The roots of contemporary American football can be traced to the late 19th century, when, in 1875, Harvard lost to Tufts. The first professional football league game followed in 1903—the Massillon Tigers won that year’s all-Ohio championship.

Almost from the beginning, marketers tried to capitalize on the popularity of college football. In 1888, cigarette maker Goodwin & Co. published the first football card, an illustration of Henry Beecher, who was the captain of the Yale Bulldogs.

The Beecher card was part of a set of 50 cards celebrating athletes from a variety of sports. In 1894, chewing-tobacco company Mayo Cut Plug released the first actual set of football cards, each bearing a sepia photograph of one of 35 players from Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. One Princeton player with the last name of Poe is thought to be the nephew of poet Edgar Allen Poe.

The precursor to the National Football League didn’t arrive on the scene until 1920 and football cards were not produced in sets until after World War II when, according to football-card collector Mike Thomas, Leaf and Bowman began making cards for players such as John Nolan and Larry Olsonoski. Topps cards dominated the 1950s (the Johnny Unitas rookie card from 1955 is a much-traded collectible) and 1960s (ditto Joe Namath’s rookie card from 1965). In that decade, Fleer also entered the picture.

Players were not the only things depicted on cards. In 1960, Fleer issued a set of cards with decals of college-team pennants (Nebraska paired with Purdue, Stanford with Navy, etc.), as well as a set of cards bearing decals of American Football League logos (the gun-toting, cowboy-booted Texans player running for a touchdown in his ten-gallon hat is a collectible classic).

Beyond cards, collectors gravitate to just about anything with a player’s signature on it, from jerseys to helmets to footballs. As with music, unused tickets and ticket stubs are also fairly popular. But one of the most collectible football memorabilia categories is the Super Bowl.

For football fans, it doesn’t get any better than the Super Bowl. Football memorabilia collectors feel the same way about the objects and ephemera commemorating any of the Super Bowls that have been played since 1967, when Bart Starr led the Green Bay Packers to victory over the Kansas City Chiefs...

Signed Super Bowl helmets and footballs are particularly prized, as are signed jerseys. Reproductions of Super Bowl rings have become quite popular in recent years, and the card companies have been diligent about making sure that fans can add special Super Bowl cards to their collections—many are auto-signed to replicate the signatures of players.

Rounding out Super Bowl memorabilia are the actual programs and ticket stubs from the games themselves, for those fans not fortunate enough to actually attend. And then there are the patches, lapel pins, snowglobes, and bobblehead caricatures of players standing next to oversized reproductions of the coveted Super Bowl ring.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Vintage Football Card Gallery

Vintage Football Card Gallery

This great database of pro and collegiate football cards from the 1950s and 1960s offers scanned images of cards fo… [read review or visit site]

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

2015 Panini Flawless Joe Montana Greats Dual Patch Auto Autograph Rainbow #d 1/1Tom Brady Rookie Ticket On Card Auto 144 Rc Autograph Sp 2000 Playoff Contenders1976 Topps #148 Walter Payton Bears Rc Rookie Hof Psa 9 " Looks Undergraded " 1984 Topps #63 John Elway Denver Broncos Rc Rookie Hof Psa 10 " Dead Centered " 24 Hof Jersey Logo Patch 1/10 Joe Montana Tom Brady Favre Rodgers Marino Manning1986 Topps Football Wax Box. Bbce Sealed Possible Rice Young Rookie Card Psa 102003-04 Exquisite Limited Logos 3 Clr Patch Auto Gary Payton 05/75 Rare 1957 Topps #119 Bart Starr Rookie Psa 7 Nm *spotless High End* Green Bay Packers1981 Topps Joe Montana #216 Psa 91980 Topps All-pro Football #160 Walter Payton Bears Hof Psa 10 Gem Mint 2015-16 Hershey Bears St. Patrick's Day Jersey Issued/signed By #13 Jakub Vrana24 Rb Hof Jersey Patch 1/10 Walter Payton Emmitt Smith Barry Sanders Peterson Sp2012 Playbook Booklet Lilly " Too Tall " Jones Renfro Cowboys Multi Auto 4/4 Tom Brady 2000 Sp Authentic Patriots Rookie Rc Card /1250 Bgs 9.5 Gem Mint 1999 Upper Deck Walter Payton Game Used Jersey Patch Autograph Auto #'d 33/34Tom Brady Autographed Nfl Jersey ....... Certified... Mounted Memories1976 Topps #148 Walter Payton Bears Rc Rookie Bgs 8.5 Nm-mt+88 Famouvintage Arsenal Yellow Away Jvc Shirt Football Size Large Gunners RetroEngland Euro 1996 Original Vintage (not Remake) Umbro Football Shirt (m) Jersey1985 Topps Football Cellol Box. Bbce Sealed Possible Moon Rookie Hof Psa 101999 Upper Deck Walter Payton Game Used Jersey Patch Autograph Auto Numbered /341962 Topps Football Cards Complete Set Of 176 Cards..original And Nice!!!!!Paxton Lynch 2016 Panini Classics Rookie Auto /15 Denver Broncos / Memphis2000 Bowman Chrome Tom Brady Rookie Card Rc #236 Psa 10 Gem Mint PatriotsBart Starr Authentic Autographed Green Bay Packers Mini Helmet! Awesome!2016 Panini Classics Football Rookies Ezekiel Elliott #212 Rc Auto Ohio St 25/252000 Bowman Roy Promotion Tom Brady Rc Rookie New England Patriots Peyton Manning Single Signed Baseball Auto Autograph Psa/dna 9.5 BroncosJoe Montana Autographed Authentic Nfl Fb Helmet - Sf 49ers - Auth #uds22468Joe Montana Autographed Authentic Nfl Jersey San Francisco 49ers Auth #uds216751955 Topps All American Football #68 The Four Horsemen Psa 8.5 High End FlawlessFormula 1 1/2 Scale Helmet Nigel Mansell Signed 1982 Topps Football Wax Box Tons Of Rookies!!Peyton Manning 18 Autographed Signed Denver Broncos Jersey Psa AuthenticatedPre War League Football Programme Leeds United V Middlesbrough 1939Joe Montana Autographed Football Jersey " Team Issued Jersey ".certified.. Jsa1984 Topps #123 Dan Marino Dolphins Rc Rookie Hof Psa 10 Gem Mint " Pristine "Johnny Unitas & Dick Butkus Signed 16x20 Photo Autograph Mounted Memories Coa Brett Favre 2015 Topps Difinitive Collection Packers Auto Autograph 1/101965 Topps Joe Namath #122 Rookie Card With Tattoo- Sgc 40- Vg32015 Roger Staubach Joe Namath Panini Immaculate Dual Auto #d 2/10 On Card Bgs 9 10 Rob Gronkowski 2010 National Treasures Patriots Rc Logo Patch Auto /99Pre War League Football Programme Leeds United V Chelsea 19381969 Topps Football #120 Larry Csonka Hof Dolphins Rc Psa 8 Nm-mt " High End "1981 Joe Montana Topps Rc Rookie Bgs 9 Mint Centering Appears Undergraded! NrTom Brady - Authentic, Autographed "4x Sb Champ" Football - Tristar, Steiner, Jg2015 Leaf Q Tom Brady Auto Card 18/201986 Jerry Rice Topps Rc Rookie Bgs 9 Nice Subs, 9.5 Centering (9.5, 9, 9, 9)Tom Brady Autographed Jersey New England Patriots Blue On Field Nike Size Medium2015 Panini Flawless Roger Staubach Auto 3-color Patch 9/15 Dallas Cowboys Hof1984 Topps Football Cello Pack Authentic Unopened Gai Nm-mt+ 8.5 * Hucky *1984 Topps #63 John Elway Denver Broncos Rc Rookie Hof Bgs 9.5 W/ 10 Early 1960's Washington Redskins Nfl Football Bobble Head Nodder Nice!Vintage Nfl Pittsburgh Steelers Footbal P Bobble Head Gold Base OriginalAaron Rodgers Packers 2005 Topps Chrome Refractor #190 Rookie Rc Card Bgs 9 MintDrew Brees Autographed F/s New Orleans Saints Helmet- Jsa W AuthenticatedEmmitt Smith Signed 16x20 Photo Autograph Tristar Coa Dallas Cowboys HofTom Brady Signed Autograph Authentic Reebok Patriots Jersey Mounted Memories Coa2015 National Treasures Nfl Logo Hats Off Jay Ajayi Rc Auto Nfl Logo Hat 1/11981 Joe Montana Topps Rc Rookie #216 Bgs 8.5 With 9.5 Edges 9 (8.5, 9.5, 9, 8)