The other day, when I re-read my column about the low numbered print runs that began to enter the hobby in the 1990’s, my mind went back to some of the more memorable companies which had only a short run in producing sports cards. Some of them lasted for several years and others had one brief shining moment. One aspect of this you will notice is most of these companies produced football cards. That was because in the early 1990’s both the players association and the union were trying to get as much money in the bank as a result of the Freeman McNeil lawsuit. I think in 1992, we had 11 companies producing cards that were listed in Beckett Football Card Monthly.
Here, then, is a look back at some of those 1990's football cards now relegated to hobby history books. Click the name to see a sampling of cards from the various manufacturers.
AW Sports: No, not the root beer company. This was a one-shot issued during the 1992 football season. AW had signed an exclusive with Desmond Howard, who had just won the 1991 Heisman Trophy and was getting a lot of hype as he entered the NFL. As his career developed, Howard won a Super Bowl MVP award as a Packers kickoff returner (not even for his original team). He was one of several players who signed autographs in that set along with Jim Brown and Joe Namath. They did a 'greats of the game' football set and a CFL issue that featured Raghib "Rocket" Ismael, who was also a big deal at the time.
I cannot even remember if in the 21st century I have seen an AW card for sale at any show I have attended. AW was owned by Harlan Werner and he is still active as a player agent.
Action Packed: Action Packed had a really cool concept with their raised card designs. They always were monitoring the market and one of the yearly industry highlights was their report on the overall strength of the hobby.
One year, probably 1991, their numbers indicated more money was being spent on new sports cards than in the dentifrice industry. Yes, more money was being spent on baseball cards then on toothpaste.
A slight digression here to a classic Beckett Baseball readers write letter (answered long before I arrived at Beckett). Some young man asked if Dr. Beckett was a dentist, and his response was “No, I have a PHD in statistics and by the way, brush your teeth.”
Action Packed had some nice issues and eventually were absorbed by Pinnacle and went away in the late 1990’s.
Collectors Edge: This company began by having every card issued with a serial number. Now some of these serial numbers were way up there in the thousands, but every card was numbered.
As the years went on for Collector’s Edge, trying to figure out what the slight differences were in some of their releases was enough to give me a monthly headache. I can't imagine how Dan Hitt, our football price guide editor at the time, kept up with what Collectors Edge was doing.
NFL Pro Line: Yes, for a couple of years in the early 1990’s, NFL Properties created cards. They were soft advertisements for that division as the players were not wearing uniforms but various outfits that carried team logos. There were autographs in the 1991 release and those were very tough indeed with players such as Jim McMahon being really difficult to pull. Today, if a league entity did a product like that, I would wager that there would be a much better autograph pull ratio. You wonder what a league might be able to accomplish by taking a brand in house.
Pro Line had a nice little gold-bordered set of quarterbacks that's now ridiculously cheap.
Pro Line even had players' wives cards and--more notably--Bill Belichick's best 'rookie' card from his days as head coach of the Cleveland Browns.
Pro Set: We included Pro Set in the 1990's but their debut set was actually in 1989. Only around for five years, and as we have detailed, it was quite a ride. Under the leadership of the late Lud Denny, who was a larger than life figure, Pro Set went from zero to sixty and then back to zero within a five year period. Early on, they actually did a nice job chronicling the seasons with updated cards. Rookie cards of Troy Aikman, Barry Sanders and Deion Sanders were in the debut set but they made enough to stretch from coast to coast. And yes, Pro Set had a Belichick rookie card, too.
On some rare occasions we used to go to the Pro Set offices to see if they had anything interesting in their shop (yes they had a little shop in their offices) for sale. I don't think we ever found anything but one time I think we all commented about the Zubaz pants they had for sale.
Wild Card: We have touched upon Wild Card because of their gimmicks in having parallel stripe versions and how dealers on Sports Net would pump up this product. I think almost every single dealer on Sports Net that dealt in Wild Card, starting with Bob Amato (Big Bob’s), went down in flames. While one or two of the dealers in Wild Card survived, most took such a bath that they could not withstand the financial heat. Of course, what was more interesting was Wild Card’s dealers would only do those trades if you opened up the product in their stores or in front of them at a show. If those cards were so good, what did it matter how you got the 1,000 stripe Brett Favre or Barry Sanders card?
These are some of my memories of card companies which shone briefly and then retired. Doyou have any memories of these or other companies which no longer produce cards? Drop me a note at [email protected].