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The Good & Bad with the hobby

My opinion only, (as if it matters) (Updated July 1st, 2023)

In this section, I am trying to put together a collector's view of what is Good / Bad with the hobby.  The hobby has gone through some major transformations in the last 20 years since I've been collecting, but that is expected especially with competition among card manufacturers. With as many as 10 card manufacturers and 44 titles in 1996 alone, one can easily see that there is a ton of competition after your hard-earned money. The craziness kind of cooled off as we approached 2010 with a lot of the card manufacturers from the 90s closing their doors, but new challenges were on the horizon.  So please, let me explain what I see just might be a hobby gone crazy.

The Good:

1) It's still fun:  For all of us that collect Football cards, it would be hard to fathom that we didn't watch Football.  Card collecting is still a way for us, the collector, to relate to our favorite team, favorite players, and last, but not least our favorite sport.  I love going back into some of those old sets to see some players that I totally forgot about, (See the 1984 Topps "Malcolm Barnwell" RC #103 right).  This is one of the fun parts of collecting that I just love.  Probably second to finally completing that tough-to-finish set!!

2) The choice is yours:  Having several different card manufacturers offering so many titles can be bad, but it does one good thing and that is it gives us many cards to choose from when collecting.  If anyone says there aren't any good cards out there, they are totally nuts. There are way too many to choose from.  Personally, I like Upper Deck, Skybox, Ultra, Leaf, and Donruss, (Now I realize that some of those companies are gone, but since I still haven't collected all they had to offer; they are very much alive to me!)  But all those companies are only the beginning, Upper Deck by itself had 10 - 12 titles in 2001.  You can go broke collecting just Upper Deck titles, (especially with their collation problems).  In any case, you should not have any problems finding a set that gives you everything you're looking for.

2001 Donruss Classics: “Hardy Nickerson” Team Colors #TC-30

3) Game-Used Memorabilia & Autographs:  I know many collectors are interested in only these cards and that alone gives these cards a bad wrap, but these cards also bring a lot of good to the hobby.  For one, these cards give the collector exactly what the fans desire, Memorabilia.  All fans, including myself, would love to get their hands on Pro Jerseys, (See the 2001 Donruss Classics “Hardy Nickerson”  Team Colors #TC-30 left), Game Balls, Game Helmets, Autographs, (See the 1998 Topps “Randy Moss” Autographs  #A1 below left), even stadium seats and turf, (See the 2001 Donruss Classics “Edgerrin James” Hashmarks #HM-12 right), from their favorite teams and players.  Well, this new type of card brings that to the hobby.  Memorabilia meets card collecting!!  A brash, innovative concept that, since 1996, has turned the hobby upside down.  

4) Quality, Quality, Quality!!:  When Pro-Set, (See the 1989 Pro Set “Joey Browner” #227 below left), and Score, (See the 1989 Score “Cris Carter” RC #72 below right), came onto the scene in the late 80s and the early 90s it caught Topps totally off guard.  Topps thought it could get by with its old cardboard flagship series, but that was not going to work anymore.  Although Topps still had cardboard card stock in 1992, it was an upgrade from previous years.  It's the way of any industry; Either you evolve or you're extinct!! That does benefit us, the collector;  We get more durable, better looking, higher quality cards all for the sake of competition.

5) WWW:  The World Wide Web or the Internet as it is called has opened so many doors for collectors. I've already mentioned how in St. Louis many years ago my collection went as far as the shops in and around St. Louis would take me.  But today, I've bought cards from almost all 50 states and as far away as Taiwan. All at prices well below book value. But this does come at a steep price, (See THE BAD #6). 

1989 Pro Set: “Joey Browner” #227

The Bad:

1984 Topps: “Malcolm Barnwell” RC #103

2001 Donruss Classics: “Edgerrin James" Hashmarks #HM-12

1989 Score: “Cris Carter” RC #72

1998 Topps: “Randy Moss” Autographs #A1

1) The Incredible Shrinking Set:  Most card manufacturers don't make large sets anymore.  I talk about this on my opening page and its true.  Many sets today have 300 or fewer cards in them and to top it off, those 300 cards include 3 Marinos, 3 Aikman's so on and so on.  Enough already!!!  However, the driving force behind this, is us,  the collector.   Why?  Well, the #1 reason I hear is that it doesn't make any investment sense.  There is the word again...Investment!!  In some sets, most of the High-End cards cost more by themselves than the entire set does.  That is why most collectors don't put sets together anymore and that drives me crazy.  Many collectors don't mind this, but I do. 



The reason why I don't like this is because doubling the number of High - Profile players, (Marino, Elway, Aikman) in each set limits the lower end player card you might be getting for the first time.


Example #1: Duce Staley had only 4 Base Rookie Cards in 1997, (See the 1997 Ultra Duce Staley #232 RC right), Fleer was one of 3 companies that took the bold step to make Rookie cards for Duce.  How many other card manufacturers made Rookie Cards of Staley?  Only the Proline / Score Board was the other.  Why? Because all other card manufacturers were too busy making that 3rd Marino or 3rd Aikman card for their sets.  Lousy foresight and awful set preparation.  Kudos to the planning teams at Ultra, Skybox, Proline and Score Board!!


Example #2: How many sets did Kurt Warner appear in 1999? None, until they all scrambled to add Update sets to their lineup that year.  A Kurt Warner Rookie card was cut in favor of another Aikman card that year for sure!!


Example #3: In the 1997 Pinnacle Inscriptions set, there were 50 cards. Guess how many defensive players were in that set? Give up? One. There was 1 single defensive player in that set, (See the 1997 Pinnacle Inscriptions "Jr. Seau" #25 right). However, Neil O'Donnell had 2 cards. Pathetic.


When manufacturers cut the # of cards in a set, they are extremely limited to who they choose. Now, most selections aren't as bad as the '97 Pinnacle Inscriptions set, but still cutting the # of cards to some embarrassing low # like 50 is just plain worthless. Don't even bother.

1997 Fleer Ultra: “Duce Staley” RC #23

1997 Pinnacle Inscriptions: “Jr. Seau” #25

(Note: The only defensive player in the 50-card set)

2) The Rising Costs:  I know this is inevitable, but when the cost rises 200% every other year something is terribly wrong.  I saw a pack of cards at a hobby store for $45 that guaranteed a Game-Used card in each pack.  For $45 bucks, it better. As a matter of fact, it better have a Game-Used, Autograph and a serial #'d card!!!  I screamed at $5 bucks a pack back in 1996.

3) Game-Used Memorabilia & Autographs:  This is the Two-Headed Monster in the hobby.  It provides a great attraction to your set, that draws collectors to your title.  It also turns some of us into Mr. Hyde!!.  Many collectors don't collect anything but Game-Used or Autographs now and that makes it very difficult to trade if you belong to any of the online trade groups.  The Game-Used and Autograph cards aren't destroying the hobby, but they are making it very difficult to put sets together or collect your favorite player.

4) The Elite Distributors:  This is the most disturbing thing about collecting in the present day.  I've recently gotten some very alarming information about how some card manufacturers sell to their special clients.  This information has come to me from a long time buyer/dealer who recently got out of the business.  This dealer claimed that some "Playoff", (and I'm sure there were others), would sell MARKED boxes to their elite buyers.  When I say "MARKED", I mean that the case the elite dealer bought would have ONE or TWO boxes clearly marked or turned upside down in the case to indicate which box had the "Game-Used" or “Autograph” cards, (in this case, the cards were the "Back-to-Back" inserts), (See the 1994 Playoff Contenders "Jerome Bettis / Terry Allen" Back-to-Back #39 right).  How many times have you bought a box of cards and didn't get a single serial #'d card or insert card even though the odds were well within your favor?  It might not be a coincidence!!  My advice, buy only from respectable dealers and watch out for those real special deals!!!

1994 Playoff Contenders Back to Back

5) Mix It Up:  Two words...Horrible collation!!  This applies to only one card manufacturer in my view, Upper Deck.  The hobby gouger extraordinaire. If you think I'm off my rocker, think again. When I opened my last couple boxes it was in 1998 and the product was the 1998 Upper Deck.  I got 5 - 6 extras of some cards, for others I got 1 - 2 and I still didn’t complete the base set, (See the 1998 Upper Deck "Hardy Nickerson" #237 below right).  What is that?  If you think it is by accident, think again.  Upper Deck is the reason I don’t open packs or boxes anymore.  I let someone else buy the boxes and put the sets together for me.  I don't think of Upper Deck's collation problems as a problem at all, its on purpose.

1994 Playoff Contenders: “Jerome Bettis / Terry Allen” Back-to-Back #39

1998 Upper Deck: “Hardy Nickerson” #237

6) The Disappearing Act:  I can't tell you how many times in the past few years I've heard, "I'm closing up shop here in the next month."  With the growth of the internet, many card shops just can't stay competitive. The online auction sites are killing them.  They just can't sell their merchandise as cheap as some can online. I've heard many dealers say, "Nowadays, you have to move merchandise fast! You can't sit on it like you used to." This is very true today.  Because in today's card collecting world the card shop owner is competing against me!  In the days of old, if I had a bunch of cards I didn't need, I was stuck with them. But today, I can sell them.  And this is where the shop owners always had the advantage. Not anymore.

7) Lazy Manufacturers:  This section refers to cheap attempts that manufacturers make at creating parallel sets, that in my opinion, are worthless, confusing and just a damn waste of time.  Now, first of all, I want to say, that I could write an essay on Collector's Edge. Their 1995 Collector's Edge title had 12 parallel sets!! Twelve!! The parallel sets had names like Black Label, Black Label Silver Die-Cuts, Black Label 22k Gold, Nitro 22k, 22k Gold 500, 22k Gold Die-Cuts and so on. Absolutely worthless and confusing as hell. Thanks, but I'll pass.


Anchor 1

However, what I'd like to point out is what a bad parallel set looks like and what a good one looks like.


Example #1: Pictures #1 and #2 show cards from the 2000 Fleer Tradition set.  This was Fleer's attempt to give us, the hobby, a great parallel set. A great parallel set because a card #'d to 250 is supposed to be more valuable, more scarce, (and more importantly), more sought after. (Side note: Fleer also had a 3rd parallel to this auto set. A Gold version #'d to 50.) What did Fleer do differently to the "Silver Parallel" set? The words on the front are in Silver and the card is #'d to /250. And that is all you get. It probably took the design team a whole 15 minutes to come with this variation.



Example #2: Pictures #3 and #4 are from the 2000 Upper Deck Gold Reserve set. These pictures show Upper Deck's attempt at a parallel in the Gold Reserve set. The cards look like they are from 2 different sets. The pictures are different, there is additional text on the "Gold" version and there is the #'d to /25 text on the front. I have no problem putting this parallel set together because it's vastly different from the main set.



Pick and choose carefully which parallels you want to collect. Some of them are light-years ahead of the others. If you absolutely have to have all 12 1996 Collector's Edge parallels of Brett Favre, I wish you luck. Because that is the only reason someone would even want to attempt to hunt all those cards down. I really hate calling any cards junk, but those cards are the closest thing the hobby has to it. 


2000 Fleer Tradition: “Donnell Bennett” Autographics #11


2000 Upper Deck Gold Reserve: “Chris Redman” UD Authentics #CR


2000 Fleer Tradition: “Donnell Bennett” Autographics Silver #11


2000 Upper Deck Gold Reserve: “Chris Redman” UD Authentics Gold #CR-G

8) The Rising Cost of Licensing:  In this section, I want to take us back to the glory days when card photography was simply amazing!! Say what you want about the 1990 Score set, but there is one major "+" that sets from that era had that today's cards simply don't. The emblems from their alma mater. It's just too expensive to show a college team's logo now. Simply put, the cards today look incomplete and dull. It's just sad. Can you honestly tell me which school Jordan Matthews went to by looking at his uniform, (See photo #2 below), you just can't. He looks like a player from a commercial, one in which all the actors wear plain jerseys with the words "STATE" on them. Ridiculous. It's just my opinion, but I believe the NCAA is only hurting itself. Why in the world would you NOT want your logo showing up on the front of an NFL card? It seems like free advertising to me. So instead of Jordan Matthews showing off the colors and logo of his alma mater, he's advertising for a "Tide" commercial instead. Great work, NCAA!!



1990 Score Chris Singleton RC.JPG

1990 Score: “Chris Singleton” Rookie #290


2014 Bowman Jordan Matthews.jpg

2014 Bowman: “Jordan Matthews” Rookie #110

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