Any discussion about Jerry Rice rookie cards is bound to be a short one, at least in comparison to the players that came along after him.

Because, while many consider Rice to be the greatest all-around football player who ever lived, and while he eventually appeared on plenty of football cards, the truth is, his debut came while the gridiron hobby was still mired in something of a Dark Ages.

Indeed, even though five years had passed — an eternity in modern hobby terms — since Joe Montana rookie cards went live in 1981, not much had changed by the time the fellow 49ers legends and future Hall of Famers connected in cardboard for the very first time.

But, even with limited options (or maybe because of them), Jerry Rice rookie cards remain some of the most popular football collectibles of all time.

Here is the complete rundown of Flash 80’s very first football cards.

(Note: The sections below contain affiliate links to current Amazon and eBay listings for the cards being discussed.)

1986 McDonald’s 49ers Jerry Rice – Black Tab (#80)

1986 McDonald's 49ers Jerry Rice - Black Tab

Even though Fleer and Donruss had crashed the baseball card party back in 1981 (the same year those Super Joe rookies came out), Topps was still the only game in football cards by the middle of the decade.

But then, as the Chicago Bears were cruising toward Super Bowl XX in the late fall of 1985 and into early 1986, McDonald’s joined the Shuffle party with a Kickoff Payoff promotion in the Windy City.

Specifically, the Golden Arches released a set of 32 cards featuring Bears players and coaches, each with a tab that afforded customers the chance to earn prizes based on how the team performed in a given playoff round — or in the Big Game itself.

The promotion was popular enough that McDonald’s expanded to include all 28 NFL teams in their follow-up promotion in the fall of 1986, with each team’s cards available in restaurants in areas surrounding the club’s home turf.

Each team was represented by 24 different cards (25 for the Dallas Cowboys), along with a 30-card McDonald’s All-Star issue that was available nationwide, outside of the established NFL markets.

That made for a huge 703-card set made even huger by four tab variations.

Specifically, there was one color of game tab used for each of the four weeks of the Mickey D’s NFL promotion — black, blue, green, and orange.

So that’s a lot of explanation before we ever even get to Rice, but as you might have guessed, the budding young receiver was part of the San Francisco 49ers McDonald’s set released in the Bay Area that fall. Since the cards themselves were unnumbered, they’re usually listed by the player’s uniform number, which appears on card fronts.

That means we get Jerry Rice at #80, just like we’d see streaking down NFL fields for 20 full seasons.

This black-tab version is the most common, according to the PSA Population Report, but not by much — as of September 2021, the grading company had processed 74 copies of this card, with a plurality (29) of them checking in at PSA 8 condition.

These cards don’t come up for sale all that often, and the most recent selling prices have been sort of all over the place. But looking at auction prices realized for other grades and considering the booming collectibles market of 2020-21, you can probably expect price tags in the $300-400 range for a PSA 8 copy of this Jerry Rice rookie card.

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1987 McDonald’s 49ers Jerry Rice – Blue Tab (#80)

1987 McDonald's 49ers Jerry Rice - Blue Tab

This blue-tab version of the McDonald’s Rice rookie is a bit less populous — PSA has graded 51 through August 2021 — but is otherwise identical to the black-tab version above.

As such, you should expect much the same when it comes to value — $300-400 for a copy in PSA 8 … if you can find one.

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1988 McDonald’s 49ers Jerry Rice – Green Tab (#80)

1988 McDonald's 49ers Jerry Rice - Green Tab

Different tab, same basic story.

The PSA population for this green variety hovers around 66 as 2021 heads into the home stretch, providing little reason to expect anything other than a similar $300-400 price tag.

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1989 McDonald’s 49ers Jerry Rice – Orange Tab (#80)

1989 McDonald's 49ers Jerry Rice - Orange Tab

This final McDonald’s version of the Jerry Rice rookie card shows the same sunshine-y image of the guy who would eventually rewrite the NFL receiving record book as all the others above … but with an orange tab.

This one checks in on the lower end of the population spectrum along with the blue-tab version, but seems to be slightly tougher from a condition standpoint. Still, the $300-400 range probably isn’t too far out of line for a copy graded PSA 8.

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1986 Topps Jerry Rice (#161)

1986 Topps Jerry Rice

Of course, as great and fun as the McDonald’s cards are, with their relative scarcity and colorful variation, it’s this 1986 Topps Jerry Rice rookie card that really set the hobby on fire when Gentleman Jerry began to dismantle NFL defenses.

By the time this card was issued, Rice already had one season under his belt, a 1985 campaign that saw him play in all 16 games but record just four starts. That overall lack of playing time didn’t curtail Rice’s production much, though — 49 catches, 927 yards, three touchdowns.

By the end of the 1986 season, Rice had really given collectors a reason to pull his RC aside as it came out of wax packs — 86 catches for league-leading totals in yards (1570) and touchdowns (15).

It was off to the races from there, as Montana-to-Rice became as legendary a pairing as the sports world has ever seen, and as Rice himself went about redefining what was possible from the wide receiver position. Like Michael Jordan in basketball, Montana and Rice helped elevate football in the hobby, too, with rookie cards that drew attention and drove demand like none before them.

You could make a solid argument that the Niners’ superstars, along with a few others like Walter Payton, Dan Marino, and John Elway, helped whet collector appetites for the proliferation of new sets that exploded onto the scene in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Rice never really let up on the pedal, either, demolishing the record book on his way to the Hall of Fame in Canton, and pushing his rookie card into record territory, too.

In today’s noisy market, plenty of other cards have nudged the 1986 Topps Rice from the limelight, and outrageous prices for nearly-new cards are becoming the norm.

No matter how much glitz and glamor the new issues unleash, though, there are few cards that can touch the Rice RC in terms of historical significance.

And, with those green borders and diagonal white yard lines, this particular piece of history also presents some condition difficulties.

Here in the latter part of 2021, you can expect prices around $250-300 for copies in PSA 8 condition. Bump that up to the graded MINT (PSA 9) level, and you’re looking at a “buy” price in the neighborhood of $2500.

And if you want a perfect “10”? Might have to put that luxury car on hold for awhile, because your $80,000 is going to be tied up in cardboard.

No matter which route you run to this Jerry Rice rookie card, though, you know it’s going to be a touchdown in the end.

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