The original Johnny Football, but in a good way, Johnny Unitas enjoyed a long and successful career in the NFL, spending 17 of his 18 seasons with the Baltimore Colts. The Hall of Fame quarterback continues to be one of the most popular former greats, and collectors are especially interested in Johnny Unitas' vintage and autograph cards.
Mostly associated with the Colts, it is easy to overlook the fact that Johnny Unitas was actually drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1955. While he never played for the Steelers, Unitas was not a life-long Colt and spent his final year with the San Diego Chargers before retiring in 1973. He returned to Baltimore following his playing days and passed away in 2002.
Starting with his rookie card in 1957 Topps, Johnny Unitas collectors have vast array of options that span the majority of his active career and well into his retirement. High-grade vintage releases for Unitas are especially popular and valuable. Although his signed cards are not in great supply, Johnny Unitas autographs are mainly clustered in 1999, 2000 and 2001 products. Mostly on-card, these are some of the top modern options for Johnny Unitas.
The following list features ten of the top Johnny Unitas cards, split between vintage and modern cards. View a detailed collecting profile for Johnny Unitas here.
Top Johnny Unitas Football Cards
Easily one of the top vintage football products for collectors, the 1957 Topps Johnny Unitas rookie card is the clear favorite in the set. The dual-image design offers a distinct look and corner and centering issues make high grades of this classic rookie card a premium vintage option.
The bright orange border and natural background immediately catch the eye for the sophomore release for Johnny Unitas. While his 1957 rookie is more popular, the 1958 Topps card for Unitas is tougher to find in high grade.
1959 Topps marked the beginning of Johnny Unitas' five-year streak as the #1 card in the annual release. Because of the placement on the printing sheet, the 1959 Topps card, and all the other sets with Unitas in the first spot, are very difficult to find in Mint condition or higher. The card is also notable as it is his first base Topps card to list him as Johnny.
Featuring one of the most simple vintage designs for Johnny Unitas, the 1960 Topps card appeals to the purists and makes Unitas the main focus. The only other design attribute for 1960 Topps is the football-shaped text box in the corner.
Divided into three separate boxes, 1962 Topps includes a large posed imaged in color, a black-and-white action shot and text box. This gives the Johnny Unitas card as sharp contrast to most of his other vintage cards. In addition to the issues associated with being the first card in the set, the black border makes high grades of the 1962 Topps card even more of challenge.
1997 Upper Deck Legends Autographs Johnny Unitas #AL-9, Sign of the Times Autograph Johnny Unitas #ST-3
Part of a modern product that is highly respected by collectors, two of the earliest Johnny Unitas autographs are found in 1997 Upper Deck Legends. The main card is part of the famed autographed base parallel and believed to be one of the most short-printed cards in the set. Also very popular, the Sign of the Times insert has a surface that resembles a football and a football-shaped signing area.
Honoring two of the greatest Colts on one card, the Passing the Torch Autographs card in 1999 Donruss Elite includes on-card autographs for both Johnny Unitas and Peyton Manning. Whike the card is numbered to 1,500 copies, only the first 100 cards are signed and the rest are an unsigned insert.
Although 1999 Score Supplemental Football was a hobby-exclusive factory set, collectors can randomly find Inscriptions Autographs. Johnny Unitas was part of the signed acetate set that showcases a modern autograph design for the Hall of Fame quarterback.
Featuring virtually the same image as the Score Inscriptions Autograph, the Epic Signatures card for Johnny Unitas in 1999 Upper Deck Century Legends makes simplicity into a work of art.
One of the first autographed relic cards for Johnny Unitas, the 2000 Upper Deck Game Jersey Greats Autograph is also one of his most plentiful signed cards. Hand numbered to 400, the small game-worn jersey piece and on-card autograph puts this Johnny Unitas card in a special group for collectors.