He did not always put up the huge numbers that other elite quarterbacks produced, but John Elway was a winner and he usually gave the Denver Broncos a chance for victory. As one of the best from his era, John Elway cards and memorabilia remain a collector favorite.
Although he spent his entire career with the Denver Broncos, John Elway was drafted first overall in 1983 by the Baltimore Colts. In a story that was featured in an ESPN 30 for 30 film—Elway to Marino—Baltimore selected Elway despite his objections. Using his potential professional baseball career as leverage, John Elway forced a trade that sent him to Denver.
After the rocky start, John Elway put forth an impressive career, but the top prize continued to elude him. Finally, at the end of his career, Elway won two consecutive Super Bowls before retiring. When he finally hung up his cleats, John Elway was a nine-time Pro Bowl selection and was named the Super Bowl XXXIII MVP and 1987 AP MVP. Elway was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004.
Falling during the peak of overproduction as well as the early years of flashy inserts and the initial run of autographs, John Elway's cardboard career saw a lot of diversity.
The following list documents some of the top John Elway cards available to collectors. The list is intended to provide a good mix of cards and offer options for all collecting budgets.
Top John Elway Cards to Collect
Click the card listings below to shop for singles on eBay.
While he ended up picking football, John Elway was an excellent baseball player and was drafted by the New York Yankees in the second round of the 1981 MLB Draft. He spent the summer of 1982 with the Class-A Oneonta Yankees and his first card was produced as part of a 17-card team set by TCMA. The simple card utilizes a red border and text box that surrounds a black-and-white photo of Elway.
Gem Mint copies have sold for over $10,000 in past years and it has been reported that only 1,100 sets were produced. Counterfeits are a problem for this card, so be careful with ungraded purchases. This is the only official minor league card issued for John Elway. Since then, multiple John Elway baseball cards have been released, including several Topps baseball cards.
By 1984, it was clear that John Elway was sticking with football, but it was up in the air for some time after his stint with the Oneonta Yankees. By the time 1984 Topps was released, Elway was the face of the Denver Broncos' franchise. As his only rookie card, this John Elway card remains very popular.
Not generally recognized as an official rookie card, 1984 Topps Stickers offers budget collectors an intriguing first-year card for John Elway. The undersized sticker shows an action image of Elway, with his jersey covered in mud.
The 1985 Topps John Elway card applies the now-familiar design, complete with a black border and oversized last name. Elway is also featured on card #235 with the team's running back, Sammy Winder.
Perhaps nauseous from the famous/infamous 1986 Topps design, John Elway looks noticeably pale in this early football card. Collectors can track down this low-priced card with relative ease and the price should not do much damage.
The card has not aged well and this is furthered by the non-action shot of John Elway in his workout gear. The real draw is found on the back, as the signed insert set marked the very first autograph card for John Elway. They are not too common, but values are kept in check by the bizarre image, condition-sensitive edges, and the fact that most were signed on the back. The autographed card is basically a parallel of the base set, with the main difference being that authentic versions have an embossed logo in the bottom right corner.
Interesting to note, Janet Elway, the former wife of John Elway, was included in the product as part of a Wives insert set. The set also included Joe Montana's wife, Jennifer Montana, and Ahmad Rashad's former wife, Phylicia Rashad. Additionally, rare signed versions are available for each of the wives.
With a reasonable pull rate of 1:24 packs, these innovative acetate-like autographs were part of the technology-heavy, Pinnacle LaserView product. The signed John Elway card is hand-numbered on the back to 3,100 copies and is signed on-card. The 25-card lineup was quite impressive and included Jerry Rice, Steve Young, Brett Favre, and Barry Sanders, among others. The main detraction is that the autographs have not held up over the years and many are badly faded.
2007 Topps Triple Threads Triple Relic Autograph #TTRCA-3 John Elway, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning #/36
Few combinations in football can match the respect and success enjoyed by these three quarterbacks. John Elway is joined by Peyton Manning and Tom Brady with a sticker autograph and jersey pieces. Some of the most valuable John Elway autographs pair him with other players, and there are many different pairings available.
Playing off the popular 1997 Upper Deck Legends design, 2011 Upper Deck College Legends applies a collegiate theme to the autograph insert line. While the on-card autograph gives it more appeal, the real interest stems from the short printed nature of the card. Although the complete print run was not disclosed, Upper Deck did reveal that this Elway autograph was part of a 10-card subset that combined to fall 1:1,087 packs. Because of this rarity, the Elway cards do not appear often.
The main portion of 2013 Panini Spectra understandably covers veteran and rookie players. However, the 50th Anniversary Pro Football Hall of Fame Signatures set has emerged as one of the most popular inserts based on the on-card signature, HOF lineup and appealing design. John Elway is featured in this impressive set, and each card is numbered to 50 in honor of the 50th anniversary. The look of the card does not translate as well in a scan, so an additional image is shown below to better showcase the card.