The Joe Montana Rookie and Other Vintage Cards

Joe Montana Rookie Card Info

Collectors typically think of one card as the Joe Montana rookie, but there is another obscure card that is sometimes considered a Montana rookie. In this article I’ll discuss the 1981 Topps, the 1981 Holsum Disc, and a few other early Joe Montana cards.

1981 Topps Joe Montana Card #216

1981 Topps - The Best Joe Montana Rookie
1981 Topps – The Best Joe Montana Rookie

The 1981 Topps Joe Montana Rookie Card, #216, is one of the most recognizable football cards of the 1980s. Joe Montana took the NFL by storm as a high-profile and charismatic quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers dynasty. At a time when sportscard collecting was an ascending hobby and the NFL was growing in popularity, Joe Montana was one of the faces of the NFL and racking up championships. Any Hall of Fame quarterback is going to draw the interest of collectors, but other factors make the Joe Montana 1981 Topps rookie an extremely sought-after card.

Other Factors:

  • A Celebrity Playing Football: It was immediately clear when Joe Montana left Notre Dame for the NFL that the San Francisco 49ers had a star. Joe Montana was extremely charismatic and had early success. Because of this, he became a media darling and was given nicknames like “Joe Cool” and “The Golden Great.” He didn’t become a movie star as Jim Brown did, but he did embrace his celebrity by being very available for interviews and product endorsements. His high-profile post-career kept him very visible and well-known to collectors, even those who didn’t see him play.

  • Four Rings: Joe Montana captured four Super Bowl wins during his career and is often included in debates about who is the greatest quarterback of all time. Until Tom Brady came along, Joe Montana shared the record for most titles with Steelers’ great Terry Bradshaw. Even though Joe Montana has been surpassed, he still appears high on any list of winningest quarterbacks. This keeps younger collectors aware and interested in Joe Montana’s cards.

  • Centering Issues: The 1981 Topps set had centering issues. It’s hard to find perfect examples of this card because many of the cards came out of the pack with bad centering on either the front, back, or both. This is one of the primary drivers for the high prices gem mint vintage cards demand.

1981 Topps Football Set Details

The 1981 Topps Football set is a popular set in the hobby that contains 528 cards. The set has a classic look with a white border and large player photos with team logos airbrushed out. The most famous card in the set is Joe Montana’s rookie card (#216), it also contains rookie cards for Hall of Famers Art Monk (#194), Kellen Winslow (#150), Dan Hampton (#316). In addition to these Hall of Fame rookies, the set also has the first card for the star receiver Dwight Clark (#422) and Heisman Trophy winner Billy Sims (#100).

  • 1981 Topps Football Subsets
    • Conference Leaders (#1-6)
    • Highlights (#331-336)
    • Conference championships and Super Bowl (#492-494)
    • Super Action (follows players solo card)

1981 Topps Joe Montana (#216) Card Details

  • Year: 1981
  • Manufacturer: Topps
  • Card no: #216 of 528
  • Name on Card: Joe Montana
  • Position: QB
  • Team: 49ers
  • Height: 6′ 2″
  • Weight: 200
  • College: Notre Dame
  • Drafted: 49ers #3-1979
  • Acquired: Via Draft
  • Born: 10-13-62. Monongahela, Pa.
  • Home: Manhattan Beach, Cal.

Front of the card

Design: The front of the 1981 Topps Joe Montana rookie card (#216) is a vertical layout and is one of the most famous football cards in the hobby. The card has a white border with a green inner-boarder framing the photo. The Topps logo is in the upper right corner and is integrated into the green inner border. The bottom of the card has a banner with “49ers” in the yellow part on the left and “Joe Montana” in the red part on the right. His position, “QB,” is just below the team name.

The photo on the card is a great photo of Joe Montana warming up. He is midway through his throwing motion and the photo is close enough to get a clear look at his face. Logos were airbrushed out in this set, so he’s wearing a gold helmet with red and white stripes, but no logo. His jersey is white and the iconic number 16 is front and center on this card.

1981 Topps Joe Montana Rookie #216 - Front
1981 Topps Joe Montana Rookie #216 – Front

Buy the 1981 Topps Joe Montana #216 on eBay (affiliate link), because this is the one everyone considers the Montana rookie.

Back of the card

The back of the 1981 Joe Montana rookie card (#216) has a horizontal layout. Joe Montana’s name, position, and card number are at the top of the card on a folded banner graphic. Below that is Montana’s height, weight, college, draft info, birthday, birthplace, and hometown. The card includes his NFL statistics from 1979, 1980, and a short bio about his early pro and college career. The left side of the back has a cartoon that reads “Joe led Notre Dame to the 1977 National Championship.”

1981 Topps Joe Montana Rookie #216 - Back
1981 Topps Joe Montana Rookie #216 – Back

One of the best young signal-callers in pro football, Joe has run the 49ers adeptly during his playing time the past 2 seasons. At Notre Dame he completed 269 passes for 4121 yards and 25 touchdowns. Was All-American

1981 Topps Joe Montana rookie (#216)

Joe Montana Rookie Card Value

The Joe Montana rookie card is one of the most valuable football cards of the 1980s. The chart below is from the popular card grading site, PSA. It shows auction prices for the Joe Montana rookie card in various conditions.

Joe Montana Rookie Card Auction Prices (10/12/21)
Joe Montana Rookie Card Auction Prices (10/12/21)

Keep in mind that prices fluctuate. While PSA is a great way to find out the value of a card, we recommend going to eBay to see what cards are currently selling for on the world’s most popular auction site. Click here to view current auctions for the 1981 Topps Joe Montana Rookie card.

Other Relevant Joe Montana Cards

The 1981 Topps Joe Montana rookie card (#216) card is the only major release card in the hobby that is considered a Joe Montana rookie. However, there is an oddball card from 1981 with a great photo of Joe from 1979 and several other cards that warrant discussion.

1981 Holsum Disc Joe Montana (#24)

The Joe Montana 1981 Holsum Disc (#24) is part of a 32-disc set that was distributed in the Upper Midwest with Holsum or Gardner bread. These discs measure 2 3/4″ (diameter) and are much rarer than Montana’s 1981 Topps rookie. The photo on this card features a floating head of Montana with a Fu Manchu mustache. Although the card was issued in 1981, his facial hair dates the photo to shortly after his college career at Notre Dame ended in 1970.

1981 Joe Montana Holsum Disc #24
1981 Joe Montana Holsum Disc #24
Verdict: Oddball Rookie Card

Buy the 1981 Holsum Disc #24 on eBay (affiliate link), because then you’ll have a Joe Montana rookie almost nobody else has.

1979-1983 Coral Lee Joe Montana Postcard

Coral Lee, a retired school teacher from California, gained notoriety as a postcard publisher. The series of 28 postcards were released between 1979 and 1983. Some collectors wonder if this is a rookie, but Montana’s first game against the Redskins was October 4, 1981. It’s safe to assume this postcard was released no earlier than 1982 and is not a rookie.

1979-83 Coral Lee Joe Montana Postcard
1979-83 Coral-Lee Joe Montana Postcard
Verdict: Not a Rookie

Shop for the 1979-83 Coral-Lee Joe Montana Postcard on eBay (rare) (affiliate link)

1982 Topps Joe Montana #488

The 1982 Topps Joe Montana (#488) card is the second major-issue Joe Montana card. This card says “NFC All-Pro” on the top denoting Montana being named the NFC’s best quarterback for the 1981 season. The photo shows Joe Montana on the phone, presumably with his quarterback coach, Sam Wyche.

1982 Joe Montana Topps #488
1982 Joe Montana Topps #488
Verdict: Not a Rookie

Shop for the 1982 Joe Montana Topps #488 on eBay (affiliate link)

1981 Topps NFL Passing Leaders #257

The 1982 Topps set includes a 1981 NFL Passing Leaders card that has Ken Anderson and Joe Montana. This card says 1981 on the front because it is honoring the league leaders from the previous season, but it’s a card from the 1982 Topps set.

1982 Topps Passing Leaders #257
1982 Topps Passing Leaders #257
Verdict: Not a Rookie

Buy the 1982 Topps Passing Leaders card #257 on eBay (affiliate link)

1982 Fleer Team Action San Francisco 49ers #49

In 1982 Fleer issued an 88-card set that featured teams and highlights instead of individuals. The set contained two 49ers cards, one of which features Joe Montana. This isn’t a rookie, but it is a unique early card with Joe Montana that can be found at a low price compared to his Topps cards. There is also a Pro Bowl card in this set (#73) that has Joe Montana.

1982 Fleer Team Action 49ers #49
1982 Fleer Team Action 49ers #49
Verdict: Not a Rookie

Shop for the 1982 Fleer Team Action 49ers #49 (affiliate link)

Joe Montana’s Legacy

Joe Montana was the quarterback of the 1980s San Francisco 49ers dynasty and is considered one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. He was tied with Terry Bradshaw for the most Super Bowl wins as a quarterback before Tom Brady surpassed them in 2017. In addition to Montana’s Super Bowl rings, he was also a multiple-time Pro Bowler, All-Pro, NFL MVP, and passing leader. He and Jerry Rice formed one of the most dynamic quarterback/wide receiver combos to ever play in the NFL. After his playing career in San Francisco, Montana also found success with the Kansas City Chiefs and led them to the AFC Championship game in 1993. After his playing career, he remained visible through his many endorsement deals. Here are a few of Joe Montana’s career accomplishments:

  • 2 time passing TD leader (1982, 1987)
  • 2 time passer rating leader (1987,1989)
  • 5 time pass completion leader (1980, 1981, 1985, 1987, 1989)
  • 8 time Pro Bowl selection
  • 1989 AP Offensive Player of Year
  • 3 time All Pro selection (1987, 1989, 1990)
  • 4 time Super Bowl Champion (1982, 1985, 1989, 1990)
  • 2 time NFL MVP (1989, 1990)
  • Inducted into National Football Hall of Fame in 2000

Get a Joe Montana Rookie for Your Collection

Do you want to own a 1981 Topps Joe Montana Rookie (#216)? If so, we recommend starting your search on eBay – the world’s #1 card trading place. Even if you’re not planning to buy one just yet, it’s fun to look at all the great cards currently for sale.

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All About Joe Montana Rookies Infographic

Joe Montana Rookie Cards Infographic
Joe Montana Rookie Cards Infographic

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2 thoughts on “The Joe Montana Rookie and Other Vintage Cards

  • December 3, 2021 at 6:07 am

    Great blog. Do you consider the 1978 Banty Red Man Pouch Inserts Notre Dame Joe Montana card as a rookie card?

  • December 3, 2021 at 1:20 pm

    Hi Wally. Unless I’m mistaken, I believe that is a custom card so I wouldn’t consider it a rookie. That said, those are extremely high-quality customs that can sell for a pretty good price. Any Joe Montana produced when he was actually at Notre Dame I’d classify as a pre-rookie, but I haven’t seen one. I’ll research that Banty a bit more to confirm I’m correct.


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