It’s in the Cards

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Opening that first pack of hockey cards is an emotional and exciting moment to an eight-year-old.   Well for me it was anyway; especially spending that hard-earned birthday money or Christmas cash with the possibility of nabbing a beloved Toronto Maple Leaf, need I say more?

A 5-cent pack consisted of cards and a slab of bubblegum. The cards in pristine condition with razor sharp corners also carried that wonderful aroma of bubblegum filling the air, as each pack was unfolded. The surface of the cards, invariably were sprinkled with a fine layer of cardboard dust from the final cut at the factory. A quick wipe solved that problem instantly. Shuffling through a freshly opened pack, each turn of a card created an anxious moment of anticipation.   Dave Keon…yes…Bob Nevin…yes…Dick Duff…yes…Jean Beliveau…ahhhhh…Gordie Howe…. nooooo…Bobby Hull…ahh…and the process continued.   A buck reaped 20 packs and over a 100 cards in my hands; the challenge now was to get these treasures home. The gum was easy. Stuff as many slabs as possible into my mouth until I could barely chew, with the remaining pieces shoved into my pocket.

Depending on the time of year determined how the cards made the journey home. Common sense would suggest, putting the packs into a bag and opening them at home. The door to the Colony Smoke Shop would barely be closing behind me and I’d have three packs opened already.  Biking weather, the stack of cards would be jammed into the pocket not holding the gum; colder temperatures the cards split between my coat pockets. The problem transporting via the bike (and this became a bigger problem with my paper route a few years later) was the sharp edges of the cards digging into my leg and making it difficult to pedal. My mom was concerned with the marks and cuts on the top of my legs all the time. My dad never gave it a thought as nothing I was doing by now relating to hockey surprised him.

Once the cards made it safely home, the existing collection already sorted, were separated from the six new piles of new product. Individual stacks of cards consisting of traders, doubles and gamers to use in the schoolyard were formed.

Since sticks weren’t allowed in the schoolyard for ball-hockey at Precious Blood Catholic School, knockdowns and flips became the games of choice at recess and lunch hour. If you had a stack of cards and a willingness to play, it didn’t matter what grade you happen to be in.  I was in grade 4 at the time and knew playing against the older guys I’d better be good, so I practiced at home for hours at a time. Fresh out of the pack cards presented a throwing problem because they still had that “new like” stickiness to them. The sharp corners made it difficult to snap the cards quickly in the game knockdowns because the card would dig into the palm of your hand. The perfect game card coveted by all, had rounded corners and the sheen of the card worn just enough to have a slippery feel, making it easier to fling.

The key is to try and limit the losses to a minimum and maintain your stack of cards. It was a simple solution for me. Never take a Leaf to school. Use the Howes, Hulls, Mikitas, etc, the guys who don’t count. Yeah they were good players but they wore the wrong sweater so there was no reason to keep them. Those same cards of the guys who “don’t count” run into the thousands of dollars today, depending on condition of course.

I could never complete a set for some reason.

The elusive final few cards always seemed to be out of reach for me. I’d have most of the checklists marked off (why checklist cards if you can find unmarked, today command such a premium), but would still be missing a few players off each team except for some reason, the Leafs.

It became very frustrating and even though I carried a pocket full of trader’s daily, I’d still come up a few players short of completing a set. This became a seasonal occurrence as baseball and football (CFL) presented the same challenges but not nearly as important to me.

The topic of collecting cards is a very controversial issue amongst collectors today. It’s a subject I will continue to touch on going forward.

To me as a kid it was all about the players and finding another Dave Keon or Frank Mahovlich card even though I already owned a half dozen or so of each. Why? They played for the Leafs and were favoured players of mine that is why.

It wasn’t because this was his rookie card and if he scores 500 goals, plays in all-star games, makes the HOF, this card will be worth “x”. No price guides, card shows, plastic covers, binders, grading services etc. were a factor because they simply didn’t exist.

It was about the player you idolized, who you pretended to be playing on the street or the team you dreamed of playing for and scoring the winning goal to win the Stanley Cup. Hiding the cards in a shoebox under your bed for safekeeping or out of sight in the back of your bedroom closet, with an elastic band holding them in place.

The rush you felt being the knockdown champ over your buddies on the street and trying to fit every last winning card into the already overstretched pockets of your pants.

Flips became the game of choice as a tiebreaker for first pick in the daily street hockey game. Or that great sound produced from the card or multi cards in the wheel spokes on a bike.

The sad part today is greed has destroyed this innocent prerequisite of growing up as a kid. The cost, mass production of worthless cards with a promise of value and scarcity, subset after subset and the seemingly never end in site to complete a set. It’s all so discouraging, no wonder kids have lost interest. My own children while both very avid sports fans lost interest very quickly for the exact reasons mentioned above.

However all is not lost, because as adults and parents we get to share those fantastic times we experienced growing up with our own children along with ourselves as we reminisce about our childhood.

Besides, if our own kids don’t believe us, they can quickly Google search the card on their smartphone and confirm our recollection.