The 1989 Score Football set is quite possibly the most significant product debut in the history of football cards.
Score and another fresh faced, upstart company, Pro Set, both burst on to the scene in 1989 to give collectors an option other than the longstanding, traditional Topps football cards that had a stronghold on the mainstream football gum card market for decades. Upon their respective releases, Pro Set would take the title as the more popular card set during that magical 1989 season but that has clearly changed over the years. Score is and has long been the king of 1989 football card releases.
One thing is for certain, these two newcomers definitely picked the right year to enter the football card market.
The 330-card Score set showcases what could be argued as the single greatest football draft class and rookie card crop in the sport’s long and storied history. The Score product was released in 36 pack hobby boxes consisting of 15 cards per pack. There was also a vending box consisting of 500 random cards and 43 trivia cards per box. Score produced a full factory set release that year as well.
At at the time of writing this piece, the Score set features no less than 11 Pro Football Hall of Famers’ most significant and key rookie cards.
Harkening back to the 1986-87 Fleer Basketball set or back even further to the 1969-70 Topps Basketball set, 1989 Score was aided by the fact that it featured rookie cards of multiple draft classes. The Score featured draft picks from both the 1988 and 1989 NFL Drafts.
The list of icons and Hall of Famers whose rookie cards appear in this set include:
Barry Sanders- A once in a generation running back who played his entire career for the Detroit Lions. Quite possibly the elusive runner in NFL history, Sanders racked up a 2,000 yard season and at his abrupt time of retirement at just the age of 30 he was well on his way to becoming the league’s all-time leading rusher. A true legend of the sport.
Deion Sanders- A man simply known as ‘Prime Time’ changed the sports and sports culture landscape in more ways than we have time to visit here. A blazing fast cornerback and the league’s most elite return man, Deion set the tone for a lot of what we see in professional football today, on and off the field.
Troy Aikman- The man, the myth, the field general legend for America’s Team. He led the Cowboys back to prominence and made them a winning franchise again, securing multiple Super Bowl championships and becoming one of the greatest quarterbacks in team history.
Michael Irvin- ‘The Playmaker’ was another key cog in the Dallas Cowboys return to prominence along with the aforementioned Aikman and the NFL all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith, they formed one of the nastiest offensive trios in professional football history.
Cris Carter-CC started his career with the Philadelphia Eagles but became a household name when he transformed into one of the most productive wide receivers in the game after landing in Minnesota. At the time of his retirement his career reception and touchdown totals ranked him second all time only trailing the G.O.A.T. Jerry Rice.
Tim Brown-The Heisman Trophy winning Brown became a Hall of Famer for his production as a wide receiver with the Raiders. A model of consistency Brown accumulated some of the best statistics of his era at the wideout position.
Thurman Thomas-A true Swiss army knife of a running back, he was one of the first players to be able to do it all in the backfield. He was an elusive yet devastating runner and he was an equally adept past catcher out of the backfield. He was a key member of the Buffalo Bills teams that made four Super Bowl appearances in the ’90s.
Derek Thomas- One of the most impactful and devastating defensive forces of his era, Derek Thomas was an absolute sack machine. The Kansas City Chiefs chief was racking up sacks at a record clip early in his career eventually landing him in Canton.
Rod Woodson-An outstanding defensive back in a long lineage of great Pittsburgh Steelers defensive players, Woodson in was an interception machine. Woodson’s career totals are some of the most impressive in history as his career fumble recoveries rank first all time, his interceptions total ranks third all time and his interceptions returned for touchdown rank first all time.
Steve Atwater-Quite possibly the most devastating hitter in his era and one of the hardest hitters of all time, Atwater set the tone in the Denver Broncos defensive backfield laying the wood in a long highlight of a career in the Mile High City. He was an eight time Pro Bowler and a two time Super Bowl Champion.
Bruce Matthews-An absolute wall of a man this consistent iron Man protected quarterbacks running backs and wide receivers throughout his entire career becoming one of the greatest interior lineman of all time landing himself in Canton as well.
And that is just a list of the Hall of Famers. There are a number of other significant rookies in the set including Andre Rison, Icky Woods, John Taylor, Merril Hoge, Chris Spielman, Mark Rypien and a plethora of other stars or significant players.
The card design itself is very clean and simplistic with colorful borders, nice bold text and the teams helmet pictured in the bottom right corner. The color borders are color coded in an interesting fashion as the 330 cards in the set are broken down into three even tiers with the first 110 cards showcase a blue border, the cards numbered from 111 to 220 feature a red border and the final third of the set feature a green border which houses the featured rookies and subsets in the set. The card backs featured a large photograph of the player featured on the front taking out a little less than half of the card followed below by a bio, a nice stat line and a paragraph of text and card number and logos at the very bottom.
The subsets featured include a Great Combos set featuring, you guessed it, two teammates that are great together. Also found in the set is a subset of the All Pros from the previous season. Score also featured Speedburner, a subset showcasing players that could really get out there and turn on the jets. On the defensive side of the ball, a subset called Predators showed off some nasty defensive stoppers. There were also cards featuring Record Breakers from the season prior.
Aside from the initial release, there was also a separately produced 1989 Score Football Supplemental set that features an updated 110 cards of players that were traded and rookies that were missed in the initial offering. The XRCs in the update set include Sterling Sharpe, Mike Golic and others.
As you might imagine, prices for unopened 1989 Score football has exploded over the past two plus years. We’ve also seen record prices for gem mint graded copies of many of the cards including the top tier Hall of Fame rookie cards.
For a set that was produced smack dab in the middle of the junk wax era, this particular iconic release has been garnering the hobby love admiration and respect it so richly deserves.