Rise Up You Dirty Birds!!

I am a Georgia boy, born and bred.  My heart will always bleed for my state.  To begin with, I’m a Georgia Bulldog.  I know that there are many fans of different teams out there but I just don’t get how you can’t love your home team.  People are pretty passionate about their college football though and it sometimes has more to do with what you have access to.  Where I grew up, you had just as much chance of being an Auburn Tiger or a Florida State Criminole.  We were about an hour from each one and Athens is a solid 3 ½.  But Herschel helped my generation and then once I saw the beautiful classic city, there was no turning back.  But that’s a topic for another day.  I’m all Hawks in the NBA.  Life as a Hawks fan has been a difficult one.  We have had greats like Dominique and Spud.  And we have had stars like Millsap and Howard.  We’ve also had duds like Koncak and Rasmussen.  But what we don’t have is a modern day NBA championship.  We had one back in 1958 but my memory doesn’t go back that far.  In my lifetime, we have had the fortune of being in the same division as Jordan, Bird, Isaiah, Reggie, Ewing, LeBron and Wade.  But I have been there through it all.  We’ve been close but we’ve always fallen short.  When I play 2K, I’m the Hawks.  When I play NBA Jam, I’m the Hawks.  It’s the only championship I have seen with them in my 39 years.Then, we have the Atlanta Braves.  Life started tough as a Braves fan then it got really great but has returned to tough again.  When I was young, the Braves were “America’s Team” thanks in part to TBS being a national television station and televising every Braves game.  Pete, Ernie and Skip were my first commentator heroes.  I got a lot of Cubs action too thanks to Harry Carey and the North Siders being on WGN daily, another national television station.  But they were just filler when the Braves weren’t on.  I remember an old photo of me as a wee lad standing in front of the on deck circle with Bruce Benedict preparing for upcoming at bat.  I think they finished 66-96 that year.  The 90’s brought lots of excitement, as was covered in my blog about the now infamous Lonnie Smith.  But we got our championship in 1995 and won an astounding 14 division titles in a row.  That’s only 6 more than the 2nd most ever by the NY Yankees.  The disappointment was that we only managed 1 championship during that run.  But we did get that one.  The Braves also provided one of the greatest moments of my life, the Dewey Shiver mowing the grass in a dress bet.That brings us to football.  The NFL has always been a sport for me where I could choose one of the teams playing each other in a matchup and find a reason to root for them.  I’ve always followed players in the NFL thanks to UGA, Super Tecmo Bowl and fantasy football.  I pull for Georgia Bulldogs unless they land in New Orleans, Tampa Bay or Carolina.  But even though I hate Carolina, I love Thomas Davis.  I’m a big Andrew Luck fan so I find myself pulling for the Colts.  I’ve been a Bengals fan most of my life too thanks to some family roots and Icky Woods.  It also helps that the current roster is loaded with Georgia Bulldogs.  It’s like they have a pipeline to Athens.  There are also players that I dislike in the NFL that makes me not like their teams.  Aaron Rodgers comes to mind.  Cam Newton is another.  Never been a big Cowboys fan.  And I loathe everything about the New Orleans Saints, even though Drew Brees seems like a good guy by all accounts.  But that hatred stems from the team that is at the center of my heart ~ The Atlanta Falcons.The Falcons have quite possibly provided the most misery for a Georgia sports fan.  They have been to a few NFC championships and even made the Super Bowl once, which we’ll touch on later.  But they have the worst winning percentage of any Georgia sports team.  The Hawks are a mediocre 2 games below .500 all time.  Their lack of reaching the big game may lend one to think they have been the worst team.  But the Falcons have a dismal .438 all time winning percentage and are 341-437-6 from 1966-2016.  This season’s record helps but they still aren’t close to .500.  So, to say it’s been tough growing up a Falcons fan is an understatement.  We’ve had our share of superstars.  Deion Sanders, Andre Rison, Jessie Tuggle, Warrick Dunn and now Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman and Julio Jones.  But we have only come close once to putting that magical season together.  One game on February 5, 2017 could change all of that for the fans.But first, let’s go back to that one season we came close.  It was almost 20 years ago in 1998 and the Falcons, who affectionately became known as “The Dirty Birds”, finished the regular season at 14-2.  The only losses that season came to the San Francisco 49ers, which had Steve Young, Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens and Garrison Hearst, and the New York Jets, who rolled out the ageless Vinny Testaverde, Curtis Martin and Keyshawn Johnson.  These rosters, on paper at the time, were loaded compared to the Falcons.   Jamal Anderson and Terance Mathis were stars but Chris Chandler, Tim Dwight, O.J. Santiago and Todd Kinchen weren’t really in that same category.  But they managed to put it together in 1998 and finished the season 4th in the league in points scored and 4th in the league in points allowed.  The defense was led by Jessie Tuggle, Chuck Smith, Cornelius Bennett, Ray Buchanan and a rookie from the Technical College, Keith Brooking. In all honesty, the Falcons had some luck on their side in the playoffs that season.  They met up with the 49ers again in the playoffs, this time pulling it out 20-18.  On the first play of the game, Garrison Hearst suffered a broken ankle.  He accounted for 1,570 rushing yards on the season.  The Falcons went on to hold the 49ers to 47 yards on the day.  The play that Hearst got hurt on was a 7 yard rush and was the longest of the day.  Super Tecmo Bowl legend William White sealed the game with an interception as the 49ers were attempting to drive 96 yards with less than a minute left.  This win gave the Falcons an opportunity to play in the NFC Championship for the first time in franchise history.  The NFC Championship game brought a daunting task.  The 15-1 Minnesota Vikings by 3 points in the regular season and blew out most other times they faced.  They scored a record, at the time, 556 points and at least 24 in every game.  They were led by Randall Cunningham, another Super Tecmo Bowl legend, at QB, Robert Smith at RB and Cris Carter and Randy Moss at WR.  They were no slouches on defense either with sack master John Randle at DE.  They also had the best kicker in the league, Gary Anderson, who was 35 for 35 on the season.  After battling neck and neck all game, the Vikings had a chance to put their foot on the throat of the Falcons, up 27-20.  Gary Anderson lined up for a 38 yard field goal, which John Madden remarked was essentially automatic.  He missed it.  Somehow, he missed it.  Still down 7, with less than 2:00 to go, the Falcons responded with a touchdown and sent the game to overtime.  In overtime, another Anderson, this time Morten for the Falcons, would hit a field goal to cap one of the most improbable Super Bowl runs ever. The excitement was almost unbearable but was immediately tempered by the thought of having to continue this amazing run against John Elway and Terrell Davis.  They were the defending champions and were heavily favored.  The Falcons had a little too much fun before the game too, culminating in an embarrassing arrest for our best DB, Ray Buchanan.  The game itself was never really close with the Broncos leading 17-6 at the half.  They would go on to win 34-19 dashing the hopes of all Atlanta fans of the elusive Super Bowl Championship that we are still looking for.  It was a fun run and I remember the excitement of that NFC Championship like it was yesterday.  We were over at Jim and Rusty’s Lake House and I was sitting on the same couch where I watched Mike Tyson bite Evander Holyfield’s ear off just a year before.  Another sports memory made with Morten Anderson nailing that OT field goal.We’ve had other opportunities since, losing conference championships in 2005 to the Eagles and 2012 to the 49ers.  One of our better teams got knocked out by Green Bay in the divisional in January 2011 by a whopping 48-21.  We followed that up then next year with another dud against Eli and the Giants, losing 24-2.  So even with the Falcons playing at a very high level in 2016, there was an understandable amount of skepticism in small parts of the souls of Falcons fans heading into the playoffs.  We did, after all, see the 14 season consecutive streak in baseball only end with 1 championship.  You could say that some of us are of the mindset that we won’t get too excited until it happens.  Well, the excitement in Atlanta is now at a fever pitch.This year, the Falcons seem to have just gotten better each week on both sides of the ball.  The offense led the league in total yardage by a 30 yard margin and were tops in passing and 5th in rushing.  The high octane offense is led by Matt Ryan, who should win MVP this season, if the writers have any stones whatsoever.  Of course, so many of them are in Brady and Rodgers back pocket, you never know how it will turn out.  Supporting Ryan has been a stellar offensive line led by Alex Mack, a running back duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman and the wide receivers led by Julio Jones.  Julio is an absolute beast and has opened up the offense for Mohammed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel.  We also have the makings of a very solid tight end for the future in Austin Hooper.  The defense, while not as prolific as the offense, has come of age this season and gives Falcons fans everywhere hope for now and future years to come.  Dwight Freeney is a cagey veteran but the team is very young with studs like Deion Jones, Keanu Neal, Desmond Trufant and Vic Beasley.  And veteran Matt Bryant gives Falcons fan the sense of comfort that Morten Anderson provided in the 90’s.  Arthur Blank and Dan Quinn have built a super bowl contender and we are all happy for that.Once again, it hasn’t been easy getting here.  We had to beat the Seattle Seahawks, recent perennial Super Bowl contenders, in the divisional round.  And we did so in rather convincing fashion, moving the ball at will and unleashing Julio Jones on the formidable Richard Sherman, leaving Sherman shaking his head in disbelief.  Then, in the NFC Championship, the Falcons had to face their playoff nemesis Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.  The Packers came in with a ton of confidence riding an 8 game win streak and has just gone to Dallas to know off the “unbeatable” Cowboys.  The world rejoiced on that one.  Rodgers came in on a hot streak and left with an Eli Manning face.  The defense swarmed him all day and their shaky secondary was no match for Ryan and company.  It would be one of the most satisfying wins in Falcons history.The Super Bowl is going to be another tough one as well.  Much like our trip in 1998 against Elway, we are facing probably the best QB of my generation in Tom Brady.  Bill Belichick, Brady and the Patriots are no strangers to the big game.  They are favored and as usual, the Falcons are flying under the radar on the national coverage.  But that’s how I like to be honest.  I believe in the old saying uttered by great philosopher Ric Flair, “To be the man, you have to beat the man.”  And that is what we are going to have to do.  Not many have beaten Tom Brady in the biggest game of the season but the 2016-17 Falcons have a legitimate shot.  And that gives me an excitement like I have never had before going into a Super Bowl.It also gives me a tremendous sense of pride and happiness.  I am proud of the home town team.  I am happy for the city of Atlanta and the fans.  I am happy for my fellow Falconites.  I am happy for my cousin Michael, who may be the biggest Falcon fan I know.  We don’t always see eye to eye on our football viewing, with him being a Nole, but this is one area we can agree on.  He’s the one I text when I am fed up with drafting the likes of Peria Jerry.  He texts me his agonizing over a dropped pass in a crucial moment.  We laugh together over the shenanigans of Miko Grimes.  We discuss superstitions when it comes to clothing and what’s best for the team.  There are a lot of guys like that who I am happy for this year but Mike is the one I talk to most about it.  It feels like 1991 all over again and the home team is finally making noise.  It’s been a long time coming and Falcon fans are begging to be unleashed!We’re one week away from the biggest and most watched sporting event in our world.  And my hometown Atlanta Falcons are playing for all the marbles.  Somewhere Scott Case is taking someone’s head off.   Billy White Shoes is doing his famous end zone celebration.  Deion Sanders is high stepping through my mind.  Mike Rozier is plowing over a defensive lineman and Patrick Kerney is getting ready to fly off of the corner for a strip sack.  And people like me and Mike are sitting on our hands, anxiously awaiting the kickoff next Sunday.  I’d like to say that no matter the outcome, we are young and only getting better every year.  But that would only be half the truth.  The whole truth is that the City of Atlanta and the State of Georgia wants this badly.  The Falcons want this badly.  I want this badly!  Let’s go Falcons!  Rise Up Dirty Birds!!


Our Last Day

One of the coldest facts of life is that we have no idea when our time on earth will be up.  We sometimes take for granted that we will live to retirement and enjoy the lives we build for ourselves over the prime years.  While in reality, I may not even make it to the end of this blog.  I say that we sometimes take it for granted but I think the more accurate statement would be that we almost always take it for granted.  Very few people wake up thinking it could be their last day.  But the fact is we just never know and that can be downright frightening.

It’s no secret that Albany, Ga has experienced her share of tragedy during the month of January.  I am not about to step in anyone’s shoes and claim that I understand it or “know how it feels” to be where victims are either.  And while most of the area woke up on Sunday knowing that it would likely be a very difficult day, you can never really prepare for an event like this.  We also didn’t know if it would be Lee County, Worth, Dougherty, Mitchell, Northwest Albany, South Albany, East Albany, or Putney.   No idea.  As a matter of fact, up until 5 minutes before the tornado hit South Albany, we were watching a potential path from Dawson to Leesburg that just dissipated.  Then, Mother Nature chose its destination and we all know by now what happened. 

I’m not here to make sense of it or try to understand it in the least.  There is none of that.  I am here though to discuss how precious our lives really are despite what we think sometimes.  This is the second major weather event I have been close to.   I was not in Albany for either of the floods, though I know they stretched resources and sanity to the limits then.  I was, however, in Camilla in 2000 when the devastating Valentine’s Day Tornado hit and took 22 lives across the region and in the hometown I had known since birth.  It destroyed a landscape that I had intimate knowledge of.   It was like a wasteland of debris and confusion.   I can only imagine that lifelong Albany residents are experiencing those same feelings right now.  

I knew most everyone affected by the tragedy in 2000.  Camilla is a small town after all.  This beast struck in the middle of the night.  My aunt and uncle’s home was in the heart of the destruction.  My aunt wasn’t home because she had the daunting task of being the EMA Manager/EMS Director in Camilla.  So she was working that night and had no idea what condition her home or family were in during the immediate moments after the tornado.  My parents and I arrived at her house to find my uncle and two of their kids safe but extremely shaken.   Their home had withstood the storm (with plenty of damage) but their hearts and minds were in shambles.  We walked through the neighborhood in the pitch black checking houses and looking for people that needed help.   It was so dark and quiet.  I was as scared as I had ever been and I was 23 years old.  The only light was the occasional lightning strike and those were the rare moments that you longed for the dark because you were able to see the destruction that was surrounding you.  We also had no idea what was unfolding just across the highway where a mile of mobile homes had been utterly demolished.  An unforgettable night, much like Sunday afternoon was to so many here in Albany.

There are countless unbelievable stories that eventually came out from the residents there that survived the event in 2000.  Traumatic stories of survival and heroism and despair.  There are certain moments, pictures and stories that I’ll never forget.  The same will come out of this event and it will be one that is never forgotten locally.  That’s on top of what had already happened on January 2.  But these events highlight my topic.  None of the people who lost their lives woke up those mornings and thought, “This is probably my last day.”  Of course, that’s not real healthy thinking to begin with I suppose but the old saying is “live like every day is your last.”  And in that, there is some solid truth.  We walk around thinking that we can put off today what could be done tomorrow.  We think that we can tell someone that we love them the next time we see them.  We think that our situation is bad because we didn’t get the raise we were hoping for or we didn’t get our package in the mail or we aren’t having what we wanted for supper.  And true, in a vacuum, those are real feelings and thoughts for us.   I don’t mean to trivialize everyday struggles because I know they are real.  They just seem to take on a different meaning in times like this.  You have every right to have your bad day.  But perspective helps with those days.

What would happen if we truly lived every day like it was our last?   First, I mean that in a practical sense.  That doesn’t mean we should go rob a bank and buy new cars because it really might not be your last.  It would be your last as a free person but I digress.  How would we treat our loved ones?   Our neighbors? Strangers?  Would we be arguing about abortion and same sex marriage and religious views while hating everyone that has a different set of views?  Or would we be so focused on ourselves and our loved ones that the noise around us would be muted?  Does that mean we should turn a blind eye to social issues and world news topics?  No, but we could sure start to mind our own business a little bit and not get involved in things that really don’t alter our lives one way or the other.  Trivial would truly be trivial and those around us would get the best of what we have to offer.  Who doesn’t want that?

I posted a line from a song a few days ago that says a lot in a few words, “it takes more than eyes to see.”  We just either don’t know or forget how to look around until something like the above happens to us or our loved ones.  Hearts go out for the losses and we get chills when we hear the horrible stories of devastation.  This makes us want to hug our kids a little tighter when we tuck them in at night.  It makes us want to tell our wives (or husbands) that we love them and appreciate them.  It makes us want to get involved in our community and pitch in and donate and help clean up.   And it should and we should absolutely do our part.  But what are we going to do in the months or years to come when this event is a memory?  Will we go back to road rage and getting mad at the lady behind the counter for being too slow?   Will we get aggravated because our wives can’t decide where they want to eat?   Will we long for a moment of quiet at our homes because our throbbing heads just can’t take the fussing anymore?  Of course we will, because it’s human nature.  

I’m not even saying that we are bad people because that is a part of life.  But in those moments, we should sometimes stop and think that there is someone out there whose husband or wife isn’t coming home tonight.  There is a parent out there who longs for arguing children in the home.  There is a child out there that would not mind at all if their mom or dad was around to ground them for back talking.  I am not trying to be grim but I am, if that makes any sense.  We are losing our identity as a society.  We are becoming more and more inhuman as time passes.  And some of us are throwing our hands up and accepting it as the way of the world now.  It all comes back to who we are.  Are we someone who is going to project love and peace or are we someone who is going to be the pot stirrer, even when the pot is boiling over?  

We only have a short time on this earth.   It may seem like we have some long days or weeks or even years but humans have been around for thousands of years and our lives may represent 70 years of that if we’re lucky.  That is not a long time.  And I have learned that no matter how much we want to, we can’t do it over.  We can’t revisit the past and change it.  We can just try and make amends and move forward.  What we can do is change now and going forward.  We all have parts of ourselves that we aren’t happy with.  That can be physically, mentally, emotionally or socially.  We can change and we can get what we want out of this life for that short time we are here.   It basically boils down to whether we want to or not.  It may seem more difficult than that but it’s really not.  Our hearts can change, our waistline can change and our personalities can change.  Most importantly, I believe our souls can change.  Our souls are something that is very unique to us.  We may have a twin out there, a doppelganger if you will, but I believe our soul is as unique as our DNA.   Our souls generally gravitate to other souls we are attracted to.  We may think sometimes that attraction is physical, and it usually is on day one, but if our souls aren’t attracted to each other, relationships won’t last.  

I have probably weaved in and out of traffic to get to this destination but my mind has been spinning for a while.   My point is this; we have to love more, we have to be more patient, we have to have more understanding, we don’t need to judge people on appearance, we don’t need to take our moments (even of frustration) for granted because they are still moments and we generally recover.  I feel all the time and sometimes that sounds like a bad thing.  But I have learned to embrace it as a quality that some don’t have.  We all have a uniqueness that we bring to the table.   Now the feels I have aren’t always warm and fuzzy but I am very in tune with my thoughts and emotions and I have more clarity than I did 5 years ago.  I have bad days.   I have emotional breakdowns.  I have shitty experiences.  But in some of my darkest moments, I have been able to reach out to the people I love and get the help I need.  And because of that, I TRY to take very little for granted.  I see struggle all around me in some form and I am fortunate.   I am alive and I have people that I love and that love me.  Think about where you are right now in your life and how you can get the most out of it.  I’m still learning everyday.  I just hope I have enough time to figure it all out.  Of course, that’s something I don’t really know.


Rare Politico

Do you ever look around and think, “What the hell is going on around here?”  I can’t be the only one that shakes their head when looking at my Twitter feed or my FaceBook timeline.  It’s not just the politics.  It’s not just the racial divide we find ourselves buried in.  It’s not just the religious posts or cross fit crys for help.   I see battles within friendships and families.  I find myself thinking quite often that there has to be something more to all of this.  There has to be something better for all of us.  We have all developed our opinion on hot topics but our opinion has not been challenged and a lot of times, it is limited to “how my wife feels” or vice versa.  When you form that opinion without the appropriate level of personal conviction, you are just playing it safe and avoiding the potential questioning and debate.  It’s an easy way to have an opinion.  You can proudly proclaim the ways you would do things without providing any reasoning other than “that’s the way I roll.”  Personal conviction leads us to do things we are eager and able to justify.  And we are pushed to do these things because we feel they are the right things to do in given circumstances.  The justifications may not always be understandable to others but that’s where it’s on you.    

But there is a different way to look at what’s going on.  Let’s be honest, the tear gas and blocking citizens from getting to areas where they are supposed to be is just disruptive and accomplishes nothing.  It should be first noted that there is a stark difference between a peaceful protest and vandalism.  A peaceful protest, with signs and chants and non-threatening discussions with your fellow American across the aisle seems so elementary but it has a much higher success rate than running up into someone’s face and droning on about ISIS while daring you to hit them so they can take it to another level.  I’m as reasonable a person as they come but I watch some of these exchanges and I wonder how somebody didn’t get decked before it was all over.  There is nothing more enraging as a free thinking individual than when someone gets in your face and starts pushing your buttons.  “Keep your hands off me,” they say as they push every mental trigger you have.  Your job in this is to allow someone to verbally undress you while you remain collected enough to realize when it’s over.  Any retaliation action on your behalf in that situation will certainly be zoomed in on and labeled intolerant.  No win situation.

When posting on social media, the same thought process and care should go into hitting post, depending on your need for drama.  Social media, like other modern day tech, is strictly risk vs reward when considering when to post on something hot or trending.  The risk is that you are going to have an opinion that puts you in the minority.  If you are attacked, it’s easy to lose focus and start to ramble with your responses and lose the meaning in your original post.  Some people can handle it very well and should continue to handle it that way.  Then you consider the reward for your post.  Does your post have the potential to bring a few people together?  Does it have the ability to turn the screw on someone who has been spewing nonsense for far too long?  I tend to think the only reward worth the risk is when you have the opportunity to repair a relationship or clear your name from a previous issue.  If the post has an above average chance to put your followers in a frenzy and have other followers shaking their head at the gall you had to post, there isn’t much room for a win there.  Of course, some people enjoy being “that guy” so more power to you.

Here’s a concept I’ve been working on.  It has it’s flaws but it’s still in a beta stage so to speak.  I’m tweaking it from time to time and it’s provided me with a better comfort level when assessing friends, their posts and whether or not they are pushing me away.  I’d like to say that it isn’t personal but a lot of social media friends are friends in real life and there have been moments that made me consider whether or not a mindset being displayed in public was a mindset I could be comfortable with in a friendship.  And my goal is not to change someone else.  People are people and a lot of years and events have worked together to make them a certain type of person.  And they aren’t always bad either.  They just don’t sometimes fit what I am trying to get out of life.  But let’s be clear about something, none of us are well enough adjusted to just brush off the things we see and keep 100% focus on ourselves.  No, we care about what our friends and (maybe not) friends are babbling about.  We come to their rescue with our built in stats and info.  We jump in with them when they are trying to take down a left wing zealot.  Never leave a man behind, as they say. 

Listen, we are all made of stardust.  We all have hearts, minds, souls.  We really aren’t as different as society would have you believe.  I am no different than Heath Gilbert at work or my brother from another mother, Anthony Jenkins.  We want what’s best for our families.  We want to enjoy life.  We want to make money at our jobs to be able to enjoy the hobbies we have.  What that means for us is doing the right thing, relying on each other when the time comes, and depending on the others to have your back when the opportunity presents itself.  Our lives are not based on who of us voted for Trump or who voted for Clinton.  If one of those guys didn’t want to celebrate the inauguration, I also have zero issue with that.  I voted for Trump and I didn’t celebrate the inauguration like many did.  I voted for him but I’m not sold.  I am more sold than I was with Hillary and there was no real contest.  But I’m not sleeping better than I have in 8 years because Trump is our president.  I have my reservations. 

I firmly believe that we have more influence in the success of our country than we are given credit for.  We can’t sit around and wait for the government to fix all of the problems that have been created over the last 50 years.  There are too many interest groups and old Washington is still alive and well.  They are going to continue to look out for them.  What we have to do is make changes where we can.  Sometimes we have to stick our noses into things to make sure the movement is happening.  Chris Cohilas is a prime example of a local leader making noise in Washington to protect his constituents.  The storm that came through Albany a few weeks ago has left many homes and neighborhoods still in disrepair, with more potential severe weather on the way this weekend.  The bureaucratic red tape involved in getting FEMA, GEMA, local power cooperatives and multiple local businesses on the same page to move forward with a resolution doesn’t just happen.  It takes a leader to step up and do what he thinks is right.  That’s what Cohilas has done.  He made a previous comment on FaceBook that this was not about party lines or ideaology.  This was about people getting the help they need.  Novel concept that could use some run in Washington.  Chris is a political figure.  But today, if you took a poll of Dougherty County citizens, they could care less if his affiliation is Democratic or Republican.  That’s the key definition of independent for me.  I’ll go with who I think gives us the best chance to better our economy, our schools, our taxes.  Libertarian, Republican, Democratic, none of that matters to me. 

So as for affiliation, I am an American.  I am for any leader that can make us the powerful nation we have been over the last few 100 years.  I am proud to be an American and believe we do a lot of good in this world.  I also believe we get involved in things we have no business being involved in.  And you can believe me or not but when I see a President, I don’t see a gender or a race.  I see the leader of the free world and I expect them to have the best interest of the entire nation close to their heart.

So, you can keep on sharing your memes, fake news and photoshopped images but know that you are part of the problem.  Keep blasting another race because of their beliefs or fears of the changes that are taking place but know that you are part of the reason race relations are as tense as they are now.  And don’t read this wrong.  I love a good political joke or meme.  But when the intent is clear that the attack is on group of people or group of voters, it’s not a good look.  Let the intolerant do such things.  We should just sit back and not take the bait.  Let the legacy of the incoming president write itself, for better or worse.  Let’s just give it that opportunity.


Who We Are Is Elementary

A lot of factors shape who we are and who we become.  As a parent, it’s easier to recognize those factors sometimes because we focus on how to give our kids the experiences and support and guidance to become the people we want or think they should be.  But kids, we just spent our formative years living in and soaking up those moments.  They were our experiences, for better or worse, and they’ve no doubt had an impact on who we’ve become.  Maybe it all went well and we used those experiences to solidify what we had been taught.  Or maybe things didn’t go as planned and we used the experiences to guide us away from the path we didn’t want to go down.  They generally fill us with love or hate, good or bad morals or sometimes, unfortunately, just emptiness.  Either way, that’s just how it works most of the time.  We are given the path and we make it better or worse with the decisions we make.

That path starts for the most part at birth.  But as for memories and events we use years later, that starts for most of us somewhere around 5 years old, I would guess.  I have some memories of before 5 but they are random and not very vivid. I remember when I cracked my head open when I was about 3-4 and a couple of the moments surrounding that but it’s been kept alive in stories since.  We remember the really good and the really bad but a lot of the in-between is lost from our lives before 5 unless they remain in some story form that has been manipulated over the years by our own interpretations.  But, I am talking about legitimate “I remember when” moments in time. 

At 5 for me, I began my long and winding, and often disastrous, educational journey.  The year was 1982.  I would not finish that journey until 2011, some 29 years later.  Yeah, I took the long road.  I don’t know if I’m even finished but I am counting on that being the case at this point.  But in 1982, I didn’t have a choice in the matter.  It was time to get started with that big part of life and I did just that at Mitchell County Elementary School.  I have much more vivid memories of middle school and high school but when I really sit and think about those early years, some really nostalgic and character forming memories are there.  With some of the things that stick out, it makes a little sense why I am paranoid of getting in trouble or doing the wrong things sometimes.  And for me, a big part of this writing process is figuring out how I got where I am today.  These old thoughts of elementary school have given me some insight, although my interpretations are in control.

Elementary school for me was good overall.  I had a pretty good time making friends and was received well by my peers.  That is so often out of our control and left to the ability of other 5 years old to be accepting.  I was lucky that I had a fairly reasonable set of peers, for the most part.  It could be because of the town I grew up in or the school itself.  A lot of people in Camilla had similar backgrounds; similar income levels and we faced the normal social issues burdened on society.  But as a 5 year old, that stuff didn’t really matter.  The car Michael’s mom drove didn’t faze me.  The house that Bryan lived in didn’t matter to me whatsoever.  Joe and I even had different skin color and that meant absolutely nothing.  We were all friends.  It’s a novel concept isn’t it?  We had the same goals, we had the same needs, and we had the same affinity for Transformers and G.I. Joe.  And none of us liked girls at that point in our lives, except maybe Jason.  I think he was a lady’s man from birth.

Friends come and go at that age too as people grow up, move to other schools, take different paths or just seemingly disappear into thin air.  But sometimes, those kids stick with you from Kindergarten through Graduation and you have a bond for the rest of your life, whether realized or not.  I can still go back to my hometown and run into people I grew up with and we remember each other as the person we last saw before growing up.  Most of us have put on some weight and aren’t as athletic as we used to be but you can often see that young person in them and yourself when you have those interactions.  I now live in Lee County and when my alma mater played here a couple of years ago, I ambled over to the visitors sideline to see old friends.  One of my Lee County friends went with me and remarked after the excursion that I should go back to Camilla and run for mayor.  I’m not a political fellow but that said a lot to me about the old bridges I had been able to keep intact and it made me feel proud.That all started at a little school in the back of a part of town that some people never visited.  But as division has taken more of a stronghold on society, that is probably truer now than it was then.  I ride by there on occasion though just to see the old building.  It usually makes me smile.  Life was simpler.  The school was your standard, run of the mill, elementary school.  Classes were K-3, we had a couple of playgrounds, a gym, library and a lunchroom/theater combo.  Nothing spectacular but certain locations of the school still stand out in my memory.  I remember the track.  It was an all dirt/grass track and surrounded a make shift football field.  Behind that was our kickball/softball field.  My grandmother, Pearl, worked in the lunchroom.  She cooked a lot better at home than she did at school.  The gym was where I learned that gymnastics was not going to be my specialty, although I tried.  There were some outdoor basketball courts where I started to develop my very slow, but deadly, jump shot.  Near those were the music rooms, where my Aunt Carolyn was a teacher.  I had an in with her of course but she was one of the most genuine and enthusiastic teachers I ever had.  And, of course, her son Corey was my best friend in elementary school.  There was also a walk up store at the entrance of the school that was open before and after to stock up on snacks.  The only snack area I remember on campus was on the third grade hall.  That’s where I was introduced to the Bomb Pop.  I remember the teachers too.  Mrs. Fears was my Kindergarten teacher.  I don’t have any specific memories of her class because I think my memory maker was still forming.  Then, I had Mrs. Williams in 1st Grade, Mrs. Wingate in 2nd and Mrs. Parker in 3rd.  I’ve had an indirect relationship with Mrs. Williams for many years since 1st grade.  Two of her sons, Travis and Tori were right around my age and I knew them throughout school.  Then I played basketball with her husband, Mr. Charlie James, for a few years in high school on Tuesday and Thursday nights.  And not to be outdone, I worked for about 10 years with another of her sons, Trent, in adulthood.  They could never really get away from me, I guess.  Mrs. Wingate was my first, “Wow, she’s pretty!” teacher.  And Mrs. Parker got most of my deviant side as I pushed the limits before moving on to middle school.  Of course, Mr. Inman was a memorable principal.  He was tall and intimidating and had a habit of carrying around a paddle with holes in it to cut down on resistance.  Do schools even have paddles anymore?  The staff I probably got to know best was Mrs. Ward, the school nurse.  I began honing my Ferris Bueller moments early. 

We were introduced to fire and tornado drills in Elementary school.  The fire drill never scared me but the tornado drill was horrifying.  There wasn’t a safe place in my mind to escape such an event.  Thankfully, we practiced it and never had to put it into real use.  I do remember bad weather in school though and I always had that drill bell sound in my head, thinking it would go off at any time.  It’s the first time I remember thinking something dangerous could happen and my parents wouldn’t be around.  It probably seems insignificant but looking back on it, it prepared me for something I was very afraid of while giving me the idea that my parents wouldn’t always be standing right beside me when something went wrong.  That was the first realization I had of that.  In the long run, it was for the best but it’s one of those small moments that I have carried with me.

Another bad memory was that smell of the “oil dry” they put down when students vomited in the hallway.  There is no real profound meaning or moment here but I remember it had the potential to set off a mass vomit fest much like that in the “Stand by Me” film.  If I wasn’t sick, I could see that in the hall floor and would immediately get queasy.  I was also a little scared of it.  It was almost like the stuff they put down made it a biohazard.  So maybe there is a meaning behind it.  I am a bit of a hypochondriac so maybe that can be traced back to my fear of a vomit induced outbreak at elementary school thanks to the horrible smelling biohazard they put down in the halls.  Maybe, maybe not.

Ok, I am about to say something that may surprise some of you.  It hurts to say but it’s true.  I have not always been the innocent, good boy that I am now as an adult.  I know, take a minute to collect yourself.  There are three specific instances from elementary school that stick out to me where I pushed the boundaries of truth.  I got busted all three times.  I have no doubt there were more than three, but three stick out still today.  My dad has always told me that he would find out anything I ever did because that’s what parents do.  I could think I was getting away with something but they would know.  Well, he was either right or I was really bad at it.  There is another story for another time that fits this narrative from when I was a teenager.  I carried that one around for several years trying to figure out how my dad found out, but I digress.The first one was in 2nd grade.  I remember getting sent out into the hallway for being disruptive.  I called it being humorous but the teacher called it disruptive.  Tomato/Tomahto if you ask me.  If you will recall, Mr. Inman has already been mentioned as having a habit of carrying around the “widow maker” paddle.  He would walk up and down the main hall sometimes and if you were in the hall for being in trouble, you were getting a lick or two.  It was the first time I had been sent into the hallway so I was in a panic.  I looked down the long 2nd grade hall and waited for Mr. Inman to appear.  In a moment of clarity, I devised a plan.  I’ll walk a short distance down the hall, approximately the length of the classroom, then switch to the other side of the hall and walk back.  I would do this until I was called back into class so if Mr. Inman walked past that hall, he would think I was going to the restroom or coming back.  Fool proof isn’t it?  Well, my stay in the hall was longer than expected and while it did work the first time he walked by, it did not the second time a couple minutes later when I was walking in the same general area he had seen me before.  Busted.  He came down the hall, the plan was foiled and I got my licks.  I made it worse by not taking my punishment the right way.  I got it at home too.Then came the 2nd incident in 3rd grade.  I was older and wiser by this point and I had caught up with Mr. Inman’s tactics.  This one was worse though and I don’t even know how I came up with this one.  Parents could pick up students around 2:30 and then the pick-up area closed for the buses around 2:45.  I rode the bus over to the middle school where I would get off there and walk to the Methodist Church where my mom worked.  In an extreme lapse in judgment, I told Mrs. Parker that my mom was picking me up.  The kids getting picked up went out to the playground until their parents picked them up.  My plan was to get in some swing time and then hop on the bus unnoticed to head to the middle school.  Would you believe that it worked the first time?  But I got greedy.  Mr. Inman went out to the 3rd grade hall and saw me swinging.  “Don’t panic!” I said to myself.  “He thinks you are getting picked up, don’t worry.”  He disappeared onto the 3rd grade hall.  He would not reappear until the buses were pulling up and I was headed to my assigned bus.  Again, solid plan but poor execution.  You know what happened next.

The last incident was not related to Mr. Inman as I believe I had by then conceded to his principal super abilities.  This time, I decided to try my hand at deception with my parents and Mrs. Parker.  This one stung the most.  I was never the best student when it came to homework.  However, I was pretty good at scraping it together at the last minute.  I would carry that skill over to High School where homeroom the day of was homework time.  But in elementary school, I would usually piece it together over the course of the day and somehow pull it off right before it was due to be turned in.  I was not prepared for the scenario that unfolded that day.  My dad arrived at the school shortly after lunch, while we were on the playground.  He had come to check me out of school to go fishing with him and my grandfather.  Mrs. Parker said I was good to go, I just needed to turn in the homework we would be going over in the afternoon.  I left the playground confused about how to get out of this one.  Of course, I’d rather be fishing with dad and granddaddy than sitting in school.  As I approached the classroom, another stroke of genius hit.  Dad was with me and he had no clue what my homework was so I went and took out the homework from the day before and put it on Mrs. Parker’s desk.  As we were about to walk out, Mrs. Parker walked in to look at the homework and said, “This was yesterday.  I need the one for today.”  Are you kidding me?  No homework, no fishing.  And, I got it when I got home.

So, yeah, I tried some stunts in elementary school and got busted.  And that getting busted probably saved me from worse trouble later on because I have carried around that fear of getting caught to this day.  Nothing goes unnoticed or unpunished forever.  That is the lesson in my deviance in 3rd grade.  It will come back to you.  It may not be the first time or the second time but it will come back.  I guess I’m glad I caught back then but I would’ve loved that fishing trip.  There is one more moment from elementary school that probably had some effect on me.  It’s rather embarrassing and probably affected my approach to girls during school for a couple of years but that all worked out in the long run.  I don’t even know if I’ve ever told this story but it is quite funny to look back on, even though it was a rough prank on me.  There was a girl in my class that I liked, Shelley.  Every boy liked her and even at 8, I pretty much knew she was out of my league.  It didn’t stop me from sending her the “check yes or no” letter.  I prepared the letter and gave it to my confidant Robbie, MY OWN COUSIN.  I knew he could take care of the delivery.  Not long after, he brought it back to me and it was checked “yes”.  Cha-Ching!  Or so I thought.  My own blood deceived me.  He took the note, checked yes and brought it back to me.  I thought for an afternoon she was my girlfriend.  Only she never knew about it.  His laughter with Corey and a couple of others gave him away and I knew I had been had.  That was a good one no doubt.  It’s probably where I got my pranking ability from because I spent many years trying to avenge that one.

So while these stories may be funny or cringe-worthy, I have no doubt they have had some sort of lasting impact on my personality.  Its weird some of the things we remember while other things just vanish from our minds.  Some of that is by design and choice I’m sure.  But I have vague memories of death trap monkey bars, a curb store in front of the school and the occasional back flip I couldn’t land.  The real distinct memories I have are events that have stayed tucked away in my mind almost as vivid as the day they happened.  I can see Mr. Inman and his paddle.  I remember the specific swing on the swing set I would use when “waiting for my mom to pick me up.”  I remember the look on my dad’s face when the homework scam failed.  I remember the look on Robbie’s face when the “Yes or No” scam succeeded. 

I can see those things as clear as day.  They aren’t painful and they aren’t traumatic but they are meaningful to me and have shaped part of my path.  Sometimes we say, “If I had it to do all over again, I would do it differently.”  And while that can certainly be true in worst case scenarios, I believe we have to experience these smaller bumps in the road so we will know there are bumps.  The participation trophy and the “everybody wins” mantra have its place but I think it also robs our kids of needed disappointment at times.  Bailey was recently not chosen for a play for her school.  As a parent, I was bothered because I want my daughter to pursue every opportunity she has and I want her to succeed.  But there is also a part of me that knew it was a teaching moment.  It was an opportunity to tell her that she needed to work a little harder or practice a little more to get the part next time.  We will all succeed and fail over the course of our lives.  Sometimes the failures make us change the way we do things.  Sometimes they make us try harder.  Either way, they make us do something.  Standing pat is not the way to flourish.  It’s not the way to improve.  Take the events that happen and make them work for you in some way.  A bunch of silly stories results in me still trying to do the right thing one month away from my 40th birthday.  You can’t understate the personal importance of seemingly insignificant events in your life.


This Life – Part 1

1977 would be a pretty eventful year.  A lot of events took place that may not have seemed life changing at the time but they have gone on to have a profound effect on us personally and as a society.  Apple Computer was incorporated.  I now type this blog on an Apple iPhone and we share the same birth year.  Snow fell in Miami Florida for the only time in history.  Also, as I type this blog, I am watching the Miami Dolphins struggle mightily in a playoff game in Pittsburgh where the temp is 12 degrees.  I found it coincidental but I don’t suppose it’s very meaningful.  Jimmy Carter, a peanut farmer from Georgia, was sworn in as President of the United States.  He was the first, and still the only, President from my home state.  A few years ago, I played on his secret service’s softball team in a game vs Plains High School alumni.  He pitched for the team.  How many people can say they’ve played softball with a President.  It was pretty cool.Fleetwood Mac released the Grammy Winning album, Rumours.  Last year, I took Alicia to see the Fleetwood Mac tribute band, Rumours, in Atlanta for her birthday, sort of checking off a bucket list item.  Not much of a chance seeing the real band anymore so this was as close as it got.  The Bee Gee’s released Saturday Night Fever.  The movie of the same name would soon follow later in ’77.  I always pictured my Uncle Speedy as the perfect Bee Gee.  Son of Sam was also associated with the disco scene and was captured in New York that year.  Led Zeppelin performed their last North American concert while The Clash released their first album.  A film named Star Wars hit the big screen.  I think it turned out to be pretty popular.  I remember the Ewoks and the original Chewy before special effects were so good.  There were others too like Smokey and The Bandit, Slap Shot and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  Pretty big year in music and movies I’d say.The Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners would play their first baseball games.  Years later, I would be a Mariners fan thanks to Ken Griffey Jr. and would despise the Blue Jays thanks to Kelly Gruber.  Gruber was a hustler and While he would normally be a player I would root for, he stood between the Braves and a World Series with that hustle.  AJ Foyt won the Indianapolis 500 for the 4th time.  The AJ Foyt of my generation, Tony Stewart, is why I love racing today.  That, along with watching it on Sundays with my dad and grandaddy.  Reggie Jackson hit 3 homeruns in a World Series win over the Dodgers, lending to the nickname that would stick, Mr. October.  I guess I was destined to be a sports fan with this type of activity.1977 was the year Tandy was created.  If you aren’t from my generation, you probably don’t even know what this is.  But for me, it created my love for video games.  The Tandy Computer was the first console I played.  Bedlam was my favorite game and it was completely text with no action or graphics.  Sounds boring, I know.  But I spent hours trying to avoid being lobotomized by a crazy doctor.  It’s also where we got Paperboy, Pitfall and Downland.  Commodore and Atari also hit the scene in 1977.  What a year for gamer history!  You kids can thank these classics for setting you up for Madden and Call of Duty.  I would go on to specialize in video gaming for many years of my life.  Tecmo Bowl, RBI, Mario, Resident Evil, Fallout.  Of course, it’s a specialization that doesnt really count as specialization.The Pinwheel Network was created.  Better known now as Nickelodeon, this tv station was on in every house I went to as a child.  It’s still on at my house today with Spongebob Squarepants.  Earlier classics were Dusty’s Treehouse, Mr. Wizard’s World, You Can’t Do That On Television, Double Dare and Ren and Stimpy.  I’m pretty sure that was the “Golden Age” of television for my generation.  I don’t understand the stuff kids watch these days but that’s probably the way my parents felt about my shows.  TV was better in my younger days.  I don’t know whether that was because I was less knowledgeable about what was real and what was fake or if The years have just washed away the bad programming.Everything wasn’t all roses either though.  The King, Elvis Presley, died in August.  The world mourned the passing of one of the most influential musicians in history.  As big of a music fan as I am, I would have loved to see him play live.  I love a live show and I’m sure he put in some memorable ones.  Three members of Lynard Skynard passed away in a plane crash.  The southern rock legends would continue and still play today but the original band died that day too.  The King and Skynard in the same year.  Groucho Marx  and Bing Crosby also took their last breaths in 1977.  I guess 2016 was crueler in numbers as it relates to the celebrity death but these were equally big names.

All in all though, a pretty large year.    The most significant event of my life happened that year also.  On February 13, 1977, I was born.  I was the first grandchild on the Kelly side of the family and the second on the Shiver side.  Dusty beat me by a couple of years.  My dad, Dewey was (and still is) a truck driver and my mom, Pam, worked at the school system.  I was born into a relatively normal life in a relatively normal town.  A lot of abnormal things have happened over the last 39 years but my life has been pretty good.  My parents are still together after 40 years, all but one of my grandparents were able to see my children when they were born, I married my high school sweet heart and we’ve got our own pretty good life.  

But as I’m so close to reaching the big milestone of 40, it’s become an obsession of sorts to revisit my journey along the way.  I see a lot of things every day that take me back to some moment of my life that brings me joy, pain, laughter, fear or some other emotion.  There have been a  lot of “normals” along the way but there have been some events along the way that could have changed my path and led to a different present.  Life is funny.  Sometimes it’s sad.  But it’s life.  I have no idea what memories I’ll write about next.  I don’t know if I’ll write part 2 tomorrow or next week.  I don’t know if I’ll write about a year in my life or a several year span.  Or maybe just an event that happened and the lesson I learned.  I’ve shared several memories on the blog before but that’s what a big part of life is about to me.  Making memories.

It’s also fun to write about.  A lot of people and places intertwine during the walk down memory lane.  It’s not always about fun either though.  I have had some hard lessons I’ve had to learn along the way because I’ve made some bad decisions.  It’s also not always deep, profound and life changing either because I was a clown growing up.  I’ve enjoyed life along the way and I want to convey that too.  Overall, my life has probably been boring compared to others.  But there might be something in this journey that resonates or links us together.  There’s only one way to find out though.  And that’s to continue dive in and take the trip down memory lane.  And it all started in 1977.


Gems Of The Junk Wax Era

    As a 39 year old (40 in a month, geez), I began my sports card collecting in the late 80’s as a youngster of about 10.  I picked up a very small amount in 1987-1988 but I really hit my stride in 1989, at 12.  I loved the three major sports but baseball was the most accessible and the easiest to collect.  I would buy (or mom would), trade, build super teams and use my stat knowledge to help me in RBI Baseball on NES.  I took my cards to school, to friends houses and scoured Beckett Monthly to monitor the prices.  As a 12 year old, I fantasized about owning some of those mid 1950’s cards and being a sports card tycoon.  

I was dissapointed to find out that my dad did own some of those vintage cards but he and my uncle used them to make their bicycle spokes click or as a bat to hit tinfoil baseballs in the backyard.  They were sitting on a gold mine and didn’t even know it.  Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Willie Mays.  Those cards today are worth thousands if in the proper condition.  The kind of condition that is fostered by not using them as tinfoil ball bats.  Of course, therein lies the rub.  The reason they are so valuable now is there are very few in good condition because most kids didn’t know what they had.  They were collectible trinkets that came with gum and were just cool to play with.  Nobody knew they would explode some 30+ years later.  Only then did the majority of collectors start scrambling for good condition baseball cards.The hobby grew and reached a gluttonous peak in the late 80’s-early 90’s in what is referred to now as the “Junk Wax Era.”  Call it bad timing for me but I deem this era specifically as 1987-1994.  These years are debatable but card companies began ramping up production in 1987 to meet the new demand in the hobby and it ran extremely hot (and overproduced) to its peak and declined rapidly during the baseball strike of 1994.  Sure, there were tons more cards produced in the late 90’s that were rather weak but to be honest, I lost interest in 1994 with the strike and with turning 17.  I lost interest in baseball with many other fans when the players held out.  It took me a while to come back but I would eventually pick back up and am going stronger now than I ever have thanks to the additions of autographs and other cool products that have me reinvigorated.  

But back to the so-called Junk Wax Era.  There are a few reasons for this name.

  1. Cards from this era hold very little value with some exceptions that I will note later.  When collectors realized that cards had value, everybody wanted in.  The problem is that if everybody has something, that something is not very valuable on the market.
  2. Demand pushed supply.  And boy did supply explode.  There are rumors of some card sets in the early 90’s producing 5 million copies of a single card.  Any collector knows that the more of an item is available, the less valuable it is.  Pretty much like #1.
  3. Just like the collectors wanted a piece of the hobby, more card companies popped up and wanted a piece of the market.  What was once a hobby consisting of mainly Topps Cards had grown to include Donruss, Fleer, Upper Deck, Leaf, Bowman, Studio, Triple Play, Purina, K Mart, KayBee Toys, you name it.  Everybody wanted in.  To be fair, Bowman was an original card company but was bought out by Topps in 1956.  They would be out of the hobby until making a return in 1989.  
  4. Extremely large card sets were being produced in this era with some sets up to 800+ cards.  If there are 800 cards in a set, what are your odds of finding a valuable card in a 15 card pack?  These sets included everybody from the long reliever to the managers.  If you chose 10 packs of any one set in that era, you are most likely going to have 9 packs of commons by the time you’re done, if not more.

All of these reasons point to the product being “Junk”.  The wax part comes in with the wrapper.  Most collectors remember a time when cards were packaged in wax or cellophane wrappers. This changed in the early 90’s too as some companies began to experiment with tamper proof wrappers.  But wax was still available in most sets until later in the 90’s.  

While all of the above is to try to explain the “Junk Wax Era”, I’m actually here to wax poetically about it, no pun intended.  I thought I was alone in my affinity for the cards of this overblown era.  I didn’t imagine many people having fond memories of these overproduced cuts of cardboard.  My age helps.  I was a prime collecting target during that time and they are the cards I was raised on.  But still, I thought I was probably 1 of 10 people that might be pouring through eBay listings looking for a reasonable price on 1989 Donruss so I could go back to when I was 12.  But I knew each time I clicked “Buy Now”, I was just buying memories and nothing more.  Or so I thought.A few months ago, I was introduced to a podcast called “Wax Ecstatic” hosted by Matt Sammon.  If heaven were a podcast, this is how I imagine it would be.  On this podcast, Matt goes through a “monster box” of cards from his youth, one yearly set at a time discussing the card set and the player featured on his randomly pulled card.  I’ve learned quite a bit I didn’t know about these sets and the players themselves.  It’s also completely unleashed a wave of nostalgia that has me wanting to buy older cards again.  This podcast came along at just the right time for me as I had begun to bog down in the sheer number of products that are now available.  It’s also motivated me to dig through these old sets and compile this list.  So Matt, many thanks!  Check him out on ITunes or at @waxandgumstains on Twitter.  Sometimes, you just have to go back to a simpler time and enjoy what made you the collector you are today.

Which brings me to my list of 10 Gems of the Junk Wax Era.  There are certainly more than 10 as all lists are debatable and opinion but I have compiled a list of cards or sets or subsets that can make that rip through an old wax box an exciting trip down memory lane that could also potentially pay off.  The list is only in year order and will likely never be comparable to those 1950’s pieces of cardboard gold.  But let’s face it, the cats out of the bag and those values will never be seen again with common cards.  But it’s not always about monetary value either.  Sometimes, there is a ton of value found in nostalgia.

1.  1987 Topps – This one is pretty much related to nostalgia but this set may be one of the best complete sets made in the 80’s.  Topps used a lovely 1986 Station Wagon wood grain design that has made it a unique and lasting image in the card world.  I even created my own 1987 Topps this past summer.  There are quite a few nice rookies found in this set that include Jose Canseco (All Star Rookie), Mark McGwire, Wally Joyner, Bobby Bonilla, Reuben Sierra and Barry Bonds.  But my favorite rookie card of the bunch was the colorful Future Star of Bo Jackson.  Easily a top 5 all time card for me.  There are a lot of commons and manager cards that can be found in these packs too but the set is a must have for die hard collectors.  And, for less than $20 a box, the investment price point is a plus!

2.  1989 Fleer Billy Ripken – You’ll have to google this one to get the full story but this gem can actually be found in a ton of different variations but 5 main versions are discussed frequently.  In summary, Mr. Ripken was asked by Fleer to snap a photo for their baseball card collection and grabbed a bat with a hilarious obscenity written on the bat knob.  He’s holding the bat on his shoulder and displaying the dirty talk for all to see, allegedly unbeknownst to him.  The funniest version to own is the original card with the words inscribed on the bat.  This card actually made it off the press and into packs during early print runs.  It was eventually caught and Fleer tried to clean it up in a myriad of ways.  There is a black box version with what appears to be black electrical tape over the words but is actually just a photo shop.  Then a whiteout version, which is just how it sounds.  Then the black scribble version, again self explanatory.  Finally, there is the white scribble version.  I don’t know why they choose to goof this card up in so many different ways but thank God they did because it’s a fun card to chase.  This card even has its own website at www.billripken.com.  
3.  1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. – Ok, this one actually might be “the card.”  I’ve discussed it in this blog before but I’ll give a quick refresher.  This is the first major card I actually sought out during the Beckett days.  This was a card that was valued at $100+ in the early 90’s and was available in packs that could still be found at card shops.  This wasn’t pie in the sky 1953 Mickey Mantle.  This was obtainable.  And wouldn’t you know, I didn’t obtain it until my mid 30’s when my wife bought me the complete set.  I tried for years to pull this card in a pack, refusing all along to pay the money for the single card.  In hindsight, I could’ve bought the card 5 times with the amount of money I spent on the packs probably.  I specifically remember a youth group trip to Helen when me and Ken Forrester bought some baseball cards.  He got one (maybe two if memory serves) and I got a John Olerud.  Jealousy was, and still is, a stinky cologne.  There are plenty of 1989 packs still available on EBay but the odds of pulling one from a pack have dwindled as the previously advertised random collation has been figured out by stealthy collectors and the cards have been picked over in most boxes and packs available.  Risky but still a fun chase whenever I have a few bucks burning a hole in my pocket.

4.  1989 Donruss – This may fall a bit flat but this one is a personal favorite of mine.  This was the first card set I was able to collect intensely.  It was readily available in the Camilla Wal Mart and the Suwanee Swifty down the street from my house.  You could find 1989 Donruss just about anywhere.  It was colorful, affordable and had Ken Griffey Jr. much more accessible to me.  I loved the Diamond King drawings, the MVP subset and the Rated Rookies.  Boxes of 1989 Donruss are still very affordable and you stand a solid chance of pulling a Griffey in 1 of the 36 packs that come in the box.  Of course, there are also Craig Biggio, John Smoltz, Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling rookies to find.  And if you want a particularly scary card, google the 1989 Donruss Ron Washington.  Eeesh.
5.  1990 Topps Frank Thomas No Name Front – This is an error card that still holds tremendous value.  The search of this card on eBay reveals prices ranging from $2,000 to $10,000 depending on whether it’s graded well or not.  I have no idea how many were printed or what the odds of pulling one are but they are considered to be the rarest error cards to be found.  They are rumored to only be available in boxes manufactured on the east coast before the error was found.  A little known, or discussed, fact is that there were other no name fronts that printed in the set and sell for $50-$75 on eBay as well.  Kind of makes me want to buy a box of 1990 Topps.  These types of prices are unheard of in the Junk Wax Era, with the exception of 1992 Bowman.  You probably have a better chance of winning the lottery but it’s still worth the occasional $20 bill to take a shot.

6.  1990 Donruss John Smoltz Error – I can hear the boo’s as I type this.  1990 Donruss may be one of the top 5 worst sets of all time.  I will openly admit that.  It’s horrible….abysmal.  Look up the definition of Junk Wax and you’ll see a picture of 1988 Donruss, 1990 Donruss, 1991 Fleer and 1993 Pinnacle.  But just look at this card.  How can anyone confuse Tom Glavine for John Smoltz?  I’m a Braves fan so it has some added value to me but this card belongs on my top 10 Junk Wax list.  I love it and there is nothing you can say to change my mind.  So, we’ll move on.

7.  Upper Deck Heroes Autograph Inserts 1990-1992 – Beginning in 1990, Upper Deck raised the bar on what was already an excellent entry into the hobby in 1989.  They introduced an autograph insert of Reggie Jackson numbered to 2500.  They followed it up with a Nolan Ryan insert in the low series in 1991, a Hank Aaron insert in the high series in 1991 and a Ted Williams insert in the 1992 set.  There is no real guess on how many of these cards are still out there in a wax box waiting to be found but the relatively low price point on these boxes make taking a shot worthwhile.  These can also be found on EBay for purchase but you better break out the checkbook.  While it’s hard to imagine that an autograph numbered to 2500 can compare to those today that are as low as 1/1, we are talking about one player in the set and print runs of astronomical numbers.  These are legit Junk Wax gems.  

8.  1991 Topps Desert Shield – Anybody my age remembers the first major war of our generation, Desert Storm.  Baseball cards were so big in 1991, Topps created a set and shipped them to Saudi Arabia for soldiers to collect.  The only real difference in the Desert Shield cards and basic 1991 Topps was the Gold Logo in the upper corner of the card created specifically for the set.  An article on www.sportscollectorsdaily.com details the thoughts of one collector who received the cards overseas.  He said that while some soldiers enjoyed them, many tossed them aside or burned them in 55 gallon drums.  I suppose there were more important things going on at the time.  But now, the Desert Shield cards are one of the most valuable sets in the card industry.  In 2012, a complete set sold for just north of $75,000.  Unopened boxes sell for $5,000.  Individual graded cards of stars like Chipper Jones, Ken Griffey Jr. and Nolan Ryan go for over $1,000.  Looking back on it, I should’ve brokered a deal with my neighbors dad for some of these cards in 1991 instead of asking him to sign my Desert Storm Tank Card.  Hindsight is 20/20.

9.  1991 Donruss Elite – The first elusive chase card for me was the Elite.  I tried for the Reggie Auto in 1990 but I was realistic in my chances, or lack thereof, of landing one.  The Elite Series introduced in 1991 Donruss was a different story.  This subset included 10 stars on cards with serial numbered print runs up to 10,000.  Again, it’s a far cry from the small print runs of today but in 1991, 10,000 card print runs were minuscule.  These cards were all valued over $100 in the Beckett magazine when they came out.  The packs were around $1.00 and there was a possibility of pulling a $100+ card.  A real possibility.  I watched one of my best friends, David Shook, pull an André Dawson one afternoon as we ripped packs at his house.  It was a party, let me tell you.  I never pulled one in the 1991 set but I did snag a Robin Yount in 1993.  It was a good one but not as good as it would’ve been in 1991.  Serial numbered cards weren’t all that new anymore.  This is another card that has an unknown number of copies still out there in unsealed packs.  1990 Donruss boxes can be bought for less than $10.00, just saying.

10.  1992 Bowman – This was on the most recent podcast of Wax Ecstatic and a big reason I decided to pan back over this era to remember the cards of value.  1992 Bowman is loaded with superstar rookies like Chipper Jones, Mike Piazza, Mariano Rivera and Manny Ramirez, among others.  These cards have held their value because of the strong rookie class and the relatively low print run, considering the year.  Boxes still sell for $150-$250 depending on the reliability of the seller but the cards are very valuable for the era and can be mega value for the era if graded well.  Perhaps the finest point of 1992 Bowman is the pure 90’s photography.  The cards are iconic in this realm.  Many of the photos aren’t in baseball uniforms but in swaggy clothing that can only be identified as early 90’s.  I don’t know where Bowman got the idea and it must not have been well received because it was a one hit wonder as 1993 was back to basic uniforms.  But damn am I glad they did it.  This one is a little pricey but you will find value in this set.

So, as you can see, the Junk Wax Era had some punch.  Of course for every 1989 Upper Deck there was a 1988 Donruss, 1989 Bowman and 1991 Score, but the era has the moniker for a reason.  I guess the moral of the story is that you can find value in different ways.  Sometimes, the cards can mean something to you.  Sometimes, they can be valuable and put a few dollars in your wallet.  Sometimes, they can just make you laugh.  But they make you feel something.  They take you back to a simpler time in your life.  They remind you what it was like to be a kid.  And for me, that’s what the hobby is really about.  Sure, I enjoy pulling the Russell Wilson auto numbered to 5.  But I also enjoy pulling the 1989 Topps Orel Hershiser because it reminds me of the night I talked my dad into buying me a pack on the way to the lake.  I was instructed not to open the pack until we got to the lake because I was in trouble.  I managed to slip the wax open and see the Hershiser.  I was just curious.  I sealed it back up but I think he caught the aroma of Topps gum and the stunt led me to not being able to open them until he decided I could, which was after the trip when we were back home.  That’s something money can’t buy.  

Here’s to continued collecting and hoping you can still enjoy some old wax from time to time.  The hits are still there.  They are just a little harder to find and a little less flashy than the newer ones.