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The season's right for football cards

It's June, but the first of the 1991 football cards have appeared at sports collectible and retail outlets throughout the Tampa Bay area. Pro Set Inc., a Dallas-based manufacturer of sports and non-sports card products, released its 447-card Series I set in late April. This year marks the third season Pro Set has produced football cards.

The player cards feature a color photo on the front, with the player's name, position and team logo. Many of the photos are action shots. On the back, an inset photo gives fans a close-up of the player without his helmet. The back also has statistics and a small player biography.

The new set features numerous subsets, including cards of players and coaches from the World League of American Football, top college performers from last season and a number of cards highlighting big plays from Super Bowl XXV at Tampa Stadium. In addition, key games and personal highlights from last year's regular season and playoffs are depicted on special cards.

"We took the responsibility to report on milestones and happenings in the National Football League," said Emily Cruz, director of public relations and communications for Pro Set. "We wanted to report what was going on and make the cards come alive."

When the bay area came to life for Super Bowl XXV, Pro Set was there to catch the action.

Card number 350 depicts Whitney Houston singing the Star Spangled Banner, and card 54 shows the missed field-goal attempt by Buffalo Bills kicker Scott Norwood with seconds left.

Card 351 is a photo of U.S. servicemen in gas masks huddled around a television tuned to the game. The card explains that the troops were watching at a base near Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, and that 10-15 percent of the military personnel were able to catch the game live at 2:18 a.m.

"The Super Bowl, Whitney Houston's singing the national anthem and the war are all events that will go down in history," Cruz said. "One-hundred percent of the profits from the war card go back to the families of those involved in the war."

According to Cruz, $2-million has been raised with the money going to educational and scholarship funds for active servicemen and war veterans.

One of Pro Set's goals this year, Cruz said, is to take a look at the past, present and future.

The past is represented in cards of Heisman Trophy winners from the last 10 years and cards of this year's Hall of Fame inductees.

Social problems are touched on in a subset that features players like Warren Moon, Boomer Esiason and Jim Everett. This special set attempts to speak to youth about drugs, alcohol and the need to stay in school.

"We feel the cards, with messages coming from their heroes, would appeal to the kids," Cruz said. "We get a lot of letters from kids concerning our cards and we wanted the cards to have an educational value."

Last year's top collegiate players _ former Notre Dame star Raghib "The Rocket" Ismail (1990 Walter Camp Player of the Year) and Brigham Young quarterback Ty Detmer (Heisman Trophy) _ are among those featured.

Since collectors have had a few weeks to warm up to the new cards, reaction has been favorable.

"The photo quality is extremely good," said Frank Lindgren of Hot Stuff Sports Cards in South Tampa. "They were out the first month of the baseball season, but football fans were waiting for them. The card of Ismail has been particularly popular."

Perhaps one of the best photos in the set can be found on Sammie Smith's card. The Dolphins running back is pictured hurtling over a New England Patriots defender on his way to score.

"Pro Set has put out a great looking card," said Jan Butterfield, manager of Yesterday and Now Inc. in North Tampa. "The WLAF cards are a real draw and the Whitney Houston cards sell very well. People seem to like the cards and we have trouble keeping them in."

Pro Set will release its Series II issue in October, Cruz said.