Three HOF Rookies

The recent arrival of three football Hall of Fame rookie cards prompted me to analyze collecting rookie cards of the Hall of Famers. Before we get to the analysis, I would like to show the new additions to the collection. The first card is a 1987 Topps Gary Zimmerman. As an offensive lineman, he would be near the bottom of the totem pole of cards that would interest most Hall of Fame collectors, but for me it has been a bit of a white whale as I have been searching for this card for years. This puts my collection at 151 total Hall of Famers and it means the newest player I do not have is Jim Taylor, whose last card was in 1968. When I look at this card, I do not know what happened to the guys hands but I wonder if he is ok.  The next card is a 1978 John Stallworth, who was a great wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers dynasty of the 1970’s. With Lynn Swann getting most of the attention from the post football days, I wonder if Mr. Stallworth gets lost in the shuffle.  The final card is a 1972 Topps Roger Staubach. I feel that Mr. Staubach would be considered in the inner circle of the most collectable football players in the modern era as the Cowboys popularity stretches from coast to coast and he was the centerpiece of the teams that made the Cowboys who they are. While it is not in the best of condition, considering what a paid for it and the replacement costs, this is a centerpiece of my collection. I now have thirteen rookie cards of hall of famers and am hoping to get many more soon.

With that out of the way, I know want to present a brief analysis for those wanting to start a football Hall of Fame rookie collection. For the purposes of this post I will look at the list presented by PSA for their registry. Some players have multiple rookies, but the registry only recognizes certain rookies for their list. Two things strike me right off the top when going over the cards, one is the affect alternate leagues have had on trading cards and the other is the outliers when it comes to cost. To a certain extent, these two are connected. The alternate leagues in question are the AFL in the 1960’s and the USFL in the 1980’s. A lot of Hall of Famers started with those leagues and it has had an effect on the trading card hobby. The outliers are cards that have an acquisition cost that seems way out of tune with other cards at that time in history. Acquisition cost is how much a collector could reasonably expect to pay for an inexpensive copy of the card, with age and condition being part of the equation. A few examples of both of these in action include from the 1980’s, Reggie White, Steve Young and Jim Kelly. Their NFL rookies are rather affordable as those cards were in the plentiful late 1980’s sets, but their rookies are in the USFL set Topps made in the mid 1980’s and those are the ones PSA recognizes. While their “Beckett value” is trivial, the actual cost of acquisition is a minimum of 50 dollars for each one as opposed to ten for the NFL cards. While 50 dollars may not seem like much for a lot of collectors, others would see that as outrageous especially in the light of what you can get for that money. No disrespect to the late Mr. White, but I think most collectors would want a Deacon Jones rookie over the USFL Reggie White at that cost. Two decades before that, cards of AFL stars create challenges for collectors, the biggest of which is the 1965 Joe Namath. While this is certainly a wonderful card, an acquisition cost of no less than 500 dollars looks out of place considering when it was printed and the degree of greatness of the player. Again, no disrespect to Mr Namath, but it strikes me that Bart Starr is much more of a legend and his rookie is older and cheaper to acquire.  Other outliers that are not related to alternate leagues are because of the overwhelming star power of the player involved, including the 1981 Joe Montana and the 1976 Topps Walter Payton. To acquire either card will set a collector back at least 50 dollars for each card if they are lucky.

At this point, it seems like collecting pro football Hall of Famers would be a fools errand, but in reality, a lot of the required cards are affordable. A lot of that has to do with the relative anonymity of players who are not quarterbacks. A perfect example is Merlin Olsen, considered one of the greatest defensive players of all time. I think it would not take much effort at all to get his rookie card from the 1964 Philadelphia set for under 20 dollars. A more modern player like Howie Long is easily under five dollars while even a superstar like Lawrence Taylor may run fifteen dollars.

Finally, the amusing thing about football Hall of Fame rookies is because of the size of the sets, players sometimes had to wait years before finally getting on cardboard, even if they were really good like Mr. Staubach. Even though Mr. Staubach was a Heisman Trophy winner, it was not until his third year before he made it to a card. I am almost positive this would never happen today with all the hype rookies get. Also for a lot of the stars of the early NFL, their rookies came out after their careers ended in the 1955 Topps All American sets, such as Don Huston, the great Packers flanker.

While it is certainly not an original idea, I think collecting the rookies of these legends gives collectors a great history lesson of football legends.








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