The year 1988 was right in my adolescent wheelhouse. I was 10 years old and a full-fledged, all in sports fan. I couldn’t get enough baseball, basketball and football. I played sports, watched sports, talked about sports and, you guessed it, collected sports cards.
With that being said, 1988 was a great year for sports and sports fans in general.
1988 Was Full of Moments, Milestones and Major Stars
In June of ’88, Mike Tyson knocked out Michael Spinks in Atlantic City to further solidify his title as not only the heavyweight champion of the world but “the baddest man on the planet.” That same year the Magic Johnson led Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA championship besting the Bad Boys of the Detroit Pistons in a classic seven game series. All time great Barry Sanders won the Heisman Trophy, rushing for over 2,000 yards for the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
The biggest rock star of the time was actually a baseball player by the name of Jose Canseco, who became the first player in Major League Baseball history to reach the 40/40 club, bashing more than 40 home runs and stealing 40 plus bases that year.
Speaking of baseball, we witnessed one of the most iconic World Series of our lifetimes as the Los Angeles Dodgers bested the Oakland A’s on the strength Orel Hershiser’s right arm and Kirk Gibson’s classic game one walk off Home Run.
Track and Field stars Flo Jo and Ben Johnson dominated their respective sprinting events at the Seoul Summer Olympics and in August the first night game was held at Chicago’s iconic Wrigley Field. What a time to be alive.
But quite possibly the most impactful athlete in 1988 was a dual sport star by the name of Vincent Edward Jackson.
Bo Jackson burst onto the scene like nothing seen before or since. A super athlete who won the Heisman Trophy in 1985 on the gridiron, Bo was also drafted and quickly excelled at the big league level for the Kansas City Royals in 1986, smashing home runs, breaking bats over his knee and scaling walls to rob would be hits and home runs.
His impact on popular culture and the sports landscape in the years ahead could be a piece unto itself highlighted by the Nike Bo Knows campaign and worldwide mass appeal, there was nothing quite like Bo.
I can still remember getting the 1988 Topps Football factory set for Christmas and cracking it open at my grandparents house. Of course, I immediately thumbed through to find the Jackson. It was a gem. I can distinctly remember showing it to my dad and he approved of the card and its condition. That was all I needed that holiday season. That’s a moment, for whatever reason, that I still remember to this day.
Undoubtedly, the most significant card in the 1988 Topps football set was Bo Jackson’s rookie card…by a mile.
Old School Set with One Big Gem
1988 Topps football wax boxes consisted of 36 packs and 16 card per packs. Cellos consisted of 24 packs per box with 30 cards in each pack. Rack packs came in boxes of 24 packs and 43 cards per pack.
As we all are well aware now, the1988 Topps football set was produced smack dab in the middle of the junk card era. PSA 10 examples of some of the rookies and tough to grade superstars go for a few bucks but most can be had for a very nominal amount of moolah.
While the PSA 10 Jackson RCs sell for anywhere between $700 and $1,500, most are easily affordable.
The Jackson rookie is at the top of the marquee but beyond that, it’s not a very deep rookie class but it does feature rookie cards of two Heisman trophy winners. Alongside Jackson, University of Miami Heisman trophy winning quarterback Vinny Testaverde’s RC is featured in his classic Tampa Bay Buccaneers creamsicle orange. The rookie cards of defensive stalwarts and Hall of Famers Kevin Greene and Chris Doleman can be found in the set, too.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the rookie cards of cult heroes Brian Bosworth and Christian Okoye. Anyone that was watching football or collecting football cards in that era knows the significance and impact those players had, albeit in a very small window.
Bosworth was somewhat of a sensation in his own right for the lowly Seattle Seahawks. He breathed attitude (and life) into the struggling franchise. Fans ate up his Terminator shades, the steps shaved into the sides of his short blonde hair and his overall tough guy persona.
Christian Okoye, a.k.a. “The Nigerian Nightmare” was a mountain of a man and with his big, bulky shoulder pads looked even more intimidating. He was a rookie sensation who would rather run through or over a defender than around one.
The set also includes the third year card of Jerry Rice, which is an often overlooked gem.
Of course, the set also includes base cards of legendary players of the time such as Joe Montana, John Elway and a slew of others. Its a great collection of Hall of Famers and iconic players, many of which were in the prime of their careers.
The 396 card set features a large white rounded border that lent itself to major centering issues that plagued Topps for many years. The card front features a photo of the player identified by his team’s helmet with a name plate and position listed. The back of the card is a light blue design with all of the stats and bio information you would expect.
The lone insert is the one per pack glossy 1000 yard Club Member cards featuring players that gained a thousand yards either rushing or receiving the previous season. You could find them in the packs…or on the bottom of the hobby boxes.
Individual cards in the set–even in high grade–are generally very attainable and both complete sets and unopened boxes are surprisingly affordable for just about any collector.
Ultimately, this set doesn’t carry much in terms of legacy but it’s the last year before the floodgates began to open with multiple manufacturers entering the space. It’s an uncomplicated snapshot of the 1980s NFL and some of the most popular players of a generation.