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Walter Payton Football Card Introduction

Walter Payton was a force both on and off the field. After being drafted 4th by Chicago in the 1975 NFL draft, Payton would go on to play 13 seasons with the Bears. He was an explosive rusher who gained 16,726 career yards, a mark that would stand until 2002 when Emmitt Smith broke the barrier. Walter Payton was known as “Sweetness.” Although there are different stories about the nickname’s origin, many attribute it to Payton’s off-field demeanor. Regardless, scoring a 1976 Walter Payton rookie card or any of Walter Payton Topps football card bearing his name and image is a sweet addition to any collection.


Walter Payton’s Career

Walter Payton was born in 1954. A standout football player in his youth, he went on to set the NCAA scoring record as a Jackson State Tiger. The Chicago Bears used their first-round pick in 1975 to add Payton to its roster and despite a zero-net-gain effort in his first NFL game, the selection laid the foundation for a Bears championship and pop-culture phenomenon around Payton, Coach Mike Ditka and the other players who made up “Da Bears.” At the age of 23, Payton would become one of the youngest players in NFL history to be named MVP. He eclipsed Jim Brown’s 12,312-yard rushing record in 1984 and would go on to add another 4,414 yards before retiring in 1988. Along the way, he earned 9 trips to the Pro Bowl, won a Super Bowl championship in 1985 and set more than 30 team records that still stand to this day. Payton was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1993. His sweet demeanor was likely the inspiration for his nickname “Sweetness,” though it may also have been coined for how sweet he ran the football. Payton died in 1999 at the age of 45 from Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC), a rare liver disease. Following his death, the NFL renamed its Man-of-the-Year award in Payton’s honor as a nod to his character and impact on the game.


The Walter Payton Rookie Card

Walter Payton’s rookie season started in 1975 but he was already playing in his second season before the 1976 Topps Walter Payton Rookie Card #148 was released. The card’s simple design features a smiling, relaxed Payton with a color scheme more suited to the Green Bay Packers than the Chicago Bears. The back shows stats from his rookie year. Typical for cards of that era, printing, registration and alignment issues are pervasive so the total population of cards graded PSA 9 and above is quite low. With a population of only 51 1976 Topps Walter Payton PSA GEM MT 10 cards in existence, values are high as evidenced by a late August 2020 sale on eBay for $62,000. This marks a considerable rise in value over past purchases, but the upward trend was confirmed by an off-site $62,730 sale in November of the same year. Cards graded PSA 8 regularly sell for $1,100+ and even cards graded PSA 1 are trending positively with 3rd quarter 2020 sales in the $75-$100 range.


The Walter Payton Basic Set

The 1976 Topps Walter Payton RC #148 is the foundation of the Walter Payton basic set, which includes twelve other cards. While there are a relatively small number of cards in the set, population reports expose the challenge of completing the set since several entries are extremely scarce. The good news, however, is that even for the most difficult to find cards, prices remain affordable for good quality cards. The set includes:

  • 1977 Topps Walter Payton All-Pro #360. This card features a “1,000 Yarder” designation to honor the rushing milestone. The most recent public sale of a PSA GEM MT 10 graded card occurred in May 2019 for $6,877.

  • 1978 Topps Walter Payton All-Pro #200. Payton’s on-field persona shines through on the image.

  • 1979 Topps Walter Payton All-Pro #480. This card is notable for what is missing…the Chicago “C” was removed from Payton’s helmet due to a contact stalemate between Topps and the NFLPA.

  • 1980 Topps Walter Payton All-Pro #160. Considered the most sought-after HOF card from this 528 card Topps set, a GEM MT 10 sold on eBay for $1,531 in November 2020.

  • 1981 Topps Walter Payton All-Pro #400. PSA GEM MT 10 examples do not appear often but an abundant supply of 8s and 9s are priced well under $100.

  • 1982 Topps Walter Payton #302. Another affordable entry to the basic set with average prices of $244, $46 and $20 on PSA 10, 9 and 8, respectively.

  • 1983 Topps Walter Payton #36. A highly collectible single for every budget from the 1983 Topps set.

  • 1984 Topps Walter Payton Pro Bowl #228. PSA 9 and 10 examples are extremely rare as this particular card proved difficult for Topps to produce without printing or centering issues.

  • 1985 Topps Walter Payton All-Pro #33. The black border contrasting with Chicago Bears Burnt Orange makes this championship-year card a design standout and collector’s darling.

  • 1986 Topps Walter Payton All-Pro #11. The trend is positive for this card as the August 2020 $567 represents a 160% increase over the most recent June 2020 sale. 

  • 1987 Topps Walter Payton #46. Very few graded examples exist making the card from Payton’s penultimate season ideal for bargain hunters.

  • 1988 Topps Walter Payton Record Breaker #5. It is easy to read into the image on this retirement-year card. His face seems to say: “I did great things and had fun doing all of them.” There is an abundant supply of top-quality cards available for less than $30.


Other Walter Payton Must-Haves for Every Collection

Beyond the basic set are several autograph cards and oddballs for Walter Payton football card collector. The 1978 Topps Holsum Bread WP #2 were included in loaves of Holsum bread, though the card does not bear any indication of the brand. There are only 81 PSA graded cards in existence, making them a difficult to find and valuable at all grades. There are several Walter Payton Jersey Cards but the very limited numbered 1999 Upper Deck autograph card with a swatch of a Payton game-worn jersey is prized among collectors. A wide range of Walter Payton Autographed Football Cards are available in all conditions. While autograph inserts surged in 1999, the Donruss Elite Passing the Torch #4 and dual Walter Payton/Barry Sanders #100 are the most collectable.