What’s in the box? Checking out a Fairfield repack

Have you ever seen something like this in the trading card section or the toy section of a store and wondered what the hell it is? It’s usually between 5 and 20 bucks, and it purports to have a certain number of cards (usually between 30 and 80) and a pack or two, and sometimes it includes language about including a “guaranteed” special card like a relic (card with a piece of jersey or bat or ball, etc., on it) or autograph or it might just have, as this box does, a generic statement about a “hit,” which usually means some higher-value card.

I spied this particular box at my local drug store while waiting for a prescription the other day and decided to take a $5 plunge. As you can see, it does NOT guarantee a hit in each box, which probably explains the lower cost.

I read a little about this company, The Fairfield Company, before, and it appears that this kind of thing, called a “repack,” makes up the vast majority of their business model. They have somehow stockpiled cards and packs (and other memorabilia) from a pretty wide variety of sports and manufacturers from about the last 40 years, and they divvy them up into these mystery boxes.

As you may recall from a recent post, I’ve started buying mystery grab-bags of packs from eBay sellers that work in a similar way: I pay a certain amount and they choose a number of packs from a defined range of years and sets to send to me. In the packages I’ve bought, there’s been no guarantees of good cards, just the normal luck of the pack-opening draw.

But these boxes are a little different, as I found out. It’s not just a bunch of packs, it’s … well, let’s get into it. First, the 50 cards:

They’re all just kinda stacked in the box, no cellophane wrapper or anything else to protect them. The box is constructed in such a way that it creates a sort of inner sarcophagus to hold the stack of cards in place, so they’re not getting knocked around too much, but they’re still not exactly protected. I received cards from sets as far back as 1990, and as recently as 2017 in this loose stack. A few of the older cards, in the lower right-hand corner of that image, looked banged up like they’d been in a shoebox for a few years. Pretty weird.

I put some closeups of the rest of the cards in the slideshow above. In order of appearance:
– Three of these 2014 Upper Deck rookie cards (“collegiate” cards, really, since there’s no NFL license): Teddy Bridgewater and Jimmy Garoppolo, two current starting QBs in the NFL; and Sammy Watkins, a fair-to-middling WR for the current Super Bowl champs. I like the design.
– A real shiny Panini Elite Dez Bryant card from 2014.
– A handful of Bowman cards from 2014 and 2009 (two on left are 2014, the one on the right is 2009). Note the two “Chrome” cards, which are just everywhere with these Topps/Bowman sets.
– A couple cards from the 2017 Score set, a brand I didn’t think was still in existence, but is apparently now part of the seemingly endless Panini stable. Not a terrible design, though the maker’s mark is bigger than I would have made it and kinda dominates the front.
– These stylized Panini Classics cards from 2016. The card stock is thick but matte, and I like the art style with the thick white outlines around the player and the de-rezzed backgrounds. These SEEM like they’d be a nice, affordable “base” set for young collectors based on their looks, but, uh, no, apparently not.
– A couple loose cards from a couple odd Topps sets, including the “Topps Magic” retro-styled Trent Edwards card that either makes him look like claymation on the front or actually IS a clay statue of Trent Edwards. Odd, but not entirely without charm.
– And then the set that, for reasons unknown, made up about half of the 50 random cards: 2015 Topps. Between this, the Bowman cards in this box, and the 2008 Bowman pack I opened earlier, I’m just going to guess that Topps really likes making dark, black-bordered NFL cards. I’m not the biggest fan of this design, but the photography seems good and the design isn’t quite as intrusive as the Bowmans, so I’ll give them a tepid thumbs up (dig those futuristic backs, though: What is this, the holodeck? Computer, show me Percy Harvin’s stats!).

And then there were the packs. One pack was guaranteed by the back of the box, and it said I could expect a “bonus item” as well. In this case, I’m not sure which pack was the “bonus.”

One, a pack of five Leaf Draft cards from this year (!) and the other, a very strange and obviously older pack of Notre Dame trading cards. Let’s get into the Draft cards first.

As with the Score set, I wasn’t aware the Leaf name was still being used. At first, I assumed Leaf, formerly a subsidiary brand of Donruss, had been swept up in Panini’s purchase of Donruss in 2009ish, and that present-day Leaf would be just another Panini product. Imagine my surprise, then, when I flipped the cards over and didn’t find the ubiquitous Panini logo, but rather the Leaf logo and “Leaf Trading Cards” at the bottom.

I went to Google to solve the mystery: Apparently in 2010, the founder of Razor Entertainment, a sports memorabilia company, bought the rights to the Leaf name, shut Razor, and founded Leaf Trading Cards in Dallas (pretty close to Panini America headquarters, perhaps just incidentally). So it is an actual independent card manufacturer (not part of either the Topps or Panini conglomerates) lacking in any official big-league licenses. So they do things like these collegiate cards.

I’m not hating this design. I like the way it frames the bottom, and then fades out about a third of the way up the card. It brings a little drama without interfering too much with the photo. My main beef is I wish the names were a bit bigger, but ultimately, I was pleasantly surprised by these.

I didn’t really know what to expect when I opened the Notre Dame cards, but I started to get the picture as I tore into the flimsy, plastic-y wrapper and found this odd piece of paper:

Hey, a coupon for my favorite school’s* binder! (*If my favorite school is one of these eight) Hey, I can just call or write to these folks and chat about the other cards they make! And I’ll be honest: This is the first time I’ve seen a dedication in a pack of cards.

I wasn’t sure, opening these cards, if they’d be for all Notre Dame sports, or if they’d be for a specific 1990 Notre Dame team (as I recall, Notre Dame football was quite successful around that time), or if they’d be a sort of Hall of Fame style set, or what. It appears they’re more of the Hall of Fame style, but all the cards in my pack were of football players, which makes sense since this is a box of football cards (but it didn’t say football explicitly on the pack, so I wasn’t sure).

The design is pretty dated, but I found myself appreciating the old-school aesthetic, given the subject matter (old-ass football players). These kinda look like they could be the design for plaques in a Notre Dame football Hall of Fame on campus. And I kinda dig the mobius-strip inspired Collegiate Connections logo, with the interlocking/overlapping Cs.

The backs, too, are simple stuff, kinda like what you might find on a plaque. Nothing much to comment on, here. I did enjoy that this man’s name is Bob Burger, because my wife and I love the TV show “Bob’s Burgers,” and sometimes when I’m feeling silly I say “hey honey, there’s a new Bobburger on the Hulu, wanna watch?” So I salute you, Bobburger, and I hope you’re still out there thriving.

And that seems to be the Fairfield mystery box experience in a nutshell: Weird cards that will provide a little entertainment for an interested collector or a wide-eyed and curious child, or a curious man-child collector like yours truly. Five bucks well spent, I say.

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