19 Johnny Unitas Football Cards You Need To Own
Johnny Unitas football cards are arguably the most sought after football cards in the hobby.
He’s a football icon and beloved by countless football fans.
Unitas was football during his era.
As a result, his place in the vintage football card hobby is very comparable to that of Mickey Mantle’s in the baseball card hobby.
Appearing on Topps, Philadelphia and Fleer issues over the years, there are several key Johnny Unitas cards that any serious collector should own.
Here is a list of his top cards that you should consider for your collection.
1957 Topps #138 Johnny Unitas Rookie Card
The Topps 1957 football set was a step forward in design for the company. Its horizontal layout with a head shot of each player on the left and an action shot on the right is instantly recognizable. Along with those of Paul Hornung and Bart Starr, the Johnny Unitas rookie card is the key to the set. The population of the card is actually quite abundant given that it was a double-printed second series card. But, you’ll still have to pay up for a high grade copy. In fact, this card is one of the most valuable football cards in the hobby. It does present some condition challenges for collectors, though, with print snow and centering being the usual suspects.
Estimated PSA 9 value: $100,000+
1958 Topps #22
Unitas’s second year card is a bit tougher to find in high grade than his rookie card. But, it’s still not quite as valuable. And even though it’s not the key to the set (the Jim Brown rookie card) holds that distinction, it’s still a classic. The card features a young Unitas ready to pass surrounding by bright orange borders. Centering and print defects are among the typical challenges for this card.
Estimated PSA 9 value: $7,500
1959 Topps #1
Right about this time, Unitas was cementing himself as the most popular player in football. Fresh off a 1958 championship victory over the New York Giants, Topps would reward Unitas by making him the #1 card in the set. This was the first of a five-year span where Topps would make Unitas the first player in their set. No other athlete in any major sport had or has ever been given that honor by a major card company. The card design is fairly straightforward, featuring a nice portrait of Unitas atop a yellow background. The small colt playing with a football in the upper right corner adds a nice touch. It was a good year for Unitas as he would put up a personal career best for most touchdowns in a single season with 32.
Estimated PSA 9 value: $4,500
1960 Topps #1
The look on Unitas’s face on his 1960 Topps card is nothing short of odd. Rather than his usual big bright smile, Unitas is staring in a weird, piercing way. Was it intentional? Or maybe just bad timing? Regardless, Topps kept the shot and it made its way onto the card. While the design is simple, it’s one of Unitas’s more expensive cards to find in high grade. High grade copies can set you back five figures. Unitas would break the 3,000 single season yard barrier for the first time in 1960 as he racked up 3,099 yards and a career single season best yards per game average of 258.3.
Estimated PSA 9 value: $12,000
1961 Fleer #30
The 1961 Fleer set featured players from both the NFL and AFL. Often overlooked by Unitas collectors, it’s the only Fleer card he would appear on during his playing days. The card features a great color image of Unitas on what looks like the practice field based on the background. The lower right corner features another great cartoon image of a Colt playing with a football. This time the horse is losing its helmet which adds a nice touch of humor to the card.
Estimated PSA 9 value: $425
1961 Topps #1
The 1961 Topps Johnny Unitas football card looks very similar to his 1959 Topps card. The company again went with the portrait view of Unitas atop a yellow background. The black bottom border with his name and player info along with interior black outlines give the card an overall more serious tone. Having thrown only 16 touchdowns on 420 pass attempts, his 3.8 TD% was one of the lowest of his career that year.
Estimated PSA 9 value: $1,100
1962 Topps #1
Topps went back to the horizontal layout in 1962. They also brought in thick black exterior and interior bordering to make the sectional design stand out even more. But, as with any black border card, collectors are presented with the usual chipping and wear challenges. What’s not to love about this card, though? You’ve got two great action shots of the football legend and a nice yellow bottom left corner with his player info that really make this card pop. It’s definitely a favorite among football card collectors.
Estimated PSA 8.5 value: $4,500
1963 Topps #1
You’ll either love or hate the design on Unitas’s 1963 Topps card. The yellow borders really help to make Unitas jump out but some collectors think it’s a bit much. The yellow on red bordering is a bit unusual, too. Nonetheless, it’s a great football card. Unitas put up a career single season best of 3,481 yards in 1963.
Estimated PSA 9 value: $3,500
1964 Philadelphia #12
The Philadelphia Chewing Gum Corp. issued four popular and attractive football sets featuring NFL players from 1964 through 1967, with Topps focusing on the upstart AFL during the mid ’60s. All four Philly issues contain the Baltimore Colts superstar quarterback, and the 1964 Philly issue of Unitas is actually one of his easier cards to find in high grade with 89 PSA 8s and seventeen PSA 9s in the current population. The 1965 Philly issue gets tougher with only 23 PSA 8s and six PSA 9s, but 1966 and 1967 are nearly frightening: each set has yielded only five PSA 8s and no PSA 9s, easily the two toughest regular issues when it comes to high-grade copies of Unitas. Philly’s last two football issues in 1966 and 1967 are quite condition-sensitive due to poor production standards and the use of colored borders on the front and back of each card. Chipping is prevalent in both sets, with rough cuts so severe you would think they were O-Pee-Chee issues!
Estimated PSA 9 value: $350
1965 Philadelphia #12
Estimated PSA 9 value: $435
1966 Philadelphia #24
Estimated PSA 9 value: $2,000
1967 Philadelphia #23
Estimated PSA 9 value: $1,300
1968 Topps #100
In 1968, and for the first time in five years, Topps released an issue that would include both NFL and AFL players. Unitas was back! His final two regular issues of the 1960s feature classic snapshots of the Baltimore Colts quarterback, and are much easier to find in high grade than his previous two Philly issues. Johnny Unitas was also included in several Topps inserts and subsets from 1968 through 1971: posters, four in ones, game cards, supers, and the extremely popular super glossy inserts give collectors plenty of opportunities to add to their collections. These inserts and subsets are much tougher to find in high grade compared to his regular issues, and considering how tough they are in the highest grades, relatively undervalued in the current market.
Estimated PSA 9 value: $350
1969 Topps #25
Estimated PSA 9 value: $450
1970 Topps #180
The 1970 through 1974 Topps sets featuring the final run of Unitas regular issues are relatively scarce in the highest grades. PSA MINT 9 populations of Unitas found in these five issues range from two to seven, causing demand to greatly exceed supply. Topps would for the sixth and last time have Unitas as the #1 card in their football set in 1971. The colored borders add to the condition-sensitive nature of his 1971 issue, with only two copies graded PSA MINT 9 to date. Topps would then feature two cards of Johnny U in 1972, their most celebrated set of the decade. The Unitas “Pro Action” card of 1972 is a classic, featuring the legendary quarterback following through on a pass against the Dallas Cowboys amidst a collapsing pocket! This would also be the final year Unitas was featured as a member of the Baltimore Colts.
Estimated PSA 9 value: $190
1971 Topps #1
Estimated PSA 9 value: $2,300
1972 Topps #165
Estimated PSA 10 value: $1,400
1973 Topps #455
The future Hall of Famer was traded to the San Diego Chargers in January 1973, where he played the final season of his illustrious career. His final two regular issues in 1973 and 1974 feature Unitas as quarterback of the Chargers. Despite the fact lightning bolts didn’t seem quite right on his uniform, both of his final regular issues are very tough to find in high grade as Topps production efforts reached an all-time low. The current populations combined for these last two issues are forty-six PSA 8s and nine PSA 9s, not terribly high for mid ’70s issues of the greatest field general in the history of the NFL. When you compare these counts to other keys cards in the 1973 and 1974 sets, Unitas is clearly overlooked and undervalued. And compared to the final few issues of baseball icons Hank Aaron and Willie Mays in the 1970s, the current prices of these precious few PSA 9s of Unitas seem incredibly low!
Estimated PSA 10 value: $875
1974 Topps #150
Estimated PSA 10 value: $625
Johnny Unitas Football Cards Wrap-Up
No professional football player is as credited with the elevation of the NFL to the status of America’s favorite sport than John Constantine Unitas. The Pittsburgh native attended the University of Louisville, playing well enough to be drafted by his home-town Steelers in the ninth round of the 1955 draft. However, the Steelers had too many quarterbacks and released Unitas, but too late for him to hook up with another team for the season. Instead, he played for the Bloomfield Rams, a semi-pro team, at three dollars a game, while also working construction. This was a fairy tale in the making!
On that fateful day in February 1956, the Baltimore Colts contacted Unitas thinking he may be able to help their football team. The Colts had been scouting the semi-pro quarterback and were intrigued by what they had seen. Only two years later, Unitas led the Colts to the NFL title over the New York Giants in what has been called “Pro Football’s Greatest Game.” Johnny Unitas was now a household name, and his very image became symbolic of 1950s America – the buzz cut and high-tops are everlasting memories for all football fans!
Not only was Johnny “U” a gifted quarterback, it was his courage to perform in a pocket completely surrounded by violence and his ability to read and understand opposing defenses that led to career marks of 40,000 passing yards and 290 touchdowns, staggering totals compared to his contemporaries. Unitas captured three Most Valuable Player awards, three NFL titles, and one Super Bowl victory. A legendary performer under pressure, this was the game’s quintessential field general! And his record of throwing at least one touchdown pass in 47 straight games is the equivalent of Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, a record that may never be broken.
Just as Unitas remains an icon of American football, so too is his standing as one of the most widely and passionately collected players in the hobby, regardless of sport. There are no fewer than nineteen regular issues of the long-time Baltimore Colts quarterback, as well as a few highlight and in-action cards, and several inserts and subsets. Several of his vintage issues have yet to grade PSA MINT 9, and only one of his regular issue cards has ever graded PSA GEM MT 10! Let’s take a look at the pasteboard career of this legendary passer with the “Golden Arm.”
Believe it or not, Johnny Unitas struggled to make it into the NFL when he was cut by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1955. After being given a chance with the Baltimore Colts as a free agent in 1956, Unitas made the most of his opportunity. By the time his career ended, Unitas held virtually every major quarterback record. Unitas threw for 40,239 yards, 290 touchdowns, completed 2,830 passes, passed for 300 or more yards 26 times and had a 47-game streak with at least one touchdown pass. His most memorable moment came in 1958 when Unitas led the Baltimore Colts to a title. He made a late drive in regulation to tie the game and then, in sudden death overtime, he drove the Colts down the field again for the 23-17 win. This three-time NFL MVP (1959, 1964 and 1967) and 10-time Pro Bowl selection was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979.