Elway played his entire 16-year NFL career with the Denver Broncos. He’s one of the most prolific passers in NFL history, finishing his career with over 51k passing yards and 300 touchdowns. He also ran for 3400 yards and scored 33 touchdowns. Elway was a 2x Super Bowl Champion and the league’s MVP in 1987. But before he was a world-class quarterback, he played Minor League baseball for the Oneonta Yankees. In this article, I’ll discuss Elway’s baseball career, how it influenced his ultimately playing for the Denver Broncos, and compare his two “rookie” cards.
Elway was one of the most recruited high school football players out of high school. He was also an excellent baseball player who the Kansas City Royals selected in the 18th Round of the 1979 Major League Baseball draft.
However, instead of playing Minor League baseball, Elway opted to attend Stanford University, where he played both sports. He was a consensus All-American in football and was the Heisman Trophy runner up his senior year when his passer rating was 145.6. Despite never leading Stanford to a bowl game, he had impressive numbers with 9349 passing yards, 77 touchdowns, and 5 rushing touchdowns over 4 seasons.
On the diamond for Stanford, he played in 1980 and 1981, and in 95 total games, he hit .321 with 10 home runs, 68 RBIs, and 11 stolen bases.
He was again drafted in baseball by the New York Yankees in 1981, 52nd overall. Elway was given $150k (I’ve also read it was $140k) to play for the Oneonta Yankees in the summer of 1982. While playing in the A- New York-Pennsylvania League, Elway hit .318 with 4 home runs, 25 RBIs, and 13 stolen bases over 42 games.
At this point, most scouts thought Elway had more potential as a football player, though George Steinbrenner really pushed for Elway to stick to baseball.
Heading into the 1983 NFL Draft, the Baltimore Colts held the first pick, but Elway didn’t want to play for them. He used his baseball career as leverage in negotiations, telling them he didn’t want to be a Colt and would join the Yankees instead. The Colts picked him anyway but were negotiating with the Broncos before the draft, and on May 2, they traded Elway for Chris Hinton, Mark Herrman, and a 1st round pick in 1984.
The rest is history.
Lucky for collectors, but not so much for our pocketbooks, TCMA printed a set for the Oneonta Yankees in 1982, and that set’s 13th card was of John Elway.
It’s a pretty rare collectible, PSA has only graded 134, including 4 PSA 10s, 24 PSA 9s, and 75 PSA 8s, and they command big bucks. The last PSA 10 sold for $7777 in February 2021, the last PSA 9 sold for $1125 in December 2021, and the last PSA 8 sold for $548 in July 2021.
Years later, to honor Elway’s baseball career, both Pinnacle and Topps printed a few more John Elway baseball cards.
Elway’s 1984 Topps #63 football rookie card is iconic and beloved in the hobby. PSA has graded a lot of them, well over 22k to include 179 PSA 10s, 2629 PSA 9s, and 9400 PSA 8s (119 8.5s too). And while the card isn’t scarce, they command huge prices. The last PSA 10 in the auction prices realized archive shows one selling for over $14k at a Memory Lane auction in February 2022. However, in December 2021, Memory Lane sold one for $6216, which is more in line with previous sales. The Last PSA 9 Elway rookie sold for $523 in March 2022, and the last 8 sold for $120 in April 2022.
By the way, If you want to see a 1984 Topps Football Cello Pack with Elway on Top or a Rack Pack with Elway showing, check out the set’s entry on the Unopened Archive.
Elway’s only other moderately significant 1984 football release is his 1984 Topps Sticker.
When you compare Elway’s TCMA Minor League card with his football rookie card, you’ll notice the minor league card does sell for more in each of the high grades, but it’s also substantially rarer.
Both cards are pretty cool, and if you’re a John Elway, Denver Broncos, or New York Yankees fan, you might want to try and pick up the pair, happy collecting!