Retro Review – The 28 Year Chase

Have you ever wanted something so bad you could taste it; but you just feel like it will never happen? I’m not talking about things that are unattainable or just pipe dreams. I’m talking about things that have been within reach but no matter what you do or how much you wish, you keep coming up empty. Sometimes it never happens but you never stop trying to make the dream a reality. But sometimes it does happen and the chase became just as big as the ultimate result, kind of like a Super Bowl Trophy for John Elway. I’ve had a few of those (let’s call them Elway’s) in my life and while some came to fruition, others have ended up on my bucket list with their unattainable brethren.My first memorable Elway was around 1987 when I was 10 years old. Everybody I knew (or so it felt) had a Nintendo except me. My cousin, Coop, had one and I tried to spend every moment I could over at his house. We would stay up late playing Super Mario, Bayou Billy, Ninja Gaiden and Mega Man and I just couldn’t get enough. Corey and Jared had one and we would play RBI Baseball with my Uncle Speedy every time I went to their house. In early 1987, I was rocking Downland and Bedlam on a Tandy TRS-80. I wanted a Nintendo badly but it was elusive. By the time Christmas rolled around, I was almost out of hope. It felt like it was “now or never” for that NES quest.I remember celebrating with my Papa on Christmas Eve, which has always been a tradition. We would rotate the location from year to year but this year was held at our house. I remember Coop getting a Nintendo game from my Papa that year and it spurred a little conversation about the NES. That conversation turned to whether or not I thought Santa Claus was going to bring me one. In my mind, I felt like this was it and I proclaimed that tonight was the night! I remember my dad saying in a very serious tone, “I would not get too excited about getting a Nintendo this year.” I then remember tearing up as I took the box of used wrapping paper out to the roadside trash can. I stood at the trash can for an extra minute trying to wrap my head around what I had just been told. I was devastated, to put it mildly.

It turned out that my dad was just being coy with his ominous statement and I did get that sweet piece of technology the next morning. Somewhere, there is a VHS tape of me walking into the living room that early morning and screaming, “NIN”; unable to even get the full word out. My parents would always set up the camera to catch mine and my brother’s reaction when we walked into the living room. First off, we were half asleep and only awake because we knew there were presents. Second, the wardrobe choices weren’t always the best. We had tightie whities and a t-shirt sometimes; pajama pants and no t-shirt sometimes; and bed hair all of the time. But I could’ve been wearing a woman’s dress that morning and I would not have cared less. My life’s mission had become overtaken by dreams of being a Nintendo owner and my moment had arrived.

I remember that sense of relief when I saw the Nintendo that morning. It was almost like I was tired from running a marathon and I just crumpled by the box and let the emotion wash over me. I have had other moments since then that fit into the Elway category. I felt that way when I got my diploma on the night of my graduation from high school. I felt that way when I got a coveted promotion. I actually felt that way recently when my first interview was published on the Beckett website. There are few things that match the feeling of finally reaching a goal or obtaining something that you’ve wanted badly for a considerable amount of time.

I have an Elway that has eluded me in card collection for almost 30 years. I spoke about it a little in my “Bucket List” article from a few weeks ago. There are several items on my sports card bucket list but the quest for one of those actually began way back when my collecting began. There was one card that I coveted more than any other card when I started collecting in 1989. It wasn’t the ’86 Donruss Canseco or the ’82 Topps Ripken or even a ’68 Topps Ryan. No, the card I wanted in my collection was a 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. That card kept me awake at night sometimes and my desire to have it in my binder burned much like my desire to hold that Nintendo controller in my hand a few years earlier.

Upper Deck was brand new to collectors and was unlike any other card that had ever been produced. It had the fancy foil packaging, futuristic hologram, crystal clear photography and even holographic stickers that came in the packs. It also had Ken Griffey Jr. as Card #1 in the checklist. The other characteristic that Upper Deck had that was a backbreaker was the $1 price tag. In 1989, $.50 was the standard with jumbo cello pack’s ringing up at about $.69. So when this $1 per pack set hit the shelves, it was out of my price range. I know how strange it sounds for $.50 to throw something out of a price range right now but believe me, when I went to Wal-Mart or Piggly Wiggly, the odds that I was walking out with whatever the cheapest pack was at the time, were high. Let me tell you, I collected a TON of 1989 Donruss and Topps.

To be totally honest with you, I only remember opening 3 packs of 1989 Upper Deck in 1989. Those 3 packs were in North Georgia, on a choir trip with my youth group. We went into a town that had a small card shop and I bought 3 packs of Upper Deck and several packs of Donruss. I remember Ken Forrester picking up a few packs of Upper Deck too. I got a John Smoltz Rookie in my 3 packs and thought I did o.k. Then Ken pulled the Griffey and my cards were absolutely worthless. It’s strange how much I remember about that first Jr. I saw pulled from UD but how little I remember from the actual trip. I remember I had a girlfriend on the trip, I remember going on a white water adventure and I remember Ken Griffey Jr. I would’ve traded that girlfriend on the spot for that Griffey.

In 2017, some 28 years later, I have yet to pull a Ken Griffey Jr. from a pack of Upper Deck Baseball. It hasn’t been for a lack of trying either. I buy packs whenever I find them in a thrift store or a card shop. I’ve bought multiple boxes off of eBay. I’ve even had a case sitting in my cart on DA Cardworld but wasn’t able to click “buy”. To be clear, I actually own a few Griffey’s but they are in sets that I’ve bought. My wife got me one for Christmas about 6-7 years ago and it was actually the first one I ever owned. I could never force myself to buy a $100 card before autographs came along and I have a pretty hard time even doing it now. So without buying a single or buying the set, the only other way to get one was by pulling it in a pack.

In hindsight, I’ve spent more money on packs and boxes than if I had bought the single card; but somewhere along the way it became more about pulling the card from a pack than actually owning it. So that is where I am today. At the age of 40, neck deep in a hobby that owes a great deal of its popularity to the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr., I still hold on to the dream that I’ll one day pull one from a sealed pack. That’s why we are here today. I received a message on FaceBook from my LCS owner, Charlie Heinisch, that he had a case and was breaking it to sell by the box. I have grown leery of the boxes on eBay because they aren’t sealed and are usually picked through. But I trust Charlie 100 times more than eBay and this was fresh from a case, so I could not resist the opportunity to check something off of my bucket list.Before we crack this box, let’s do the usual overview of the set so we can set this break up properly. 1989 was the premier edition of this “premium” set and is credited with getting the ball rolling with card companies improving their product. It is also credited sometimes with the beginning of the end as far as 90’s production and oversaturation of products. The cards were produced very well and the photography was a step ahead of the other companies. The card had a normal white border but had the first base line down the right side of the card and the Upper Deck Diamond logo in the bottom left corner. The team logo was inset in the bottom right of the card and the players name was below.The back of the card had a full length photo that took up 2/3rd’s of the card back. The stats and a small amount of biographical info could be found to the right of the photo. The very bottom of the card had the famous UD Hologram Logo that authenticated the card. This was something that UD advertised as a way to know the cards weren’t counterfeit. The foil packaging was very different from the other wax packs that were available in 1989 as well. These packs were completely sealed and it was very easy to see if the packs had been tampered with. The set was truly groundbreaking in 1989 and the $1.00 per pack price tag made that clear.

Overall the cards that I opened in this break held up very well. Some of the issues that have shown up over time have been fading and the hologram logo chipping away. Fortunately, this box was in very good condition. This was clearly taken from a good case and I could tell the minute I saw it. Most of the cards were pretty well centered too, which was another issue in the 80’s. Overall, I don’t think I have opened a 1989 UD box that was in as good of condition as this one. That had me excited to get the rip going! Let’s see how I did!First, the packs didn’t include gum, puzzle pieces or bland stickers like the other sets. 1989 UD included Holographic Team Logo Stickers. Every text book, trapper keeper and card album I had ended up with some of these on them.This first group includes some of the better rookies or first year cards I pulled. I missed out on the Sheffield, which is one I really like but I did pull a sweet Smoltz and Jefferies. Most people who collected in 1989 surely remember the names Jerald Clark, Ricky Jordan and Dante Bichette too. The Jay Buhner was a very nice card back in 1989 and I was happy to pull it in this break.Then we have the sweet “Collector’s Choice” Team Checklist cards that had some artist renderings of the team leader. You should be aware of my thoughts on artist cards by now!The young guns in 1989 included some awesome names that bring back a lot of great memories. These were the guys that we had to have. I spent a lot of time trading for these players back in the day. Mattingly was borderline in the young gun category. He could have easily slid over into the veterans group but I didn’t think of him as an older player at that time. I love Eric Davis cards!The veterans had more great players in some pretty cool photos. The Wade Boggs was always cool to me. Mike Schmidt was in the midst of an interview with an obvious 1980’s microphone. I usually prefer my Rickey Henderson cards in Athletics gear but this one is just fine. Ozzie, Tim Raines and The Hawk were some of my favorites!

As I ripped pack #3 of the box, I had already started to focus on sorting so I didn’t get so worked up about whether I pulled a Jr. or not. And there, right in the middle of the pack, was this beauty! Would it be over dramatic if I told you that I was ALMOST moved to tears at the sight of this card? I have waited for this moment for almost 30 years and here it is. This is the first bucket list item I listed in my previous article and I am now checking it off! I called my daughter into the kitchen and explained to her how important the card was to me because she has heard me talk about Ken Griffey Jr. many times. My wife also knows how big this is because she is the one who bought me the sealed set several years ago at Christmas to help me realize the dream of actually owning one. Believe me when I say, this was a box rip for the ages!There is no way I can give this box less than a perfect score. The packs and cards were in great condition, the rip was super nostalgic and I pulled the card that has eluded me since I was 12 years old. And if you look at the photo, the centering is dang near perfect on this card. The hologram on the back is even completely intact. This is certainly going for grading and will end up in the fireproof. I am also going to earmark this article so I can relive this moment over and over. I saved all of the packs and the box from this rip and it is going into the rubber maid in my closet for safekeeping. This set gets an easy “5” on the Dub-O-Meter and this is truly a night I won’t soon forget when it comes to baseball cards!


Scoring Scale

1. Let me be the sacrificial lamb so you don’t have to buy these cards.  Just read the post and thank me later.
2. There is worse but there is much better – not worth the effort though.

3. Middle of the road – I wouldn’t talk you into buying these but I certainly wouldn’t talk you out of them.

4. You should probably go out and buy a box and enjoy the rip – I did!  It has some downside but worth the ride.

5. Stop reading and find a box to buy and get to Breaking!  What are you waiting on?

Retro Review – Forever Undefeated!

It’s been a really hectic few weeks for me. It’s all been a good kind of hectic but it has definitely kept me off of the blog lately. I have been able to jump on YouTube a couple of times for some breaks but haven’t been able to just sit down and enjoy some old junk wax. I started writing a weekly article with Bags Unlimited a few weeks ago and have one other surprise in the works that I can’t reveal for a few more days. This one coming is huge for me personally and I can’t wait to talk about it. Even now as I’m finally sitting down to take a trip down memory lane, my mind is partially off in the distance planning and thinking about my next project. While that’s good for me personally and is giving me a chance to reach more people, it has no doubt made the blog suffer recently. For that I apologize and hope today’s old school football set will help make some amends.

But before we get to the football cards, let’s talk about football itself. I miss playing football as a kid. I didn’t get a chance to play football in high school for several reasons. Maybe they are excuses more than reasons but it just wasn’t meant to be for me. I really enjoyed playing the sport and I think I know the sport and played just good enough to have been able to make some additional memories in high school. But I experienced a major head injury when I was a 3 year old and since that day, any hit I take beyond a normal tackle has resulted in splitting headaches. I was able to play when I was young but I almost always had a headache at the end of the game. In hindsight, it probably wasn’t very good for me but what did we know about head injuries in 1985?That’s not the only reason I didn’t play high school football. I was also a non-imposing, solid 5’9”, 165 lbs in high school. At my high school (Mitchell-Baker), that wasn’t going to translate into football player unless I ran about a 4.5/40 or better. That wasn’t happening either. My high school won the state title in 1989 and 1992 and was 52-3 during that span. We had a 6’8 QB that went on to play basketball at NC State. We had a pair of inside linebackers that were both 6’5, 250 and were brothers. Our running back was an absolute monster and we had two DB’s that would knock a player’s chinstrap off with their unbelievable hits. I just wasn’t blessed with the size, strength or speed to hang with that type of athlete. I tried, believe me, but our high school team was built like a junior college team.Let me give you a little perspective. In 1992, we were 14-0 when we met up with Washington County in the State Championship, who was 14-0 as well. That team called their home field “The House of Pain” and had a linebacker by the name of Takeo Spikes (Auburn), a running back named Robert Edwards (Georgia) and his brother Terrance (Georgia) who played wide receiver. All three of these players dominated in the SEC and made appearances in the NFL. Mitchell-Baker beat that Washington County team 27-10 and the game was never really close. We had 6 AJC All-State players on that team with 4 of those being 1st teamers. As much as I was the Barry Sanders of my front yard on Saturday’s with my friends; those friends weren’t 6’4, 280 pound linemen chasing me either.I had one moment in high school that made me think I could have fit in but it was short lived. It was a major moment for me though. I was in a P.E. class and we were playing flag football on the practice field. Most of the students in the class were average dudes like me, but for the importance of this story, our starting QB and one of our DB’s was also in my class. Our P.E. teacher was one of the coaches and the head coach was there watching. During the game, I ran about a 12 yard inside slant and caught a touchdown from the starting QB and I was being covered (loosely) by the starting DB. So technically, in my high school career, I caught a TD pass from our QB who lost 2 games ever as a starter. So I guess I knew how to play but I would have never been able to sustain that over a full game or especially a full season.Now that I’ve covered how good my high school team was, I will tell you about the undefeated team that I did play on. This team was made up of 2 players; me and my cousin Dusty. In 1990, we started a tradition of playing football at my Granddaddy’s house on Christmas night that lasted 4 consecutive years. Our opponent was Dusty’s brothers, Corey and Jared, who were my age. Dusty was 2 years older than us but he was also the smallest of all 4, so the teams were matched up pretty evenly. For those years, the meal and gifts took an absolute backseat to that football game. We would only get socks and fruiters from the grandparents anyway.The field was about 20 yards long and the same width or shorter. There was a slightly raised concrete driveway that represented one end zone. At the other end of the field was a dirt driveway that was in total darkness. Both end zones presented major hazards for us as kids. The sidelines were boxwood bushes that we would plow into on one side of the field and the other boundary was protected by a dogwood tree and a big saw grass (pampas) bush. If those obstacles weren’t enough, there was also a water meter and surface rock in the field of play. The ground was usually hard from the cold and there were pitfalls all around us but we weren’t fazed. I guess I should also mention that there was a lone flood light on one corner of the house that lit the field, very poorly.Dusty and I won that first matchup and to be honest it was a bit of a surprise. Jared actually played on his high school team and Corey was a short rock of a running back that was a nightmare to tackle. Turnovers and field obstacles all met in the perfect storm to lead us to victory that night. In ’91, we would win again and we started bragging during the middle of the year. In ’92, Corey and Jared started practicing plays in the front yard on Thanksgiving and Dusty saw them, which gave us even more ammunition to pick at them about. We won again, even though Corey and Jared wore matching bandanas like Rico Suave. By ’94, I had grown a little bigger (beefier) than the others and was becoming harder to bring down. We won in ’94 rather handily and the series fell apart after that.We still gather for Christmas and even today, we talk about striking up what we call “The 5th Annual”. We are all too old and would probably break something if we played but I look back on those days so fondly. We spent a lot of time playing football together, whether in the yard or on Nintendo. We also all collected cards as well and 1990 was a pretty solid year for Topps Football. We strived to collect all the players that we used on Super Tecmo and we would emulate them in the yard. So when my buddy Shane Salmonson found this box of ’90 Topps at his LCS for $4 and offered to pick it up for me, I didn’t hesitate on having him snag it.In classic Topps fashion, ’90 Football came with 36 packs per box and a stick of bubble gum that has now become a white powdery unknown substance. The packs were a whopping .50 cents per pack and there were 15 cards per. The insert in the set was the “Special 1,000 Yard Club” glossy card. The wax packs were some of my favorites as they had the generic QB with bright and bold colors about to make a pass. This pack just SCREAMS 1990. The design was decent with a white border and green striped box in the top left of the card. The player name was at the bottom with the team name and position and the Topps logo was in the bottom left corner with a football inset. The back of the card was a varying pinkish red color with black type for the stats and player info. They were nothing special but they are very nostalgic.My main guys in 1990 were Bo, Christian Okoye, Randall Cunningham, Barry Sanders and David Fulcher based on my Tecmo teams. But I liked a wide range of players back then. That was the NFL of my youth and I recall a laundry list of players that were “favorites”. Let’s see what this 27 year old box held.

These were the leagues best from 1989. Barry Sanders led the league as a rookie with 1,480 rushing yards. Okoye finished a close second with 1,470.

There were some big names found in the All-Pro group, which is not a big surprise. Jerry Rice, Sanders, Reggie White, Okoye, Joe Montana and LT led the way with this group. I also pulled my David Fulcher card here.

Draft Picks
The big get in 1990 was this Jeff George rookie. The Falcons traded George (or the pick) to the Indianapolis Colts for Andre Rison. That worked out for the Falcons a lot more than the Colts. The long term big get in this group was obviously a very young looking Junior Seau.

Super Rookies
The big names here are obviously Deion Sanders and Troy Aikman, but Dave Meggett and Steve Atwater made pretty good names for themselves at the pro level. Rodney Peete didn’t exactly pan out but wasn’t terrible either.

Record Breakers
Aikman and Montana were the headliners in this group. Flipper Anderson made an appearance in the Record Breaker set and 1,000 Yard Club. He was a very underrated receiver in the late 80’s. And of course, Kevin Butler is a Damn Good Dawg from UGA!

Offensive Studs
I pulled my other favorites here with Cunningham and Bo. I also added Ickey Woods and Thurman Thomas who made noise on Super Tecmo. I was always a fan of Warren Moon and would like to add an auto to the PC one day.

Defensive Studs
These were THE GUYS back in the late 80’s. They were sack masters and ball hawks for their teams and Dent is was a huge part of the ’85 Bears Championship. I was always partial to Joey Browner because of his great first name but he was a very good NFL player.

1,000 Yard Club
This is really a who’s who of offensive studs in the NFL in 1989. It’s easy to forget John Taylor and Roger Craig when you have Jerry Rice but this insert set highlights just how prolific the 49’ers were back in the day. They had 3 representatives who reached 1,000 yards.

Box Bottom
In late 80’s and early 90’s Topps fashion, they had 4 cards on the box bottom. These were the players of the week for Weeks 5-8. I remember how good Jerome Brown was when he was lined up on the opposite end of the line from Reggie White. Brown lost his life, along with his 12 year old nephew, in a car crash in 1992 at the age of 27. In additional bad news, his son Dunell was sentenced to 25 years in prison for second degree murder in 2012. He was also 27.

Oh and I didn’t forget about my buddy Scott Berger!

This was a pretty sweet trip back to the NFL that raised me. I would have loved to have played fantasy football back then too! I will forever be a fan of this NFL era and there are so many true stars that we will never see again like these found here. As for the set, there really isn’t anything fancy about the design and the box includes a ton of kickers and offensive linemen that water it down. But the Super Rookie’s of Deion and Aikman were very sweet and a Junior Seau Draft Pick card is always nice to add. If I ever started one of those autographed set quests, this would be on my short list. Overall, I would give the set a “4”. The price is nice and the stars are abundant. The design was a little behind Action Packed, Pro Set and Upper Deck by 1990 but I like that they stuck with the wax pack a little longer than the others. And a price of $4 is just icing on the cake!

What say you about 1990 Topps Football?