When I was a kid back in the 1970’s, I came to “know” my favorite sports stars through box scores, radio broadcasts, and the occasional national game of the week (on the rare days my team was featured). Back then, there was no internet, or even cable television for that matter – making it nearly impossible to match faces to the names that I knew like the back of my hand. Interestingly, what I did know about players in those days were all the good things, having learned all this through a long lost wonderful childhood hobby: collecting sports trading cards.
As a kid, I used to ride my bike to the local convenience store and buy as many packs of cards that a few quarters could get, barely completing the purchase transaction before breaking into my tightly sealed wax packs. Chomping down on the slate-strong Topps bubble gum, I would quickly shuffle through the pack observing everything – names, faces, uniforms, card poses, team logos, and the overall design of the cards. When I returned home, I would more thoroughly examine the cards I had just purchased, dividing the good players from the bad (the good guys went into a sports card album, while the bad guys ended up grouped together in rubber bands dumped into old shoe boxes).
Aside from the awesome card fronts that provided us visual images of the players we mostly knew in name only, the backs of the cards provided a gold mine of rich information. With the player name bolded at the top of the card next to his player card number, the cards went on to provide the player’s college, his height and weight, his professional statistics, and sometimes even a sports cartoon, puzzle, or riddle. With no ESPN or internet options, this was how we came to know our favorite sports stars.
The funny thing about the old days is that we only knew about players what we learned from trading cards. Using today’s sports stars as examples, a trading card would have never revealed Tiger Woods and his transgressions, nor would we have known about Alex Rodriguez and his admission to using performance enhancement drugs. No, trading cards gave us the basics: a mugshot and some stats.
Fans today play fantasy sports and sports video games, whereas we used to play static football. Trading cards, however, provided for an even more exciting experience – actually trading the cards! As we learned about our favorite sports stars, we also worked diligently as makeshift General Managers to complete unfinished sets, as well make great deals to get better cards off our friends. Is it me, or are kids today really missing out?!
The athlete-fan relationship hasn’t just changed a little since the old days; it has become an entirely different experience. With fewer kids collecting cards today, and instead getting to know their heroes by becoming actual “friends” with them through social media like Facebook and Twitter, an entirely different experience is happening. Rather than knowing athletes at “arms-length,” today’s fans are learning intimate details of athletes and their personal lives – including many of their their problems. Of course, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is a very different experience from the one I had as a kid when all I could do was study my cards!
Fortunately, I still have my sports cards from when I was a kid, and every now and again I will take out an old album and go through the pages; each card bringing back really terrific childhood memories. Holding the cards, looking at them, even smelling the old cardboard reminds me of good times with old friends, and fond memories of my old sports heroes. Sadly, this pure and innocent way of getting to know our favorite sports stars may be gone forever, as fewer and fewer kids are placing much value in the joy of collecting cards anymore.
Do you have a favorite sports card collecting story? Can you remember a killer card deal you pulled off with one of your friends? Please comment below!
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