1990 Action Packed Football Brought New Look to Football Cards

The images on 1990 Action Packed Football literally jumped off the card at collectors. With a fully embossed, 3D base set coupled with some pretty spectacular photography, the cards were unlike anything else that had been produced in the past. The cards were dubbed as ‘high profile sculptured cards’ by the company. That is quite a mouthful when describing a football card but back in the day they were pretty spectacular to see.

The card design offers a large full color action shot of the featured player with a relatively thick gold border wrapping around the face of the card. 

The player’s name is outlined in a black outlined box at the top of the card and the team name in the same style is at the bottom. A thin black stripe connects the aforementioned two boxes at the top and bottom of the card and offers a nice framework of the picture itself. The card themselves are quite thick, especially for that era of card design and product, with intentionally rounded corners. 

The card backs feature a small square mugshot of the athlete with the player’s name and biographical information below. The upper right side card back features the previous year’s stats coupled with the cumulative career stats and a section called Action Note, which, with only a few rare exceptions, gives a play by play account of the picture on the front of the card and then some additional fun facts about the player. 

Some of the most memorable cards from this set for me are Joe Montana and Barry Sanders.

It looks as if Sanders is running right off the card into your hand and it looks like ‘Joe Cool’ is ready to pass a bomb right in your direction. Being a 12-year-old Bears fan at the time, I was partial to the beautiful Neal Anderson card where it appeared as though he was running right into your living room. 

“At the time of our initial launch, most NFL licensees acquired photos from the NFL’s in house library,” recalled Mike Jerchower, who served as the company’s director of product development. “To secure the finest action images that met our requirements, we established a network of team photographers, stock houses and the country’s top freelancers.”

Hi-Pro Marketing, based in Fort Lee, NJ, was the name of the business that produced Action Packed cards. 

“I was the company’s second hire; a life long card collector and sports broadcaster fresh out of college,” Jerchower told SC Daily. “We revolutionized the industry by utilizing embossed printing techniques and tight action photos.  We quickly established strong relationships with NFL team PR departments. I spent hours on the phone gathering information from the clubs as we made our final cuts. We delivered our cards to the lockers of each player included in the series. Because we could only select 10 players per team, those featured on our cards were the envy of their locker rooms. I attended numerous events where players lobbied to be included in a future series.”

The base set consisted of 280 cards and the set numbering system ran alphabetically by the name of the city throughout the set starting with the Atlanta Falcons. Within each team the players as listed alphabetically by their last name. 

There was a gold embossed factory set produced of the 280-card set. Later in the season, the cards were also released in factory sealed ten card team sets. 

The Series 1 hobby box design itself is very minimal, as it was a red box with virtually nothing on the top, front, backs or sides. There is some text on the front that mentions the product being a Collector’s Edition, a Premier National Series, the already addressed ‘High Profile Sculptured Cards’ thought with action specific notes and the 900 hotline.

It also has a message on the side of the box advising folks to ‘say no to drugs’ but beyond that there’s no artwork, imagery or anything of that nature, which is pretty surprising for such an over-the-top and spectacular card design. However, when you open the sealed hobby box and flip the top flap up there is a nice, big, colorful image of the Action Packed logo along with a picture of Jerry Rice’s card.

The packaging for the cards is a gold foil wrapper with the Action Packed logo featured prominently with some neon colored lines and some facts about what can be found in side those packs. On the reverse of the pack there is an exclusive sports collectors hotline to call for up to date information on for sports cards and hobby investments. You will get hit with a $1 charge for the first minute and $0.50 for each and additional minute. Gotta love the early 90s. Kids, please get your parents permission before calling. 

Speaking of what can be found inside those packs, the cards are notorious for sticking and bricking, so be careful if you are opening packs today. Charles Haley may very well have sacked Phil Simms in your pack. 

There are very few rookies in the Series 1 set as many of them are found in the Rookie Update set including Hall of Famer and all time NFL rushing leader Emmitt Smith as well as all the Famer Shannon Sharpe, Junior Seau and many others. Unless you’re a relative of Thane Gash, Odessa Turner or Ken Harvey, you will probably be disappointed in the rookie selection in the Series 1 set.

There was a Jim Plunkett card that was really unique.  Issued in factory sets and as a random wax pack insert, the back of the card is actually done in Braille and it reads “Raiders win Super Bowl XV. Jim Plunkett named MVP.”  Plunkett’s parents were both blind.  The card received some notoriety at the time, including a short article in People Magazine.

In addition to the more valuable and more popular 1990 Action Packed Rookie Update series, we will be remiss if we didn’t mention the iconic All- Madden Team Action Packed set from this very same year.  Produced in cooperation with the larger than life coach, commentator and football icon, the set took Madden’s unique take on the game and turned it into a trading card product.  

As far as modern day value, some of the most chased and valuable cards are the white “photoless” errors, as well as the prototype samples that are basically a flat version of the card before the card was raised.

There are a number of extremely valuable 1990 Action Packed samples and prototypes found in other sports including a gorgeous Michael Jordan that, in high grade, commands hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.

1990 Action Packed Football may not be on many short lists for great sets of the decade but it scores points for the revolutionary design and ingenuity at a time when many cards looked pretty much the same. Aside from their 1989 regional set/test issue, AP pulled off something that we hadn’t quite seen at this scope and scale. Although the star power and monetary value generally falls in the update set, the base 1990 Action Packed gave birth to the technology and signature style found on the cards throughout its run in the hobby and that counts for something.

About Tony Reid

From the time he was a little kid, Tony has been a huge sports fan. If he could play sports, watch sports and talk about sports it was a great day. From as early as he was drawn to sports, Tony was drawn to collecting sports cards. Not much has changed over the years. He collects RCs of star players in baseball, basketball and football. He also has a soft spot for first autographs of MMA stars. If you want to talk to Tony about the greatness of Michael Jordan, Bo Jackson or Ken Griffey, Jr. you can reach him at @reidrattlecage on all social media platforms.

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