It’s storytime, cats and kittens!
1971 was the first year I began collecting sports cards. Starting in the spring with baseball, my fave sport, I’d take the fifty cent allowance I got each week for not being TOO much of a pain in the ass, and walk the 3/4 mile each way (I just measured it on google maps) to what was then Adam’s Drugs (now a Dollar Tree, evidently) and buy 5 packs of 10 cards for a dime baseball cards.
They put ’em out in at least 6 “series” back then, meaning they’d sell segments of the entire set and change them every few weeks. You’d have to wait for a lot of your favorite players and stars, reading the checklist cards carefully to see what was out there, what was gone and what was coming.
Far too often, the local candy wholesalers would run erratic schedules, and combining that with packs left on the shelves meant some series of cards got incredibly short shrift. Looking over all the cards I bought in ’71, Series 4 and 6, the final one, are rather thin. 1972 was an even bigger set, and the final series of those had a very brief shelf life at Adam’s Drugs, as well as nationally. It’s why the “high number” cards even for commons are more expensive these days.
In ’73 and ’74, I bought whole boxes directly from a local wholesaler who didn’t mind selling single boxes to kids who collected cards. And Topps abandoned series in ’73, as well as cutting down the size of the set from 787 to 660. So, a box of packs held unlimited possibilities of what players I’d get. 24 packs to a box for two bucks at wholesale, a WAY better deal than Adam’s Drugs, once I’d saved my allowance.
Two bucks! Now look at what a box that’s managed to stay unopened since 1973 goes for at auction and cry.
In later years, I’d buy hand-sorted complete sets from ads in the back of The Sporting News. It was great to have the cards… but the anticipation/surprise of opening those wax packs was gone, and it was really part of the fun.
I didn’t miss the hard-candy textured shingle of industrial bubblegum that we always dreaded would be next to a card we really wanted in the pack, leaving that God damn gum stain on it.
Anyway, back in 1971 by the time we got to around this point in the year near Labor Day, the football packs would appear, followed by the basketball and hockey ones.
In the fall of ’71, I kept buying cards. I paid more attention to football than I did to basketball or hockey. I only bought maybe 1 or 2 packs of those, but I bought football throughout the season. Only 2 series of cards to deal with, too.
And I never throw anything away (almost… more on that later.) I still have the very small numbers of hockey & basketball cards I bought that year with only a vague familiari
ty of the players. I might not have gotten Bobby Orr or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but I managed a Stan Mikita and a Calvin Murphy, among a few others. I’ll take THAT surprise when I went through a shoebox of old cards one day decades later after I’d forgotten about ’em.
So I bought a lot of ten cent bubblegum packs of football cards in the fall of 1971, along with the occasional 25 cent 25 card box. I kept them separate from my baseball cards, and also kept the bonus inserts Topps threw in that season – a football card game with gain/loss play possibilities with stars on the cards, along with a small game board gridiron in each pack with the poster of some player on the back. They’d done a similar one for the 1968 baseball set. The baseball set that year had a set of metal coins with players on ’em, one to a pack, something they had also done back in 1964. I doubt they do multiple-platform sets like that anymore, which is too bad.
Some years ago, I went through my boxes of old cards and started to organize them better, and came upon all my football cards, the bulk of which were the ones I bought in 1971. Turned out I had maybe 2/3 of the whole set, and most of the key cards in it. So I thought – why not complete the set?
Ebay to the rescue – between some purchases here and there, I managed to track down the few dozen commons I needed, and the three missing slightly pricier “star” player cards I needed.
Ray Nitschke was the last one. Picked up an ungraded one in great condition for a couple of bucks, basically.
AND he was in The Monkees’ movie Head!
Ray’s about 35 in that picture, but he looks more like Ned Glass.
He’d play another year in 1972 before retiring from a stellar career – winning championships with those Bart Starr Packers pre and during the Super Bowl era.
The 1971 was his final Topps card, however.
And now, my card set is complete… or is it?
Truly completing the 1971 set meant completing the sets of football game cards & posters as well. Now, I had plenty of the game cards, one for every pack I bought. Not a big task to fill in the missing spots. I should also have the posters, one for every pack I bought, right?
And THIS drove me nuts. I went through my entire sports collection looking for them and came up empty. So then I moved on to EVERY packed up box of Rhode Island stuff, stuff I’d boxed up literally DECADES ago and left in storage rather than unpack, and STILL came up empty.
Oh, and the crap I found, from the guy who never throws anything away. I found papers and creative work dating from college back through elementary school. I found pay stubs from the very first paychecks I’d ever gotten in the summer of ’79. I found Christmas cards from 30+ years ago from people I’d long lost touch with. I found a promotional store map for Warwick Mall’s opening in Rhode Island in 1970. I found not one, but TWO mood rings – and they both still work. Before my parents sold the house I grew up in, I boxed up everything I could possibly try to save and had it shipped out to me in California.
Sooooo much crap, each piece with a memory. And going through it now in 2018, I STILL didn’t throw anything away – whatever I examined all went back into whatever box I explored. I kept finding more and more things I’d forgotten I had.
But no football posters from 1971. They also weren’t thrown in with other “paper” type collections, like the box of National Lampoons or the US post office advertising posters a friendly postmaster gave me when I went to a giant downtown Providence post office to get some plate block unavailable locally, and he decided a kid who collected stamps instead of doing drugs was worth some freebies. (I suppose I should down a Jack Daniels cocktail in his honor while getting them framed.)
It dawned on me that I had allowed something of collectible value that I care about to be thrown away at some point in the irretrievable past.
Not a good feeling.
Certainly not a familiar feeling.
While I eventually found everything on ebay and haggled it to a good price to complete the set for real, that feeling will never leave me. I went the FULL MARCEL PROUST over it, lamenting lost time.
Even with my endless boxes of crap.
But I enjoy thumbing through my 1971 football cards.
Like this one.
Joe Kapp played one season for my team, back in 1970. It was the coda to a long playing career, both in the US and Canada. Kapp’s the only QB in history to quarterback a Superbowl, a Grey Cup and the Rose Bowl.
Topps Football cards could often be a year behind personnel changes back in the day. Kapp played for the Pats in ’70, but his ’70 card still has him on the Vikings. He got a 1971 Topps card because they had no idea the Pats would be so cruel and callous as to reject Kapp when he showed up to training camp the following season. I’m glad the ownership and management of my team has improved, never mind the STUPID DECISION not to play Malcolm Butler in the Superbowl. But they generally treat their players much better now. Anyway, Kapp sued them, lost, affected some changes in the way contracts were written, and wound up coaching his alma mater Berkeley. So it’s the only card of him on the Patriots.
The Patriots QB for 1971, you ask? Why, none other than #1 all around draft pick Jim Plunkett, who didn’t get a Topps card until 1972. (Don’t worry, the Pats gave up on him, too. Sigh.)
But none of ’em look like Ned Glass. Way to go, Ray!
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