In 1979, American Legends’ Mark Rubin took the plunge and bought his first full set of football cards – the scarce 1972 Topps set. At the time, even though football cards were produced in every season from 1948 to the present (first by Leaf & Bowman and then by Topps), most of the action in the hobby was squarely on the baseball field.
As the 1980’s began, the football card activity was confined to the hot rookies of the late 50’s ; the 1957 Topps crop of Johnny Unitas, Bart Starr and Paul Hornung and the football card of the decade, the 1958 Topps Jimmy Brown. Of course, the demand for all Joe Namath cards was strong as it is today, especially for his elusive 1965 Topps short print rookie.
By the time 1988 rolled around, the demand for the new cards easily surpassed the old. Speculation was intense on the hot rookies of the era; Joe Montana, Dan Marino, Jerry Rice and Lawrence Taylor. And unlike baseball, which saw its’ marquis rookies fade by the end of the decade, football’s top four rookies of the 80’s enjoyed Hall of Fame careers.
Football cards took another large leap in the early 1990’s as Pro Set, Fleer, Score and Upper Deck joined the field of manufacturers that two years earlier included only Topps.
Innovation and technology became the rage as Upper Deck’s 1993 SP and Topps’ 1994 Finest sets filled the collecting void left after the 1994 baseball strike.
In 1999, game-used jersey and autographed cards were introduced as regular inserts into unopened packs and collectors were thrilled. Card makers like Donruss refined and expanded on the game-used theme raising the bar for all manufacturers. And in 2004, rookies Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning keyed a huge increase in football card popularity as both went on to lead their teams to Super Bowl titles.
In fact, the 2007/2008 Giants sparked a renaissance in football memorabilia with their dramatic upset of the unbeaten Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. And even though football cards and memorabilia are still not at the level of baseball, 30 years later, the fields have evened quite a bit.