Which modern era football card sets might actually be worth space on your shelf?
by Garrett R. Monaghan
For the world of football card collecting, 1990 was the beginning of what many people have dubbed the “Era of Overproduction.” The number of card sets available skyrocketed and print runs became longer and longer, destroying the value of individual cards and sets as a whole.
In recent years, many card companies have turned to special inserts and a variety of short run sets to try and bring their value back up, but this hasn’t always been successful. That said, there are still some post-1990 sets worth having.
By focusing on the sets with rare rookies, and on those with future Hall of Famers, a collector can still dig up a few special finds. All of the listed prices I’ll provide come from either Tuff Stuff Magazine or Beckett Sports Monthly, and may vary from what’s available on eBay or at your local card show or shop. These prices also don’t take into account the graded card market. The prices listed are just a base from which to reference.
1991 Topps Stadium Club
This 500-card set features one of the more collectible players of the Overproduction Era: a Brett Favre rookie card, currently listed between $50 and $100. This Favre card is particularly collectible, as it pictures Favre in his first-year Atlanta Falcons uniform. The set also features a Rickey Watters rookie, and a collection of early ‘90s stars: Emmitt Smith, Dan Marino, Barry Sanders, and Jerry Rice. The set as a whole lists for between $60 and $120. This is really the only set from 1991 worth more than the paper they’re printed on, and the Favre rookie makes it a good choice for collectors.
1992 Topps Stadium Club
Another set featuring an early Brett Favre, this 700-card monster is listed at $150-$200. The Favre card is listed from $120-$140 due to being part of a much shorter print run along with its place in the tough third series. It's his first appearance in a Packer uniform after his 91 debut with Atlanta. The rest of the set features decent Dan Marino, Joe Montana, Emmitt Smith, and Troy Aikman cards. Along with the previous year’s Stadium Club set, it’s one of the few from the early 1990s worth having.
This 188-card from 1996 features a number of worthwhile rookie cards. A Marvin Harrison rookie is the toast of the class, listed at $25; with Terrell Owens ($18) Keyshawn Johnson ($12) Eddie George ($15) keeping pace behind. This set also features rookie cards for players like Stephen Davis, Terry Glenn, and Muhsin Muhammad. As you’ve probably guessed, this is a set for collecting wide receivers. It lists for around $110.
Fleer’s 1997 Finest set is a major step up in value, due to the series being sprinkled with cards embossed in bronze, silver, and gold. This 350-card set lists for around $600, and is head and shoulders above most other sets from the ‘90s. The Brett Favre and Dan Marino gold cards list for about $30 each, and there’s a nice group of other stars like Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith, John Elway, Jerry Rice, and Troy Aikman whose gold cards are in the $20-$25 range. Considering its relatively small size and comparatively high value, this is a terrific set for collectors.
1998 SP Authentic
One of the most heavily sought-after sets of the ‘90s, the SP Authentic isn’t for the faint of heart or light of wallet. This 126-card set was produced in very limited quantities and features are number of excellent rookie cards. A Peyton Manning rookie, listed at $450-$800 is the cream of this set, and is one of the most collectible cards of the ‘90s in its own right. Also featured are a Randy Moss rookie card ($75-$350) an Ahman Green rookie ($150) and a Fred Taylor rookie ($50-$75.) Because of the limited run of this set, it’s difficult to put a price on the whole thing. Unopened boxes are prized...and hard to find. For the serious collectors, this is one of the best modern football sets out there.
2000 SP Authentic
If the 1998 SP Authentic set was the toast of the ‘90s, the 2000 can stake a claim as one of the best sets of the ‘00s. With a Tom Brady rookie card listed at $600-$1200, this set boats one of the single most expensive modern cards. Also featured is a Brian Urlacher rookie ($60-100). While it might be lacking a bit in depth compared to the 1998 set, this set is extremely collectible, and makes a great addition to anyone’s collection.
2001 was a terrific year for rookie talent in the NFL, and the sets from this year really show it. This 220-card set features rookie cards for LaDanian Tomlinson ($120-$200) Drew Brees ($80-$125) Michael Vick ($80-$125) and Deuce McAllister ($100-$125.) Also featured are rookie cards for Reggie Wayne, Santana Moss, and Chris Chambers. While it doesn’t have the same clout as the two SP Authentic sets mentioned above, there is excellent value in this SPX set, and it’s highly recommended.
2003 SP Authentic
Another very solid SP Authentic set, this one features rookie cards for quarterbacks Carson Palmer ($150-$300) and Tony Romo ($250-$500.) Also featured are rookie cards for Larry Johnson, Willis McGahee and Troy Polamalu. While it isn’t the best of the SP Authentic sets, there’s decent value here as well.
2004 SP Authentic
Yes, another Authentic set. The Upper Deck Authentic brand is really the cream of the crop for the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. This set features a lot more depth than the last several, and features rookie cards for Philip Rivers ($200-$350) Eli Manning ($300-$500) Ben Roethlisberger ($450-$600) Matt Schaub ($60-$100) and Kellen Winslow ($60-$100.) Julius Jones, Roy Williams, Jared Allen, and Wes Welker round out this five year-old issue. While this set doesn’t have the huge single cards like the ’98 or 2000 versions, there are plenty of quality players in here.