1976 Topps Walter Payton Rookie Card: The Ultimate Collector’s Guide
If you collect vintage football cards, then the 1976 Topps Walter Payton rookie card is an absolute must-have.
The design is simple but this card is as sweet as “Sweetness” himself.
My favorite part is how calm he looks.
Because if you ever saw Payton play, you would know he was anything but that…
The guy was a relentless and intimidating runner who would punish defenders who tried to stop him.
I remember my grandpa had one of those old NFL Films specials on VHS that you used to get with a Sports Illustrated subscription that featured Payton.
In that film, they mentioned how grueling his offseason training was and how he never ran out of bounds but would instead meet any would-be tackler head on.
I was never a Bears fan but from that point on I was a Walter Payton fan.
Today, I’m a huge fan of his rookie card, especially since it ranks as one of the most valuable football cards in the hobby.
And in this guide, I go over the key things you should know before you buy or sell one.
Walter Payton Rookie Card Value
The first thing most collectors ask is: how much is a Walter Payton rookie card worth?
In pristine condition, they can sell for $15,000 or more.
But that is incredibly rare as most copies of this card have been worn and torn over the years.
Usually I see these cards in anywhere from very good to near mint condition and in that range you're talking anywhere from fifty to a couple hundred bucks.
The best way to truly understand the value of your Payton rookie is to evaluate it by professional grading standards.
Professional grading is the easiest way to help judge a card's value and Professional Sports Authenticators (PSA) are usually thought to be the benchmark in that industry.
According to the PSA SMR price guide, current market values are:
PSA 10 GEM MINT: $16,000
PSA 9 MINT: $1,200
PSA 8 NM-MT: $350
PSA 7 NM: $200
So, as you can see, the value quickly starts to drop from the PSA 10 level on down to the PSA 7 level.
Issues with centering, corner wear, or damage to the surfaces and edges can quickly drag the price down.
But, in any condition, this card is still a great one to have.
Distinction: This is his only recognized mainstream rookie card. There are a few other oddball "cards" that were released regionally in 1976 that featured Payton that I'll mention below but his 1976 Topps issue is without question the most highly coveted Payton rookie card. There are many other Hall of Famers in the 1976 Topps set like Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach, and others but Payton's rookie is definitely the key to the set.
Number: This is card #148 in a set of 528 cards.
Design: As I mentioned in the opening, the vertical design of the card is fairly straightforward. You see a nice head shot of Payton with a calm smile looking nothing like the intimidating force he was on the field. One thing I find interesting is how the Bears team name is in green and yellow--the colors of the rival Green Bay Packers. I'm not sure how many Bears or Payton fans would care about that but surely it sticks out like a sore thumb to them!
Reverse Side: The back of Payton's rookie is printed with a horizontal layout in a color scheme more inviting to Bears fans. Payton's personal information and statistics from his previous 1975 rookie season are highlighted in the middle. To the right there is a first of ten clues to a short trivia series called "Guess the Mystery Bear".
If you can't guess who the player based on this one question alone then you'd have to collect others from the set to find out. To me, that's one of the great things about this hobby and the way Topps added to the fun of collecting. I think the answer to this trivia question is Wally Chambers but I'm not 100% sure.
Anyway, my favorite part of the back of the card is that last sentence in the middle: "Walter has great speed."
That was an understatement...
Condition Issues: The card is frequently found off-centered and that is typically the thing that prevents most from achieving the higher grades.
Other Payton Cards From 1976
As mentioned earlier, there were a few other "cards" that featured Walter Payton that were distributed in 1976 by various entities.
1976 Coke Discs
These discs were distributed with Coca Cola products and were connected by tabs. You don't find them with the tabs still intact as often so they are a bit more valuable in that condition.
1976 Crane Discs
Based out of Souther Illinois, Crane's Potato Chip Company distributed these discs on a national level with their products. Payton was one of 30 NFL stars of the day to appear on one of these discs.
1976 Saga Discs
In 1976, the Philadelphia School District decided to release these discs within school lunches. Being a regional issue and given how many of them were likely destroyed or thrown away by kids, they are much more rare than the Crane and Coca Cola discs and are therefore more expensive.
Walter Payton's Legacy
Walter Payton was a prolific runner who goes down in history as one of the greatest and most exciting running backs to ever play the game.
He ranks second on the NFL all-time rushing list behind Emmitt Smith but Payton did have a higher career yards per game total: 88 versus 81.
He was graceful yet could be extremely powerful when he dashed across the field.
Along the way, he would record a list of amazing achievements that included but are not limited to:
- Super Bowl Champion (1985 season)
- NFL MVP (1977)
- 9-time Pro Bowler
- 7-time First Team All-Pro
Again, those are just some of a huge list of accomplishments throughout his storied career.
He was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1993.
Walter Payton rookie cards will continue to remain high on the list of many football card collectors' want lists for quite some time.