As was the case with baseball cards, Topps and Bowman led the way in producing the first post-war football cards in the late 1940s and early 1950s. After Topps acquired Bowman, they had little competition in the football card market (Philadelphia Gum and Fleer aside) until the 1980s.
In 1974, Topps got the idea to create a small subset of cards for baseball players that were traded in the year. However, traded cards didn’t really become popular until the 1980s when collectors were enthusiastic about rookies that were often not included in the base sets.
But while Topps had been issuing football cards for decades, the company took its time delving into the traded card market for that sport. The justification surely was that football trades often aren’t a big deal. Few happen with teams often opting to cut players instead. That made the need for a football traded set somewhat minimal.
However, a funny thing happened in the 1980s. As stated, collectors became enamored with rookie cards and, in particular, the baseball traded card sets that contained them. Thus, even while many notable trades may not have occurred in football, a traded card set featuring rookies that had not appeared in the base sets made a lot of sense.
A traded/update set was really necessary for football cards but not because of traded players. That is because rookies were not generally in the Topps base sets until the following season. Thus, a player selected in the 1988 Draft would appear in the 1989 sets (as was the case with stars such as Michael Irvin and Thurman Thomas). A traded set allowed rookies to be squeezed into a set in the first year they played making them true rookie issues.
1989 Topps Traded Football Cards
In 1989, Topps finally decided to jump on board with football traded cards. Predictably, the cards kept the same design utilized in the base set. They also lightened the background color and added a semi-gloss to give the cards a different feel from the regular issue. Those were strategies also employed in the baseball sets.
The real focus of the set was on the rookie cards included and 1989 was a pretty good year to start the practice.
The 1989 NFL Draft included all sorts of big names, including Troy Aikman, Barry Sanders, Deion Sanders, and a gaggle of others that went on to good careers. And while they were not included in Topps’ base set, they did show up in the traded issue.
Troy, Barry, and Deion were the three keys to the set. But they were joined by plenty of other quality names, including Derrick Thomas, Andre Rison, Jim Harbaugh, Steve Atwater, and more. In terms of names, it’s a pretty loaded set with numerous players that would become stars in the 1990s.
Topps Had Competition in 1989 Score Supplemental
While Topps had been a mainstay in the football card market for a long time, Score provided some much-needed competition in 1989. Score jumped into the baseball card market in 1988 and produced football cards for the first time in 1989. And even though it was only their first season of football cards, they also introduced a traded set that year.
But the interesting thing is that Score actually did include the big name rookie cards in its base set. So while their supplemental set included more rookies, it didn’t have the big names that their base set already did. One key rookie the set had was that of Sterling Sharpe. Sharpe’s first season was in 1988 but since he did not appear in the Topps set that year, his 1989 issues are considered his rookies. But as a whole, the set was short on big-name rookie cards.
The set did have this iconic Bo Jackson card, which made sense given the similar card that appeared in their 1989 Score Baseball issue. But beyond Bo, there’s not a whole there to get excited about.
The 1989 Topps Traded set has all the big names needed. But like many 1980s issues, it was overproduced and exists in large quantities today. Complete sets on eBay are plentiful at $10 or even less in some cases. Additionally, the 1989 Score Supplemental cards weren’t offered in the same mass quantities. But, as mentioned earlier, it has a relatively weak checklist short on impact names. That set usually sells in the $10-$15 range.