Joe Montana Rookie Card Guide

Known as one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever grace the NFL field, Joe Montana’s memorabilia has always been highly sought after. As someone who has been collecting cards for over two decades, I can tell you that owning a Joe Montana rookie card is like holding a piece of sports history in your hands. In recent news, it was reported that a rare Joe Montana rookie card sold for a staggering $200,000 at an auction. This particular card, from the 1981 Topps Football set, is highly coveted by collectors due to its scarcity and Montana’s legendary status in the sport. With only a limited number of these cards in circulation, their value continues to rise as demand grows.

Joe Montana 2024

Another exciting update for Joe Montana card enthusiasts is the release of a new limited edition Joe Montana rookie card. This new card, produced by a reputable trading card company, features an updated design and includes a piece of game-worn jersey from Montana himself. With only 500 cards available worldwide, collectors are scrambling to get their hands on this exclusive piece of memorabilia.

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1981 Topps Joe Montana Rookie Card #216

1981 Topps Joe Montana Rookie Card #216

The 1981 Topps Joe Montana rookie card has been the go-to card for many card collectors over the years. On the whole, this is one of the most valuable cards of the 1980s, and certainly the most expensive Joe Montana card. It’s not the most scarce cards by any means, but it’s still expensive.

About the Card

It’s his only recognized rookie card, which is why it’s so expensive – this is often unusual for base Topps cards like this, especially if they’re as widely available like this one.

On the surface, it doesn’t offer anything special in terms of design. It features the retro, old-school Topps look which is elegant, with a nice green-white border and a relatively quality image in the middle for that time.

If you think about it, it’s quite rare for modern players, even from the 1980s, to have just one rookie card. But that’s exactly the case with Joe Montana – this is his only rookie card, which is what increases the value of the card even further.

He’s wearing the #16 jersey on the card, which later became his signature number and a legendary jersey number for the franchise.

If you’re serious about rookie cards or Joe Montana cards, then this is perhaps the one card you must own. Its price, however, is widely ambiguous.

Here’s what’s on the back of the card:

1981 Topps Joe Montana Rookie Card #216 Back

He’s described as “one of the best young signal-callers in pro football”. This was true for the larger part of his career, and it became a prominent feature of his game that help the 49ers win so many honors. Even back in 1979 and 1980, it was clear to see that Montana was to become one of the greatest players ever.

It also features his stats with the 49ers from 1979 and 1980, as well as his stats with Notre Dame in his college days where he completed 269 passes and added 25 touchdowns. Quite impressive for a young fella that was to be considered only a backup at the start of his NFL career.

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How Much Is It Worth?

The 1981 Topps Montana rookie card can be pretty expensive. For a PSA 10, you’ll be asked for several thousand dollars, and up into 10s of thousands if the condition of the card is really on the top level.

These days though, it’s rare to find a PSA10 – PSA9 are much more common. These can cost several hundred dollars and maybe even several thousand.

However, poorly graded cards are much more easily available and relatively inexpensive. For example, a PSA7 or even a PSA8 can be available for several hundred bucks if you’re in luck.

One thing’s clear: you’ll have your work cut out if you’re looking to get a PSA 10. Firstly,  it’s not very widely available because many collectors tend to keep them for themselves. Secondly, these can be quite expensive, so they’re clearly not for the everyday collector. You’ll need to have a budget of at least several thousand dollars to get one.

Things to Watch Out For

Like with most old cards, you should be on the lookout for a variety of things that might lower the value of the card. Even though it’s relatively safe when you go for graded cards, you should still know what some of the main concerns are about it.

If you go for ungraded Joe Montana 1981 Topps cards, then these are the things you should look at (the most common issues of these cards):

  • Centering – this has to be the biggest issue for old card collectors. Nobody wants a poorly centered card, and these Topps cards from the 1980s have a bit of a tendency to gravitate towards poor centering. Make sure the image is in the middle and that the borders around it are equally distributed.
  • Printing issues – these are also often a concern, although not as huge as the centering. Watch for smaller defects such as marks or print deficiencies on this card.
  • Wear and tear – general wear is to be expected with such old cards, especially if it’s not in the best condition. Look out for corner chipping and marks on the card that signal it’s not been stored properly. Some of this is only natural, but try and make sure you spot it before you buy it, which you can do by examining the card first-hand before buying.

Other Great Joe Montana Cards

As already mentioned, the 1981 Topps card is the player’s only rookie card, but there are some other great Joe Montana cards that popped up during his career. Let’s take a look at some of the best ones that might entice you.

1982 Topps Joe Montana #488

1982 Topps Joe Montana #488

Already an established player for the 49ers, Joe Montana was one of the leading cards in the 1982 Topps set, especially after helping the 49ers win the 1981 Superbowl, and winning the Superbowl MVP award for that year.

On the card, he’s pictured taking a call on the side of the field, probably with the coach. It’s an interesting image that you don’t see very often on these old cards.

Another distinguishing feature of this 1982 card is the bold design. This year’s design is a little bit different from 1981, which was a bit more pragmatic and classic, if we may call it that. 1982 was much more fluent and graphically filled, especially on the bottom where there are some interesting elements added.

And the All-Pro sign at the top with five stars was also a new feature. Actually, Joe Montana featured three different cards in the 1982 Topps set: this one, then one that was in the Passing Leaders pack, and one that could be found in the In Action set.

The 1982 Topps Montana card is actually one of the more valuable Montana cards overall. You could even go as far as to say that it’s right behind his rookie card in terms of value. A PSA 10 of this card can fetch several thousand dollars, while lower quality cards are available for a few dollars to up to several hundred.

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1983 Topps Joe Montana #169

1983 Topps Joe Montana #169

In 1983, Topps changed their approach again and made the design of their cards a bit more lightweight. This year, their cards featured much less information on the front of the card, and it also has less going on there in terms of graphics.

The green border is back, while the player’s name is now on the image, and there’s also a 49ers sign at the top portion of the image. Overall, this card might appear a bit more modest and perhaps even boring than the other two we’ve just seen.

That’s why it doesn’t command such a high value, although it’s right behind the other two if it’s graded a PSA10. In that condition, the 1983 Topps Montana card can cost up to several thousand bucks, but these are rare to find. PSA9 are much more common, and these are available for a relatively cheap price.

This card is perhaps the best entry point if you’re looking to start your Joe Montana collection. If you don’t have the money to go for the rookie card yet, then you can get a good version of this card for relatively cheap.

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1984 Joe Montana #358

1984 Joe Montana #358

The 1984 Topps set is one of the most legendary sets of all time. Along with the great card of Joe Montana, it features the rookie cards of players like Dan Marino and John Elway.

In terms of looks, it’s a little bit different from the rest of the packs from the past. It has diagonal lines and design, as compared to the straight and slightly rounded borders from sets of 1981 to 1983. This change is seen as a positive one for some, while others prefer the classic design of the former packs.

On the card, you’ll find Joe Montana in action, looking for the next breaking pass. He was well-known for his vision and his ability to find plays where they seemed to be impossible.

This card tends to be a little more affordable than some of the past Montana cards, even in the PSA 10 condition. A card in top condition can collect up to a thousand dollars, although it’s far more likely that you’ll find a card in slightly poorer condition. If that’s the case, then you’re going to have to spend much less than for the PSA 10.

1985 Topps Joe Montana #157

1985 Topps Joe Montana #157

If you’re a collector of Joe Montana cards, then you’ll probably find it interesting how the Topps cards have changed over the years. This 1985 Topps set sees the most radical change out of all the cards we’ve featured so far.

It’s moved from the vertical to horizontal design, while completely changing the colors on the card. This was probably a move from Topps to revolutionize and change the way their cards looked, but it was not met with a lot of enthusiasm initially.

Not many of these cards have kept up well, to be honest. Finding a PSA 10 will be a challenge, although you might find the price of one quite surprising. It can go up to several thousand dollars, rivaling even the more expensive Joe Montana cards out there.

The card split many opinions at the time and it still does – so if you don’t really like the design of this card, you can skip it. But if you’re a bit of a perfectionist and you want to have all of the Montana cards, then this one would be the next in your “arsenal”.

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1986 Topps Joe Montana #156

1986 Topps Joe Montana #156

1986 sees a return to a more classical design for Topps cards. It features a card of the player in the middle, a yellow border, and a green-white outer border to complete it. Overall, it’s completely different than what we’ve seen in the 1985 Topps set.

Montana’s card was perhaps a bit of a background card to this set since it was the same set where the Jerry Rice rookie card was contained. Still, it remained a pretty sought-after card.

Again, the design will not be everyone’s cup of tea. Even if you like the more classic types of cards, you might find the green and white border a bit outlandish and perhaps even out of place. For others, it’s exactly the border that makes these cards so unique. The image could also be a bit better, but for Montana fans, it won’t be a huge issue.

1991 Upper Deck Heroes Joe Montana Auto #9

1991 Upper Deck Heroes Joe Montana Auto #9

For all the huge Joe Montana fans out there, this card is one that they should consider. It’s a celebration of his career up to then, and there were only 2500 of these cards initially in the marketplace.

And with rarity comes a higher price tag. There’s also the autographs and a marking of each card, making each and every one of these 2500 cards unique in its own right. On the card, there are four different portraits of Joe Montana that were created by Vernon Wells.

Initially, this card was very popular and sought-after, especially by 49ers fans and those who admired Joe Montana and his career. The set also contained four different cards of Montana – each had a painting that was featured on this original card, which acted as a sort of a checklist for other cards.

Get it if you’re a big Montana fan, or if you prefer to collect things with a limited quantity and you know that it might be a bit of a challenge to collect all of the four cards on the image.

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How Much is a Joe Montana Rookie Card Worth?

Joe Montana’s rookie card can cost anywhere between $1000 and up to $10.000 or even more, depending massively on the quality of the card in question. A PSA 10 will almost certainly be worth at least several thousand dollars, but that number will likely extend into the five-figure territory.

In poorer conditions, the card is much more easily attainable and also quite affordable. A PSA 7 or PSA 8 might fetch several hundred dollars, or maybe slightly more depending on the market, too.

One thing’s clear though: Joe Montana’s rookie card is one of the most expensive cards from the 1980s.

How Do You Tell if a Joe Montana Rookie Card is a Reprint?

It’s quite easy to spot a reprint. The first clue should be if the card is graded or not – if it is, it’s near impossible that it is a fake. Then, also look for the card stock. If a card’s reprinted, then the stock tends to be a bit shinier and it might even seem too good for the time it’s from. Observe other visual clues such as the color quality, corners, and surface.

What Year Was Joe Montana’s Rookie Card?

1981. It was the year that Topps released the official Joe Montana rookie card, and Montana’s card was #216 in that particular card set. Montana is one of the few players of that time that had only one rookie card.

Another interesting fact about this card is that it’s not from his year of debut with the 49ers, which happened all the way back in 1979. Instead, they first released the card of this player only in 1981, which is now considered to be his only rookie card.

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About Joe Montana as a Player

To start with, Joe Montana is one of the most dominant quarterbacks of the 1980s. He is perhaps the biggest legend in San Francisco’s history or one of the biggest legends at least. He was initially drafted in 1979 after four years of college.

In his first season with the 49ers, Montana was seen as a backup for more experienced players like Steve DeBerg. An interesting fact about this card is that it’s not from his rookie season, but rather from the 1981 Topps set when Montana was becoming an established member of the team.

In 1981, however, Montana started every single game for the 49ers, becoming quickly one of the best quarterbacks in the league. And this trend was to continue, as Montana helped to four different Superbowl wins, including the one in 1981.

During his time as a player in the NFL, Montana earned a nickname of “The Comeback Kid”, which is a testament to his ability to shift games in the dying moments. He’s today considered to be one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game, which is one of the main reasons behind the popularity of his rookie card.

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  • Vince

    I'm a big time sports nerd, with soccer being my first true love. I've been collecting sports cards since I was a little kid, and now... well, not much has changed, but I write about it... and I have facial hair.

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