12 Most Valuable 1997 Topps Football Cards

Most Valuable 1997 Topps Football Cards


If you weren't a big collector during the mid to late 1990s, you might not remember a much about the 1997 Topps football card set.

The hobby wasn't as popular at the time and multiple professional sports leagues had been facing work stoppages and lockouts.

Fans and hobbyists were a bit exhausted...

Because of that, sets like this one that came out during that time can often seem overlooked in the hobby today.

Minimal interest back then led to minimal nostalgia today.

But that's not to say there aren't some great cards to be found within the 415-card checklist.

From Hall of Fame rookies to big-name superstars, there's enough for every collector in this set.

And in this guide, we'll take a look at the 12 most valuable.

Let's jump right in!

Ross Uitts

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Let's be clear: most of the cards from this set do not have any value these days.

Like the 1997 Fleer, Score and Upper Deck sets, large print runs saturated the market with these cards, driving down their values.

So, for the cards on this list to be worth much, they'll have to be graded by PSA to be in perfect, gem mint condition.

That means the card needs to be flawless.

Now that we got that out of the way, let's take a look at the list:

1997 Topps #414 Tony Gonzalez Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $50

Selected 13th overall by the Kansas City Chiefs in the 1997 NFL Draft, Tony Gonzalez had all the tools to become a franchise tight end.

Seeing that the game is a business at the end of the day, Gonzalez waited out the Chiefs to get appropriately compensated for said potential.

After holding out for a significant portion of training camp, the 21-year-old Cal alum finally inked his deal and was thrown into the fire.

"The first day I showed up, it was a group practice with the Minnesota Vikings," Gonzalez recalled. The very first day, I was going up against another team with full pads. I caught a pass, and Robert Griffith lit me up."

It was a rude awakening for a young player who would ultimately find himself in a reserve role for the 13-3 AFC West champs.

Gonzalez played all 16 regular-season games off the bench, catching 33 of 54 targets for 368 yards and two scores.

He received seven targets in the team's 14-10 Divisional Round loss to the rival Broncos, converting on three hard-fought receptions for 26 yards and a TD.

Gonzalez took his lumps from camp to season's end and was all the better for it.

1997 Topps #414 Tony Gonzalez Rookie Card

1997 Topps #290 Barry Sanders

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $45

What should have been the celebration and coronation of the league's greatest running back turned out to be one of the scariest days in the history of Detroit Lions football.

Sanders entered Week 17 of the 1997 campaign just 134 yards shy of the third 2,000-yard season in NFL history.

To add weight to the quest, the Lions were 8-7 and a win away from making the postseason for the fourth time in five years.

As he always seemed to do, the immortal Barry Sanders came through, running roughshod over the New York Jets for 184 yards and a game-winning fourth-quarter score.

Sanders finished the year with the second-most rushing yards ever (2,053) and easily won his first NFL MVP and second Offensive Player of the Year award.

It was a singular accomplishment that gave hungry Lions fans another taste of playoff football.

However, the whole day was marred by a horrific collision that left Detroit linebacker Reggie Brown motionless and struggling to breathe on the Silverdome turf.

"I couldn't stop crying," Lions receiver Johnnie Morton said. "Reggie wasn't moving, and I saw them cutting through his jersey, his pads, and then beating on his chest to get him to breathe."

Once Brown was stabilized and carted off the field, Sanders shyly got his 2,000 yards and got out of there.

It all felt like a mere formality on a dark day in Motown.

1997 Topps #290 Barry Sanders Football Card

1997 Topps #400 Orlando Pace Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $45

The St. Louis Rams found the anchor for the future Greatest Show on Turf in 1997, grabbing Ohio State left tackle Orlando Pace with the first pick of the NFL Draft.

An offensive lineman rarely becomes the star of a program, but that's precisely what "The Pancake Man" did in Columbus, racking up two Lombardi Awards, two unanimous All-American nominations, an Outland Trophy, and the award for 1996 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.

Pace was a money player in college and aimed to translate that into a lucrative rookie contract with the Rams.

The mammoth 6-foot-7, 325-pounder sat out most of his first training camp, waiting out St. Louis' front office as the season approached.

He finally signed his deal on August 16th, a seven-year, $25.6 million contract with a player opt-out after year three.

Pace's late arrival to the team cost him valuable reps, which cut into his effectiveness and availability in year one.

The 22-year-old played in 13 games (9 starts) in '97 and took weeks to find a groove for the 5-11 Rams and their 23rd-ranked scoring offense.

1997 Topps #400 Orlando Pace Rookie Card

1997 Topps #300 Jerry Rice

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $45

San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice added to his legend with an improbable late-season return from a torn ACL in 1997, a near miracle that Rice wishes he could take back.

"We are accustomed to being out there with the guys, sweating with the guys, fighting on the football field," Rice said. "If you're not able to do that, you just don't feel connected. And that's the reason why I rushed back."

Rice tore his ACL in Week 1 of the '97 campaign and was presumed done for the year.

He wasn't buying it.

With doctors begging him to reconsider, the 35-year-old wideout sawed the cast off his leg after surgery and returned to working out.

It pushed his rehab process forward, yet it cost his body dearly.

Rice returned in Week 16 for a date with the Denver Broncos and subsequently cracked his kneecap on a touchdown catch, an injury that ended his season for real this time.

"I thought I was invincible," Rice said. "I felt I did all the work and it was time for me to get back on that football field. But if I had to do it all over again, I would take more time to heal up, then come back."

1997 Topps #300 Jerry Rice Football Card

1997 Topps #220 Emmitt Smith

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $35

The 1997 Dallas Cowboys were a couple of matches short of a five-alarm fire.

Head coach Barry Switzer lost the locker room after three years of playoff appearances and a Super Bowl win.

Multiple reports of confrontations between Switzer and starting QB Troy Aikman emerged, and a litany of off-the-field issues plagued the team and cast a cloud over Texas Stadium.

It didn't help that the team was over the hill and falling apart.

The most glaring example was on the offensive line, a unit gutted by underperformance, injury, and a lack of depth.

Dallas' O line went from the most effective five-man front in the league to Swiss cheese in a seeming instant.

So, you have to credit former NFL MVP Emmitt Smith for doing what he did with his protection ripped to shreds.

The eighth-year running back posted his lowest rushing output (1,074) since his rookie year and his fewest yards from scrimmage (1,308) but still crossed the 1,000-yard plateau while scampering for a respectable 4.1 yards per attempt.

Dallas finished 6-10 and out of the playoffs for the first time since 1990, but you gotta give Smith credit for dragging a busted wagon as far as he could.

1997 Topps #220 Emmitt Smith Football Card

1997 Topps #350 Dan Marino

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $35

A year after becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to pass for 50,000 yards, Dan Marino kept piling on the stats to lead Miami back to the postseason.

It didn't matter that Marino was a decade and a half in and coming off injuries in three of his previous four seasons.

The Dolphins great put the aches and pains aside and once again led the NFL in completions (319) and passing attempts (548), the fifth time that he topped the league in both categories.

Marino ended the regular season completing 58.2% of his passes for 3,780 yards with 16 touchdowns against 11 interceptions.

For the seventh time in nine seasons, he led the Dolphins on three game-winning drives, and he needed every one of them.

In 1997, Miami had a bottom-feeding running game and a bottom-five defense.

Marino was the solution and the reason the Dolphins squeaked into the playoffs at 9-7.

It was Marino's eighth January, and like the other seven, it ended with a deflating loss.

Who knows if he could have made his elusive Super Bowl appearance with even a middling Defense and backfield.

1997 Topps #350 Dan Marino Football Card

1997 Topps #403 Walter Jones Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $35

Upon his arrival in Seattle, Walter Jones was heralded as a franchise left tackle and the perfect complement to future Hall-of-Fame right tackle Cortez Kennedy.

In the trenches, though, Jones was nothing but a first-year player expected to be seen and not heard.

"As a rookie, you're just trying to hang with the big boys," Jones said. "Early in camp, all of the veteran linemen were gathered around talking before practice. So, I was there and decided to chime in. As soon as my mouth opened, Cortez looked at me and said, 'Shut up rookie, If I want your two cents, I'll take it.'"

Jones fell in line behind Kennedy and took lessons from the big man's leadership style and example.

When his number was called in Week 1 of the 1997 NFL season, he did his best to show his new mentor what he could do.

All in all, the 23-year-old Florida St. product had a fine rookie season as a weak-side pass protector and pull blocker.

He started 12 games for the 8-8 Seahawks and helped the team finish in the top ten in scoring offense.

1997 Topps #403 Walter Jones Rookie Card

1997 Topps #1 Brett Favre

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $30

Heading into the 1997 campaign, defending back-to-back MVP Brett Favre and his Green Bay Packers looked for another exceptional season to add to a growing legacy.

By season's end, Favre found himself a Pro Bowler and First-Team All-Pro for the third season in a row.

But, more impressively, Favre won the MVP award for the third consecutive year, making him the only player in NFL history to do so.

While his attempts (513) and completions (304) were the lowest of those three years, he still posted impressive numbers.

His 3,867 passing yards put him just 51 yards shy of Oakland's Jeff George for the league lead, while his 35 touchdown passes easily outpaced everyone else.

Favre's Packers finished first in the NFC Central at 13-3, winning dominant playoff matches against the Buccaneers and 49ers to advance to the Super Bowl.

However, the Super Bowl matchup with the underdog Denver Broncos didn't go according to plan for Favre and the Packers.

In a close 24-31 game, the Broncos sent Favre home as the runner-up and denied him back-to-back titles.

1997 Topps #1 Brett Favre Football Card

1997 Topps #200 John Elway

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $30

By the end of Super Bowl XXXII, John Elway was reduced to a game manager as Terrell Davis ran away with the Broncos' first Lombardi Trophy.

After 15 years of waiting for this moment, it didn't matter to the Broncos legend.

"I can't believe it," Elway said. "I'm so proud that this team came together. We did it the hard way. For all those Bronco fans that never had this feeling, we finally got it done."

Davis ran for 157 yards and three touchdowns against the NFC champion Green Bay Packers, including a game-clinching one-year burst in the fourth quarter.

Conversely, Elway went just 12 for 22 on the evening for 123 yards and a pick.

The statistics meant little.

Elway posted his worst completion percentage in five years during the regular season (55.8%), amassing 3,635 yards with 27 touchdowns against 11 interceptions.

It wasn't even enough to crack an All-Pro squad.

Regardless, Elway's "down year" was his defining moment.

Denver finally got its Super Bowl win, and the Broncos Hall-of-Famer was off the championship snide.

1997 Topps #200 John Elway Football Card

1997 Topps #5 Deion Sanders

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $25

1997 was the pinnacle of Deion Sanders' time as a two-sport superstar.

The 29-year-old played in a career-high 115 games for the Cincinnati Reds during the 1997 MLB season, stealing the second most bases (56) in the National League.

He also hit .273 and played passable defense for the NL Central's third-place finishers.

And he did all of this after taking 1996 off to focus on football.

You'd think Sanders' return to the baseball diamond would diminish his effectiveness on the gridiron, but that wasn't the case.

Even with the 6-10 Cowboys at a crisis point, Dallas' #1 corner had one of the most dominant years of his Hall-of-Fame career.

Sanders played 13 games (12 starts) in 1997, picking off two passes, including one for a touchdown.

Opposing coaches continued to avoid him at all costs, cutting off large chunks of the field for their starting QBs.

It was a testament to just how great "Prime Time" was, and it earned Sanders his fifth First-Team All-Pro nod and sixth Pro Bowl selection.

1997 Topps #5 Deion Sanders Football Card

1997 Topps #239 Ray Lewis

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $25

Coming off a promising rookie year, linebacker Ray Lewis took a step toward superstardom with the Baltimore Ravens in 1997.

Lewis started all 16 games in his sophomore year, leading the league in both solo and combined tackles while adding four sacks and an interception.

Lewis was relentless as a middle linebacker and seemingly always at the right place at the right time.

For opposing offensive coordinators, Lewis was an absolute nightmare to deal with.

At just 22 years old, the future Hall of Famer was already morphing into one of the NFL's top defenders.

After the season, Lewis earned his first of twelve Pro Bowl nominations and Second-Team All-Pro honors to boot.

However, despite Lewis's individual success, the Ravens finished fifth in the AFC Central at 6-9-1.

They may have missed the playoffs but showed significant improvement versus their 4-12 debut in 1996.

And they kept building on that momentum as the years went by.

A few seasons later, with Lewis locked in as the face of the franchise, the Ravens would taste Super Bowl victory for the first of two times with him on the roster.

1997 Topps #239 Ray Lewis Football Card

1997 Topps #415 Warrick Dunn Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $25

Warrick Dunn wasn't just the 1997 Offensive Rookie of the Year.

He was a shining example of all that's good about football.

Selected 12th overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the 1997 NFL Draft, Dunn rode a blistering September to a rookie-best 1,440 yards from scrimmage.

The undersized, speedy Florida St. halfback rushed for over 100 yards five times and narrowly missed a 1,000-yard season by 22 yards.

Dunn scored seven touchdowns of 33 yards or more in '97.

Tampa Bay had just one such big play the year before.

"I'm really pleased for him," Bucs coach Tony Dungy said. "He's a great young man. He's been dynamic for us and has done the things we needed him to do, which was to make big plays for us. I couldn't be happier."

Dunn was a made man in Tampa after pulling the 10-6 Bucs to their first playoff berth in 15 years and first postseason win since 1979.

He also emerged as a dedicated pillar of the community, donating $100,000 in down payments to facilitate the purchase of four single-parent homes.

1997 Topps #415 Warrick Dunn Rookie Card

1997 Topps Football Cards In Review

Produced with a gloss finish and spot matte, the 1997 Topps football set delivered a quality product with a decent checklist.

Hall of Fame rookie cards of Tony Gonzalez, Orlando Pace and Walter Jones head a good rookie class that also includes star running backs Warrick Dunn and Corey Dillon.

And of course, there is no shortage of superstars to look for, including big names like Barry Sanders, Jerry Rice, Dan Marino and Emmitt Smith, to name a few.

Overall, I like the look and feel of this set as it's not too flashy but still packs an impressive aesthetic punch.

Unopened Box of 1997 Topps Football Cards

Other information about this set includes:

Checklist: 415 cards 

Distribution: One Series


  • Checklists (#384 - 385)
  • Draft Picks (#386 - 415)

Insert Sets

  • Autographs
  • Career Best
  • Hall Bound
  • Hall of Fame Autograph
  • Hall of Fame Class of 1997
  • High Octane
  • Mystery Finest Bronze
  • Mystery Finest Bronze Refractors
  • Mystery Finest Gold
  • Mystery Finest Gold Refractors
  • Mystery Finest Silver
  • Mystery Finest Silver Refractors
  • Pro Bowl Ticket Redemption
  • Season's Best
  • Underclassmen

This set debuted during a time when the hobby was suffering from a decline in interest, driven by the hobby bubble burst as well as multiple league strikes and work stoppages.

For that reason, it doesn't get much attention from hobbyists these days.

Still, it's a decent set overall and contains multiple cards worth a second look.

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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