Our list of potential top vintage and retro NFL jerseys started at around 30, and we didn’t let favorites get in the way—too much, that is. We took some of the greatest pro players and mixed those up with recent Hall of Fame jersey acquisitions, because who wouldn’t want a 1940s piece of football history? Signed jerseys (yes, even throwbacks) also received love in our decision-making process. Behold—some of the best jerseys out there, signed, collectible, or historically noteworthy.
We can only imagine the colleges that didn’t consider Payton due to antiquated ratios kicking themselves after he was selected for the All-American Team and named Black College Player of the Year (’73, ’74). Nicknamed “Sweetness,” this stutter-stepper retired as the NFL’s all-time leading rusher. His Chicago Bears jersey, signed with five inscriptions, is going for over $3,600 at Prosportsmemorabilia.com.
Norman Van Brocklin
“The Dutchman” wasn’t just a top-quality punter in college, but is a pro football Hall of Fame inductee (’71). A former WWII Navy man, Norm moved from a 12-year career in the NFL to a coaching position. We can’t forget when Van Brocklin threw a record-setting 554 yards in 1951, an achievement that still has weight in NFL history. Norm’s jersey looks wildly vintage, thanks to its plain numbering, and was brought into the Hall of Fame’s collection in recent years.
Starr was named MVP in the first two Super Bowls and won NFL championships in 1961, 1962, 1965, 1966, and 1967. This signed green custom throwback jersey was found at Prosportsmemorabilia.com and costs around $400.
Mean Joe Greene
Were you really that mean, Joe Greene? No. His nickname stemmed from his alma mater, the University of North Texas. While the Steelers don’t officially retire numbers, Mean Joe Greene’s has been taking a long sabbatical. We chose this jersey not just due to Greene’s outstanding record, but because of his jersey’s inclusion in The World of Coca-Cola display in Atlanta, Georgia. Perhaps you remember him in the old Coke ads yourself?
Tarkenton was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986; his professional career culminated with an NFL record of more than 1,000 years in each of his eighteen pro seasons. The Vikings’ head coach, Bud Grant, called Tarkenton “the greatest quarterback to ever play the game.” Tarkenton led the Vikings to three Super Bowl appearances, and we found a signed “HOF86” purple jersey at Prosportsmemorabilia.com. They also have an autographed Vikings throwback jersey on the site.
Little was inducted into the Hall of Fame in August of this year, so it seemed fitting that we include his jersey in the mix. The first Bronco to have his number (44) retired, Floyd Little broke Jim Brown’s record at Syracuse and continued to the NFL, where he established himself as the seventh leading rusher with 6,323 yards upon retirement. The jersey shown is the one enshrined at the Hall of Fame.
Blanda’s considered one of the best pro players ever to wear number 16, along with Joe Montana, Len Dawson, Frank Gifford, and Vinny Testaverde. Blanda scored more points than anyone in history when he retired (1976). Blanda also celebrated a Silver Anniversary in Pro Football, with a total of 26 seasons. Blanda’s autographed jersey was worn when he became the first payer to score 2,000 points and is currently on display in the Hall of Fame.
What influenced our decision to include Joe Namath in this list: his illustrious career, multiple signed jerseys on the internet, or this awesome watercolor of him doing his thing? All three, without a doubt. Namath’s numbers and stunning arced passes weren’t the only thing he was known for, as a player with a killer college career and a playboy image. Namath, who dealt with serious knee injuries during a large part of his pro career, was also one of the most recognizable players of his time. Multiple signed jerseys are available at Prosportsmemorabilia.com for under $1,000.
Terry Metcalf holds the record for the most games with 250+ all-purpose yards at 7, and he was the first player in NFL history to average, per season, a minimum of 30 yards per kick return combined with 10 yards per punt return. This jersey, now at the Hall of Fame, was worn on August 16, 1976, in Japan, at the first NFL game played overseas.
Bartkowski is one of eight quarterbacks ever to retain thirty-touchdown passing seasons in a row at least once in their careers. Bartkowski played eleven seasons with the Atlanta Falcons before finishing up with the Los Angeles Rams. The number-one player in the 1975 draft, Bartkowski’s jersey shown here is featured at the Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame.
Sanders was the first player in history to rush for 1,000 yards in his first ten seasons. This explosive runner may have had people questioning his size in the beginning, but by the end of his career, it was accepted that his low-to-the ground technique was best described as “electrifying.” One of the newer jerseys in our list, this one was worn in 1997 when Sanders joined O.J. Simpson and Eric Dickerson as the only players in NFL history to rush more than 2,000 yards in a single season. Also, a light blue jersey is perfect for rounding out the collection.
Stydahar was an imposing player during his pro days in the ’40s, at 6’4” and 233 pounds. This jersey might be torn in the front and faded, but it’s not every day you find a vintage Bears item 70 years old. Stydahar took a break from pro football to serve in WWII and returned to the game for two additional seasons. He holds the distinction as the first player in the Hall of Fame ever drafted, because Chicago used their first 1936 pick on him.