given a higher grade than a card that is poorly centered or has worn corners.

For collectors and investors, graded cards are the safest way to purchase expensive cards. Graded cards can be bought from online auctions, dealers and trading card websites. Sellers should always have cards graded, and buyers should always check for proof of the condition before purchasing.

That's why so many collectors and investors trust their cards with CGC Cards, as CGC experts carry out grading and provide a certificate of authentication for each submitted card. Join us by becoming a CGC Cards member today. For further info, click here.

*Any mention of "investment potential" is for entertainment only and should not be construed as investment advice. The Certified Collectibles Group does not provide investment advice and is not liable for any buy, sell or trade decisions made by any parties.

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