With one week of regular season NFL games behind us, collectors are trying to figure out which rookie cards might take the early lead on the hot list. A look back at what was happening 25 years ago provides a lesson that sometimes a year or two of patience is required to determine much of anything.
In the winter of 1989, Jerry Jones took over a franchise which had been moribund and with the coaching and player assessment help of Jimmy Johnson, the Dallas Cowboys would soon win three Super Bowls within the next seven years. Of course, the road to that glory was a bit bumpy as the first item of business for Jones was to fire Tom Landry, the head coach of Cowboys since their very beginning in 1960.
The Cowboys had the number #1 overall pick and the first draft choice under Jones’ management was Troy Aikman of UCLA who ended up in the Hall of Fame. Of course, one can make the argument the 1989 NFL Draft was among the best ever with four of the first five picks ending up enshrined in Canton. The only who did not end up there was Tony Mandarich but that is a different story for a different day.
However, Aikman and the Cowboys did struggle mightily in his debut season. To say Johnson was convinced Aikman was the man for the job isn’t quite right. He added insurance by taking his former signal caller at the University of Miami, Steve Walsh, in the supplemental draft but that seemingly odd decision proved wise when Aikman broke his wrist early in the season. Walsh took over for awhile and the Cowboys concluded with a 1-15 record in which their only win was a surprising victory over the Washington Redskins.
Some questioned whether Aikman would ever make the transition necessary to turn the team’s fortunes around. In fact, it took until 1992 for everything to click, even with Emmitt Smith proving to be destined for greatness after Dallas snagged him n the 1990 draft.
Aikman may have needed a few years to begin leaving an indelible stamp on the game and it’s likely the same will hold true for members of this year’s class and even a pick or two from last year’s much-maligned crop. It’s why keeping close tabs on the league week after week is a must for prospectors but looking at the overall picture is even more important. Overall team success, too, is a huge part of what makes a card increase in popularity. Aikman was excellent, but he’s regarded in higher esteem because of those Super Bowl rings.
Aikman’s 1989 Score rookie card, issued just a couple of months after he was drafted, shows the first of the “new Cowboys” under Jerry Jones’ ownership. It was highly sought after upon release, then fizzled a bit in the early 1990s before catching fire when the Cowboys did. 1989 Score was once thought to be fairly hard to find, but eBay’s emergence in the late 1990s changed that as sets and boxes began emerging in the market.
Most of the time, an ungraded NM/MT Score Aikman can now be found for around $10 these days, although gem mint, graded examples can sell for much more. A BGS 10 Aikman sold last week for $710. BGS 9.5s will bring $65-95 while the larger quantities of PSA 10s can cause the card to fluctuate quite a bit, with final selling prices at auction running $70-100. PSA 9s are usually less than $25.
Aikman’s 1989 Topps Update/Traded and Pro Set rookie cards are beyond plentiful. Ungraded lots of 50 cards are common on eBay and sell for less than $1 in NM/MT condition. Even PSA 10s are less than $25.
He still maintains a high profile today as the lead analyst for Fox NFL telecasts, but it was a much younger and unproven Aikman that collectors were intrigued by 25 years ago this fall. Collectors will be busy trying to identify the next breakout rookie as the current season continues.