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Fifty years ago, sports card collectors were no doubt admiring their then-new 1971 Topps football cards.

Issued in a set of 263, they featured a bold design with colorful borders (blue for NFC players, red for AFC players) and quality photos of players who starred on the gridiron.

The checklist was impressive, starting with card No. 1: Johnny Unitas. The great Colts quarterback was one of more than 50 Hall of Famers in the set. That preponderance of Hall of Famers has helped the value of 1971 Topps football cards to climb steadily.

The top dog: Terry Bradshaw’s rookie, which can sell for $20,000 and up if graded 9 (and way more if graded 10 — more on that in a minute). Bradshaw’s Steeler teammate Joe Greene also makes his cardboard debut in Topps’ 1971 set. His rookie can easily exceed $5,000 if in grade-9 condition. 

1971 Topps Terry Bradshaw rookie card.

1971 Topps Terry Bradshaw rookie card.

And Hall of Famers like Unitas, Bart Starr, Ray Nitschke, Joe Namath, Sonny Jurgensen and Gale Sayers also can climb into four figures.

1971 Topps card of Hall of Famer Bart Starr.

1971 Topps card of Hall of Famer Bart Starr.

All of which makes the item pictured here, a 1971 football rack pack, a potential major bargain. On eBay recently, the sealed pack sold for $3,440 on 38 bids — not bad, even if it originally cost only 49 cents.

1971 Topps Football rack pack featuring All-Pro Bubba Smith.

1971 Topps Football rack pack featuring All-Pro Bubba Smith. 

The six cards showing on the rack pack may have tempered bidding a little. None of the visible players were Hall of Famers; All-Pro Bubba Smith is the biggest name. Worse, the front of the pack showed doubles of linebacker Mike Morgan cards. (Morgan was one of the commons in the set; he played linebacker from 1964-70 for the Eagles, Redskins and Saints, and died at age 54 in 1996.)

Yet for optimistic types, the rack pack would be too enticing to leave unopened. With 54 cards in the pack, there’s bound to be at least a few Hall of Famers sealed inside. If a Mint Bradshaw is one of them, this rack pack is a steal. A Gem-Mint specimen can get into six figures. Specifically, we saw a shocking price paid at Goldin Auctions in October for a PSA 10 Bradshaw rookie: $430,500.

And 9-grade Bradshaw rookies have been on the rise. In the past 18 months, we’ve seen PSA 9 examples sell for prices of $15,250, $18,600, $23,400 and $29,088.

AIR PROMO

Once upon a time, Michael Jordan was a highly celebrated rookie in the NBA, wowing crowds with his acrobatic dunks, deadly jump shot and twisting, turning drives to the hoop. Nike knew what it had in signing the young star to a marketing deal to promote basketball shoes, which is why the company included him in a small promo card set that also included baseball’s Dwight Gooden and Lance Parrish, football’s James Lofton and tennis legend John McEnroe.

The Jordan Nike promo card is especially desirable, and rightfully so. It features a classic photograph of Jordan flying through the air, legs spread and ball held high in the air on his way to a dunk during a sandlot hoop game. 

A 1984 Nike promo card of Michael Jordan.

A 1984 Nike promo card of Michael Jordan.

In grade 9, this oversized card (it’s a little bigger than 3-by-5 inches) can sell for a few thousand dollars. What if it’s in Gem-Mint, perfect-10 condition? We can give you a current value based on a November auction on eBay: A bidding war (67 bids) sent a PSA 10 example of Nike’s Jordan card soaring to $24,600. 

WHAT A WANDER-FULL WORLD

In a season of wonderful beginnings by a bumper crop of baseball rookies, Wander Franco generated more preseason hype than anyone. As the MLB season played out, he sure seemed like the real deal. The switch-hitting infielder looked at home at both shortstop and third base. At the plate, he hit .288 in 281 at-bats with seven home runs, 53 runs and 39 RBI. And if you watched any number of Tampa Bay Rays games, you’ll know those numbers don’t begin to reflect Franco’s potential. The Rays were sold, signing Franco to a 12-year, $223 million contract.

2019 Bowman Chrome Wander Franco 1st Bowman prospects card.

2019 Bowman Chrome Wander Franco 1st Bowman prospects card.

On the other hand, if you saw Franco perform, you’ll understand why 90 bids were tendered in an eBay auction for a lot of 100 Bowman Chrome cards of Franco. The 2019 rookie cards were all graded PSA 10. The final price for the lot: $18,000. If Franco progresses the way scouts and analysts are predicting, the winning bidder in this auction will have scored a great speculative buy with the 100-card stash. 

A lot of 100 Bowman Wander Franco rookie cards.

A lot of 100 Bowman Wander Franco rookie cards.

TOP 10 ONLINE AUCTIONS 

A look at the top 10 online auctions through Nov. 22. 

1. $99,100 on 93 bids: 2020 Panini National Treasures Anthony Edwards, #86/99, auto patch (PSA 10)

2. $51,201 on 65 bids: 1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan (BGS 9.5)

3. $50,000 on 70 bids: 2009-10 Topps Chrome Stephen Curry, #153/999 (PSA 10)

4. $47,877 on 22 bids: 2021 Panini National Treasures LaMelo Ball, auto patch (PSA 9)

5. $47,100 on 55 bids: 2003-04 Topps Chrome LeBron James Black Refractor, #102/500 (BGS 9)

6. $40,300 on 67 bids: 1969-70 Topps Lew Alcindor (PSA 8)

1969 Topps Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) rookie card.

1969 Topps Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) rookie card.

7. $39,239 on 51 bids: 2020 Panini National Treasures Justin Herbert, #/99, auto patch (PSA 8.5, auto 10)

8. $35,653 on 61 bids: 2019-20 Panini National Treasures Ja Morant, #4/5, patch (Logoman) (ungraded)

2019 National Treasures Ja Morant Rookie Logoman card.

2019 National Treasures Ja Morant Rookie Logoman card.

9. $34,680 on 32 bids: 2002 Topps Chrome Tom Brady Black Refractor (PSA 10)

10. $30,100 on 70 bids: 2019-20 Panini Flawless Ja Morant, #10/25, auto patch (PSA 10, auto 10)

ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN

Ja Morant’s continued improvement in his third season in the NBA has elevated him toward the upper echelon of today’s most collectible hoop stars. His scoring average has gone from 17.8 in his rookie season with Memphis to 19.1 last season to more than 25 points per game this year. All along, the versatile point guard has been dishing out upwards of 7 assists per game. So, it’s no surprise to see him in two slots on our Top 10 chart and in another on our “next 10” list.

• $30,100 on 67 bids: 2000 Leaf Tom Brady Rookies & Stars, #17/1000 (PSA 10)

• $28,500 on 64 bids: 2000 Playoff Contenders Tom Brady Rookie Ticket, auto (ungraded card; auto PSA/DNA 10)

• $27,878 on 66 bids: 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle (PSA authenticated; altered)

• $26,300 on 25 bids: 2019 Panini National Treasures Kyler Murray, #94/99, auto patch (BGS 9.5, auto 9)

• $25,300 on 17 bids: 1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan (PSA 9)

• $25,201 on 30 bids: 1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan (PSA 9)

• $25,100 on 15 bids: 1996-97 Bowman’s Best Kobe Bryant Atomic Refractor (PSA 10)

• $25,100 on 26 bids: 2020 Topps Chrome F1 Racing Lewis Hamilton Orange Refractor, #/25, auto (ungraded)

• $25,000 on 1 bid: 2019-20 Panini Contenders Ja Morant Rookie Ticket Cracked Ice, #23/25, auto (BGS 9.5, auto 10)

2019-20 Panini Contenders Ja Morant Cracked Ice Ticket card.

2019-20 Panini Contenders Ja Morant Cracked Ice Ticket card.

Auction of the Week

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THE WINTER SHOW

SPORTS CARDS, MEMORABILIA, TOYS, COLLECTIBLES AND MORE!!! Meet WWE Hall of Fame legend "The Godfather" and International Wrestling Superstar D-Lo Brown between 10 am-4 pm.January 29th Mooresville NC. Sports Wax Promotions Winter Card Sports Card & Memorabilia Show Charles Mack Citizen Center, 215 N Main St, Mooresville, NC 28115. Hours: 9 am-4 pm. Admission: $5. 75+ Tables.