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.

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.

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.

Product Highlight: 1972 STP

A set doesn’t need to be large in order for it to be popular.  That certainly is the case when it comes to the 1972 STP set.

The 1972 STP set only consists of (11) cards:

  • Bobby Allison
  • Buddy Baker
  • Dick Brooks
  • Charlie Glotzbach
  • James Hylton
  • Elmo Langley
  • Fred Lorenzen
  • Fred Lorenzen w/ car
  • Dave Marcis
  • Benny Parsons
  • Richard Petty

When it comes to NASCAR collecting, these cards are considered the Holy Grail.  This is the first entirely NASCAR set issued.  The STP motor oil company distributed these cards for free at their publicity tent during the 1972 Daytona 500.  It’s design is quite basic, and reminds me a lot of Topps Stadium Club.  The card fronts feature full-bleed photos.  On the back of the cards you’ll find the driver’s name with a full write-up written in blue.  It really doesn’t get much simpler.

The two Fred Lorenzen cards are by far the most difficult to find.  Especially the one picturing him with his car.  Some believe his cards were pulled due to him not competing in the 1972 Daytona 500, and retiring shortly after that.  Bobby Allison’s card isn’t far behind.

Fred Lorenzen w/ car

Fred Lorenzen

Bobby Allison

Richard Petty

Product Highlight: 1998 Topps SportzCubz

Cube crazy!  That’s exactly how you could describe some card companies in 1998.  Pacific and Pinnacle both released products based on cube-shaped cards.

Along with the packs, inside boxes of 1998 Pacific Aurora baseball, football, and hockey you’ll find one card in the shape of a three-dimensional cube.  Between all three sets, the most notable cube would be that of Peyton Manning since its a rookie.  Some people actually remove the card from the cube so it can lay flat.  I would never do that because you can cause serious damage to the card during the removal process.  Its best left wrapped around the cube, otherwise you’ll just have a squashed box.

Pinnacle’s Sport Block is a real conversation piece.  Each team specific Sport Block contains nine different images.  They remind me of a baseball-themed Rubik’s Cube.  You can rearrange the block just like pieces of a puzzle.  Not every team received the Sport Block treatment.  Only the Angels, Diamondbacks, Braves, Orioles, Red Sox, Indians, Dodgers, Yankees, Mariners, and Devil Rays got one.

In that same year, Topps looks to have wanted to throw their two cents into the cube fad.  Very little is known about 1998 Topps SportzCubz.  The main reason for this is because it never made it past the test phase.  About five prototype cards are rumored to have been made for each player.  Then the idea was canned.  What the end product would have looked like is a mystery.  Judging by the prototype, it looks as if it would have been wrapped around something.  I guess we’ll never know.

Neither the 1998 Pacific Aurora Cubes or Pinnacle Sport Block carry much value.  The 1998 Topps SportzCubz are a completely different story.  Player collectors don’t mind spending into the hundreds for a single prototype.  The following players are in this set: Derek Jeter, Greg Maddux, Tony Gwynn, David Justice, Vladimir Guerrero, Bernie Williams, Ken Griffey, Jr., Tony Clark, Albert Belle, Barry Larkin, Mark McGwire, Mo Vaughn, Livan Hernandez, Raul Mondesi, Chuck Knoblauch, Andy Pettitte, Dante Bichette, Hideki Irabu, Roberto Alomar, Paul O’Neill, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Juan Gonzalez, Mike Piazza, and Mark Grace.

Product Highlight: 1991 GV Inc. “A Happy Baseball Birthday” Cassette Tapes

The question “Why would they make that?” can be asked about countless products.  Its important to try new things.  Sometimes they stick and sometimes they don’t.  The ones that don’t are a real blast to look at.  You really wonder what was going through management’s head at the time these ideas came to be.

When it comes to products that seriously bombed, the 1991 GV Inc. “A Happy Baseball Birthday” series of cassette tapes are at the top of the list.  One cassette tape came inside each blister package.  Recorded on each tape is a personal birthday message from a specific baseball player.  In addition to the message, each player would share their favorite baseball/birthday related memory too.  Recordings were made by Kevin Maas, Wade Boggs, John Franco, Mark Grace, John Smoltz, Tony Gwynn, Nolan Ryan, Ruben Sierra, Dave Winfield, and Lenny Dykstra.  There could be more.

On the backside of the package you’ll find a jumbo card featuring a facsimile autograph.  Despite the copyright date being from 1991, I believe these hit the stores in 1992.  Many cassette tapes came packaged with a 1992 Topps base card.  They were distributed by MDV Marketing, Inc. out of Atlantic Highlands, NJ.

If you owned the Kevin Maas tape, and could find a cassette player to put it in, this is what you would hear:

Can you imagine what it would sound like if you played them all at once?  I wonder what you’ed hear if you play them backwards?  I’m sure there is some nut job out there who got one of these as a kid and actually believes whoever is on the tape is talking directly to them.  Lets hope they never show up to an autograph signing.  I bet if you play Lenny Dykstra’s all the way to the end, he’ll give you some stock tips.

I know there isn’t much to talk about from a design perspective.  But why would they put the laces through the word “BASEBALL”?  At first glance it looks crossed out.

Every now and then these will popup.  They aren’t worth very much.  I definitely place them at the top of the oddball pile.  One thing is for certain.  Kevin Maas really likes German chocolate cake.