A quick run down of the top five wide receivers currently playing in the National Football League would, arguably, look something like this: Jerry Rice, Randy Moss, Cris Carter, Antonio Freeman, and Keyshawn Johnson. Now subtract Rice, the best to ever play the position, and Moss, because one year of league service doesn't constitute a career. What's left are three great receivers – check out their card values and prepare to be disappointed.
Each year, as a crop of new receivers enter the NFL, collectors scurry to buy cards of the next batch of potential game breakers. But history, and long-term value, aren't on their side. Before Randy Moss' emergence during the 1998 season, nearly all first-year wide outs over the previous ten years had struggled to find their place with their respective teams, and their card values suffered. Those who developed into stars – players like Andre Rison and Sterling Sharpe – saw their impact on the hobby curtailed by injuries and off-the-field problems. For one of the highest profile positions on the field, it doesn't seem fair.
In the modern era, 14 receivers have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame – names like Steve Largent, Raymond Berry, Fred Belitnikoff and Paul Warfield. For collectors, these would seem to be the players with some of the most sought after cards. But you'd be surprised. Raymond Berry's 1957 Topps Rookie card (#94) is valued at around $120 and not easy to find in most hobby shops. Jerry Rice's 1986 Topps Rookie card (#161), a staple of showcases nationwide, books for nearly the same.
After thirty years and a more educated collecting public, Berry's card should count for more. Even more jarring, fellow HOF wide receiver Tommy McDonald's rookie card is also in the '57 set (#124). It can be picked up at a show for less than $20.
Football isn't the only sport in which some of its premiere athletes don't receive their hobby due. A similar fate befalls NBA point guards.
Magic Johnson is the hoops version of Jerry Rice, but there is a severe drop-off after that. Isiah Thomas, John Stockton and Gary Payton are all-time greats, but their card values don't hold a candle to Magic. Jason Kidd? Tim Hardaway? Sorry – they may be the generals on the court, but in the hobby world, they rank as a squadron of privates.
Every year, in both the NBA and NFL, as well as Major League Baseball, a number of rookies make an exciting early splash. Maintaining that momentum, however, is the barometer for greatness.
Randy Moss had an unbelievable rookie season, but as his card values rise to Rice-like proportions, the careful collector has to assess what the young Viking's memorabilia is really worth. If his cards have already reached similar values to Rice, and Rice is worth the same as Raymond Berry, one of the best from 30 years ago, then what are the chances that Moss' cards, after just one year, will maintain their value? The odds are not likely.
So before you run out and buy all of the Tory Holt and David Boston football cards, and every Steve Francis and Baron Davis basketball card, remember, it's not easy to get into the Hall of Fame – and that is the only measurement for long term value.
Jeremy Zucker is a former price guide editor and contributing writer for a national hobby publication. He is a life-long collector of sports and celebrity memorabilia.