If you were looking for a sign that the gridiron was ready to be a hobby player as the 1980s faded in the rearview, you could have done a lot worse than diving into a box of 1990 Pro Set football cards.

The first Pro Set issue, in 1989, had been a breath of fresh air, giving collectors a non-Topps view of current NFL players for the first time in a generation, and helping set the stage for the football card renaissance that would unfold over the next few seasons.

The follow-up, though, in 1990, featured a cleaner design, with better photography and a wild assortment of inserts, subsets, variations, and series designation that can make your head spin.

But years bring clarity, at least to some extent, and we can at least make solid estimate about the most popular 1990 Pro Set cards as we bound into the 2020s.

Most valuable?

Well, there are plenty of most of these cards to go around, though the best of the best in “perfect” graded condition can bring three figures ore more under the right circumstances.

Mostly, though, these are Junk Wax era cards at their finest, which means you can find even the most popular among them on the relative cheap.

What follows, then are the most popular 1990 Pro Set football cards, based on the total number of submissions for grading based on the PSA Population Report.

Hut! Hut!

(Note: The listings below contain affiliate links to card listings on eBay and Amazon. Stats pulled from pro-football-reference.com)

1990 Pro Set Emmitt Smith (#685)

1990 Pro Set Emmitt Smith

When the 1990 Pro Set debuted, Emmitt Smith was just a hotshot first-round pick out of Florida — small, but with plenty of talent and hopes to help the Dallas Cowboys return to their former glory. That 1990 season was no banner campaign for Dallas, but their 7-9 record was an improvement over the previous years, and Smith turned out the be a burner in the backfield.

This in-season rookie card was popular from the get-go, and it remains at the top of the 1990 Pro Set heap all these years later. A Hall of Fame career and all-time rushing record will do that for a guy.

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1990 Pro Set Emmitt Smith Offensive Rookie of the Year (#800)

1990 Pro Set Emmitt Smith Offensive Rookie of the Year

After 769 cards split among Series 1 and Series 2, and after all was said and done in the 1990 NFL season, Pro Set decided it was not quite finished. Thus, we have the 32-card Final Update series that yielded one more Emmitt Smith “rookie” card, this one a horizontal action shot anointing him as the “1990 Pro Set Offensive Rookie of the Year.”

Little wonder Smith garnered that honor, after running for 937 yards and 11 touchdowns. And little wonder this card still draws hobby dollars three decades later.

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1990 Pro Set Barry Sanders Rookie of the Year (#1)

1990 Pro Set Barry Sanders Rookie of the Year

By the time Smith first hit the hole in the NFL, Barry Sanders was already an established superstar, having won Rookie of the Year honors in 1989 on the strength of 1470 yards rushing and 14 running TDs, along with another 282 receiving yards. The 1988 Heisman Trophy winner out of Oklahoma State retired early at age 30, but he left a legacy as one of the greatest running backs in the history of the NFL.

While this is not a Sanders rookie card, it’s still a popular early-career issue and a fitting #1 card.

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1990 Pro Set Junior Seau (#673)

1990 Pro Set Junior Seau

Seau, on the other hand, did make his cardboard debut in 1990, appearing in the Action Packed, Fleer, Score, Topps, and (of course) Pro Set issues.

The Chargers standout wasted little time in justifying his status as a number-five overall draft pick, starting 15 of 16 games as a rookie in 1990. Thanks to the 1990s card boom and the rush to get rookies into sets earlier and earlier, Pro set rolled out this Draft Pick card even while Seau was still putting the finishing touches on his rookie season.

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1990 Pro Set Santa Claus (#1990)

1990 Pro Set Santa Claus

Is this Santa’s rookie card? Maybe … I mean, he did make an appearance on some postcards around the turn of the twentieth century 90 years earlier, but those weren’t really sports cards.

This Pro Set card was a minor sensation in the hobby for awhile, verging on major at times. Today, it’s still popular with collectors, even if it no longer brings three figures-plus in PSA 9 condition.

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1990 Pro Set Barry Sanders (#102)

1990 Pro Set Barry Sanders

So, when you have a talent like Barry Sanders just beginning his NFL journey, and when you also have a behemoth football card set to fill, you better believe you’re going to fold in multiple Sanders cards.

Good thing for Pro Set that collectors loved — and love — Barry Sanders!

This is the spark plug’s base card, his official second Pro Set card, and it’s still a strong seller here in the 2020s.

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1990 Pro Set Rich Gannon (#568)

1990 Pro Set Rich Gannon

Gannon made his NFL debut way back in 1987 but spent the first three years of his career backing up Wade Wilson and Tommy Kramer. In 1990, though, Kramer wrapped up his career with a season in New Orleans, and Gannon unseated Wilson in the Vikings’ pocket.

The results were so-so, but Gannon held onto his job through 1992 before missing 1994 with a shoulder injury after one year with the Redskins.

He re-emerged with the Chiefs in 1995 and then really hit his stride with the Raiders from 1999 through 2004 — a span that included a Super Bowl berth and league MVP award in 2002.

Thanks to the spotty early start to his career, Gannon didn’t make his cardboard debut until 1990, and this Pro Set rookie card still carries some of that RC sashay today.

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1990 Pro Set Bo Jackson (#155)

1990 Pro Set Bo Jackson

When this card was issued, Bo was in his prime, doing everything on both the football field and baseball diamond.

He was a former Heisman Trophy winner who could take the ball in for a score no matter where he started on the gridiron, and a budding MLB All-Star who could hit the ball out of any park.

Then, in a January 1991 playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Jackson injured his hip, and his football career was done.

The Kansas City Royals released him in March of that year, and, although Jackson managed three more partial seasons with the Chicago White Sox and California Angels from 1991 through 1994, he never really got back to where he was on the diamond, either.

Collectors still love Bo after all these years, though, so his cards always show up on lists like this one.

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1990 Pro Set Vince Lombardi Trophy-Hologram

1990 Pro Set Vince Lombardi Trophy-Hologram

This card was a full-on sensation when 1990 Pro Set was new. Not only was the thing shiny and hologram-y, it was extremely limited. Only 10,000 copies!

Now, that sounds like a metric ton by today’s standards, but those were the days when sports cards bled from the ground like earth sweat. So, yeah, 10K was pretty darn limited.

This card still maintains some of that old mystique, though, and you’ll probably have to cough up at least 50 bones to buy one.

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1990 Pro Set Joe Montana (#293)

1990 Pro Set Joe Montana

Got a football card set? Does it have Joe Montana in it?

Yes and yes?

Well, then I’ll lay dollars-to-touchdowns that Joe Cool will be among the ten most popular/valuable cards in that set.

Here, with 1990 Pro Set … I win that bet.

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1990 Pro Set Santa Claus #1990 Football Card

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1990 Pro Set Emmitt Smith Dallas Cowboys #685 Rookie Football Card

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1990 Pro Set Joe Montana #293 Football Card

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1990 Pro Set Tom Landry #28 Football Card

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NFL 1990 Pro Set Football Cards

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