15 Most Valuable 1989 Pro Set Football Cards

Most Valuable 1989 Pro Set Football Cards

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As the founder of Pro Set, Ludwell Denny had one goal in mind when he first released the 1989 Pro Bowl football card set:

disrupt the football card market...

Through 1988, the only major players in the football segment of the hobby were the Fleer "Team Action" and Topps flagship sets.

And, since not too many collectors were fond of the Fleer Team Action sets, Denny set his sights primarily on Topps by attempting to release a football card set of his own.

He couldn't have picked a better moment to do it, either, as this set is loaded with Hall of Fame rookie cards and stars of the era.

The design of the cards may be the most memorable thing of all, however, as the multi-color border options mixed things up quite nicely.

And in this guide, we'll take a look at the 15 most valuable in the set.

Let's jump right in!

Let's be clear: most of the cards from these sets do not have any value these days.

Like the 1989 Score and Topps sets, large print runs saturated the market with these cards, driving down their values.

So, for the cards on this list to be worth much, they'll have to be graded by PSA to be in perfect, gem mint condition.

That means the card needs to be flawless.

Now that we got that out of the way, let's take a look at the list:

1989 Pro Set Santa Claus

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $1,000

From 1989 to 1993, Pro Set printed cards that featured colorful artwork of Santa Claus in different festive scenery.

However, unlike the other years, the 1989 Pro Set Santa Claus was sent to dealers as a promo card and not distributed inside of packs.

Behind Santa Claus, Pro Set's founder, Ludwell Denny, can be seen looking through the window while a magazine with Joe Montana and a stack of Pro Set football cards are scattered on the table.

When this card first made its way into dealers' hands, it became one of the most sought-after cards in the set and every subsequent Santa Claus card has since retained its place as one of the most valuable in each of the Pro Set football card releases.

1989 Pro Set Santa Claus Football Card

1989 Pro Set #494 Barry Sanders Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $150

When Barry Sanders suited up for the first time for the Detroit Lions in 1989, the entire NFL was put on notice.

In one of the best rookie seasons for any running back in NFL history, Sanders rushed for 1,470 yards and fourteen touchdowns while catching 24 passes for 282 receiving yards.

Sanders was a no-brainer for the 1989 Offensive Rookie of the Year Award, but he also earned First-Team All-Pro honors and a Pro Bowl selection.

Because of his compact and elusive running style, Sanders was a nightmare for opposing defenses all season long.

During his ten-year Hall of Fame career, Sanders never rushed for less than 1,115 yards in a season and that came during the 1993 campaign when he only played in eleven games due to injury.

After the 1998 season in which he rushed for 1,491 yards with plenty of fire still left in the tank, Sanders retired with 15,269 rushing yards, the most of any player over a ten-year span.

Had he kept going, he may have broken Walter Payton's then-record 16,726, and who knows, maybe he would've also bested Emmitt Smith for the current all-time record.

In the end, Sanders led the league in rushing four times, made the Pro Bowl each year, earned six First-Team All-Pro honors, and was twice named the NFL Offensive Player of the Year.

1989 Pro Set #494 Barry Sanders Rookie Card

1989 Pro Set #486 Deion Sanders Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $100

In the 1988 MLB Draft, the New York Yankees selected Deion Sanders in the 30th round and would give him a shot in "The Show" during a home against the Seattle Mariners on May 31, 1989.

A few months later, Sanders made his NFL debut for the Atlanta Falcons during a home game against the Los Angeles Rams on September 10, 1989.

Since the Atlanta Falcons drafted him fifth overall pick in the 1989 NFL Draft, the team had high hopes that Sanders could make a difference for a team that had struggled in recent years.

Sanders didn't start at corner until Week 6, where he eventually finished with 39 tackles and six interceptions, but he did return punts and kickoffs.

During the first game of his career, Sanders fumbled and recovered his first punt return but immediately made up for the mistake by returning the next one for a touchdown.

From there, Sanders continued to play both professional baseball and football for several different teams.

But, he always shone brighter on the football field, where he'd earn eight Pro Bowl selections, six First-Team All-Pro honors, 1994 Defensive Player of the Year honors, and win two Super Bowl rings in fourteen NFL seasons.

1989 Pro Set #486 Deion Sanders Rookie Card

1989 Pro Set #32 Thurman Thomas Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $80

After a successful college career at Oklahoma State, where he finished his senior campaign as a Heisman Trophy candidate and the all-time leading rusher (5,001) in school history, Thurman Thomas set his sights on the NFL.

Unfortunately, a knee injury caused Thomas to slip to the second round of the 1988 NFL Draft before the Buffalo Bills took him at 40th overall.

During his rookie campaign, though, Thomas showed no signs of being hampered by his knee after gaining 1,089 yards from scrimmage and scoring two rushing touchdowns.

And there was no sophomore slump in store for Thomas during the 1989 season in which he broke out for 1,244 yards rushing and six touchdowns to lead the NFL's third-best rushing attack in Buffalo.

Offensive coordinator Ted Marchibroda also realized he had a dual-threat in Thomas and began to heavily utilize him in the passing game to the tune of 60 receptions, 669 receiving yards and six scores.

Thomas's 1,913 yards from scrimmage paced the NFL for the first of four consecutive seasons and earned him his first Pro Bowl selection.

Buffalo finished 9-7 in 1989, winning the AFC East by a game but fell to the Cleveland Browns 34-30 in the AFC Divisional Round.

1989 Pro Set #32 Thurman Thomas Rookie Card

1989 Pro Set #89 Michael Irvin Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $80

During his twelve-year Hall of Fame career with the Dallas Cowboys, Michael Irvin went to five Pro Bowls and collected three Super Bowl rings.

But, in 1989, things weren't looking so hot.

In their first year under the ownership of Jerry Jones in 1989, the Dallas Cowboys were historically bad as they became just the second NFL team to finish 1-15 in a 16-game season (1980 Houston Oilers).

Irvin didn't have much to do with the team's lack of success, though, as he tore his ACL during a Week 6 home game against the San Francisco 49ers and missed the rest of the season.

Before that, Irvin looked to be on pace for just over 1,000 yards receiving as he finished with 378 yards through six games, including Week 4 against the Giants when he caught zero passes.

As Irvin worked his way through the recovery process to get his career back on track, rumors flew around of a possible trade with the Los Angeles Raiders that could have paired him with Tim Brown.

Fortunately for Cowboys fans, the trade never materialized and Irvin remained in Dallas for the rest of his outstanding career.

1989 Pro Set #89 Michael Irvin Rookie Card

1989 Pro Set #490 Troy Aikman Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $80

Expectations could not have been higher for Troy Aikman after the Dallas Cowboys used the number one pick of the 1989 NFL Draft on the UCLA product.

However, some weren't so sure that he was the answer the team needed under center.

A few months later, during the supplemental draft, new head coach Jimmy Johnson drafted Steve Walsh out of his old stomping grounds at the University of Miami.

Aikman ended up winning the starting job, but his rookie season got off to a rough start after Dallas lost the first four games.

Johnson decided to make a change and Walsh took over under center for Weeks 5-9, though the Cowboys didn't fare much better under his leadership as they went 1-4.

In Week 10, Aikman took over again and finished out the year with losses every week, bringing his record during his rookie campaign to 0-11.

The Cowboys were terrible in 1989, but after drafting Emmitt Smith the following season and tightening up their defense thereafter, Jimmy Johnson turned them around into a dominant force in the early 1990s.

Aikman would eventually lead Dallas to Super Bowl wins in 1992, 1993, and 1995 while also making six trips to the Pro Bowl during his career.

1989 Pro Set #490 Troy Aikman Rookie Card

1989 Pro Set #498 Derrick Thomas Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $80

Boasting a combination of speed and power rarely seen in the NFL, Derrick Thomas burst onto the scene in 1989 to capture the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award.

From that point on, Thomas established himself as one of the greatest linebackers in the game.

In eleven seasons with the Chiefs, Thomas set the team record for sacks with 126.5 as opposing offenses struggled to contain him week in and week out.

After setting the tone in 1989, Thomas went on to become a nine-time Pro Bowler and two-time First-Team All-Pro as one of the most feared defensive players in league history.

During his sophomore campaign in 1990, Thomas lit up the stat lines with six forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and an eye-popping twenty quarterback sacks.

Seven of those sacks occurred during one game against the Seattle Seahawks at home on November 11, 1990, when Thomas got to quarterback Dave Krieg seven times.

Thomas's seven sacks remain the NFL single-game record to this day.

When they drafted Thomas out of Alabama with the fourth pick of the 1989 NFL Draft, Kansas City knew they were getting a unique talent, but few could've predicted how far his career would take him.

1989 Pro Set #498 Derrick Thomas Rookie Card

1989 Pro Set #185 Bo Jackson

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $65

Deion Sanders wasn't the only superstar multi-sport athlete to showcase his skills on both the baseball and football field.

Due to his exploits on the baseball and football fields, Bo Jackson's popularity soared to heights in 1989 that few athletes have ever experienced.

The "Bo Knows" Nike ad campaign was everywhere, kids across the country used him to shred opposing defenses on Nintendo's "Tecmo Bowl," and fans tuned into Raiders games each week ready to be wowed.

After hitting 32 home runs with the Kansas City Royals in the spring and summer, Jackson parlayed that momentum into the best season of his four-year stint with the Los Angeles Raiders.

Jackson rushed 173 times for 950 yards and four touchdowns in eleven games for a Raiders team that finished 8-8 and out of the playoffs.

While Jackson didn't make the Pro Bowl, he did earn Second-Team All-Pro honors in the AFC.

Unfortunately, Jackson would suffer a career-ending hip injury in a playoff game against the Bengals in January 1991 that cut his football career way too short.

Still, he remains one of the most celebrated athletes of his era.

1989 Pro Set #185 Bo Jackson Football Card

1989 Pro Set #383 Jerry Rice

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $65

Coming off an outstanding 1988 campaign in which he capped things off by becoming just the third wide receiver to win Super Bowl MVP, Jerry Rice was out for more glory in 1989.

And, by season's end, he'd turn in one of the best seasons of his remarkable career.

In sixteen starts, Rice caught 82 balls for an NFL-best 1,483 yards and a league-best 17 receiving touchdowns as teams seemingly had no answer for him.

With a league-best 14-2 record, the 49ers rode into the playoffs with high hopes of repeating as Super Bowl champions.

In the team's first two postseason wins, Rice was incredible, logging 12 receptions for 169 yards and two scores.

But, no one could've predicted what he'd do in the Super Bowl for an encore.

In a 55-10 blowout over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV, Rice caught seven passes for 148 yards and a Super Bowl-record three receiving scores.

With his second-straight Super Bowl ring, fourth-straight Pro Bowl selection and first-team All-Pro nomination sealed, the superstar wide receiver already looked like an easy candidate for Canton.

1989 Pro Set #383 Jerry Rice Football Card

1989 Pro Set #381 Joe Montana

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $50

Before the 1989 season, only two quarterbacks had eclipsed the 70% completion mark: Sammy Baugh completed 70.3% of his passes in 1945 and Ken Anderson posted a 70.6% percentage in 1982.

And then Joe Montana completed 271 of his 386 passing attempts during the 1989 season for a 70.2% completion rate to join Baugh and Anderson in that exclusive club.

It's not so exclusive anymore in today's game, but a 70%+ completion percentage was practically unheard of back then.

Montana capitalized on that accuracy to throw for 3,521 yards and 26 touchdowns against just eight interceptions as the 49ers rolled to an NFL-best 14-2 record.

And not only did his 112.4 passer rating lead the league in 1989, but it was also the best in league history to that point.

As good as Montana was during the regular season, he somehow turned things up a notch in the playoffs to throw for 800 yards, eleven touchdowns, and zero interceptions while completing a stunning 78.3% of his passes.

San Francisco outscored Minnesota and Los Angeles 71-16 to capture the NFC title and then destroyed Denver in the Super Bowl 55-10.

After becoming the first player to win three Super Bowl MVP awards, Montana's place as one of the greatest quarterbacks in league history was unquestionable.

1989 Pro Set #381 Joe Montana Football Card

1989 Pro Set #220 Dan Marino

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $45

Although it's a title he'd rather not have, Dan Marino is the greatest quarterback who never won a Super Bowl.

Marino possessed an unbelievable combination of arm strength and accuracy that allowed him to put up statistics far ahead of his time.

During his breakout season in 1984, Marino became the first quarterback to throw for more than 5,000 yards (5,084).

It would take 34 years before Drew Brees became the next player to eclipse that mark when he threw for 5,069 yards in 2008 and another three after that when Brees broke Marino's record in 2011 with 5,476 yards.

Marino also threw for 48 touchdowns in 1984, and that record stood for thirty years until Peyton Manning threw for 49 in 2004.

So why couldn't Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins ever get over the Super Bowl hump?

Inconsistent offensive line play, poor defenses and all-or-nothing mistakes were usually the culprits and the 1989 season was no different.

In 1989, Marino was sacked on an NFL-worst 1.8% of his dropbacks and the defense ranked 22nd in the league.

In 16 starts during the 1989 season, Marino completed 58.4% of his passes while throwing for 3,997 yards, 24 touchdowns, and a league-worst 22 interceptions.

Miami finished 8-8 and out of the playoffs for the fourth-straight year.

1989 Pro Set #220 Dan Marino Football Card

1989 Pro Set #292 Lawrence Taylor

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $45

Whenever people discuss the greatest defensive football players of all time, few would argue that Lawrence Taylor belongs anywhere else but at the top of the list.

Taylor remains the only player in NFL history to win the AP Defensive Player of the Year Award in his rookie season and one of two defensive players (Alan Page) to win MVP honors for his incredible work during the 1986 season.

During the 1989 season, Taylor finished the year with 15 sacks while picking up his eighth-straight Pro Bowl selection and seventh First-Team All-Pro nomination while leading the Giants to a first-place finish in the NFC East.

The Giants lost a tough one to the Los Angeles Rams 13-19 in the Divisional Round but, let's face it, not even Lawrence Taylor and the Giants were going to stop Joe Montana and the 49ers that year.

However, during the 1990 season, Taylor and the Giants would upset Montana and the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game before getting his second Super Bowl ring in a nail-biter against the Bills in Super Bowl XXV.

1989 Pro Set #292 Lawrence Taylor Football Card

1989 Pro Set #354 Rod Woodson Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $45

The dominant "Steel Curtain" Steeler defense that helped bring four Super Bowl trophies to Pittsburgh in the 1970s was nowhere to be found in 1988.

In fact, the 1988 Steelers defense allowed a league-worst 26.3 points per game and was primarily to blame for the team's 5-11 record and fourth-place finish in the AFC Central.

However, Rod Woodson turned in an incredible individual performance that somehow didn't land him a Pro Bowl spot that year.

In sixteen starts, Woodson logged 88 combined tackles, four interceptions, a forced fumble and three fumble recoveries.

Still, the Steelers defense was terrible overall.

The organization cleaned house and paved the way for new coordinator Rod Rust to reconfigure the defense with Woodson as a key cog heading into the 1989 season.

That decision paid off as Woodson registered 80 combined tackles, three interceptions, four forced fumbles, and four recovered fumbles on the way to Pro Bowl and First-Team All-Pro honors.

The Steelers' defense improved from abysmal to mediocre, finishing 15th in points against during the team's 9-7 run to a wild card berth.

Pittsburgh bowed out the following week with a heartbreaking 24-23 loss to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Divisional Round.

Rough ending aside, Woodson continued his rise towards being one of the greatest corners in NFL history.

1989 Pro Set #354 Rod Woodson Rookie Card

1989 Pro Set #314 Chris Carter Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $40

When the Philadelphia Eagles selected Cris Carter in the fourth round of the 1987 supplemental draft, hardly anyone could've predicted he'd end up in the Hall of Fame.

Carter saw little action during his 1987 rookie campaign but did become a starter in 1988.

During the 1989 season, Carter caught 45 passes for 605 yards and led the Eagles with eleven receiving touchdowns.

Philadelphia finished the year with an 11-5 record, good enough for a wild card.

Things ended quickly, though, with a deflating 21-7 loss to the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Wild Card Game as Carter caught just two passes on the day for 16 yards.

By that time, Carter's drug and alcohol abuse had begun to weigh on his relationship with head coach Buddy Ryan and the rest of the Eagles organization.

So, the team cut him and that was it for his time as an Eagle.

However, Carter got a second chance in the NFL when the Minnesota Vikings picked him off of waivers for just $100 in September 1990.

Though it took a few seasons, that $100 turned out to be one of the biggest ROI investments in Vikings' history as Carter became an eight-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro from 1993 to 2000.

1989 Pro Set #314 Cris Carter Rookie Card

1989 Pro Set #492 Steve Atwater Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $40

After an eleven-year career in the NFL, ten with the Denver Broncos and one with the New York Giants, Steve Atwater left little doubt in anyone's mind that he was one of the hardest hitters ever.

If a ball carrier or receiver was somehow brave enough to go over the middle, Atwater was sure to be there to deliver teeth-rattling punishment that the player would still feel for days after.

The Denver Broncos selected Atwater with the 20th pick of the 1989 NFL Draft and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips immediately drew up plans to use Atwater to shore up the run.

In 1988, the Broncos defense ranked 27th against the run.

But, with Atwater now patrolling the line of scrimmage, the team jumped to number against the run in 1989.

Atwater led the team in tackles as a rookie with 129 but fell short in the vote for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors to Kansas City's Derrick Thomas.

Eventually, Atwater would play an integral role in leading the Broncos to back-to-back Super Bowl titles in 1997 and 1998 and would retire as an eight-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro.

1989 Pro Set #492 Steve Atwater Rookie Card

1989 Pro Set Football Cards In Review

This set continues to be one of the most popular of its era primarily because of the large amount of nostalgic value it brings.

Yes, as you can see, several cards can have a decent monetary value when graded in top condition.

But, the story of Ludwell Denny and the Pro Set brand bring so much nostalgia to collectors of that era that most will look back on this set with fond memories of an upstart brand trying to carve out a piece of the hobby. 

Unopened Box of 1989 Pro Set Football Cards

The card designs that came with multi-colored borders and boasted terrific photography for their time were immediately well-received by hobbyists.

And, Denny's mission to keep his Pro Set sets as "live" as possible by continuously printing updated cards as things changed during a given season offered another unique angle.

The company ultimately had to file for bankruptcy and Denny's dream died with it, but the hobby will never forget this set that started the entire Pro Set journey.

Ross Uitts
 

Ross is the founder of Old Sports Cards and has been collecting sports cards for over 30 years. He also loves to write about the hobby and has written for Beckett, Topps, SABR and of course, this website. Need help buying or selling cards or have a general question about the hobby? Contact him at [email protected]

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