When it comes to collectibles or fantasy sports, the difference between football and baseball is as wide as the chasm between two fiscal cliffs. Fans on the baseball side of the equation know about players at every position and really good fantasy players can rattle off the starting lineups of most major league teams. Fantasy football, while having more participants, focuses on those "skill positions" like Quarterback, Running Back and Wide Receiver, to accumulate their points and many other positions are relegated to the fanatic rather than just the fan.
As a consequence, football's popularity as a professional sport doesn't translate to the demand for sports cards. When it comes to baseball cards, there are 12-15 players on every major league roster who could pique the interest of collectors. Even a bench player can emerge and become a star (Jose Bautista or R.A. Dickey, for example), creating a demand for their cards. In football, there have been occasional defensive players who have captured the public's interest such as Sam Huff in the 50's, Dick Butkus in the 60's and Ray Lewis today, but they are few and far between.
This difference is even more clear when we look at the most popular modern (late 70's forward) football cards and how the list is dominated by QB's, RB's and WR's. For this exercise, the values are based on a card in Near Mint - Mint (NM 8) condition.
> #1 Joe Montana QB 1981 Topps #216 ($105) - This is the rookie card of the 4-time Super Bowl champion and is still in high demand almost 20 years after his retirement.
> #2 Peyton Manning QB 1998 Bowman Chrome #1 ($35) - Beginning in the late 90's, card manufacturers started putting autograph cards and limited edition (serial numbered) versions of cards into packs. In these years, we'll choose a regular issue card to better reflect the market for the average collector. Manning has numerous rookie cards from 1998 and this is a nice choice in the mid-range of pricing. Those collectors who purchased his cards last year when his career was in jeopardy, are reaping the rewards of his spectacular comeback with the Broncos.
> #3 Jerry Rice WR 1986 Topps #161 ($60) - The rookie card of the wide receiver most fans consider the best ever at the position. Somewhat difficult to find in nice condition due to quality control manufacturing issues during this era.
> #4 John Elway QB 1984 Topps #63 ($45) - Two Super Bowl championships at the end of his career ensured his legacy, this is his rookie card and many of them are off-center due to printing issues from the factory.
> #5 Brett Favre QB 1991 Stadium Club #94 ($35) - A polarizing figure, fans seem to love him or hate him. Some feel his never-ending comeback stories have tarnished his overall career. A few of his '91 rookie cards from over-produced sets can be found for less than $10, but this is the one to have.
> #6 Barry Sanders RB 1989 Score #257 ($20) - As with Jim Brown before him, this great runner retired while still in his prime. In ten seasons with mediocre Lions teams, he gained over 15,000 yards. This rookie card is probably under-valued and, just like the player, under-appreciated.
> #7 Tom Brady QB 2000 Bowman Chrome #236 ($95) - An unheralded 6th round pick, his cards started flying off the shelves as soon as he led the Patriots to the Super Bowl in 2001. Because of autographs and low serial numbers, some of his rookie cards are valued at $500-$1,000.
> #8 Emmitt Smith RB 1990 Score Supplemental #101T ($30) - This Hall of Fame runner debuted during the time of football card over-production, so this more limited rookie card is the one to find.
> #9 Dan Marino QB 1984 Topps #123 ($45) - This prolific passer has his rookie card in the same set as Elway. Denied a Super Bowl victory during his career, he still garners great popularity.
With every season, this list will change as the careers of younger players take shape and impress fans. How long will it be before Aaron Rodgers, Calvin Johnson or Adrian Peterson are knocking on the door?
Enjoy the Playoffs...thanks for reading.