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Was Emmitt Smith supposed to be in the 1991 Portraits set?

In 1991 Portraits, 1992 Portraits, Oddities on January 17, 2012 at 3:10 am

I have never seen this card before, a 1991 Emmitt Smith Pro Line Portraits card. A reader called Gus sent me two digital pics of the card, front and back, looking for some answers. I don’t have specifics, but I can make some educated guesses.

This clearly is not one of the regular 300 cards from the 1991 Pro Line Portraits set, although the date on the back of the card says 1991. Emmitt had no 1991 card. His Portraits card appeared in the 1992 set.

Gus’ card is exceptional for four reasons: The card has a different photo on the front than the 1992 Smith card (above), it has different text on the back from the 1992 card (below), it has no number and the date on the back says 1991. I can’t tell if the photo on the back is different, but the crop is tighter on the 1992 card.

The cards that were sent to the players to autograph did not have the card number on the back. That fact and the certified, embossed seal are the two ways to know you have an autograph card that was inserted into the pack by the manufacturer (and not a forgery). This card does not have the seal.

I have three guesses about this card:

1) It is a prototype for a Smith card for the 1991 set that somehow got away from the Pro Line folks and into circulation in the collecting world. I’m basing this guess on the quote on the back of the card, which mostly revolves around Emmitt’s views on the differences between college and pro football. That would make sense for a player who just finished his first NFL season, but it makes less sense for a player who would be entering his third season as the cards were hitting the shelves. That being the case, Pro Line would’ve changed the wording on the back for 1992, which it did. Smith gained nearly 1,000 yards in 1990, so demand for a 1991 card would’ve been there. Gus says he read somewhere that neither Smith nor the NFL was happy with the photo of Emmitt not smiling. I would be interested to read whatever Gus read. If this were a prototype for 1991, it seems like a simple fix to change the pic. But we don’t know the timing of the matter, which might have kept the card out of the 1991 set.

2) It’s a prototype for 1992. But if it is, why does it have the 1991 date on the back? Seems odd. And unlikely.

3) Emmitt was supposed to be part of the 300-card 1991 set, and this is one of the cards meant to bear Emmitt’s signature and be inserted into foil packs. If this problem with the photo was significant enough (and the situation came up late in the process to get the set out), it may have prevented Emmitt from being part of the 1991 set. If that was the case, the company might have decided to hold the card until 1992, adding some star power to the set. I’m basing this guess on the fact that there’s no number on the back of the card.

I think the third is the most likely possibility.

As I said, I’ve never seen this card before, and I’d love to know more about it.

If it was meant to be part of the 1991 set, I’d also love to know which of the other cards was not originally included in the set of 300 (in other words, which card was added to replace Emmitt). I’d be curious to know who was essentially card No. 301 and got included when Emmitt’s card fell through.

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