The 1970s saw continued growth for the NFL. The Super Bowl was still in its infancy, but gaining in popularity each and every year. The league was hard-nosed and tough -- something viewers could relate to an look up to. The decade brought many heroes to the forefront. As a result, there are plenty of iconic and valuable 1970s rookie cards that remain popular with collectors today.
Leading the way are the Pittsburgh Steelers. Their dominance in the middle and latter parts of the decade created many superstars and fan favorites. These include Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris and "Mean" Joe Greene, to name a few. Just like today, the most collectible rookie cards are offensive players. There are some exceptions, but not many.
Narrowing down a decade's worth of football cards down to just ten cards is tough as some great players and cards are left off. These include Alan Page, Bubba Smith, Archie Manning, Earl Campbell, Jim Plunkett, Joe Theismann, Dan Fouts and Tony Dorsett.
That being said, we're here to honor the best of the best, so here are the best football rookie cards from the 1970s.
Top 10 Rookie Cards of the 1970s
One of the best receivers of all-time, Steve Largent spent his entire Hall of Fame career with the Seattle Seahawks (at least once they acquired him from the Houston Oilers before he played his first game). In 14 seasons with Seattle, Largent caught 100 touchdowns on 819 receptions. The 1977 Topps Steve Largent rookie card has a nice design. Unfortunately his face is almost entirely shadowed. Still, it's the first card of a West Coast legend who has gone on to have a successful career in politics since retiring.
The anchor to Pittsburgh's legendary "Iron Curtain," "Mean" Joe Greene is one of football's top defensive linemen. The four-time Super Bowl champ and ten-time Pro Bowl selection, Greene's influence spreads into pop culture. He starred in a Coke commercial in 1979 that is still remembered today. The 1971 Topps Joe Greene rookie card has a bright blue and red border to go along with a large portrait. The coloring on the borders and edges are much more susceptible to damage than cards with plain edges.
The 13th pick in the 1972 NFL Draft, Franco Harris is another member of the legendary Pittsburgh Steelers dynasty. The running back's career got off to a quick start. Harris was named Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1972. In 12 seasons with the Steelers, Franco earned four Super Bowl rings, including Super Bowl IX where he was named the game's MVP. It's not everyday that a Hall of Famer's rookie card features them wearing a toque. That's a big part of what makes the 1973 Topps Franco Harris so memorable and one of the decade's most popular cards.
A favorite target of Terry Bradshaw, Lynn Swann was another key piece of the dominant Steelers teams of the 1970s. He retired with four championship rings and was the MVP of Super Bowl X. He spent his entire playing career in Pittsburgh before moving into politics. The 1975 Topps Lynn Swann rookie card has a nice design, but one that's overly simple. While it may lack some pop in the looks department, a Hall of Fame career ensures it will have an audience for decades to come.
Ken Stabler was one of the most popular quarterbacks in the 1970s. Known for his clutch performances, the University of Alabama alumnus helped lead the Raiders to their first Super Bowl in 1977. He is the third fastest quarterback to notch 100 wins, a testament to his ability to come up big. The 1973 Topps Ken Stabler rookie card is highlighted by a posed throwing show, a colorful background ribbon and one really bad haircut.
Whether or not the glove fit, nobody can take away what O.J. Simpson did on the field. One of the game's greatest running backs, he transcended the sport and started to find his way in Hollywood. Then there was the white Ford Bronco and everything that surrounded the murder of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman. Today, Simpson is vilified in the public mind. However, the 1970 Topps O.J. Simpson rookie remains one of the decade's most iconic football cards.
The appeal of the 1972 Steve Spurrier rookie card stems more from his successes from the sideline rather than on the field. Winner of the 1966 Heisman Trophy, Spurrier spent nearly a decade with the 49ers. There he was mainly a punter and back-up quarterback. That doesn't make for an iconic rookie card. Once his playing days ended, Spurrier began coaching. It all culminated in a 1996 National Championship with the Florida Gators. Another major factor in the popularity of the Spurrier rookie is that it's from the short-printed third series. It's a tough card to track down and commands a premium because of it.
Winner of the 1963 Heisman Trophy, Roger Staubach is one of the most beloved Dallas Cowboys of all-time. A two-time Super Bowl Champion, the quarterback finished his career with 153 touchdowns and 22,700 passing yards. The 1972 Topps Roger Staubach rookie features a posed portrait and a very simple design. In fact, the simplicity helps make the quarterback larger-than-life, something that's important for such a highly regarded card.
The Steelers' dominance continues. Terry Bradshaw guided the Pittsburgh offense to four Super Bowls, a then unheard of feat. Since retiring, Bradshaw has remained in the public eye since shifting into broadcasting. The 1971 Topps Terry Bradshaw rookie card is highlighted by his instantly recognizable face. The bright red border makes it easy to spot as well. Sharp corners are especially rare on the condition-sensitive card. However, off-condition cards remain fairly reasonable on the secondary market.
Sweetness. Walter Payton's nickname captures the essence of his rookie card so perfectly. The design is pleasantly simple. It's clean, has plenty of space and an instantly recognizable picture. Not only is the 1976 Topps Walter Payton the most valuable rookie card of the 1970s, it's also the most iconic and beloved.