When it comes to naming the NFL’s list of all-time leading rushers, the lineup of running backs is filled with greatness: Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, Curtis Martin, Frank Gore, LaDainian Tomlinson, Jerome Bettis, Eric Dickerson, Tony Dorsett and Jim Brown. But there’s one name that stands out as the greatest rusher of all time: Emmitt Smith. With a league best 18,355 rushing yards to his credit, Smith accumulated a mark over 15 punishing seasons that will not soon be broken.
But when it comes to collecting the rookie cards of football’s greatest back ever, you might be surprised to find out that his five-card rookie collection is remarkably affordable. Let’s take a closer look at the RCs that feature the league’s only running back ever to win a Super Bowl championship, the NFL Most Valuable Player award, the NFL rushing crown and the Super Bowl MVP award all in the same season (1993):
1990 Score Supplemental Emmitt Smith RC #101T
- PSA Population: 3,810 Mint 9 | 683 Gem Mint 10
- Average Cost for PSA Gem Mint 10: $298.48
- Average Cost for PSA Mint 9: $46.16
“Emmitt in Motion” could be the tagline for Smith’s 1990 Score Supplemental RC #101T. Showing the sturdy RB trying to elude a New York Giants linebacker (looks like the original LT to me), Smith appears ready to reposition the football in his right arm for safekeeping. Utilizing a unique color gradation presentation on its borders, the top half of the card is certainly sensitive to potential chipping with its dark blue border, so watch for that.
The otherwise simple card design keeps all eyes focused on Smith’s on-the-field exploits and little else. In PSA Gem Mint 10 condition, Smith’s Score rookie card commands top dollar among his five RCs with a price tag easily pushing three C-notes.
1990 Action Packed Rookie Update Emmitt Smith RC #34
- PSA Population: 987 Mint 9 | 195 Gem Mint 10
- Average Cost for PSA Gem Mint 10: $189.86
- Average Cost for PSA Mint 9: $13.56
When it came to card embossing, no company made a bigger impression on collectors than Action Packed! And with none other than future Football Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith featured in its 1990 “Rookie Update” set, the company was off to a glorious (albeit short-lived) start.
The nicely designed card showcases Smith protecting the football, ready to plunge through the line for yet another first down. The white “R” in the top right corner adorning a red helmet christens its “rookie card” status. To date, only 195 of the cards have been graded PSA Gem Mint 10, so it remains sought-after with a current price tag averaging near $190.
1990 Topps Traded Emmitt Smith RC #27T
- PSA Population: 9,109 Mint 9 | 4,074 Gem Mint 10
- Average Cost for PSA Gem Mint 10: $29.96
- Average Cost for PSA Mint 9: $10.25
Showing a young Emmitt stretching during pregame warmups, the 1990 Topps Traded RC (#27T) boasts a rather simple portrait type design of the helmetless running back. Utilizing the Cowboys team colors as part of its multi-colored border layout the card is aesthetically pleasing in that it delivers an up-close look at the league’s future all-time leading rusher.
Easily the most recorded card of Smith’s five RCs archived in PSA’s Population Report, the Topps Traded version remains popular with gridiron collectors and can be had in PSA Gem Mint condition for less than $30.
1990 Pro Set Emmitt Smith RC #685
- PSA Population: 1,645 Mint 9 | 526 Gem Mint 10
- Average Cost for PSA Gem Mint 10: $35.36
- Average Cost for PSA Mint 9: $7.96
Like any other card set Pro Set overproduced, its 1990 effort including Emmitt Smith’s RC #685 was no exception. Though it’s a vitally important piece to collectors trying to complete the Emmitt Smith rookie card set, it’s by no means considered a diamond in the rough. Its dark blue colored borders (think Cowboys road jerseys back in the day) make the cards prone to chipping but because of the glut of cards produced it can frequently be found in both PSA Mint 9 or Gem Mint 10 condition. Supply will always exceed demand. Boasting Pro Set’s short-lived “The Official NFL Card” moniker across the top, Smith’s RC at least shows him battling against the Cowboys’ arch-rival Redskins, which for football purists was a nice touch.
1990 Fleer Update Emmitt Smith #U40
- PSA Population: 4,368 Mint 9 | 2,473 Gem Mint 10
- Average Cost for PSA Gem Mint 10: $27.72
- Average Cost for PSA Mint 9: $11.92
The design of Smith’s 1990 Fleer Update RC (#U40) boasts a full-color presentation and in-action photo showing the Cowboys up-and-coming RB ready to take a handoff and head through the line. The release was printed on higher-end card stock as Fleer wanted to make a statement with a sparkling, football shaped banner across the bottom that included his name and position. A small Cowboys football helmet adds a nice finishing touch.
Fleer’s slightly swollen PSA population report when compared to its Action Packed neighbor (2,473 to 195, respectively, in Gem Mint 10 condition) proves that it’s a card that still has plenty of staying power and collector interest, especially at just under $28.
If you combine the overall purchase price of all five of Emmitt’s rookie cards in PSA Gem Mint 10 condition, your total comes to a slightly challenging $581.30, with the pricey Score Supplemental card at $298.48 covering a little more than 50% the overall buy-in. But if you’re pressed for cash now, you would only need to fork over $90 to walk away with all five rookie cards in PSA Mint 9 condition. Option 2 is a very doable pursuit when you consider you could have every rookie card featuring the NFL’s all-time leading rusher for less than a single Benjamin!