I first set out to write an article spotlighting some of the best Heisman-like stiff-arm photos captured on football cards. But when I ran across Gale Sayers’ incredible 1966 Philadelphia #38 rookie card, I was reminded of what a sensation he was over his few seasons in the NFL. So, I decided to highlight Sayers and that card in particular instead.
Sayers was absolutely electric when he burst into the NFL, setting the rookie record for touchdowns with 22 to go with 2272 all-purpose yards. He only had a brief career (knee injuries) of seven seasons with the Chicago Bears (1965-1971) but was so productive that he was still inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977 at the age of 34.
Sayers was speedy and challenging to tackle, which made him quite a weapon rushing, receiving, and returning kicks. He finished his career with 4956 rushing yards, 1307 receiving yards, and 3172 return yards over his seven seasons, though his last two were severely limited (2 games each) on his way to scoring 56 all-purpose touchdowns. Sayers was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1965, was a 5x First Team All-pro (1965-69), led the NFL in scoring in 1965, was the Comeback Player of the Year in 1969, and made the NFL 50th, 75th, and 100th Anniversary All-Time Teams.
His 1966 Philadelphia Rookie Card is incredibly popular, and the set it’s in is considered one of the greatest ever made. Unfortunately for collectors, the 1966 Philadelphia set had a low print run and is notorious for distributing cards that were off-enter and diamond cut (along with having a rough-cut edge).
You can see in PSA’s Population Report for the card, pictured below, that submitted Sayer’s rookie cards most commonly come back as PSA 6s. Only 35 of 2966 encapsulated Sayer’s cards have graded PSA 9, and there are zero 10s; that’s just over a 1% hit rate for a PSA 9.
Hall of Famers and Chicago Bears players are always popular in the hobby, so when their rookie cards are scarce in high grade, you get some pretty astronomical prices when they come up for auction. In May 2022, heritage sold a PSA 9 graded 1966 Philadelphia Gale Sayers rookie card for $58,800.
The two PSA 9 sales before that were a copy that sold for $20k in August 2021 by PWCC and one that sold for $19200 by REA in December 2021.
Today, PSA 8s sell for around $2500, and PSA 7s can be found for ~$925. You have to get to the PSA 2 level for copies under $100.
While a lot of cards increased in price and dropped just as far during the hobby bubble in 2020 and 2021, the Gale Sayers’ card seems to have held its price pretty well and only increased in its highest grades.
Despite his short playing career, Sayers is still often ranked as one of the greatest football players of all time. Given the beauty of his 1966 Philadelphia rookie card, there probably aren’t too many better ways to spend your hobby budget. Happy collecting!
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