With the Super Bowl coming up shortly, I thought it made sense to look at a player’s rookie card who won three of them and holds a ton of post-season (and regular season) receiving records. That player is Jerry Rice, and his 1986 Topps rookie card has really gained in popularity in the last few years as sports cards, iconic player rookie cards, and the 1986 Topps Football set, in particular, have garnered more attention. Rice is the GOAT of NFL receivers; he had 1549 receptions, 22895 receding yards, 197 receiving TD catches, and made 13 Pro Bowls over his Hall of Fame (inducted in 2010) career. So it’s no surprise that at one point last year, during the massive run-up card prices, PSA 10 copies of his 1986 Topps #161 rookie card topped $100k.
First, a bit of information about the 1986 Topps Football set. Topps made a lot of solid football sets in the mid-80s, and people like the green borders and white stripes in 1986; the design pops. The backs are pretty detailed, too, with background drawings behind all the text. The set consists of 396 standard-sized cards.
Jerry Rice is the key card in the set, with Steve Young (a more challenging high-end card) and Reggie White having rookie cards to go along with established superstars like Walter Payton, Dan Marino, and John Elway, among many others. FYI, both the Rice and Young 1986 Topps cards made it into my 1980s Football Card Collection for $500 effort back in August 2020.
From a condition perspective, the borders show wear and chipping very easily, so many cards were/are PSA 8 quality out of the pack. There are also centering issues for collectors trying to get ultra-high-end cards. 1986 Topps is often considered the toughest 1980s football set for PSA 10s.
The Jerry Rice rookie, as I said, is the set’s key card. Collectors have submitted over 25k to PSA, but only 59 have graded PSA 10, or around .23% of submissions. The Steve Young is a little more brutal in PSA 10, with about .1% of its submissions achieving a PSA 10 grade, but Rice is the more in-demand card.
The following image shows recent, and average prices along with PSA population counts for the 1986 Topps Jerry Rice rookie card:
If we zoom in and look at specific grades and their prices over time, we can see on the PSA 10 chart that prices were around $10k for a long time before jumping to about $30k in mid-2020. Prices spiked over six figures in early 2021 before settling around $75k.
PSA 9 prices have followed a similar trend being around $500 for years before rising to ~$1500 in mid-2020 before spiking to ~$7k in early 2021 and now being around $2400.
PSA 8 prices have been more affordable. A PSA 8 Jerry Rice rookie was a $50 card before the 2020 rise to $300 and a spike towards $1k in 2021. Now you can get a copy in this grade for $250.
If we drop down two more grades to a PSA 6, which you can occasionally find an eye-appealing copy of, the Rice rookie is now a $60-70 card.
I mentioned earlier that chipping and centering were often issues with 1986 Topps cards. Another common thing is yellow print dots on those green borders. 1986 Topps football uncut sheets show up from time to time, and recently two with Jerry Rice on them came up at auction. Zooming into the Rice rookie, you can see those dots pretty quickly.
Jerry Rice will remain relevant in the hobby for a long time as many of his records will be tough for anyone to match. Plus, the 1986 Topps set keeps gaining popularity as kids who collected that set are re-entering the market as adults. Once I get a few other bucket list cards, the 1986 Topps Jerry Rice rookie is on my list to acquire.
If you’re in the market for a Rice rookie, let me know how your search is going and what you’re looking for condition-wise down in the comments, and happy collecting!