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The Hardest John Elway Football Cards to Collect: 1984-1996

I have a B.A. in History and Creative Writing and an M.A. in History. I enjoy politics, movies, television, poker, video games, and trivia.

John Elway: One of The Greatest NFL Quarterbacks

Collecting John Elway football cards has been a hobby of mine for some time. I currently own the largest, PSA-graded collection of John Elway football cards in the world as far as I know and as far as PSA is concerned. I've provided a link to that set below.

I used to collect many different types of football cards, but felt that my collecting was extremely unfocused. Because I've been a Broncos fan all my life and their winning the Super Bowl was this seminal event in my sports life, I decided to concentrate on Elway football cards.

I hope this article and future articles detailing other difficult football cards, will be of interest to Elway and Broncos fans as well as other collectors. And by "hardest", I mean collecting particular football cards in the highest possible grade. Some cards can be had easily enough, but getting them graded and achieving that perfect grade can be near impossible.

You'll notice that Elway's football rookie card is not listed here. It's not that hard to find. Ungraded, the card sells for under $50, if not less. A PSA 9 is around $100. And I've seen a PSA 10 go for around $900, well down from its price of a few years ago above $2000.

And just a quick caveat to all this, I can only talk about the difficulty of collecting football cards I actually own. In reality, the hardest cards to collect are ones that I don't already have.


1985 Topps John Elway #238

Until recently, there were no PSA 10 versions of this card in existence, but a few have popped up on Ebay recently and now there are 5 PSA 10's in existence, making this card infinitely harder than collection Elway's rookie card of which there are 69 PSA 10's. The 1985 Topps set is one of the more popular football sets because of the black borders that make collecting PSA 10 versions very, very difficult.

The PSA 9 version of the Elway card shown here can be had on Ebay for under $100 in most cases. The PSA 10 version goes for around $500-$1000, assuming one can find one.


1987 Ace Fact Pack John Elway

There is one version graded PSA 10.

I wish that the card I owned was a PSA 10, but I got kind of burned on it. These cards can sell raw for over $100 because they're so rare. I bought mine for $125 raw from somebody who said it was in pristine condition. Indeed, when it arrived, it certainly looked that way, but upon further examination, I found that it had ballpoint indentations on it from somebody who obviously was writing something with the card underneath. Probably an accident, I'm sure, but a microscopic example of the dangers of buying raw cards. Now, I usually only buy graded cards unless the card is very, very rare.


1988 Starline Prototype John Elway

The highest grade in this card is PSA 8, so it tells you something about how hard it is to collect and to get raw in a good grade.

Supposedly, there were only 300 of the Starline sets produced (though I've seen mention that it was only 75 of each card), which includes four cards: Elway, Phil Simms, Bernie Kosar, and Joe Montana. The cards never made it to market for sale. I've seen a number of these on Ebay, but they can be fairly expensive. A raw card of Elway is under $50.


1990 British Petroleum John Elway #1

There are only two of these cards that have been graded PSA 8. There are none higher. There are supposedly two versions of the card - the same front, but different backs. This is from a set of 36.

The problem with this card is the perforated edges, which make collecting a pristine version very difficult because somebody along the line has to separate the cards, which means tearing and fingerprints; etc. I tried very hard for awhile the get a better grade than an 8, but gave up. Not a super hard card to find, but very hard in a high grade.


1992 King B Discs John Elway #11

This is the highest graded version of this card in existence at PSA 9.

I'm not sure of the origin of the cards - whether "King B" is a brand name or what. The card is exceedingly rare either raw or graded. Many other King B discs are out there, particularly for baseball, but finding the Elway disc is all but impossible.


1992 Newsport John Elway

Tells you something about how hard this card is to find given that the highest graded version is PSA 7. Furthermore, the card, when graded, comes in the largest holder that PSA offers.

The card is part of a 32-card set issued in Newsport, a French magazine. Due to its large size, a very difficult card to get graded high. However, it can be found raw on Ebay for under $20.


1993 Score Ore-Ida John Elway QB Club #1

This PSA 9 is the only Elway football card graded this high. There are no PSA 10's. The football card can be purchased now for under $10 on Ebay. The problem with getting a high grade lies in the nature of the card itself.

Acquiring this particular football card meant purchasing specially-marked Ore-Ida products, filling out the order form, then sending it back along with proof of purchase.

In any situation where football cards, or any other collectible cards for that matter, are traveling through the mail, the chance of some kind of damage that knocks the card out of pristine condition is always possible.


1993 Topps Fantasports John Elway #7

This football card is actually an element in an interactive trading game, the first of its kind, which was marketed in four cities: Houston, Kansas City, Buffalo, and Washington D.C. The only way to get these cards was to pay the $159 fee and then you received the entire set of 200. They were never sold at retail. The goal of the game was to compile the best fantasy score over an 18-game period (not sure the details about how that was done). The winner got tickets to the Superbowl.


1994 Action Packed Coastars John Elway #4

This is the only one of these football cards (not actually a card, but a coaster) graded PSA 9. None have been graded higher. I'm not sure any others have been graded at all, though they are available on Ebay and not as hard to find as they once were.

The reason I have it is because I was contacted as a result of having my set on the PSA registry. The guy who owns one of the top Dan Marino sets contacted me to let me know he was a huge John Elway fan and had many of his football cards, but just couldn't devote his time to it. This was one of the cards he sold me.


1994 Pro Mags John Elway #2

This football card is the highest-graded one in existence. This is a magnet that looks like a football card. The back is all black. Although they are rare in graded form, the magnets do pop up on Ebay from time-to-time and can usually be purchased for less than $15.

There is definitely a #3 John Elway magnet and I'm not sure if there's a #1 John Elway magnet, but one would presume there is.

Only 750 of each card were produced.


1995 Score Red Siege Artist's Proof John Elway #219

If memory serves, each pack of 1995 Score football cards contained one "Red Siege" card. However, the "artist's proof" cards were a 275 card parallel set and were inserted in packs at a rate of 1 in 36, so collecting all of them, or even targeting a certain player, would have been quite a challenge.

Just a note on "artist's proof" cards. I think it was a good idea to create a parallel set, but most of the cards are just stamped "artist's proof" and are kind of boring. I think the hobby recognized this in the mid-1990s and got away from the whole "artist's proof" parallel concept.


1995 Stadium Club John Elway Metalists #M3

There are 8 cards in this subset from the 1995 stadium club set. They were inserted at a rate of 1 in 18 in the retail packs and a rate of 1 in 24 in the hobby packs. The sets cards are the first ever laser cut cards, which supposedly improved the precision of the card-making process.

Topps got a little crazy the following year with the laser cut process and had an entire set dedicated to is, with lots of little holes all over the card and jagged edges.

I think overall it's not that attractive a card. As the process faded into the background, Topps went back to concentrating on overall design. Anytime you emphasize process over design, it's usually a bad thing.


1995 Summit Ground Zero John Elway #16

This is a parallel set to the regular Summit issue of this card. The regular issue looks exactly the same except that it doesn't have the sparkly background. This is a 200-card parallel set that was inserted into packs at a rate of 1 in 7. So, it's not a super-rare card by any stretch and can be purchased raw on Ebay for under $10.


1995 Upper Deck Pro Bowl John Elway #PB20

The reason this card's photograph looks funny is that it's a hologram card. Interest in the hologram card fluctuated during the 1990s with the card type ultimately losing favor. Upper Deck released hologram cards in its premier football card release in 1991, but those cards didn't really attain any real value.

This is a 25-card set within the regular Upper Deck issue and was inserted into packs at the rate of about 1 in 25. Though you can't see it, there are palm trees behind Elway. On the back are the stats from the 1994 season and an action photo. Card can be found for under $10.


1995 Upper Deck Electric Silver John Elway #82

Again, another card that's not particularly hard to find, but hasn't been sent in for much grading for whatever reason. Like the others, this is the only one with this grade. Card is available on Ebay for under $10.

This card is the parallel card to the regular issue. The set contains all 300 cards and is recognizable by the "electric silver" emblem in the corner. They were included in packs at the rate of 1 card in each pack.

Again, I'm not sure what it is about 1995 that is so boring in terms of hard-to-find cards, but I'll try to make the 1996 selections much more interesting - or do fewer cards if I can't find interesting and rare selections.


1996 Pro Line II Intense John Elway $5 Phone Card #9

I guess very few people have bothered to get these graded. Among some of the difficulties in achieving a high grade is the fact that the back has a scratch-off part where you get the code. This is not a particularly hard card to find and they are usually available for less than $5, so you could conceivably get it graded and get that PSA 10 and have the only one in the world.

Randomly inserted in 1996 Pro Line Intense packs at a rate of one in 35, this 20-card set includes $5 worth of Sprint long distance phone calls per card. The expiration date for calling is March 26, 1998. The cards were released as well in 1996 Score Board NFL Phone Card packs. Two parallel sets of the $5 cards were included in the Phone Card pack release. Proof cards were inserted at the rate of 1:65 (numbered of 108 made) and Test cards were inserted at the rate of 1:130 packs (numbered of 52 made).


1996 Upper Deck TV-Cels #TV-6 John Elway

As you'll note in the description in the card below, this card is a redeemed card, so it's road to being graded is even more difficult than the "Predictor" card that is more common. Even at PSA 8, this is the highest graded of these cards.

The 1996 Upper Deck Predictors were randomly inserted in both hobby and retail packs at a rate of one in 23, with stated odds of 1:14 in some special retail packs. These otherwise standard-sized insert cards had a small concave die-cut into the ends of the card, which had a gold border surrounding a picture of the player. This interactive insert listed an accomplishment (I.e., 16 receptions in a game, 420 yards passing in a game, etc.) that the player pictured had to reach during the 1996 NFL season for the card to be redeemable for a "TV-Cel" upgrade of the particular card. The results listed after the player below by a W (winner) or L (loser) reflects their success in meeting those goals. The predictors inserted in hobby packs have a "PH" prefix, while the retail predictors have a "PR" prefix. The expiration date was 2/28/1997.


1996 Sportscall Phone Card John Elway #109

I wish I knew more about this set of cards, but if you type in "1996 sportscall" on Ebay, you'll find a bunch of them. Again, because they were supposed to be used for phone calls, people probably put them in their wallets and degraded them.

These cards can be acquired cheaply, though they're not the most attractive card around. There's a very good chance with a little effort, that PSA 10 could be had. There are none available right now and this is the highest-graded card on the market.


1996 Playoff Trophy Contender Mini Back 2 Back #42

Playoff Trophy Contenders Mini Back-To-Backs were randomly inserted in packs at a rate of one in 17, this 60-card measure 2 1/4" by 3". These cards were inserted approximately one every 17 packs. The first 11 cards in the set feature Super Bowl XXX opponents: Dallas and Pittsburgh on each side.


1996 Pinnacle Bimbo Bread John Elway #5

The scarcity of this card is indicated by the fact that the highest graded of these cards is off-center. Since there are some available out there, I should probably hunt one down that's centered, but I'm too lazy. With some cards, I just like to have a version and don't make a ton of effort to replace it unless something just falls in my lap.

Apparently, these were distributed in Mexico. They're a bit more expensive than most cards on Ebay and will run you about $15, but they're out there.


1996 Upper Deck Silver Helmet Cards #AW5

Definitely a good looking card, but nothing special other than it features two of the greatest all-time Broncos. It's hard not to like a card with both Elway and Davis featured on it.

Randomly inserted in packs at a rate of one in 18, this 30-card standard-size set features double front Light F/X technology with each of the 30 NFL teams helmets on one side and two top stars on the other. We have sequenced this set below in alphabetical order within division order.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 crankalicious


crankalicious (author) from Colorado on October 10, 2020:

Thanks for commenting. You could try to sell them on Ebay. You should collect cards because you enjoy it. I'm not sure buying raw Elway cards is going to result in you getting your money back though. At least not right now.

AnthonyValdez123 on October 09, 2020:

I just made a acount to let you know for the last year iv collected nothing but elway cards in a binder i got a binder full of elway cards i just dont have the time to go through anymore its just too much for me some are seriel numbered the lowest being like 83/500 i got a elway disc powerful moments i got 1986 century moments afc championship the drive i got alot and there all in perfect condition never been touched by hands

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