Archive for Heirloom

Cardboard Connections more valuable than Cash: A personal pull return after being gone for a decade

Posted in Commentary, Dad Life with tags , , , , , , on February 20, 2022 by Cardboard Icons

It was a Wednesday morning, February 2, 2022, to be exact, and I had just finished making my kids their breakfast when out of the blue I got this nostalgic feeling about a card I used to own. Every now and again a conversation leads me to wonder what came of certain cards I owned and sold or traded during my life.

Sometimes the card is a cheaper one, or other times its a more modern shiny classic that if I had known better I would’ve held onto for another year and had the equivalent of a down payment on a home. Other times it’s cards from some of the best years of my hobby life. In this case, it was a 1998 SP Authentic Randy Moss Rookie Card.

I mentioned this to a friend and he sent me a few listings of Randy Moss SP Authentic rookie cards for sale. Many were slabbed by PSA, but about halfway down there was one slabbed “Gem Mint” by Beckett Grading Services. This intrigued me enough to click the listing. I glanced at the image and thought: “That looks a lot like …”

***

It was a Tuesday night, some 23 years ago. I had plans to meet with my friends at the local bowling alley that offered $1 games one night a week. It was something we often did in my late teens and early 20s after we got off work and school. On this particular evening I first decided to swing by a local card and comic shop (R&K Comics in Sunnyvale, California) to see what they had for sale. At the time I was a collector of three sports (Baseball, Basketball and Football) and football was in full swing. I remember, because the Draft Class that year was smoldering, and I had a hot hand, pulling multiple rookie cards of Randy Moss, the newest wide-out in the league who was destined to become the next Jerry Rice.

Upper Deck made a product called SP Authentic and that year the rookie cards were seeded roughly two per box and they were limited to just 2,000 copies, and they were HOT. Bowman Chrome and Topps Chrome were a thing then and they had a following, but neither of those products offered serial numbered rookie cards. Serious collectors wanted serialized rookie cards, and they decidedly targeted the SP Authentic ones as the top — or one of the top — releases that year.

The packs were not cheap, somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 or $7 each, or at least twice that of any other pack. I believe I purchased four or five that night when I saw that the box on the shelf was full, meaning the contents were likely fresh and not the dregs of multiple blown boxes. In hindsight this was entirely possible, but I knew this shop didn’t get a lot of cards, they were heavy in comics and related items. This was probably the only box of SP they were going to get all year.

I purchased the packs and began opening immediately in a slow fashion, long before this became the norm for social media. In one of the early packs I could see a solid-color card back, which was an immediate indication I’d located a rookie card. The base cards that year were all oriented in a vertical fashion and featured a foil-type front and a back was complete with stats and a softened full-bleed image. So when you pulled a rookie — which was horizontal and a solid color back — you knew you had something. The color was gold, and the face on the front of the card was non-other than Jacksonville Jaguars running back Fred Taylor, the ninth overall draft pick that season. Taylor had been having a solid season and I knew at this point I was already playing with house money.

I opened the remaining packs I purchased, hoping to continue the good luck. Sure enough a few packs later another solid-color backside of a card revealed itself. This time the color was purple and the face on the front was Randy Moss, the 21st overall pick out of Marshall. I flipped the card over to look at the serial number, but the light bounced off a defect in the card. Right below the number “18” in the corner there was a crease that ran about a quarter of an inch, parallel to the edge of the card. I was still pleased with the pull but the factory damage put a damper on things just a tad.

I placed both cards into their own top loaders and headed to the bowling alley (Saratoga Lanes) where I met up with my friends, one of whom was also into cards at the time. I decided to play things modest. I told my friend (Nate) that I had bought some packs before heading to the alley and I told him that I pulled a Fred Taylor rookie. I showed it to him and he was happy for me, but this guy also had some luck of his own. He had purchased some of his own SP Authentic packs at the comic shop in the mall where he worked and he pulled a Ryan Leaf, the second-overall pick that year, news he provided me as he attempted to one up me with a card that was in fairly high demand at the time. At this point I could no longer contain myself — out of my pocket came the Randy Moss. “I also pulled this,” I said through a gigantic smile. This shut him up for the night on the card topic as Moss was blazing hot, and Leaf was regressing a bit after a piss-poor start to a classically bad tale of a bad draft pick. Victory was mine.

The following day I kept staring at the card, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t keep staring at that crease on the reverse of the Moss. The Taylor was a beauty, but the Moss was clearly damaged. I decided to reach out to Upper Deck, wondering if they would fix such a flaw, although I wondered how they might do so given that my card was factory serial numbered in gold foil. I called UD to inquire and they advised that they would send me a new version of the card if I sent them the original and a letter stating the issue. So I took a photo of my card — I swear I still have the Polaroid somewhere — and shipped it off. A few weeks later a new Moss arrived. I flipped the card over immediately to see if the flaw was gone, and it was. However, my eyes locked onto the serial number “1541/2000” which was now written in gold marker pen and not stamped in gold foil like other cards. It was then that I learned how UD rectified such situations where a factory-stamped serial numbered card had to be replaced.

I remember struggling with the idea of not having a factory stamped serial numbered, and how some might think the card was fake. But ultimately I had to let this go because the alternative was owning a stamped one that was creased. Little did I know that the hand-written detail would be my saving grace.

***

The years 1997 through 2001 were easily some of the most important years in my hobby career. This was a time when I was graduating high school, earning my first paycheck; had some adult freedom and was working toward a college degree of some sort — I did not declare a major until my third year of school. While others my age had ditched cards, I decided to stay the course on three sports and the hobby at the time was changing, moving light years away from packs full of base cards and going full-bore into an age with seeded, short-print and serial-numbered rookie cards, as well as the early years of game-used and autograph cards. I had some insane luck for a guy my age, spending as “little” as I was compared to my Silicon Valley collecting cohorts who found riches during the DotCom Boom. The Fred Taylor and Randy Moss rookies were massive pulls for an 18-year-old, but during this time I’d also pulled a Nolan Ryan autograph from 1999 Fleer Greats of the Game; Topps Chrome Rookie Refractors of Tim Duncan and Vince Carter; as well as autographs of Joe Montana and Dan Marino from the same box of SPX Finite; and the piece de resistence, a 2001 Upper Deck Hall of Famers Walter Johnson Cut Signature I unearthed from a pack at a 7-Eleven in San Jose, California.

Also during this time in the hobby, third party grading was all the rage. PSA had been slabbing cards for years, and in order to send cards to them you needed to purchase a membership. In 1998/1999 Beckett announced it was opening “Beckett Grading Services” to rival PSA. BGS offered thicker slabs, a grading scale that included half-grades, and every submission included subgrades, or a breakdown of the grade for four specific categories, edges, corners, surface and centering. The kicker? No membership fees. Color me sold.

Among the first cards I submitted were the Taylor and Moss. On August 9, 1999, both cards were graded Mint 9. The Moss came back with subgrades of 10 centering, 9s for edges and surface, and an 8.5 corners — which was mind-blowing since there were no obvious issues. I left the card in that slab for a little more than seven years until I decided to re-submit it in early 2007 with another batch of cards that included a Joe Montana rookie card, and a 2006 Bowman Chrome Draft Refractor Clayton Kershaw autographed card, which I had pulled myself just months earlier at a Wal-Mart in Milpitas, California.

***

I grew up here in the San Francisco Bay Area and had the good fortune to be around for a lot of successful 49ers football teams during my youth. Niner fans have been seeking that sixth Super Bowl since 1995, and whenever the team gets close to the Championship game I break out my Joe Montana rookie card and show it off on Social Media as a way of showing my support for the team. Things were no different this year as the team entered its NFC Championship game against the Los Angeles Rams. On January 30, 2022, I featured on Twitter my Montana as my “Card of the Day.” The image shows the overall grade of 7.5, the killer sub grades except for the centering, and the slab serial-number “0004886812” is emblazoned in the corner. Before posting that image I checked the BGS database to look at the specifics of the card — the card was slabbed February 6, 2007, and I reflected on the idea that it had been 15 years since I submitted the card. I shook my head and made the post, and merely put the card to the side hoping it would bring luck to the Niners. Little did I know this post would be crucial just days later.

Graded cards often get cracked and re-submitted for various reasons. Some owners do it for continuity of their collection, others do it for financial purposes, and sometimes folks do it because they believe the graders made a mistake that hurt. This was the case for me in 2007 when I decided to crack the Randy Moss SP Authentic from his 1999 holder and then re-submit it. When my Moss came back in 2007 it carried a gold BGS label and a Gem Mint 9.5 grade with three 9.5 subgrades, including for the “corners,” the category I felt they mistakenly undergraded the first time.

By 2007 I had already sold most of the football cards I owned. I decided to keep a handful to which I had an attachment, these included the aforementioned Montana rookie, as well as those sweet Taylor and Moss pulls from 1998 SP Authentic.

In May 2008 — just months before I started this blog — my then-wife and I found out we were having our first child. A funny thing happens when you learn you and your partner are going to be first-time parents. As a collector working in a profession (journalism) that offered a fair wage in an area where a spectacular income was needed to own a house I felt the need to sell something large in my collection in order to feel like I was doing right for my family, or to subsidize whatever else I wanted to add to my collection in the future. So I sold the Randy Moss to the highest bidder, and away in a padded envelope I sent a piece of my collecting history.

***

As I clicked the listing, I got a little giddy because at this point in 2022, the BGS legacy had been heavily tarnished for various reasons. Many folks were cracking their BGS slabs and sending the cards to PSA because cards in a PSA holder tend to fetch quite a bit more money than those graded by their counter parts. So to see a Randy Moss still in a BGS case at this point was intriguing. I clicked the close up of the Moss and saw the BGS slab serial numbered “0004886811.” That string of numbers sounded familiar.

“That looks a lot like the serial number I entered for the Montana,” I said to myself, trying to contain my wishful thinking. I then looked at the second image shown in the listing and saw the numbers “1541/2000” written in gold ink and nearly lost my mind.

“Holy shit! That’s MY Moss!” I said, both of my kids asking what the hell I was talking about.

All sorts of thoughts ran through my head, including the fact that I was mistaken. So I ran the Moss serial number through the Beckett database and confirmed it was actually graded on the same day as the Montana. I went and grabbed my Montana rookie and confirmed that the Montana was serialized one after the Moss. I then went to locate two other cards from the BGS batch I submitted in 2007, including the Kershaw card. It was confirmed, the Moss in the listing was mine.

Now, here’s where things get really tense. I immediately tweeted a picture of the listing and proclaimed MY Moss card was available on the secondary market. This was exciting, but also nerve-racking because I then feared that someone would swoop in and grab the card before I could figure out how to make it mine again. I sent a message to the owner, sharing the story about how the card was previously mine, how the card was hand-numbered as a replacement, and so on and so forth. For several hours I waited for a return message, often wondering if tipping my hand about the sentimental value would hurt my chances of securing this card.

As I waited I thought about this card journey of mine and how it started when I was 7 years old as two brothers befriended me when my family moved into a four-story apartment building across from a shopping center that housed Brians Books, a comic shop that was really my first true LCS. I thought about the Junk Wax Era and mass production; I thought about how a connection to sports cards is what brought my friend Nate and I together; I thought about the insane highs I felt in this hobby during that 1997-2001 run and how crazy it was that a teenager like me could walk into a comic and card shop and pull a card like this Randy Moss when there were adults with massive paychecks doing the same but with no such luck. I thought about the moment when my ex-wife told me she was pregnant and how that child of whom she spoke just turned 13 years old less than a month ago. I thought about how insane it is that on this random day in February, almost 15 years to the day after Beckett slabbed this Randy Moss card, that I was sitting at the kitchen table with both of my kids when I discovered that the card to which I have such a connection but set free in the world more than a decade ago had suddenly appeared back in my life.

I thought about how we only live once and sometimes you just gotta make shit happen.

And so I did.

I made some moves (Thanks to the friend who helped connect the dots on a few things) and sealed the deal. The Moss — MY Moss — was headed back home.

I wish I could say the re-union was seamless. I had plans for a homecoming, a video of me discussing this journey and then a trip back to the location of R&K Comics, which closed many years ago and is now home to a Boba Tea shop. But the journey back home also included one more hurdle – the actual delivery.

The card was In Transit from Missouri to California for about five days, and on February 9, the day the card was set to arrive by FedEx, I logged into my account and made sure that my notifications were set to send me a phone text message when the item was delivered. The sun rose, crested over the country, and then set again, all without a delivery message. Then just after 6:30 pm I got the message that the item had arrived. I drove as fast as I could to the home where I have all of my deliveries made. There was no package.

I asked my sister and her husband. There was no package.

I looked in the mail box, around the backside of the shrubs and the hedges. There was no package

My heart sunk. I was scared that this whole effort was for nothing. I explained to my family what the hell I was looking for, and I vocalized being worried that they delivered the package to the wrong address.

That’s when the neighbor came walking around the corner carrying two packages, including one from Missouri. I thanked the man five times over the course of 8 seconds and inspected the box as the man disppeared. The box was closed, but the tape was loose and it was not clear if the contents were inside. I thought about my plan for a video, but I had to know — was My Moss really back with its rightful owner?

I scooted the poor-tape job to the side, threw the inner packing material on the car seat, and then ripped open one end of the bubble mailer inside the box. I pushed the slab toward the opening, and it was then that I again laid eyes on the color purple just as I had some 23-plus years before when I first unwrapped the original 1998 SP Authentic Randy Moss rookie. And moments later, for the first time in almost 13 years, I laid my hands upon the BGS slab that I sold. Sure, the case has some imperfections, a few scuffs here and there, but it was back in my hands and there are no plans to ever let it leave my collection again. I wish the slab could talk. I wish I knew how many people held it, looked at it in envy. I wish I knew how many people looked at the hand-written serial number on the reverse and opted not to add it their forever-collections.

Whatever the un-told story is, I’m thankful that all roads led back to my collection. I’m super appreciative that I get to share this story on my blog since I’d never written about the Moss. I’m also thrilled that I get to share with my son — with whom I collect these days — how Serious I am about having personal connections to my cards and it reinforces what I’ve been teaching him over the last year or two: When possible we keep the cards that we pull.