Oh Captain, My Captain: The 1984-85 Topps Steve Yzerman rookie

A real beaut, boys.

Hockey was the last of the four major North American sports that I got into as a kid. I was probably about 12 or 13 when I started to follow the game, which means I was coming in about 1994, which just so happened to be the dawn of a bit of a golden era for the league. It seemed like almost every team in the league had at least one marketable mega star, from Mario Lemieux in Pittsburgh to Mark Messier in New York, all the way over to The Great One in Los Angeles, and so many more besides. 1994 was also the first year upstart network Fox won the rights to televise NHL games in the United States, and as I recall, they did so with gusto. It was easier than ever to be an NHL fan, even outside of a team’s market.

But, see, I kinda was in a team’s market. I live in the Chicago media sphere, meaning my cable networks carried all the Chicago teams all year-round, including every Blackhawks game. As such, flashy Hawks center Jeremy Roenick and all-world goalie Eddie Balfour were two of the first non-Gretzky players I knew by name. But for some reason, I never latched onto the Blackhawks as a fan the way a few of my friends did.

I had a tendency to zig when others zagged on team fandom. Most people here are Cubs fans; I started following the White Sox. The Bears and Colts dominate among NFL fandom here, and I did once own a Marshall Faulk Colts jersey that I was quite proud of, but I latched onto the Pittsburgh Steelers the season they lost to the Cowboys in the Super Bowl. I grew up in Michael Jordan-world as far as the Bulls’ dominance in this area, but I chose to follow a brand-new team in central Florida with a point guard who grew up in a nearby town. So when it came time to pick a hockey team, while my friends would come to school in their Chris Chelios Blackhawks jerseys, I decided I would become … a Detroit Red Wings fan.

It was good timing, honestly, because the Red Wings were about to blossom into the most dominant team in the league for a stretch of several years. They won a few President’s Cups, and a couple Stanley Cups. They caught my attention with their gorgeous uniforms and their “Russian Red” line composed entirely of Russian National Team members (I don’t think they deployed all five on the ice at once that often, but it was a neat gimmick that they could ice five genuine Russian stars for a shift) including Vladimir Konstantinov, Igor Larionov, and exciting young forward Sergei Federov, who became one of my favorite players of all time.

But I never owned a Fedorov jersey. I owned a Steve Yzerman home jersey. I would almost certainly still own it if it hadn’t gotten ruined in the dryer once upon a time (one of the sadder days of my life, to be honest). Yzerman was the keystone upon which the rest of the Red Wings’ success depended. Yzerman was, despite being a Canadian boy, the beating heart of Detroit. He was highly skilled, unflappable, and clearly a born leader, judging by the love he seemed to inspire in his teammates. As a fan, I loved him as much as I’ve ever loved a sports figure.

Because I was a kid with limited income in a non-hockey market who started watching the game about 10 years into Yzerman’s career, I never even imagined I’d someday own one of his rookie cards. I don’t think it ever even crossed my mind, and if it did, it was a thought that vanished quickly with an “alas” attached. Where would I have found a Yzerman rookie, and how much would it have cost?

One of the best parts about starting to collect sports cards again has been thinking back to when I was a kid, and which players I loved the most, and thinking “oh, I bet I could get some of their cards pretty cheap, now!” Like, I haven’t looked, but I bet I could score a Paul Coffey card for next to nothing. That just popped into my head. Add it to the shopping list. And I recently got a Fedorov rookie for practically pocket change in a lot of Red Wings cards that also included a Nicklas Lidstrom rookie. Wheel, snipe, celly, as they say.

I hadn’t even thought about Yzerman cards until recently when I read a story about how quickly he is changing the culture of the recently lackluster Red Wings organization since taking over as general manager. I mean, how cool is that? I had fantasized about him taking over in Detroit back when he got the job in Tampa Bay to start with, so I’m really excited to see what the future holds. Reading that story, though, I had the thought that crosses my mind whenever I read about a great athlete: I wonder how much his rookie card is?

The answer is: It depends. It depends on whether you’re looking at the Topps version or the O-Pee-Chee version (as with Gretzkys and other star cards of the era, O-Pee-Chees are rarer and more sought-after, despite being produced by essentially the same company with the same design). It depends on the shape it’s in (those old cardboardy cards are hard to find in super good shape). But generally, these cards were not that much money: I found several for less than $30, and got the one pictured above, already graded by Beckett (my first graded card!) for $24 in an auction. It’s a pretty good price, considering Beckett’s book value for the card in this condition is currently closer to $80.

In the interest of full disclosure, though, this isn’t a card I imagine I’ll be selling any time soon.

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