Odd-sized cards have always irritated me – jumbo cards, minis, “mini-minis,” “tall boys” and the old Fleer Gameday sets alike. Maybe – just maybe – I’m a little obsessive, but one thing I like about football cards is seeing them in nice, neat, uniform rows or fitted snugly into protectors that are the perfect size and thickness for them. Jumbo and Gameday cards don’t fit in normal protectors, so they just lie around kind of awkwardly. The wide variety of mini cards always slip out of a stack, and they never quite sit right in protectors or 9-pocket pages. All of this is very irksome to me.
That said, the 1996-97 Fleer Goudey set somehow finds a way to transcend my desire for order and uniformity. The first thing I found endearing about this set is the history lecture printed right onto the side of the box. Rival bubble gum manufacturers who began putting sports cards into their respective products in the 1930’s. The 1933 Sport Kings set with some of the pioneering, legendary names in football – Thorpe, Grange, Rockne. This whole write-up gives me a nostalgic sense of connection with the history of the hobby before I’ve ever even opened a pack. (It also helps assuage my loathing of the non-standard size of the cards, but only for this set!)
Getting around to the cards themselves, the number of Hall of Famers and other notable players in the checklist only adds to the sense of nostalgia, and it makes the throwback design seem even more appropriate. I’m a big fan of the way the player photos look like they’ve been through a “make this look old” Instagram filter, then set against the team-color background. The rougher, brown cardboard stock these are printed on and the single-color printing on the backs really round out the vintage feel. Brett Favre, Barry Sanders, Jerry Rice, Dan Marino, Junior Seau and all the other HOF (or soon to be!) players in this set look right at home on a card design that once featured the likes of Red Grange and Jim Thorpe. Heck, they even threw Y.A. Tittle and Chuck Bednarik into this set!
While I like the look and feel of the base set, which was a very important aspect of any 1990’s product to me, I’m a little less feel-good-sunshine-and-rainbows about the parallels and the inserts. The “Gridiron Greats” parallel set just leaves me wondering why they made it. It’s less of a parallel and more of a separate set entirely. The design is just very generic. They used the same photos from the base set, but without the “old school” filter. The back features a more modern style write up and statistics for the subject player. The set really isn’t terrible, it’s just not at all remarkable; it doesn’t fit with the vintage quality the product is going for. I suppose one redeeming thought is that it provides a modern juxtaposition (yes, SAT word!) to the vintage base set. The other inserts are fun – starting with the brief blurbs about the subject player from either Tittle or Bednarik on the “Tittle Says” and “Bednarik Says” cards. I enjoy reading what the old timers think of the modern game. I also like the comic relief of the Heads Up insert – the cartoon bodies that don’t quite fit with the photo head shots. I do wish the inserts had stuck with the vintage look of the base set, though. (Note: I didn’t pull a “Pigksin 2000” insert from this box.)
While I could have done without the parallel set, and I wish the other inserts were a little more vintage-y, the base set is plenty to make this a quality product overall. Clearly, as the author of a blog about cards from the 90’s, I’m a big fan of “the old stuff,” and I especially love looking back to a set from almost 20 years ago that provides a window even further back into hobby history.
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