20 Most Valuable 1986 Topps Football Cards

Most Valuable 1986 Topps Football Cards

When I think of 1986 Topps football cards, the first thing that comes to mind is the set's unforgettable design...

The green borders and white stripes designed to look like a football field result in one of the most creative looks in the hobby.

The second thing that comes to mind is how loaded the 396-card checklist is with major rookie cards, stars, and Hall of Famers.

For those reasons, it's easy to understand why many collectors consider this set to be one of the most iconic and desirable football card sets around.

And in this guide, we'll take a look at the 20 most valuable.

Let's jump right in!

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1986 Topps #161 Jerry Rice Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $75,000

One of the most iconic football cards in the hobby, the Jerry Rice rookie card sits atop this set as its most expensive card, reaching price levels once thought unthinkable.

After an uneven rookie season with plenty of highs and plenty of dropped passes, San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice took his game to an entirely new level in 1986.

Rice's sophomore campaign wasn't just the start of something special.

It was the beginning of the most productive decade for any wideout in NFL history.

In 1986, Rice caught 86 passes for an NFL-best 1,560 yards while also leading the league with 15 touchdown receptions and 98.1 receiving yards per game.

It marked the first of eleven straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons for the future Hall-of-Famer and was also the first of six times that Rice led the NFL in touchdown receptions.

As for the postseason, it was nothing if not a learning experience for the young Mississippi Valley State product.

Rice caught three balls for 48 yards and fumbled once in San Francisco's dreadful 49-3 NFC Divisional Game annihilation at the hands of the New York Giants.

That blowout defeat left a sour taste in the Niners' mouths, but Rice's breakout season was a bright spot and sign of great things to come for the franchise.

1986 Topps #161 Jerry Rice Rookie Card

1986 Topps #374 Steve Young Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $30,000

Considering his future success under center with the 49ers, it's hard to believe there was a time that Steve Young was considered a bust.

However, that was the narrative in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' front office after the team finished just 2-14 on the 1986-1987 season, Young’s first-and-only season as their primary starting quarterback.

With a sketchy supporting cast around him, Young underwhelmed with the offensive reins in hand, completing 53.7% of his passes for 2,282 yards, eight touchdowns, and 13 interceptions.

He did show something on the ground, though, rushing for 425 yards and five scores on 74 carries.

After their second-straight 14-loss season and fourth-straight 10-loss campaign, Tampa Bay quickly pulled the rug out from under Young.

With the first pick in the 1987 NFL Draft, the Bucs selected Vinny Testaverde, and in April 1987, the Bucs traded Young to the 49ers to serve as Joe Montana's backup.

Tampa Bay went on to record eight more ten-loss seasons in a row.

As for Young, he was just about a half-decade away from kicking his Hall-of-Fame career into high gear by the Bay.

Young's rookie card may not be quite as pricey as Rice's, but it's still worth well into five figures in a PSA 10 holder.

1986 Topps #374 Steve Young Rookie Card

1986 Topps #20 William Perry Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $4,400

William “Refrigerator” Perry’s star was never brighter than it was following the 1985 NFL season.

As the Chicago Bears shuffled their way to a Super Bowl title, the rookie defensive tackle ran his way into the mainstream.

At nearly 350 pounds, the 1985 NFL Draft first-rounder established himself as a standout for the team’s first-ranked defense.

However, it was his work on offense that captured the imaginations of fans around the world.

Perry rumbled his way to three rushing touchdowns and a receiving score in 1985, becoming the first 300-pounder in NFL history to score an offensive touchdown.

His touchdown scamper in the team’s runaway victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX helped him secure several endorsement deals and unquestioned celebrity status.

In 1986, the gimmick had run its course.

Perry started all 16 games for the Bears at right defensive tackle, posting five sacks and 84 combined tackles to help them to a 14-2 record and another top-ranked finish in total defense.

However, Perry ran just once all year for a one-yard loss and would never score an offensive touchdown again.

1986 Topps #20 William Perry Rookie Card

1986 Topps #389 Bruce Smith Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $3,300

Selected by the Buffalo Bills with the first pick of the 1985 NFL Draft, right defensive end Bruce Smith needed a nudge to find his eventual Hall-of-Fame form.

Smith struggled with his training regimen in his rookie season, looking gassed as the year wore on.

His bad habits off the field took their toll, causing some to doubt whether he'd live up to his superstar-in-waiting billing coming out of Virginia Tech.

Thankfully, with the help of teammate Darryl Talley, Smith changed his approach to training and game day preparation.

In 1986, Smith's new lease on football life began to bear fruit, as he played in all 16 of Buffalo's regular-season contests (15 starts), posting 63 combined tackles.

He upped his sack count to 15 from 6.5 during his rookie year, forcing three fumbles along the way.

Buffalo finished just 4-12 on the year, though, and ended 1986 with a bottom-five defense.

However, the franchise was en route to fielding a true contender, with Smith leading the way as a perennial All-Pro and Pro Bowler.

1986 Topps #389 Bruce Smith Rookie Card

1986 Topps #275 Reggie White Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $2,500

After leaving the ill-fated USFL after two campaigns, Reggie White debuted with the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 4 of the 1985 NFL season.

He made a stellar first impression, posting 2.5 sacks and a pass deflection that led to a pick-six.

Despite playing just 13 games, White was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

In 1986, White was paired with new head coach Buddy Ryan, the fiery, polarizing architect of the Chicago Bears' Super Bowl-winning defense.

While the Eagles finished just 5-10-1 in Ryan's first season at the helm, White was electrifying in his sophomore showcase, generally making the lives of opposing quarterbacks miserable.

Moved primarily to right defensive tackle for the first-and-only season of his career, White recorded 98 combined tackles, 18 sacks, and a forced fumble in 1986.

His performance earned him his first of 13-straight Pro Bowl selections and first of six straight First-Team All-Pro nods.

The "Minister of Defense" had a new congregation and, it would just grow and grow in the coming years.

1986 Topps #275 Reggie White Rookie Card

1986 Topps #17 Jay Hilgenberg Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $1,800

In 1985, Jay Hilgenberg earned his first Pro Bowl nomination and a Super Bowl ring in his second full year as the Chicago Bears' starting center.

In 1986, Hilgenberg continued to establish himself as one of the game's best offensive linemen.

A key contributor to the team's first-ranked rushing attack, Hilgenberg's run-blocking prowess helped Walter Payton finish with 1,333 yards on the ground, good for the fourth-best total in the league.

While the passing game was often a decoy for the 14-2 Bears, the top-ranked running game (and the team's stifling defense) led the way to another division crown.

And while the season ended abruptly in the NFC Divisional Round, Jay Hilgenberg's stock was on the rise as he was named to the Pro Bowl in each of the following five seasons and earned first-team All-Pro honors in 1988 and 1989.

1986 Topps #17 Jay Hilgenberg Rookie Card

1986 Topps #119 Karl Mecklenburg Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $1,800

Selected in the twelfth round of the 1983 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos, left inside linebacker Karl Mecklenburg was a long shot just to stick with the team long-term.

By 1986, he was one of the best linebackers the game had to offer.

After earning his first Pro Bowl selection and first-team All-Pro honors in 1985, Mecklenburg again raised the bar in his first full season as the team’s starter.

A key cog for the AFC West champions’ top-ten defense, Mecklenburg made play after play after play, finishing with 127 combined tackles, 9.5 sacks, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.

While other players may have had him beat in terms of pedigree and collegiate accomplishments, Mecklenburg just kept producing and getting the job done with maximum effort.

The Denver Broncos’ run to an AFC Championship was in large part thanks to their opportunistic defense.

And while they fell short of their ultimate goal with a 39-20 loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXI, Mecklenburg’s second-straight Pro Bowl appearance and first-team All-Pro selection left plenty to celebrate.

1986 Topps #119 Karl Mecklenburg Rookie Card

1986 Topps #156 Joe Montana

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $1,500

In the team's 31-7 Week 1 victory over Tampa Bay, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana suffered a ruptured disk near his tailbone that very well could have ended his career.

Lucky for Montana, doctors didn't have to fuse the disk.

However, questions remained: would Montana be able to return to form, or even return at all?

Amazingly, Montana returned to action just over two months later in Week 10 to throw for 270 yards, three touchdowns, and a pick in San Francisco's 43-17 drubbing of the St. Louis Cardinals.

"Joe Cool" ended up playing eight regular-season games in 1986, completing 62.2% of his passes for 2,236 yards, throwing eight touchdowns against nine interceptions, the first and last time that he'd throw more picks than TDs in a season.

However, in the team's 49-3 loss to the Giants in the NFC Divisional Round, Montana had yet another scary on-field moment when a crushing blow from New York's Jim Burt knocked him out of the game.

Overall, 1986 was a rough year for Montana.

Despite sharing the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award with Minnesota Vikings quarterback Tommy Kramer, he headed into the offseason in need of rest and recuperation.

1986 Topps #156 Joe Montana Football Card

1986 Topps #11 Walter Payton

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $1,300

Most running backs would be shutting down their careers by age 32, but Walter Payton still had plenty left in his tank heading into the 1986-1987 season, his twelfth in the NFL.

The prolific runner delivered, stunning the league as he scampered for 1,333 rushing yards with eight rushing touchdowns on 321 carries.

Payton also continued to be effective in the passing game as he caught 37 passes for 382 yards and three receiving touchdowns, a career-best for the Hall of Famer.

With a 14-2 record, Chicago easily won the NFC Central, but their hopes of repeating as Super Bowl champs were cut short by a 27-13 divisional-round loss to the Washington Redskins.

Payton earned his ninth and final Pro Bowl selection on the year and soon announced that he would retire after the 1987 season.

1986 Topps #11 Walter Payton Football Card

1986 Topps #25 Wilber Marshall Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $1,150

Right linebacker Wilber Marshall will always be remembered for his showstopping role on the Chicago Bears’ Super Bowl XX-winning defense.

But, the team’s follow-up campaign was a far superior showcase for the former Florida Gator.

Named the NFC Defensive Player of the Month in December, Marshall was utterly dominant all year long, playing in all 16 games for Chicago (15 starts), posting 105 combined tackles.

A wrecking ball with gifted hands, Marshall recorded 5.5 sacks and intercepted five passes, one of which he returned for a touchdown.

He also forced four fumbles, recovered three, and returned one for a score.

Marshall did it all.

His approximate value of 23 was the best overall performance by any player in the league that year.

Watch any regular-season game from the 1986 campaign, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a defensive play where his impact wasn’t felt.

While the team faltered in their quest for back-to-back Super Bowl titles, Marshall had his breakthrough in 1986, earning his first Pro Bowl selection and a first-team All-Pro nomination as well.

1986 Topps #25 Wilber Marshall Rookie Card

1986 Topps #106 Joe Klecko

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $1,000

A four-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro, Joe Klecko is one of the greatest defenders in NFL history not to be named to the Hall of Fame.

And he was highly versatile, too, as he made the Pro Bowl at three different defensive positions.

Together with Marty Lyons, Mark Gastineau, and Abdul Salaam, Klecko formed a New York Jets front four that was one of the most dominant of the era, rightfully earning the nickname "The New York Sack Exchange" in the process.

His 1981 season was particularly memorable, as he led the league with an eye-popping 20.5 sacks while also recovering two fumbles.

By the time the 1986-1987 season rolled around, age and injuries were beginning to catch up to Klecko as he played in 11 of 16 regular-season games with just four sacks.

But, if he's not a Hall of Famer, then why is his card worth so much?

The reason lies in the fact that there is only one example of this card that has received a PSA 10 grade as of this writing, and that means that set builders will pay up big time for it.

1986 Topps #106 Joe Klecko Football Card

1986 Topps #311 Art Still

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $1,000

An All-American in 1977 at the University of Kentucky, Art Still became the number two pick of the 1978 NFL Draft as the Kansas City Chiefs looked to shore up their defensive line.

Still started in every game during his rookie season and soon became a four-time Pro Bowler in the early 1980s, forcing opposing offensive coordinators to key in on him.

In 1986, Still recorded 10.5 sacks, the third-highest total of his twelve-year career, while tying a personal best with two fumble recoveries.

A member of the College Football Hall of Fame and Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Fame, Still was a terrific defensive end who caused plenty of headaches for opposing left tackles.

Like the Klecko card, only one 1986 Topps Art Still has received the cherished PSA 10 distinction, making it one of the most valuable in the set.

1986 Topps #311 Art Still Football Card

1986 Topps #385 Joe Cribbs

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $1,000

Joe Cribbs made his NFL debut with the Buffalo Bills in 1980 and instantly made an impact as he would rush for 1,185 yards with 11 rushing touchdowns.

His performance that year was good enough to earn him the first of three career Pro Bowl selections.

Cribbs continued to expand his game in the following years and not only continued to be a threat on the ground but in the air as well, as he turned in a couple of seasons with seven receiving touchdowns.

However, beginning in 1984, things started to go downhill for Cribbs as a contract dispute with the Bills led to a short stint in the USFL that season.

And upon returning to the NFL in 1985, his production just wasn't the same, unfortunately.

This card is another incredibly difficult one to find in PSA 10 condition.

1986 Topps #385 Joe Cribbs Football Card

1986 Topps #45 Dan Marino

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $750

At just 23 years old, Dan Marino lit the NFL world on fire in 1984 when he broke six single-season passing records, including his 5,084 passing yards and 48 passing touchdowns, which stood for years until Drew Brees and Peyton Manning came along.

The NFL had simply not seen anything like Marino at that point and he just kept producing.

Although the Dolphins finished a disappointing 8-8 on the 1986 season, Marino wasn't to blame as he turned in arguably the second-best season of his career.

His 378 completions, 4,746 passing yards, and 44 passing touchdowns were tops in the league for the third year in a row, making him the first quarterback to lead all three categories in three consecutive seasons.

It was another brilliant season for the Hall of Famer, and as a result, Marino earned his fourth-straight Pro Bowl appearance and was named a First-Team All-Pro for the third year in a row.

1986 Topps #45 Dan Marino Football Card

1986 Topps #126 Tony Dorsett

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $750

After being the Dallas Cowboys' premier star out of the backfield for nine years, Tony Dorsett was forced to share time with Herschel Walker in 1986 when the team signed him to play fullback.

As if splitting carries wasn't enough to annoy Dorsett, the Cowboys decided to pay Walker more money, too.

Despite the tension and frustration, Dorsett still led the team in rushing yards for the tenth season in a row with 748 yards on 184 carries.

Still, it was a significant drop-off from his 305 carries and 1,307 rushing yards the year before.

Dorsett would spend one more season in Dallas before the team traded him to the Denver Broncos in 1988, where he would play his twelfth and final season in the NFL.

1986 Topps #126 Tony Dorsett Football Card

1986 Topps #181 Charles Mann Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $650

The Washington Redskins won the NFC East with a 12-4 record in 1986, advancing to the NFC Championship game before bowing out with a 17-0 loss to the Giants.

Washington’s success was in large part to its top-five offense.

The defense finished just 21st in yards allowed in 1986, although they did have a penchant for making big plays at the right time.

Left defensive end Charles Mann’s 1986 season was emblematic of the defense’s bend-but-hopefully-don’t-break performance.

Though he was beaten around the edge many times that year, Mann was a force at critical junctures during the team’s push to a division crown, especially against the pass.

Mann recorded double-digit sacks for the second-straight year, notching ten along with two forced fumbles and a career-best 87 combined tackles in 15 games played.

By the following season, Mann plugged key holes in his game and began a stretch of three straight Pro Bowl selections.

1986 Topps #181 Charles Mann Rookie Card

1986 Topps #144 Mark Bavaro Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $600

In the New York Giants’ run to a Super Bowl XXI victory in 1986-87, tight end Mark Bavaro’s emergence as a star was one of the team’s key storylines.

A favorite target of starting quarterback Phil Simms, Bavaro caught 66 passes for 1,001 yards and four touchdowns.

And on December 1st against the 49ers, Bavaro produced a moment on Monday Night Football that’s been replayed many times in highlight reels over the subsequent decades.

Bavaro caught a pass over the middle and carried multiple San Francisco defenders for as much as 20 yards.

It wasn’t just Bavaro’s receiving skills, though, which made him essential to New York’s offense.

He was also one of the league’s best blockers and one of the toughest dudes the game has ever seen.

Over one six-week stretch, Bavaro played with a broken jaw that forced him to eat his food through a straw.

In three playoff games for the NFC East champs, Bavaro caught eight passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns.

That includes his four catches for 51 yards and a score in the team’s 39-20 Super Bowl XXI triumph over the Denver Broncos.

For his efforts, Bavaro earned his first Pro Bowl selection and First-Team All-Pro honors.

1986 Topps #144 Mark Bavaro Rookie Card

1986 Topps #388 Andre Reed Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $550

One of the most durable players in NFL history, Buffalo Bills wide receiver Andre Reed played in 234 NFL games from 1985 to 2000, an insane accomplishment, considering how dangerous the wide receiver position can be.

In 1986, Reed was just barely starting his decade-and-a-half tenure with the Bills.

In 15 games played during his sophomore season (15 starts), Reed continued to emerge as a reliable threat for Buffalo’s aerial attack, catching 53 passes for 739 yards and a team-best seven touchdowns.

And while Buffalo scuffled to a 4-12 record, Reed and teammate Chris Burkett made for a potent 1-2 punch at wide receiver.

As the years went on, Reed continued to excel and was part of four AFC Championship squads, recording 27 Super Bowl receptions, the second-most in NFL history behind Jerry Rice (33).

In 1986, he was just a young wideout with promise.

A couple of decades later, he was a Hall-of-Fame Ironman with a long, storied career to look back on.

1986 Topps #388 Andre Reed Rookie Card

1986 Topps #78 Eric Dickerson

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $500

In his first two NFL seasons, Los Angeles Rams running back Eric Dickerson blew the doors off the league as he led the NFL in rushing in both years and set a league record with 2,105 rushing yards in 1984.

Dickerson had a down year by his standards in 1985, missing two games and rushing for 1,234 yards.

He missed the Pro Bowl for the first time and failed to garner an All-Pro selection.

Come 1986, Dickerson returned to his perch as the league’s top halfback.

As the centerpiece of the Los Angeles Rams offense, Dickerson led the NFL in rushing attempts (404), rushing yards (1,821), rushing yards per game (113.8), touches (430), and yards from scrimmage (2,026).

He also caught 26 passes for 205 yards. On the flip side of things, Dickerson fumbled twelve times in 1986, the fourth-straight year with double-digit fumbles to open his career.

The Rams finished 10-6 in 1986, earning a wild card berth and a date with the Washington Redskins.

Dickerson rushed for 158 yards on 26 carries, but three costly lost fumbles completely stalled the Rams’ offense, ending their playoff run with a 19-7 loss.

1986 Topps #78 Eric Dickerson Football Card

1986 Topps #255 Boomer Esiason Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $450

Due to tiebreakers, the 10-6 Cincinnati Bengals narrowly missed out on a wild card berth in 1986.

However, it was a banner individual year for starting quarterback Boomer Esiason.

After breaking through with a brilliant sophomore season in 1985, Esiason followed it up with his first Pro Bowl selection in 1986.

As the leader of the league’s top offense, the former Maryland Terrapin was simply explosive, completing 58.2% of his passes for 3,959 yards, 24 touchdowns, and 17 interceptions.

Esiason led the league in passing yards per attempt (8.4) and net yards per passing attempt (7.61).

And while the 10-6 New York Jets earned a playoff spot over the Bengals, Cincinnati got their licks in on the Jets in a Week 17 thrashing to remember.

In a battle of top quarterbacks with New York’s Ken O’Brien, Esiason was the better man by far that day.

He completed 23 of 30 passes for 425 yards, throwing five touchdown passes against just one pick in a 52-21 blowout win.

1986 Topps #255 Boomer Esiason Rookie Card

1986 Topps Football Cards In Review

As I said in the opening of this article, there are just so many great rookies, stars and Hall of Famers in this set and as you can see, they can be worth huge price tags in top condition.

Rice and Young's Rookie cards are the clear headliners, but the Perry, White and Smith rookies have risen in popularity as well in recent times.

Huge stars of the day like Montana, Marino, Payton, and Dorsett are just a few examples of how much additional firepower this set offers collectors.

Within the 396-card checklist, there are also a couple of decent subsets:

  • Record Breakers (#1 - 7)
  • League Leaders (#225 - 259)

In summary, there is so much to love about this set and it will likely remain among the most desirable football card sets in the hobby for years to come.

Ross Uitts
 

Ross is the founder of Old Sports Cards and has been collecting sports cards for over 30 years. He also loves to write about the hobby and has written for Beckett, Topps, SABR and of course, this website. Need help buying or selling cards or have a general question about the hobby? Contact him at [email protected]

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