The Singles Mixer: Football’s back, baby!

Welcome back to The Singles Mixer, an occasional feature where I write about a few notable sports card singles I’ve either added to my collection recently. This time around, I’m going to dig through my football (American version) collection to highlight some cards in advance of the start of the 2021 NFL season. Since I don’t buy or even have all that much football in my collection, I decided to also include some cards from my earlier collecting days.

1994 Skybox Premium Marshall Faulk RC

Purchase date: Pulled from a pack, I think, sometime in 1994
Purchase price: Packs of Skybox Premium were probably around $2.50

Current estimated value: $0.75

It’s always a little humbling to look up my cards I held so dear during the junk wax era and find out they’re not worth anything at all. How is a rookie card of a Hall of Fame running back less than a dollar, even raw? I guess when there’s a million of them out there, that’s what happens.

At any rate, I wasn’t even particularly a Colts fan when Marshall Faulk was drafted, and it’s not as though I would have seen him play in college at all (he went to San Diego State, not exactly a program that was featured on national TV then or even now), but man did I think he was the coolest. The second football jersey I ever got, after a teal Dan Marino one, was a blue Marshall Faulk Colts jersey. I’d wanted a white one, but they were harder to find and, in retrospect, the blue was the right move. The white one would have looked dingy a lot faster, and I wore my blue one for years. I think I even took it to college (and I got it when I was 12).

I have a handful of (apparently worthless) Marshall Faulk rookie cards, but I like this one the best. The card front picture is clearly a shot from minicamp, before he’d even played in a game. The blue sublimation of the background matches the Colts blue perfectly. He’s framed well as he cuts around a defending teammate, looking downfield at his next juke victims.

Even as a non-Colts fan, I was pretty bummed when they traded him to the Rams (though they quickly filled the void at RB by drafting the also-badass Edgerrin James), but still pulled for him when he and those “Greatest Show on Turf” teams were competing for Super Bowl titles.

1996 Upper Deck Silver Collection All NFL Team Jerry Rice

Purchase date: Probably also pulled from a pack, as I don’t think I was doing much trading in 1996
Purchase price: Packs of Upper Deck were probably around $2.50

Current estimated value: $0.65

Like most kids, I was always a fan of the best at the so-called “skill positions.” Not too many tight ends or offensive guards made my list of favorite players, but I liked the top running backs, quarterbacks, and wide receivers in the game. Weirdly, my list of favorite defensive players was much more representative of all the positions on that side of the field: I had favorite nose tackles as well as safeties, CBs, LBs, and DEs.

But that’s besides the point. As a boy and tween/teen, I often rooted for the best offensive skill players no matter where they played. I can’t recall too many top wide receivers, for instance, that I didn’t enjoy on some level. From guys like Carl Pickens, who played for a Cincinnati Bengals team I otherwise didn’t give much of a crap about, to Jerry Rice, who at the time was the unquestioned greatest wide receiver to roam the earth, I loved a good 100-plus-yard receiving game, no matter who was making the catches.

Rice, though, was where it was at. Everyone was a Jerry Rice fan. And in the trading card hobby in 1996, “die-cut” cards like this one were also where it was at. So to have a die-cut card of the greatest receiver of all time, that was pretty cool, at least at the time. Overall, despite the gimmicky die cut shape at the top, I still like the look of this card. The gold, silver, and black foils complement each other well, creating some depth, texture, and contrast in the design. The image of Jerry fighting past a defender, presumably while running a route, isn’t the best I’ve seen of the normally very graceful receiver, but it’s still pretty sharp.

2019 Panini Luminance D.K. Metcalf RC Blue parallel /99

Purchase date: Nov. 2, 2020
Purchase price: $5

Current estimated value: $6

Speaking of skill players, I really love Seahawks human speed boost D.K. Metcalf. His highlights would have made me a fan of his at any age, I’m sure of it. He’s not only fast, he’s tough: He fights for catches, fights through tackles, struggles for extra yards like a running back. He’s fantastic.

When I was shopping for Metcalf rookie cards last year, this was one of the first to catch my eye, from the typically beautiful Panini Luminance set. This one is a limited run blue parallel, but it’s really the photo that does it for me. This is a picture of him during his college days at Ole Miss, and it depicts him catching a ball with a defender fully in his chest. Like, the defender is between him and his own hands as he pulls the ball in, and one can almost imagine D.K. crushing the defender with his arms like a trash compactor as he completes the catch. It’s metal as heck.

What’s interesting to me is there were two Luminance Metcalf cards issued his rookie year: This one of him in his Ole Miss uniform making a badass catch, and another, later, in an update set, that features a fairly ordinary photo of him in his Seahawks kit. My trading card website of choice, COMC, marks this one as his true rookie card and the later card as a “rookie year” card, so this one should be the more sought-after one.

But no, apparently I miscalculated collector interest in this card with the badass picture. While this card goes for less than $10, the blue parallel of the other card routinely hits $80+. I know a lot of times collectors prefer cards with the players in their pro uniforms, so it’s not super surprising on the one hand, but on the other: Man, the difference in photos is just crazy to me. Given how cheap this card is, maybe I’ll go buy a couple other parallels of it in case collectors catch up with me later on.

2011 Topps Cam Newton RC #200.1 NNOF error

Purchase date: March 9, 2021
Purchase price: $4.25

Current estimated value: $???

There’s a little bit of a saga behind this card. In March, I started checking out this site I mentioned a moment ago called COMC stands for Check Out My Cards, and it’s a neat, well-designed website that lets people send in their cards to be stored at a warehouse and sold from the website. Users can sell their cards for whatever price they want, or set up auctions much like eBay, and once another user buys a card from the site, they can choose to, without paying for shipping, turn around and re-list the card themselves. This makes the site a lot more streamlined than eBay for people looking to “flip” cards, or even if you wanted to build up an inventory of sorts, it’s just much nicer to have someone else manage it for you in a secure warehouse.

Before I knew how the site worked, I wanted to see how they operated from a buyer’s perspective. I know how to buy from eBay, but how does this flipping cards and keeping them in a remote warehouse thing work? So I did some reading and went on the site to search for cards. At that particular moment, I was interested in rookie cards of Cam Newton, the incumbent New England Patriots QB, because I thought he had a better season than many gave him credit for last season, and I thought his cards were undervalued. I still kinda do, even after the Patriots appear to have drafted their next starting quarterback in Mac Jones.

So I was looking through the tons and tons of available Cam Newton cards at COMC, and I was impressed by how the cards were organized, how it was easy to see at a glance the prices of ALL the available copies of a card (as opposed to eBay, where listings are so scattered it’s hard to know exactly what’s out there sometimes), and how reasonable the prices appeared to be compared to eBay Buy It Now listings I was finding for the same cards. I decided that buying one of the three or four versions of his Topps rookie would be an affordable way to get a significant, core rookie card for my collection, or to flip.

Imagine my surprise, though, when I went into the listings for this version of his rookie, the most common photo variant, and found one of the cards appeared to be missing the name on the front of the card. I’d seen this error on a couple of the other versions of his Topps rookie, and while they’re not ultra rare or ultra in-demand, they were going for prices several magnitudes higher than the $4.25 this was listed for. And weirder still: I couldn’t find anyone offering this particular card in the no name on front printing error.

So I quickly clicked Buy It Now to get this card in my cart. I was pretty excited: Maybe I could just re-list this for $30 or $40 and turn a quick profit! But when I got to the checkout, I didn’t see an option to add it to my online inventory. Strange! I kept clicking around and clicking around, and eventually I gave up, opting instead to have the card just sent to me. No big deal, right?

Well, at this particular moment in the history of the trading card hobby, most online trading card entities have been slammed with unprecedented demand for their products and services for months upon months. The million-card backlogs at top card graders PSG and BCG have been well-documented, but what was less well-documented is the fact that COMC was, at the moment I clicked “buy” for this card, roughly three months behind on shipping orders from its warehouse. I believe they are still at least a couple months behind for orders placed right now. It’s a big business!

So when I saw that my order was projected to be delivered in June, I just laughed. I could see in the image that the card I’d purchased had no name on its front, and I knew that COMC supposedly took all its own photos of all the individual cards in its catalog, so what you see is what you get, but I still found it hard to believe nobody had noticed this error and relisted it as a different variant or error card. It was listed among all the normal Cam Newton Topps rookie cards, for a very normal price. That means whoever listed this card had to have looked at the same picture I was seeing and typed in the price they were wanting for the card.

In a way, it felt too good to be true: I started thinking there was no way this card, when it finally arrived, would actually be an error card. It was a mistake in the COMC photo filing system, and I would be receiving a normal Cam Newton card. That would be fine with me, albeit a bit disappointing. I would just have to wait a while to find out.

Fast forward through June and through half of July, and I still hadn’t received the card. In the meantime, I learned that, in order to set up a virtual inventory on COMC, you have to buy and use credit through their website, and if you buy a card with your credit card like a normal transaction, you can only have the card sent to you. It seemed strange at first, but it makes sense from the view of COMC wanting the guaranteed income from purchased credit before you start using their platform to sell. Since March I’ve made about $200 flipping/selling smaller cards, and am working up to slightly higher-priced cards with my profits.

But my mystery Cam Newton card was still in the wind until mid-July, when I decided to check the estimated ship date for the 10th time and saw it’d been updated to July 27. And, indeed, in the waning days of July, my card came in the mail. I tore open the tiny box it came in and saw there was no foil stamped in the name area of the card’s front. When I held the card to the light just right, I could see the slight indentations of Cam’s name in the blue ribbon at the bottom of the card, which made me wonder if it had passed under the foil stamper at a moment when the stamper had run out of foil. Oddly, though, the Topps logo in the upper right corner has foil on it, so that must have been embossed at a different stage of the printing process.

To this day, I’ve still not seen a single other example of this exact card with this misprint sold. Misprints/errors like this aren’t quite as big a deal in the hobby as they once were, but they’re usually still enough of a curiosity to be worth at least a bit more money than their normally printed counterparts. In part because of the apparent rarity of this misprint, I am not sure what to do with this card. I’m thinking with the NFL season about to start, collector interest in the sport is likely to spike in the next month or so, and if Cam Newton doesn’t start the season well, or Mac Jones is appointed the starter for Week 1, there might not be a better time to try to sell it. Of course, if Cam DOES get out to a good start and cements his position either as the Pats’ starter or as an attractive trade target for another team looking for a starter, selling now might not be the optimum money move.

Part of me would like to get the card graded, which would likely only improve its attractiveness to potential buyers. Unfortunately, even if I sent it out today, I wouldn’t get the card back from the grading company until January or February at the earliest, which would be after the entire season is over. And with the cost of grading individual cards so high, there’s a decent chance I wouldn’t even make my money back on the grading fee if it’s not as much of a hit with collectors as I think it might be (as we saw with the cool D.K. Metcalf card that nobody seems to want that much, I sometimes misunderstand the average collector).

For now, I think it’s a cool card of a player I’ve enjoyed watching throughout his career, so if the demand turns out to not be much for this weird little card, I’ll be OK just adding it to my personal collection.

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