If you’re a fan of professional football, you’ve probably heard of Earl Campbell. He only played eight seasons in the NFL but still made the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Given such stellar performance, you’d assume Topps made a bunch of football cards for him, but the reality is that 1979 Topps is the only release that featured cards devoted to Earl Campbell during his playing days.
Campbell was incredible as a college football player for the Texas Longhorns. He won the Heisman Trophy his senior year after rushing for over 1700 cards and scoring 18 touchdowns over 11 games. Campbell was the first overall draft pick by the Houston Oilers in 1978, winning rookie of the year and offensive player of the year honors his first season. He was the NFL MVP his second year when he rushed for 1697 yards and scored 19 touchdowns over 16 games. His third year in the NFL was also incredible; he ran for 1934 yards in 15 games, scoring 13 touchdowns. He’s known as one of the best power-backs in NFL history.
Like I said in the introduction, 1979 Topps is the only major release that featured cards devoted solely to Earl Campbell during his NFL career. It’s believed that, like stars before him (Lynn Swann and Joe Namath), he had a contract dispute with Topps that prevented his inclusion in future sets.
The 1979 Topps football set has four cards with Earl Campbell on them. His rookie card is considered card #390, but he is also on card #331, which is a record-breaker card for most rushing yards by a rookie, card #3 with Walter Payton, as the AFC and NFC rushing leaders, and card #301, the Oilers team leader/checklist card. Now, let’s dig deeper into each card’s population and pricing.
1979 Topps #3 Rushing Leaders
The Payton/Campbell classic has just over 850 graded copies in PSA’s population report, with 34 PSA 10s, 264 PSA 9s, and 302 PSA 8s. 10s sell for between $700 and $900, 9s sell for just over $100, and 8s are on average $50 these days.
1979 Topps #301 Houston Oilers Team Leaders
The Oilers Team card has over 200 graded copies in the population report. There are five PSA 10s, 57 PSA 9s, and 77 PSA 8s. The last PSA 10 sold for $178 back in 2017, the last PSA 9 sold for $50 in early 2021, and the last PSA 8 sold for $22 in August 2021.
1979 Topps #331 Earl Campbell Record Breaker
One of two cards Topps ever made devoted to Campbell exclusively is this record-breaker card. The pop count is a little over 750, with 40 PSA 10s, 267 PSA 9s, and 302 PSA 8s. 10s sell for around $275 (with a high of $900 in the spring of 2021), 9s are $60, and PSA 8s are only $20 cards.
1979 Topps #390 Earl Campbell
Card #390 is considered Campbell’s true rookie card, and there are almost 5000 PSA graded copies. PSA has deemed thirty worthy of a Gem Mint 10 grade; there are 407 PSA 9s and 1497 PSA 8s. The PSA 10s are super expensive, and the only copy sold since 2021 was by PWCC for $19k, but they were $4k cards in late 2018. The last PSA 9 sale was in February 2022, pushing the $1k barrier, but the cards were closer to $700 in late 2021. PSA 8s consistently sell for around $160, depending on their eye appeal.
A unique angle for getting a Campbell rookie card would be to grab this incredible 1979 Topps football rack pack with Earl Campbell’s rookie card showing in the first panel. I saw it on eBay recently for an asking price of $1100.
If you like unopened products, check out the Unopened Archive entry for 1979 Topps football.
While we, unfortunately, wouldn’t get another Topps Campbell football card during his playing days because of the contract dispute, at least Topps quadrupled down on him in their 1979 set. And luckily, if his true rookie, card #390, is out of reach, the other cards are much more affordable. Happy collecting!
PS: If you look at the Oilers team card in 1982 Topps, they had to show receiving leaders and punt return leaders, rather than Campbell’s rushing leader total of 1376 yards that year!