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Collectors go after Unitas, Bradshaw, and Rodgers cards

It may be the offseason for the NFL, but that hasn't halted the interest in the football cards of Johnny Unitas, Terry Bradshaw and Aaron Rodgers.

By Larry Canale

It’s baseball season, but let’s talk football for a minute…. What do Johnny Unitas, Terry Bradshaw and Aaron Rodgers have in common?

The obvious trait, of course, is that they rank among the greatest and most productive quarterbacks of all-time. But we’ve got a connection that arises from our current “Online Auctioneer’ research: All three are featured on cards that sold for prices between $15,000 and $20,000 within the past month. The cards in question:

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• A 1957 Topps rookie Unitas card graded in Near-Mint condition by PSA (8.5) sold for $19,400. Johnny U.’s first card is a Hobby holy grail. Four recent sales of PSA 8 specimens sold for prices between $5,000 and $6,600. If you’re okay with a 7 grade, you can get a Unitas rookie for closer to $1,000.

• Nearly matching the price of the PSA 8.5 Unitas was a 1971 Topps rookie card of Bradshaw, a PSA 9 that sold for $19,200. Bradshaw rookies with a grade of 8 show a more precipitous drop in price: A trio of examples of PSA 8 Bradshaw cards from that bold 1971 Topps set got away for $1,233, $1,128 and $1,098.

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• A Rodgers rookie autographed 2005 Playoff Contenders Preview Ticket, meanwhile, sold for $15,100 on 37 bids. The price was buoyed by its condition: a perfect PSA 10. It’s near-impossible to find other examples of this one—Playoff limited it to a run of 15.

Unitas and Bradshaw, of course, were easy Hall of Fame selections. Unitas will always be part of any conversation about the best quarterbacks of all-time; he was the pride of the NFL during his career, which lasted from 1956 through 1973. He led the NFL in passing yards and touchdown passes four times, retiring with then-record totals of 40,239 yards and 290 TD tosses. Unitas also had a 118-63-4 record as a starting QB.

Bradshaw’s numbers weren’t quite as gaudy—he had 212 TD passes and almost as many interceptions (210). But he also led the Steelers to four Super Bowl titles and had a career won-lost record of 107-51 as a starting QB. A burly and athletic type, Bradshaw also had 2,670 rushing yards and scored 25 TDs on the ground.

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As for Rodgers, there’s a spot awaiting him at Canton’s Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Packer QB picked up where Brett Favre left off and has been one of the NFL’s most productive and exciting QBs in his 10 years as a starter. At 34, he already has 313 TD passes and 38,502 yards passing to go with a record of 94-48 as starting QB.


For someone who’s highly regarded as one of baseball’s top sluggers, Manny Machado may still be a few years away from his ceiling. For example, did you realize Machado has never hit .300 or reached 40 homers or driven in 100 runs in a single season?

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Even so, he’s averaged 35 homers and 93 RBI per year while hitting .280 over the past three seasons. And he’s still only 25. Considering the way the Orioles’ shortstop started off the 2018 season, a .300, 40-homer, 100-RBI season is fully believable.

Perhaps that’s why we’re seeing interest in Machado memorabilia.

To wit: A 2010 Bowman Chrome autographed Gold Refractor card of Machado inspired 40 bids on eBay recently and shot up to $5,600. BGS had graded it at 9.5, with the sig drawing a 10. A Blue Refractor of the same card drew 41 bids and sold for $3,002.

If you’re into a retro look, how about Machado’s 2013 Topps Heritage card? A signed PSA 10 example of that card—designed after Topps’ 1964 set—sold for $1,200 in early April.


Speaking of 1964, eBay seller PWCC Auctions listed a Mint PSA 9 specimen of Mickey Mantle’s card from that iconic set and sold it for $10,256 on 57 bids in a mid-April eBay auction.

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The card presents The Magnificent Yankee looking Paul Bunyan-esque in a right-handed batter’s stance. It’s a classic image of Mantle: those Popeye forearms, the Yankees pinstripes, the navy-blue “NY” cap, the sawdust-squeezing grip on the bat…. This is a worthy card for any collection.

Given the selection online, you can avoid a five-figure price by settling for examples graded lower than 9. An 8 would set you back $1,000 to $2,000, while a 6 or 7 would put you in the $400 to $700 range. And settling for a 4 or 5 would get you down in the $100 to $400 range.


As long as we’re on the subject of sluggers on Topps 1964 or ’64-inspired trading cards, here’s one more. A 2017 Topps Transcendent “1964 History” autographed card of Aaron Judge recently fetched $3,000 on eBay. It was ungraded but apparently (judging from the photograph) in top condition.

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Judge’s signature on the card is in a medium blue Sharpie, and, most important, the card bears that “1/1” marking that tells us just how rare this treasure is.


Two of the slots in our Top 10 chart on this page belong (ho-hum) to Michael Jordan’s 1986-87 Fleer card, with both having been graded PSA 10. Two other PSA 10 examples of that always-in-demand card landed just outside our Top 10, selling for prices of $18,866 and $18,755.

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But here’s a different Jordan card that fell in with those cited above: a 1997-98 Upper Deck UD3 Season Ticket Autographs card that soared to $19,322. It would have climbed past $20,000, no doubt, if not for a couple of minor imperfections (light corner wear) listed in the description. As it is, this is a rare and desirable Jordan issue with a great-looking blue sig inked by the NBA great.