Product Highlight: 1995 Taco John’s Iowa Barnstormers AFL Team Set

Arena football has it’s followers.  You wouldn’t know that based on the small amount of AFL cards out there.  Upper Deck gave it a shot, but unless you pull an autograph of a famous coach or owner that box probably won’t be too rewarding.

In 1995, the Iowa Barnstormers played their inaugural season with a young quarterback on their roster named Kurt Warner.  After being released from the Packers in 1994, Warner turned to the AFL since no other NFL teams seemed that interested in signing him.  He played with the Barnstormers for three seasons before heading over to Europe, and then eventually found his way to the St. Louis Rams.

Leave it to the Iowa Barnstormers and a Mexican fast food franchise called Taco John’s to produce what is likely the most valuable AFL card ever printed.  Taco John’s sponsored the team’s first set.  You could obtain these cards in two different ways.  First was to purchase an entire team set directly from the Iowa Barnstormers.  The second way would’ve taken much longer.  For each week of the AFL season, participating Taco John’s restaurants would give out two different cards from the set with a purchase.

The entire set consists of (42) cards.  Kurt Warner is the most notable one of the bunch.  Its his first football card.

Having (42) cards in the set meant it could take up to (21) Taco John’s meals before pulling a Kurt Warner.  I wouldn’t want to see what the bathroom looks like after eating (21) Taco John’s meals.  That’s a scene best saved for a Garbage Pail Kids sticker.

Pin Highlight: Nolan Ryan & Robin Ventura – Courage, Loyalty, Character – Brawl Pin

Nolan Ryan and Robin Ventura had very successful baseball careers.  Each has numerous awards next to their name.  Mention both in the same sentence though and one moment comes to mind – August 4, 1993.

Robin Ventura got an RBI single off of Ryan in the first-inning that day.  Later on, White Sox pitcher Alex Fernandez hit Juan Gonzalez.  When Ventura came up to bat again in the third, Ryan hit him in the upper arm.  Ventura took a few steps toward first and then charged the mound.  For some reason, Ventura decided to slow down as he got closer to Ryan.  That gave Nolan Ryan the extra time to get his glove off.  Despite being twenty years older than Robin Ventura, Nolan Ryan put up a great fight.

The image of Nolan Ryan holding Robin Ventura in a headlock is iconic.  Signed photos containing this image make for a fun conversation piece.

This pin comes from a Little League district in California.  The yin-yang symbol on Nolan Ryan’s arm indicates that.  You have to laugh at the irony of a pin that encourages courage, loyalty, and character while depicting two grown athletes fighting.

Product Highlight: 1991 Pennsylvania High School Big 33

Due to a decline in donations and an increasing amount of debt, the Big 33 Scholarship Foundation closed it’s doors after sixty years in 2017.  The annual football game it once sponsored is now under the supervision of the Pennsylvania Scholastic Football Coaches Association.

The Big 33 Football Classic began in 1957.  Its often been referred to as the Super Bowl of High School Football.  Some of the best high school players from Pennsylvania have taken on Ohio, Maryland, and Texas.  In the early years Pennsylvania would just play itself splitting up between east and west or blue and gray.  Between 1957 and 1960 Pennsylvania played against collected talent from around the nation.  Lots of famous football stars have played in the Big 33 game – Herb Adderley, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, and Jim Kelly.

Starting in 1991, they began to make team sets.  The Pennsylvania set contains (36) black and white cards.  Key cards include Ray Zellars, Curtis Martin, and Marvin Harrison.  All of these predate their NFL rookies.  It’s 1991 Maryland counterpart doesn’t really have any major cards worth talking about.  Any Big 33 card can make an interesting addition to your collection.  Later on, some sets included autographs.

During my senior year in high school, I received a Big 33 Academic Scholarship.  That included a trip to the 2004 Big 33 game in Hershey, PA.  A couple of players from that game made it to the NFL – Chad Henne, Brian Hoyer, Darrelle Revis, and Ted Ginn Jr.

Product Highlight: 1994 Action Packed NFL COASTARS

Action Packed lasted longer than most new card companies that got their start during the junk wax era.  They made football, baseball, basketball, racing, and wrestling cards.  Getting into the hockey card business was a top priority, but it never fully panned out.  Almost all of their hockey products were issued as promos.

Given the amount of sports cards that flowed into the hobby during the 80s and 90s, Action Packed needed to do something in order to separate themselves from their competitors.  Their answer was thicker card stock, rounded corners, and “puffy” pictures.  I call them “puffy” because the images are raised resembling those stickers that became popular during the 80s.  The “puffy” picture became Action Packed’s signature style for all of their products.

Action Packed sure had it’s share of unusual products to collect.  In 1994 they introduced their line of COASTARS.  These are actual coasters that you can throw on the table and place your drink on.  Six coasters come shrink-wrapped to a sheet.  You need to punch-out the coaster from the sheet in order to use it.  The checklist features players like Boomer Esiason, Dan Marino, Emmitt Smith, and Jerry Rice.  One side of the coaster has the player in their home uniform.  Flip it over and you’ll find them pictured in their away uniform.  COASTARS is one of the only products Action Packed made that doesn’t include “puffy” pictures.  Probably so you wouldn’t spill your drink.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but COASTARS didn’t catch on.  Fun novelty, but no major demand.

Pin Highlight: 2015 NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four Press Pin

Whether its pure laziness or just an effort to pinch pennies, pins handed out to the press for specific sporting events many times look quite similar to the ones you’d purchase at the souvenir stands.  This can result in mass-produced pins being sold as their much harder to come by press pin counterparts.  A good example of this can be seen when it comes to the 2015 NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four pin.

Press pin

Mass-produced pin

At a quick glance you can see how someone might mistake one version for another.  The NCAA logo on the mass-produced pin has silver coloring around the letters “NCAA”.  The press pin does not have this, just white lettering.  A solid silver-colored ring also circles the entire blue NCAA logo on the mass-produced pin.  The silver-colored ring fades out near the top of the circle on the pin issued to the press.  Looking at the font used for “2015” and “INDIANAPOLIS” you’ll see some major differences.  The mass-produced pin’s is thicker and plain white whereas the press pin font is thinner and a shiny metal color.  Those spikes on the left-side are a bit sharper on the mass-produced pin as well.

When it comes to press pins its important to know what you’re buying.  The price difference can be significant.

Product Highlight: 1993 Topps/McDonald’s All Time Greatest Team Trading Card Glasses

McDonald’s has been making collectible drinking glasses for decades.  I never really got into them, except for when they made a set for the movie Batman Forever in 1995.  Topps and McDonald’s teamed-up in 1993 to bring collectors a set of ten glasses.  Printed on each glass is a Topps baseball card.  If you purchased any Extra Value Meal with a Coke Classic you had the opportunity to buy one of these 16-ounce All Time Greatest Team Trading Card Glasses.  Each glass features the player’s facsimile signature too.

Here’s the checklist:

  • #1 Nolan Ryan 1969 Topps #533
  • #2 Johnny Bench 1970 Topps #660
  • #3 Lou Gehrig 1961 Topps #405
  • #4 Joe Morgan 1973 Topps #230
  • #5 Cal Ripken Jr. 1985 Topps #704
  • #6 Brooks Robinson 1961 Topps #10
  • #7 Roberto Clemente 1961 Topps #388
  • #8 Willie Mays 1957 Topps #10
  • #9 Babe Ruth 1962 Topps #139
  • #10 Carl Yastrzemski 1970 Topps #10

The first nine glasses were sold nationally.  In order to get the tenth glass, you needed to live in the Boston area.  That makes Carl Yastrzemski the rarest of them all.