Although sports stars were hardly a new concept in the 1960s and 1970s, Joe Namath was one of the first true media darlings in football and his legacy transcended the sports world. The Hall of Fame quarterback battled a series of injuries that ultimately shortened his NFL career, but the legacy of Broadway Joe still lives on. Collectors can tap into his storied past with the top Joe Namath cards.
A brash quarterback from Pennsylvania, Joe Namath first made his name on the big stage as the starting quarterback at the University of Alabama. After leading the Crimson Tide to the national title in 1964, Namath made the jump to professional football. Drafted in the first round by both the AFL and NFL, Broadway Joe ultimately selected the AFL and the New York Jets.
Joe Namath enjoyed his best years in the 1960s, earning AFL Rookie of the Year honors, four AFL All-Star selections and two league MVP awards. His biggest moment came in Super Bowl III, where Namath led the underdog Jets to victory over the Baltimore Colts after guaranteeing a win several days prior to the game. He also added one Pro Bowl selection in 1972.
Hampered by knee injuries throughout his career, they finally began to take their toll in the 1970s and Namath struggled to stay on the field. As his abilities declined, he was waived by the Jets and spent his final season with the Los Angeles Rams in 1977.
When it comes to cardboard options, Joe Namath collectors have plenty of choices. Vintage releases for Namath started in 1965 with his official rookie card and these early cards continue to be some of his most popular collectibles. Cards for Joe Willie were produced up to 1973 before a reported contract dispute with Topps resulted in no other releases for the final years of his career. Despite this void, several proofs do exist from those years, like the 1974 Topps card that sold for $2,390 through Heritage Auctions. Collecting options were limited until the 1990s, when the first autograph and relic cards for Namath were released, and he has remained a constant since then.
Top Joe Namath Football Cards
1965 Topps is one of the most popular vintage football releases and much of that can be attributed to the Joe Namath rookie card. An atypical printing process led to several short prints, including the Joe Namath rookie card. In addition to the normal 1965 Topps base version, there is also a more-limited card with an ink mark on Namath's left hand that resembles a butterfly. While some collectors view it as a defect, others treat the card as a more-desirable variation. Because of the card's sizing, general wear is an issue, but centering problems are also common.
A lack of notable rookies in 1966 Topps puts the second-year card for Joe Namath among the top options for collectors once again. Because of the poor card stock and faux-wood borders, high-grades are a tall task. Centering can also be a huge issue and can be more difficult to notice due to the television card design. Still, the sophomore card for Namath is more affordable than his rookie and the TV-styled card does offer a distinct look.
Like the previous year's release, 1967 Topps was not kind to rookie collectors, but the colorful design has proven to be a hit with the vintage community. A close-up image of Broadway Joe features an oval-shaped frame with light-blue coloring. While the red and yellow text box does clash a bit, this Namath card is quite memorable.
Although his first three Topps cards are the top vintage options for Joe Namath, several other cards from his playing days remain relevant to collectors. 1968 Topps combined both AFL and NFL cards in product for the first time in several years. Even with several key rookie cards, the Joe Namath card, heavy on blue, is a popular choice. It is also the first Topps card for Joe Namath to showcase a Jets logo. Again, centering is a big issue for this late-1960s release.
The final Topps football product of the decade, the first series of 1969 Topps features a full-bleed background, bright colors and a team logo. This works well for the Joe Namath vintage card and makes the gunslinger the immediate focus of the card. While the actual image of Namath is not much different from the 1968 card, the design changes give the card an entirely different feel.
Featuring the long-haired Namath that is commonly remembered by fans, 1971 Topps is anything but subtle. A bright-red border and bubble text is featured along with a small cartoon of a player attempting a pass in Jets' green. While the overall look is not the most cohesive, the set remains notable because it is very tough to find in high grade. This is mostly because of the colorful border that makes any damage very evident. Rough cuts and centering issues are also to blame, which is why a PSA 9 of the Joe Namath vintage card sold just under $7,770 in February of 2015.
Part of the limited high-number series from 1972 Topps, the Pro Action subset card for Joe Namath still receives strong interest from collectors. The third series of 1972 Topps was reportedly only released in a handful of areas, making Namath the key card from the entire set.
One of the earliest signed cards for Joe Namath, the 1997 Upper Deck Legends Autograph also happens to be one of his toughest to locate. Signed on-card and featuring the trademark Namath facial hair, the card headlines one of the most popular modern football sets in the hobby's history. A PSA 8.5 sold for $1,700 in April of 2015. Also very popular, Namath's Sign of the Times autograph is limited to only 100 copies and found in the same product.
Autographed relics have come to define the modern period of collecting, and the cards for former greats are some of the most popular. The Throwback Threads insert in 2000 Donruss Elite offers collectors one of the first autographed relic options for Joe Namath and takes that a step further with a dual-signed relic card featuring Namath and Dan Marino. Limited to 50 copies, the card rarely surfaces. There is also a similar version that only includes Joe Namath and is numbered to 100.
Also released in 2000, the Upper Deck Game Jersey Greats card better incorporates the on-card signature for Joe Namath. Although the card is hand-numbered to 175, there are actually two cards, so the total amount is doubled. The cards are virtually identical and only distinguished by the card number (#GJG-JN1 and #GJG-JN2).
Presenting a pleasing canvas for an on-card autograph, the 2000 and 2001 SP Authentic Sign of the Times cards for Joe Namath offer a terrific signed card that won't break the bank. The base versions sell for under $100 and a Gold version, numbered to 12 in 2000 and 25 in 2001, is also available.
In reality, several of the cards from the early part of the 2000s are a great add as they are reasonably priced and feature on-card autographs for Namath. Top options include 1999 Fleer Sports Illustrated Autographs, 1999 Upper Deck Century Legends Epic Signatures, 1999 Upper Deck Ovation Super Signatures and 1999 Upper Deck Retro Inkredible, among others.
Collectors are likely aware that there is no shortage of Joe Namath autograph cards and the former Jet has signed for a ton of products. However, as sticker autographs became much more common in the 2000s, on-card autographs were much tougher to find. While sticker signatures are still a major component of the current hobby, high-end releases offer the on-card signatures that collectors crave. This includes premium options for Joe Namath from a variety of brands like National Treasures, Five Star, Museum Collection and Flawless. These limited cards feature quality designs and low print runs and produce the biggest values among modern Joe Namath cards.