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

I've been collecting football cards for a long time and have the largest collection of graded John Elway cards list in the PSA Registry.

Some Football Cards Are Just Harder to Find Than Others

Collecting football cards of the greatest quarterback in Denver Broncos history 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 (though I have started to sell off some cards in the set).

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 one specific player.

I hope this article and future articles detailing other difficult cards in the set will be of interest to Broncos fans as well as other collectors. And by "hardest," I mean collecting particular 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.


1985 Topps #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 more PSA 10's in existence, making this card infinitely harder than collecting Elway's rookie card, of which there are a larger number of 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.


1987 Ace Fact Pack

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

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.

Note: 10 years after this article was written, there are still no graded versions of this card above PSA 8.


1990 British Petroleum #1

There are only two of these cards that have been graded PSA 8 and one PSA 9. 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 way has to separate the cards, which means tearing and fingerprints, etc. I tried very hard for a while the get a better grade than an 8, but I gave up. Not a super hard card to find, but very hard in a high grade.


1992 King B Discs #11

This was the highest graded version of this card in existence at PSA 9 back in 2011. Since then, two PSA 10 versions have emerged. Still, there's only a total graded PSA population of 6.

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.


1992 Newsport

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. It's also hand-cut, apparently. The total population of the card is only 3.

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 a reasonable price.


1993 Score Ore-Ida QB Club #1

This PSA 9 is the only one 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.

(Note: Since 2011, 6 PSA 10's have been graded.)


1993 Topps Fantasports #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 #4

This is one of only two 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 #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 #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 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 the overall design. Anytime you emphasize process over design, it's usually a bad thing.


1995 Summit Ground Zero #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 #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. The card can be found for under $10.


1995 Upper Deck Electric Silver #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.

(Note: 10 PSA 10's have been graded since this article was written.)


1996 Pro Line II Intense $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

As you'll note in the description of the card below, this card is a redeemed card, so its 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.

(Note: 10 years after this article was written, this is still the only one of these ever graded)


1996 Sportscall Phone Card #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 #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.

(Note: 10 years after this article, this is still the only version of this card ever graded.)


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 was accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge at the time of publication but may be out of date. The information contained in this article may not reflect current policies, laws, technology, or data.

© 2011 Allen Donald


Allen Donald (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