Blast From the Packs: Football then, football now-ish

When I was collecting sports cards as a kid, I collected each of the four major American sports at the time: Baseball, basketball, football (American style) and ice hockey. My interest in each sport would wax and wane with the seasons, but I would say most of the time, baseball and basketball jockeyed for that top spot in my heart. I did buy football cards, and I would buy hockey cards when I found them, but neither of those sports ever really took pole position in my hobby.

As I look back on my collection, I’ve started to realize I may have been collecting football at kind of a down time for the sport. Or maybe it wasn’t a DOWN time, exactly, but it was in retrospect a little bit of a forgotten era considering what happened after it, with the Patriots dynasty, so many players breaking all-time records, and the growth of the NFL into — for a time, at least — America’s biggest, most profitable, and favorite sport by far.

I look at my cards and I have thoughts like “Why did I keep so many Jeff Blake cards? Was he good?” and “Was Errict Rhett good or did I just end up with a lot of his cards?” Maybe I just had worse luck when it came to pulling greats like Barry Sanders or, I don’t know, Dan Marino out of packs (I only have like two Barry Sanders cards, somehow, despite collecting during his prime). A lot of the kids I traded with also overvalued football cards compared to me, so it would have been tough to pry a Barry Sanders or something like that away from them. I remember acquiring an Emmitt Smith hologram card in a trade and feeling like I’d won the lottery. I still have that bad boy.

Holograms don’t photograph well.

At any rate, I haven’t watched hardly any football in years. I think I got football out of my system when I covered the Purdue football team in their mostly snakebitten 2002 season (they went 7-6, won the Sun Bowl, and fumbled a lot late in games, as I recall). Not that football can’t surprise me still, but I just got a bit bored of it, I think, and I still feel that way.

So as I return to sports card collecting, football is still going to be at the bottom of my personal standings. But I did get, in one of the eBay pack grab bags I ordered, two packs of NFL cards from two eras: One from my childhood (that I don’t think I ever purchased) and one from 2008, when I wouldn’t have had much exposure to the NFL outside of maybe playing Madden.

1991 NFL Pacific Pro Football Plus II (Special Edition)

The name of the set is a mouthful, the look of the pack is an eyesore. Like seriously, how did the foil on this thing get that wrinkled? My first thought was that someone had opened the pack, took out any “good” cards and then re-sealed it, but then I realized, who would take that much trouble for 1991 Pacific?

I have a couple random Pacific cards in my collection from my childhood, but they were never my favorite, never even something I would buy packs of. I must have acquired a few of these cards as extras in trades with friends, or maybe I bought a pack here and there when I was sampling different sets during a given season.

Opening this pack, I can say, yeah, this wouldn’t have been one to catch my attention.

I’m not sure what prompted the design decision to put the player’s name in vertical text down the side of the card. I’m not sure why they would have put that strange undulating color gradient under the letters of the name on that Aeneas Williams rookie (the rest are just a normal gradient, which isn’t great either), or why the letters of the name are gray instead of white. I do support the use of team colors to differentiate cards, though, and I like the random inclusion of pink (how 90s!) on the Raiders card.

The backs of the cards, too, are colorful and feature a picture of the player, which is a nice touch for a 1991 set. Still plenty of questionable decisions here (like the near-illegible white reverse text inside the light yellow box) but overall I think I prefer the back design to the front.

Still, of all the cards in this pack, I only knew one of the guys, which means I
A. Got a bad pack
B. Just don’t know that many guys from 1990-91
It’s probably a bit of both.

2008 Bowman NFL

When I opened this pack of Bowman (a Topps brand), it dawned on me that this 12-year-old pack is the newest pack I’ve ever opened. That struck me as funny. But it’s true: This is the first pack I’ve opened from what I would term the “ultra-modern” era of gloss, thick card stock, pieces of fabric on cards, parallels on parallels, etc.

And the 10 cards in this Bowman pack definitely look like something from a different era than those Pacific cards.

First of all, I didn’t notice at first, but when I looked again at the cards after having opened the pack, I realized that seven (SEVEN!) of the 10 cards in the pack are rookies, including the Matt Ryan featured on the pack wrapper itself. SEVEN!

The blue edging you’re seeing there is apparently used for the rookie cards, and the non-rookie cards are edged in red. No team coloring here. The card on the right is marked “Bowman Chrome,” which is a pretty standard Topps trick for the last bunch of years, apparently, adding a parallel set of extra glossy, slightly metallic cards with strange relief lines around the outline of the player.

I can see my reflection in it.

And most of the cards are black-bordered, which I find a bit claustrophobic, but the Stanford Keglar card there in the middle is both gold-bordered and HECKIN’ THICC, as seen below in comparison to a standard card.

That’s like triple the thickness.

Just looking at the card, front and back, there’s NOTHING to indicate why it’s gold and thick. No alternate set number, no “Gold-edition” stamping, no nothing. I’m guessing it’s a parallel, but they’re really leaving it up to the collector to look up for themselves what is up with this thing.

The backs are pretty pedestrian, taking advantage of all the most modern print technology to … pack a bunch of words on there.

And as you can see, the black border/red or blue side vents design continues onto the back.

All in all, not terrible cards. The black borders make it VERY easy to tell when an edge is ever-so-slightly less than crisp, but they’re fairly clean looking, and although I just made fun of the backs for having nothing but words and stats on them, I kinda like the “scouting report” style info on each player. I also feel like I got a decent pack, because I recognized most of the 10 guys despite not watching much football at all the last 12-plus years.

I still wouldn’t have purchased either of these packs, though, in either era. I’m just not much of a football guy, and while I may end up with some more football cards as part of the eBay grab bags I buy, I doubt I’ll be seeking them out.

That said, I am certainly starting to dip my toe into buying some more of the ultra-modern cards, so I’ll write more about those and my rationale for collecting them soon.

Hey, it’s another one of those damned Chrome cards!

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