1980s and 90s football rookie cards were like most of the movies you see nowadays; overproduced with poor quality. But, for better or worse, some of the greatest players of all-time started their careers during that time frame, so there is actually a plethora of rookie cards that are worth buying.
For the sake of this article, we are going to leave the TOP 5 cards from the 1980's and 1990's OUT of this recap, since we've already produced those in detail in previous articles. A theme will develop with the word 'overlooked' as the moniker for the casual collector. For the veterans of the market, there are no hidden gems out there anymore, are there?
In the 1980's, offenses started to develop new schemes to wreak havoc on the defenses. There were only a few defensive players that were immune to any offensive approach, and the first that comes to mind is Lawrence Taylor. LT was a menace on the defensive side of the ball, and could be considered the greatest defensive player off all-time. He is definitely the best pass-rusher in history. So, while the 1982 Topps Lawrence Taylor rookie card isn't the largest draw from the 1980's, it's still quite popular. There are only 43 10 GM MT listed in PSA's pop report, with a price tag in the range of $600 for the hall of fame linebacker. So while defensive players are generally overlooked in the hobby, Taylor stands tall as a man amongst boys, as he did on the field.
Fellow Giant Phil Simms 1980 Topps rookie card brings back more memories of those old Giants' teams under Bill Parcells. Other cards from the 1980's that are often passed over, include Ronnie Lott's 1982 Topps RC, Reggie White's 1986 Topps RC, as well as Steve Young's RC from the same set.
Obviously, these are the top tier players from the era, and some of their RC's are still at an affordable value for investors due to the sheer numbers produced. But if you want to dig a little further, you can consider the 1981 Jogo Warren Moon issue from the CFL, which is tough to find in Mint condition. There are only 2o listed in PSA's domain, with only 1 PSA 9 MINT.
When you venture off the NFL track for a moment, you find one of the truly unique sets of these 2 decades. 1984 Topps USFL. This set is possibly the most coveted of the 80's. Finding these in GM MT 10 condition is a challenge, and with the heavy hitters included, a nice value can come with it.
PSA 9 Young approx. $250-$375
PSA 9 Kelly hovers near $100
PSA 10 White sold for $2,869 in '08
PSA 8/9 Walker range from $25-$75
PSA 10 Flutie can reach $200+
In the 90's, the over-printing didn't stop, but just multiplied into inserts and subsets galore. Each player went from having a few rookie cards, to hundreds of options. This era completely alienated many longtime collectors and dealers alike. This also makes it quite a challenge to compile a list of quality investments, beyond the TOP 5 we mentioned previously.
But we'll take a stab at it.
1990 Topps Tiffany is still somewhat intriguing, just because of Junior Seau. This lists as his top RC, and is a good investment now as the GM MT 10's can be had for the $75 range. Unfortunately, the '90 Topps Traded Set doesn't have a Tiffany version, as Emmitt Smith RC's are easy to find and it would have been nice to see a shorter print of one of his cards. But his Traded version is probably 2nd to his Score Supplemental which we covered in our Top 5.
Just missing out on that top 5 list was Marshall Faulk's 1994 SP RC. One of the great versatile backs in history, and part of the 'Greatest show on Turf', a Faulk BGS 9.5 sold in 2012 for $300.
Faulk's teammate and fellow Super Bowl champion, Kurt Warner is worth of an investment for his 1999 Playoff Contenders Auto which we covered in more detail in our recently retired Top 5.
Another of Faulk's former teammates (they played together for one year), Peyton Manning cannot be left out. While he obviously made our Top 5 list with his '98 SP Authentic, the 1998 Chrome Refractor Peyton Manning is a rare enough find to mention. Late in the 90's sets started to include more limited prints, but many purists argue that led to a further fracturing of the market, since regular issues are still printed with exorbitant frequency.
Overall, as mentioned, the key to this era is timing and quality. Make sure you don't overpay for any of these issues when the cards are 'hot', and keep in mind as a collector, you won't be the only one with these cards by a long stretch. Here's to hoping one day the card companies reign back in the printing presses, and allow true RC's to once again dominate the hobby as the vintage world once did.