Long before Ezekiel Elliott came along, there was another amazing running back doing great things for the Dallas Cowboys. He, too, was tough, durable and had a nose for the first down marker. Collectors have been chasing Emmitt Smith rookie cards since they were issued in 1990 but at the time, you had to be a little patient.
It was the tail end of an era when NFL rookies rarely appeared in flagship sets. Cards were printed after the draft each summer but there wasn’t really an effort made to create cards of first year players. In fact, some of the best rookie cards of all-time actually came out during a player’s second year, once Topps and other card companies had the chance to procure pictures.
Emmitt Smith Rookie Cards
Smith has five primary rookie cards, four of which came out in late or post-season “Update” type sets. Included in that group is his most valuable rookie issue, the 1990 Score Supplemental set. He also has a Fleer Update, an Action Packed Rookie Update, a Topps Traded card and the early arriving Pro Set card, which pictures him in his University of Florida uniform.
For those who want the earliest possible card, you can find Emmitt Smith in a 1988 Florida Gators set distributed through Burger King and a 1989 “Smokey Bear” set issued through a forest safety program.
His signature NFL moment may have come on January 30, 1994 when he ran for 132 yards and two touchdowns, winning the MVP award in Super Bowl XXVIII as the Cowboys whipped the Buffalo Bills but his was not a rags to riches type of story.
In high school, the Pensacola, Florida product was listed as the top college prospect in the nation. In February of 1987 Smith signed his national letter of intent to play at Florida. After a short but brilliant career, Smith opted to move on for the bright lights of professional football.
Smith was in tears when he announced his decision to leave college early. Devoted to the Gators, Smith seemed truly sad he wouldn’t be able to stick around to help his college team compete for a national title.
It was that kind of raw emotion that led to the future Hall of Fame running back becoming one of the most popular players in league history. His football cards today are still in demand because of his prolific career, which played out with a multi-year Super Bowl winning organization.
Hall of Fame Career
Smith wasn’t ever the tallest player at just 5’9 but he could destroy defenses with his innate ability to find holes when it appeared there weren’t any. His intuitive running style has been imitated often but perhaps never truly duplicated.
The 17th overall pick in 1990 was an incredible collegiate player at Florida but skeptics weren’t too sure if leaving early was a good decision. Smith continually proved those critics wrong throughout a famed career with season yardage rushing titles in ’91, ’92, ’93 and ’95.
Perhaps the most impressive statistic of his career is his consistency. He tallied 11 consecutive 1,000 yard seasons-a statistic relatively unheard of these days. When it was all said and done, he finished with 18,355 total rushing yards. In 2002, Smith surpassed Walter Payton to become the NFL all time leading rusher.
He was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2010.
Present and Future
There is no denying the sheer numbers he put up and the fact that it’ll be hard to eclipse. Guys like Elliott have a long way to go to catch Smith even though their stock might be hot after an impressive rookie campaign.
In the years following his retirement (he spent two final seasons with the Arizona Cardinals), Smith has continued to appear in football sets. While none of his cards are overly expensive, his rookie and low serial numbered autograph cards are a pretty solid bet to maintain or increase in value over time.
Check out a continually updated list of the most watched Emmitt Smith cards from all years directly below.