Do you remember the excitement of tearing open your first pack of 1990 Topps football cards?

If you do … well, you may be in the minority there.

See, by 1990, the gridiron card game was changing — had changed, in fact.

By that point, Topps had lost its monopoly and was joined in the field by Score … and Pro Set … and Fleer. Plenty of choices meant a company really had to stand out to get anywhere.

And, while that 1990 Topps set was fine, it was very Topps-y, with a solid-but-not-exciting design and few true big-name rookie cards.

1990 topps football cards wax packs box unopened

Oh, and there were more than enough 1990 Topps cards to go around — still are, in most cases — though, in retrospect, probably not as many as their competitors pumped out.

All of those factors have helped this set maintain a low hobby profile over the years, especially on the value front.

But that doesn’t mean all the 1990 Topps cards are worthless — condition and player are key.

With all that in mind, here are the most valuable 1990 Topps football cards, as gleened from recent eBay sales of specimens in PSA 10 (GEM MT) condition.

1990 Topps Barry Sanders Rookie Card (#352)

1990 Topps Barry Sanders Rookie Card

Who’s the greatest running back of all-time?

If you go by total yardage gained, then it’s Emmitt Smith.

If you base it on yards per carry and the memory of old men, then it’s Jim Brown.

For me, as a Bears fan, I doubt anyone will ever measure up to Walter Payton.

But, man, if there was one guy who had the potential to put them all in his rearview, it was Barry Sanders.

Dude could do just about anything with the rock in his hand. Had hips like a snake’s. Was charging up every all-time rushing list.

And then … he just quit. At age 30.

It was crazy, and probably wise from a health perspective.

Most of all, it left us all wondering what might have been.

What’s for sure, though, is that the Lions great remains a hobby favorite, and his first base Topps card sells for around $25 in PSA 10 today.

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1990 Topps John Elway (#37)

1990 Topps John Elway

Back in 1990, John Elway was the hotshot kid quarterback who had failed in the Super Bowl three times and was also not so much of a kid anymore.

After spurning the Baltimore Colts when they drafted him back in 1983, Elway used a potential baseball career with the New York Yankees as leverage to basically force a trade to the Denver Broncos.

In Denver, he became a superstar who — fairly or not — gained a reputation for not being able to finish the deal.

All that changed in 1997, when the “old man” led his team to a championship … and then did it again in 1998 before retiring.

Along the way, Elway became a Hall of Fame lock and collector favorite, helping this mid-career card hold steady around $20 in PSA 10.

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1990 Topps Joe Montana (#13)

1990 Topps Joe Montana

Up until ten or 15 years ago, a healthy portion of NFL fans would have named Montana as the greatest quarterback ever.

Sure, his raw stats may not have been the absolute best (though they were awesome), but those four Super Bowl championships pushed him over the top.

Nowadays, Montana has plenty of company in that “best ever” conversation, and I’d wager Tom Brady wins that poll in most settings (as much as it pains me to say that).

Nevertheless, Montana is a legend, and his Canton bust really ought the be made out of real 49er gold … don’t you think?

Joe’s 1990 Topps card isn’t golden, but it is a $20 buy in perfect slabbed condition.

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1990 Topps Jerry Rice (#8)

1990 Topps Jerry Rice

Would there be a Montana legend without Jerry Rice?

Well, yes … at least to some extent, considering that the greatest receiver of all-time showed up after San Fran’s first two championships.

But Rice completely changed the expectations for NFL receivers, and he also helped Steve Young win a Big Game after Montana rode off to Kansas City.

The man was also a machine when it came to conditioning, and he can dance, too!

All of it adds up to a $20 price tag for PSA 10 copies of his 1990 Topps card.

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1990 Topps Thurman Thomas (#206)

1990 Topps Thurman Thomas Rookie Card

Thomas is sort of the John Elway of running backs, having reached four straight Super Bowls with the Buffalo Bills without even a single victory to show for it.

Of course, the Bills never would have made it to even one championship game without the exploits of Thomas, along with those of teammates Jim Kelly, Pete Metzelaars, Andre Reed, Bruce Smith, and Scott Norwood (uh …).

What Thomas lacks in rings, he makes up for in yards from scrimmage (16,000+) and Canton busts (1).

Oh, and in cardboard, where his 1990 Topps lines up just shy of $18 in perfect graded shape.

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1990 Topps Joe Montana Record Breaker (#1)

1990 Topps Joe Montana Record Breaker

Yeah, Montana again. He was always breaking records, this guy.

So what record did he set in 1989?

Well, it actually happened in 1990, thank you very much. On January 28, to be exact.

On that day, Montana threw five touchdowns in a Super Bowl win over … the Denver Broncos and (yes) John Elway.

Terry Bradshaw and Doug Williams held the previous mark of four SB touchdowns, and Steve Young would break Montana’s mark a few years later.

Oh, well! No one lives forever, right?

But Montana’s 1990 Record Breaker card still sells for $15+ today.

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1990 Topps Ken Norton Rookie Card (#486)

1990 Topps Ken Norton Rookie Card

Ken Norton was a monster in the ring. Why, that time he and Ali tied up …

Oh, wait. Wrong Ken Norton.

No, this Ken Norton was once a monster in the Cowboys backfield. Helped them win a couple Super Bowls.

And then, all of a sudden, he was a monster in the 49ers backfield. Helped them win the next Super Bowl, in 1994.

The year after that, Norton picked up three of his five career interceptions and scored his only two touchdowns. No Super Bowl win, that year, though.

Not that it matters here, because Norton was a big personality with a big game, and his cards remain popular today.

This one is popular enough to sell for about $15 in PSA 10.

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1990 Topps Dan Marino (#323)

1990 Topps Dan Marino

Marino was like an exaggerated version of Elway.

I mean, Marino’s Dolphins made the Big Game after his second season in 1984, but the Niners blew them out (38-16).

Marino went on to reel off a string of passing seasons like we’d never seen before and set a new standard for passers, but he never — NEVER — even made it back to the Super Bowl.

It’s a constant point of contention when trying to rank him with his peers and other all-time greats like Brady and Peyton Manning, but Marino’s amazing individual performances have kept his hobby seat warm.

Today, this 1990 Topps card is about a $10 item in PSA 10.

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1990 Topps Troy Aikman Super Rookie Card (#482)

1990 Topps Troy Aikman Super Rookie Card

So, why did it take Topps until 1990 to produce a base card of Troy Aikman when both Pro Set and Score both featured the Cowboys’ budding star in their 1989 issues?

Hard to say … maybe they were trying to beef up their 1989 Traded set?

Or maybe they thought making Aikman’s debut a “Super Rookie” card would really add something special to it?

Could just be they didn’t have enough time or were otherwise ill-prepared to include draft picks in their 1989 set.

Whatever the case, today we have this Super Rookie Aikman (though capeless), and we can buy perfect copies for around $10.

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1990 Topps Andre Ware Rookie Card (#349)

1990 Topps Andre Ware Rookie Card

Topps fixed that draft pick hole in their game plan for 1990, and the result was one of the first times we got a major-set card of the reigning Heisman Trophy winner in his college uniform.

Ware won his hardware with the University of Houston in 1989, then went to the Lions with the seventh pick in the 1990 NFL Draft.

He proceeded to do basically nothing in four tortuous seasons with Detroit before hanging up his cleats, but Ware — and Topps — had already cemented his place in hobby history.

Today, you can own a PSA 10 piece of that history for about $10.

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