Sunday, April 4, 2021

1989 Topps Football: A Redesign

A couple of months ago I completed the 1989 Topps football set, and noted how the "tube sock" stripe design on the card borders is both fun and fitting for the era. See?

Since then I've looked a little more closely at that design element, and a couple of questions have come to mind.

(1) How did Topps decide on those color combinations for the stripes?

(2) Why didn't they just match the stripes to each team's official colors instead?

Well, the first thing I thought I'd do is count up all the different color combinations that Topps used. It turns out there were 11 different stripe patterns used throughout the set. Eleven.

Here they are.

(1) purple / orange / purple
(2) black / red / black
(3) red / yellow / green / yellow / red
(4) magenta / cyan / magenta
(5) orange / red / orange
(6) light blue / orange / light blue
(7) green / yellow / red / yellow / green
(8) red / yellow / light blue / yellow / red
(9) green / red / green
(10) red / light blue / purple / light blue / red
(11) light blue / yellow / red / yellow / light blue

You'll note that many of those combinations are quite different than any football team's colors. And that part of it I do understand. I mean, if you're going to assign color combinations randomly to cards in the set, it's better that the colors don't look like they're from a particular team. Think about how confusing and upsetting it would have been for a Packers fan if one of their player's cards ended up with Bears colors, or for a Jets fan if one of their player's cards ended up with Giants colors. 

That answers the first question. Now for the second question: matching the stripes to each team's official colors.

After giving it a little more thought, I think I understand why Topps didn't go that route. There were 28 teams in the NFL at that time, which would have meant 28 different designs to come up with.

Now that doesn't exactly seem like a daunting task. It's only three stripes per card. But I suppose coming up with 11 random stripe designs is still easier and quicker than 28. Maybe it was more efficient when it came to ink distribution, too. (And perhaps cheaper? I don't know.)

In any case, even if that does answer the second question, I couldn't just leave it there. I wanted to see what the cards would have looked like if the stripes did indeed match each team's colors.

For one example, have a look at David Little here.

Not a bad-looking card of the big, hulking linebacker by any means. But look at him after the redesign.

The black and gold stripes make him look even more menacing, don't you think?

And here's veteran receiver Steve Largent in those classy Seahawks uniforms.

After the redesign?

Classier still.

And those two samples turned out well enough for me to want to run the full gamut. So here's one card for each of the 28 NFL teams, in alphabetical order by city. I tried to choose images that had a true, classic "football card" look to them. Hopefully I did your favorite team justice.



I think my favorites at the moment include Denver, Green Bay, Minnesota, and Philadelphia.


Similar to the Fleer baseball sets of the era, the cards in the 1989 Topps football set are arranged by team. To get the full effect of the stripes, I thought I'd mock up a couple of nine-pocket pages.

First, here's a page of Pittsburgh Steelers with their original (and random) stripes.

And now here they are featuring the matching team colors.

Same thing for the Broncos. Here's the original page.

And the redesign.

What are your thoughts? Would this set have been more appealing back in 1989 if Topps had color-matched the stripes to each team? Or were the random stripes kind of fun and fitting for the decade? Maybe both can be true.

Let me know in the comment section. And thanks for reading, as always.


  1. A. Nice research on the color combinations. I thought the only blogger that dedicated was Night Owl. Kudos. I'm very impressed.

    B. I do like your team color coordinated stripes, better than the random ones. But if we went back in time and Topps did follow your lead, I think I still would have found the 1989 Score football set more appealing.

    1. (A) Thanks Fuji! Once I started looking into it, I had to keep going.

      (B) The Score company sure loved using colors back in the late-1980s, didn't they?

  2. Cool Post. I like reading about designs like this but I hate doing the research for them. Plus I have very few complete sets to work from my collection I'd have to use sites like The Trading Card DataBase for the research.

    I do like the team color coordination as well. I like when Topps or other brands do that. That is one of the reasons I like the 1990 & 1991 Pro Set Sets.

    1. Thanks Cap'n!

      I'm not much of a football collector, so I had to look up 1990 and 1991 Pro Set on TCDB. They do look nice with the color-matched designs, for sure.

  3. I am partial to the stripes in the team colors. I really like the look of the Steelers cards with the black and yellow stripes.

    1. Same here, Tim! If I had an unlimited amount of design time, I'd try a full nine-pocket page for few other teams, too.

  4. Replies
    1. Thanks Mr. Elliptical! I kind of like the original random stripes too, but I think the team colors are pretty sharp. (I wonder if sales would have been much different if Topps had gone with the team colors.)

  5. Yeah, all together the cards with the team color stripes look much cooler.

    In general I find the '89 football design pretty dull.

    1. Thanks Night Owl! Hopefully the matching team color stripes reduce that dullness a little. I think the revised set would look pretty sharp in a binder, one team after the next.

  6. The Largent is really great!

    1. Agreed, Jon! Those Seahawks uniforms are the ones I remember from childhood, so I'll always be a fan of that color combination.

  7. Very nicely done! I skipped over the 1989 Topps FB set because it seemed kinda bland, but if it had color-matching stripes like you've created here I'd buy a box for sure.

    1. Nice compliment, thanks very much Chris! Glad so many readers are enjoying the redesign.

  8. Awesome, looks good. This set was so bad thirty years ago and now it is nostalgic!

    1. Funny how that happens, isn't it? Thanks for the compliment, Ryan!

  9. I like the team-matching colors better myself. Side note, I can't imagine the amount of work that went into creating this post, bravo!

    1. Thanks very much, shoebox! This one took some effort for sure, but fortunately it was only three little stripes per card, so that cut down on the design time. (The team cards took a little more doing, though.)