Collecting sports cards has become a right of passage for sports fans of the four main American sports – The National football league (NFL), National Basketball Association (NBA), National Hockey League (NHL), and Major League Baseball (MLB).

Fans and collectors go crazy for sports memorabilia of their favorite sports stars from the past and present, including sports cards. Rookie cards containing game day patches, autographs, and clever designs continue to break records at auction each year.

This wasn’t always the case however, with card collecting in the 1980s not becoming popular until the release of Joe Montana’s only rookie card. As a 4-time Super Bowl champion, Joe Montana doesn’t need much introduction. He was the first player to be named the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player three times and still holds multiple NFL records.

Most Valuable Joe Montana Rookie Cards (Round-up list)

When Montana was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers during the 1979 NFL draft, NFL rookie cards were not as popular as they are today, He only has one officially recognized rookie card from 1981. His 1981 Topps rookie card helped to spark the hobby of football card collecting throughout the 1980s.

Despite this, his 1981 rookie card became extremely popular and valuable. Joe Montana NFL cards from the 1980s are still highly sought after and continue to fetch high prices at auction.

Here are the top 5 Joe Montana cards, with his rookie card taking the top spot.

Number Joe Montana Card Grade Price
1 1981 Topps Joe Montana Rookie Card #216 (Only Official Rookie Card) –      BGS Mint 9.5

–      PSA Mint 9 (Auto)

–      SGC Mint 9.5 (Auto)

–      BGS Mint 9

–      PSA Mint 9






2 2004 Skybox L.E Legends Purple Joe Montana/ Tom Brady Logo Patch Card BGS Authentic $67,200
3 1986 Topps Football Joe Montanna #154 PSA Gem Mint 10 $4,327
4 1982 Topps Football Joe Montana ALL-PRO #488 PSA Gem Mint 10 $4,000
5 1985 Topps Football Joe Montana #157 PSA Gem Mint 10 $3,500

1) 1981 Topps Joe Montana Rookie Card #216


(Sold at a Goldin Auction)

  • Price: $103,200
  • Grade: BGS Mint 9.5
  • Card Number: #216

Taking the number 1 spot for the most valuable Joe Montana rookie cards is Montana’s only official rookie card. It’s the 1981 Topps RC that helped to raise the popularity of football cards in the 1980s.

The Topps 1981 set consisted of 528 cards, each featuring a large player picture alongside his name, team, and position at the bottom of the card. League leaders were numbered #1-6, record breakers #331-336, and playoffs #492-949. The set contained 5 rookie cards in total alongside the one of Joe Montana #216.

This is the official Joe Montana rookie card that everyone knows about. It shows Montana warming up in a white San Francisco 49ers jersey, about to launch the ball with his right arm. At the bottom of the card are his name, team number, and position. The back of the card shows his physical characteristics and playing stats from his first two years with the 49ers, where he didn’t feature much.

His rookie card is extremely common, with huge numbers sent for grading each month. Out of 9771 sent to Becketts, 91 others have been given the same quality rating, with 4 given the Pristine 10 black label. It sold at a Goldin Auction for $103,200.

2) 2004 Skybox L.E Legends Purple Joe Montana/ Tom Brady Logo Patch Card


(Sold at a Goldin Auction)

  • Price: $67,200
  • Grade: BGS Authentic
  • Card Number: 1/1

Whilst this isn’t an official Joe Montana rookie card, it shows him as a rookie so I’ve included it at number 2 on the list. The front of the card features Montana and Tom Brady, two of the best football quarterbacks ever to play the game.

What makes this card so valuable and unique is that it features a logo patch from each player. Being a 1/1, no other copies exist. It sold at a PWCC Marketplace Auction in April 2021 for $42,099.

3) 1986 Topps Football Joe Montana #156


(Sold at a PWCC Marketplace Auction)

  • Price: $4,327
  • Grade: PSA Gem Mint 10
  • Card Number: #156

Whilst this also isn’t a Montana rookie, it was produced by Topps five years after they released his sole official rookie card. It features a very similar design to his official rookie, but the picture shows him looking on without the ball in his hand.

It was graded by PSA as a Gem Mint 10, with only 22 other known examples.

4) 1982 Topps Football Joe Montana ALL-PRO #488


(Sold at a PWCC Marketplace Auction in February 2021)

  • Price: $4,000
  • Grade: PSA Gem Mint 10
  • Card Number: #488

This card was part of the ALL-PRO set, released by Topps the year after Montana’s rookie card debut. It shows Montana on the field next to the water container with a phone in his ear.

It was graded by PSA as a Gem Mint 10, with 267 other card examples existing of the same quality. It sold at a PWCC Marketplace Auction for $4,000.

5) 1985 Topps Football Joe Montana #157


(Sold at a PWCC Marketplace Auction in February 2021)

  • Price: $3,500
  • Grade: PSA Gem Mint 10
  • Card Number: #157

Last on the list is another card from Topps which they released 4 years after Montana’s official rookie. It features a horizontal card design, with Montana looking to throw the ball next to his name in big bold letters.

It was graded by PSA as a Gem Mint 10 and is extremely common, with 4,894 other card examples given the same grading by PSA.

Why is Joe Montana’s Only Rookie Card so Expensive?

Joe Montana is regarded by most as one of the greatest NFL quarterbacks of all time, playing in the NFL for 16 seasons. Whilst he ended his career with the Kansas City Chiefs, he is perhaps most well-known for his playing time with the San Francisco 49ers.

The popularity of his rookie card and other cards is due to several factors. During his iconic player career, he won 4 Super Bowls, 3 Super Bowl MVP awards, and was voted the NFL’s Most Valuable Player twice. Alongside his many awards, he developed a reputation among fans as a player who always performed the best in the most important games. Due to his dominance in major finals, his sports memorabilia remains hugely popular among fans.

Alongside his amazing playing career, his rookie card is valuable for one main reason – it’s his only 1. Whilst he has many other cards produced during his playing career, his 1981 Topps Football RC #216 dominates the top spots at every major auction site. He still holds the record for the most Super Bowl passes without an interception at 122.

Whilst his rookie card doesn’t get the hype it once got in the 1980s, it remains popular. Out of 53,000 1981 Topps football cards sent to PSA in August 2021, 18,000 were Montana rookie cards.

Why Does Joe Montanna Only Have One Rookie Card?

Whilst his rookie card is very valuable to collectors, it’s not actually that rare, being significantly easier to find in a high grade compared to other iconic sports star’s rookie cards.

Topps didn’t release his 1981 rookie card until his third year of playing professionally. He didn’t become a regular starter until around halfway through the 1980 season, throwing only 23 passes in 1979. For this reason, the small number of trading card companies producing cards at that time didn’t think it would be worth it to produce his rookie cards, a mistake they probably regret.

Conclusion – Most Valuable Joe Montana Rookie Cards

Despite his 4 Super Bowl titles and Pro Football Hall of Fame induction in 2000, Joe Montana remains the only iconic sports player to have only one officially recognized rookie card. For this reason, it remains hugely popular with collectors and continues to fetch big prices at auction.

His 1981 Topps Football #216 Rookie Card is his most valuable football card to date, selling for $83,500 at a PWCC Marketplace Auction in January 2021.

Topps Football #216 Rookie Card


What are the most common issues with his rookie card?

The football cards produced by Topps mainly suffered from centering issues. For that reason, most of Montana’s rookie cards are graded less due to centering.

Some general wear and tear and print defects are also common issues encountered with his sole rookie card

How can you tell if his rookie card is a reprint?

It’s usually quite easy to spot a reprint. If the card is graded, it’s not a reprint.

What is Topps?

Topps is an American company that manufactures chewing gum, candy, and collectibles such as football cards. They also produce cards under the names Bowman and Allen & Ginter.

They are the main brand producing most of Joe Montana’s well-known cards and are the producer of his only 1981 rookie card.

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