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Score Football Continues to Build on Long History

by Paul Angilly
June 28, 2005

Here's a trivia question: Topps is celebrating its 50th consecutive year of issuing pro football player cards this season - obviously making it the longest-running brand name in the football card collecting hobby. But what is the second-longest consecutively-issued brand?

If you guessed Upper Deck, you're wrong. Ditto if you thought of Playoff or the now-defunct Fleer. The correct answer is Score, a brand name which will be applied to a football card set this season for the 17th consecutive year.

The Score brand traces its history back to a company called Optigraphics, which entered the baseball card market with its first major set - lenticular, magic-motion cards called Sportflics - in 1986. In 1988, the company issued a more traditional baseball card set called Score.

Only a year later, the company received an NFL license and the first Score football card set was issued. Like Fleer and Donruss had done with baseball cards in 1981, Score and the now-defunct Pro Set broke the virtual monopoly Topps had held in the NFL player card market for the previous 21 years (since the NFL-AFL merger).

Though at first overshadowed by the traditional Topps and heavily-promoted Pro Set issues, the 330-card 1989 Score football set quietly became the brand of choice for that season as collectors slowly realized that it was produced in much lesser quantities than the other sets. Key rookie cards of players including Barry Sanders and Troy Aikman - neither of whom were included in the Topps or Pro Set series 1 issues - helped push the Score set well past the $100 mark in value.

Like its two previous baseball sets, Score's initial football set brought quality to both the fronts and backs of its cards. The fronts included action photos with a large team helmet logo and the player's name and position, while card backs included a color photo over the top half, with statistics and well-written biographies below.

Issued with Sportflics-style lenticular team helmet logo trivia cards, the 1989 Score set also includes several subsets: 1989 rookies, post-season action, "great combos," All-Pro selections, "Speedburners," "Predators," record breakers and a single-card tribute to Tom Landry. A 110-card Score Supplemental set was issued as a factory set through dealers later in the year.

Score's history becomes a bit complicated during the 1990s, but the brand continued to be issued every year.

Following the emerging trend toward upscale brands, Score issued its first "premium" card set in 1992, called Pinnacle. While that first Pinnacle set carried a Score trademark, by the end of 1993 (and before the introduction of the premium Score Select brand that year) the company had renamed itself as Pinnacle Brands.

In 1995, the company purchased the remnants of the venerable Donruss/Leaf company, continuing to issue Donruss and Leaf sets under the Pinnacle Brands umbrella. Also in 1995, Pinnacle's umbrella would grow to encompass Action Packed - a company that issued a 30-card test set of Bears, Giants and Redskins players in 1989 before releasing a full 280-card set of all teams in 1990.

Three years later and after another minor name change, the Pinnacle Trading Card Company went bankrupt and the rights to its brand names (including the Donruss and Leaf names) were sold to the Playoff card company in 1998.

Now known as Donruss/Playoff, that company kept the Score brand alive with a 275-card set in 1999 that included 55 short-printed rookies and subset cards.

A 110-card Score Supplemental set was also issued for the first time since 1991. The 1999 set paid tribute to Score's history with a set of 20 10th Anniversary reprint cards numbered to 1,989 copies randomly inserted into packs. Autographed versions of those 20 cards were also available in hobby packs.

Donruss/Playoff has continued to issue the Score brand since, although it has now been scaled back to a set geared toward old-school collectors. It is currently one of only two brands on the market in any sport (Topps Total is the other) with a retail price below $1 per pack. Also, while the brand continues to offer a nice assortment of rookie cards, there have been no significantly short-printed cards in the base set since 2001.

The 2005 Score set is tentatively due out on July 27. Boxes (36 packs, 7 cards per pack) have already been offered on eBay for as low as $22, plus shipping.

The 385-card set will include 55 rookie cards found one per pack - but don't be deceived into thinking the rookie cards are short printed. With Score's pack configuration, each box should offer 174 of the 330 non-rookie cards (not including parallels), or 52.7 percent of the non-rookie set. Each box should also offer 36 of the 55 rookie cards, or 65.4 percent of the rookie card set - which actually makes them more common than the veterans' cards.

In addition to the rookie cards, there will be one glossy parallel card per pack (accented with UV coating). Also, there will be an average of six other parallels per box, including "Scorecard" (with a silver foil stamp and aqueous coating, serial numbered to 599), "Revolution" (red foil accent and aqueous coating, serial numbered to 150), "Final Score" (aqueous coating and a gold foil stamp, serial numbered to 18 or less) and "Inscriptions" autographed cards.

The cards look great, with a large, mostly uncluttered color action photo dominating the front, surrounded by a white border. A series of tiny boxes, in the team's official colors, are used as a design element across the top and bottom of the card, within a faded area of the photo. The Score logo is prominent at one of the top corners of the card. A thick black band across the bottom includes more of the colored boxes, with a white band below that including the player's uniform number, name and position. A team logo is included in the center of the card, over the black band at the bottom.

No images of the backs of the cards were available, but expect a simple design with complete career statistics and a short biography.

About the author
Paul Angilly is a sports reporter for The Bristol Press in Connecticut, and has been collecting sports cards and memorabilia for 30 years. He is not a dealer, nor does he make a profit from buying and selling cards. His weekly sports card and memorabilia collecting column appears each week in The Bristol Press and several other daily newspapers in Connecticut.

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