Sunday, January 31, 2021

Completed Set: 1989 Topps Football

I didn't collect football cards when I was a kid. Dad might have bought me a pack or two when I was very young, but that was about it. I was too interested in baseballand later hockeyto fit another sport in there, collecting-wise.

Back in 2019, however, I thought it might be fun to put together a football set from the decade of my childhood: The 1980s. I wanted a set that was affordable and not enormous in size (the 1980, 1981, and 1982 sets top out at 528 cards). I also wanted a set that displayed a good combination of '80s star power, design, and photography.

Seemed like it'd be a tough ask, but after searching through each year's offering, I found a set I was happy with. And as you can see from Mike Singletary's card up there, it's 1989 Topps.

The set checks all the boxes. 

  • Affordable (even in wax pack form 30 years later)
  • Lots of stars, but not super-pricey rookies
  • Manageable size of 396 cards
  • And perhaps best of all, a very appropriate design for the time

Have a look at Mike Singletary's card up at the top again. If you're an '80s kid like me, what will the stripes on the left and right card borders remind you of?

Tube socks! I did have quite a few pairs of tube socks when I was a little tyke. Maybe that's another reason why I gravitated toward this set. (The socks pictured above are not mine, but they sure do look familiar.)

In any case, let's get to the rundown.
Here are some of my favorite cards from the set.  

It's always fun to see players on telephones. (Look, phones still had cords!) Ronnie Lott's card tells us he's a Topps All Pro, the first of two special designations that we'll see on cards in this set.

Who else enjoys a good parka card? There were a few of those in the '89 set as well.

And here we have Lonzell, Simon, and Bennie reminding us of the importance of pre-game stretching.

Quick break to talk more about the card design: Aside from the tube sock stripes, there's really not much else to it. There's no team logo or banner or anything. You just have a player name in a cloud-like bubble across the bottom, then a smaller-sized team name and position underneath. Other designs from the decade are miles ahead of this one, but there's still value here, as you'll see with the next bunch of cards.

Many of the star players received good action shots. Example number one? Action quarterbacks. At left, Joe Montana warms up on the sidelines. On the right, Jim Kelly tries to get his team off the goal line. As for Warren Moon, I wonder just how deep he went with that throw.

Example number two? Running backs and receivers. There's Bo about to protect the ball and power through some defenders. Mark Jackson is about to snag a pass. (Good technique, Mark.) And Kevin Mack just did snag onein full stride, too!

Even some of the kickers and punters received nice action shots. Rich Karlis (barefoot!) tries for the field goal, while teammate Mike Horan and L.A. Ram Dale Hatcher prepare to boot one into the stratosphere.

Aside from the action shots, there are some other memorable and/or quirky cards in this set. Here are three of them. Brian Bosworth is looking tough, Chris Chandler is keeping warm, and one of the big rookies in this set, Thurman Thomas, shows us the other special card designation (Super Rookie) as he stretches out before the game.

It is important to note, however, that this is an '80s set, which means there are plenty of cards that feature guys just standing around. The most striking example? Here are four consecutive Buffalo Bills. (Cards 50 through 53.) Oof.

Strangely, Robb Riddick got the blue text treatment for his name instead of the red there. Seems like red would have been more readable against the blue jersey.

The whole thing just bums these next three guys right out.


Now let's look at the card backs.

Pretty good readability with the dark green text atop a yellow background. There were two slightly different designs, which was common for Topps football cards of the decade. On the left, you have the more standard card back that features a blurb along with career stats, season by season. On the right, you have the other designjust a pure blurb with no stat line. Interestingly, it seems like Topps often used the full blurb for players who'd been in the league for years, like Anthony Munoz there.


Returning to the fronts now, with an example of a league leaders card that shows two absolute stud running backs of the decade. Next to those guys, a card commemorating the previous year's Super Bowl champions.

Each team also received a horizontal card that features good action. On the back you'd see a few team leaders at the top (rushing, receiving, etc.) and then the team's full schedule and results from the previous season, week by week.

And finally, one of the checklists.

Overall, I do like this set. Many of the stars appear in well-framed action shots, both on their team card and their individual card. The design fits the era, and it's affordable. An excellent entry-level type of set, you might say. 

I'm happy to have finished it up, because I think there might be bigger football fish to fry next. Probably another set from the 1980s.

What are your thoughts on 1989 Topps Football? 

Share in the comment section, and thanks for reading along!

Sunday, January 24, 2021

1980-81 NHL Scoring: What Was in the Water? (Part II)

Part one of this two-part post featured a small subset of record breaker cards at the end of the 1981-82 O-Pee-Chee hockey set. See if you can find the theme:

#390: Hat tricks (Mike Bossy, 9)
#391: 100+ points by each member of a forward line (Dave Taylor, Marcel Dionne, Charlie Simmer)
#392: Points (Wayne Gretzky, 164)
#393: Points by a rookie defenseman (Larry Murphy, 76)
#394: Assists by a goalie (Mike Palmateer, 8)
#395: Points by a rookie (Peter Stastny, 109)

Yep, you've got it. Forwards, defensemen . . . even the goalies were putting up points!

However, before any of those records fell that season, there was something else going on. Something big. And that's where part II comes in.

Way back in the 1944-45 season, the legendary Maurice Richard scored 50 goals within his team's first 50 games. He was the first ever to do it. And so incredible was the accomplishment that as time went oneven after 35 seasons of tryingstill no one else had reached the mark.

But in 1980-81? 

Suddenly there wasn't just one man racing to the feat. There were two.

Throughout the first few months of the season, Charlie Simmer and Mike Bossy would score goals left and right trying to reach that rarefied air; Bossy with the Islanders on the East coast, Simmer with the Kings on the West coast. 

Here's a look back at the thrill show that started in October and didn't finish until the end of January.

For Simmer, goals came in bunches right from the start. He scored 13 in his first 10 games. I'm sure a few people tossed around the 50-in-50 idea even at that early point, but who'd take them seriously? Not many. "It's just a hot streak to start the season", they'd say.

Mike Bossy, on the other hand, only scored 5 goals in his first 10 games. Nothing to talk about there. But in the next 10 games he'd add a preposterous 17 more. Check out this run of four consecutive games:

Nov. 4 vs. Detroit: 1 goal
Nov. 6 vs. Boston: 2 goals
Nov. 8 vs. Chicago: 3 goals
Nov. 11 vs. Minnesota: 4 goals


Simmer wasn't a slouch in his next 10 games either, putting home 8 more goals of his own. The count now?

Mike Bossy: 22 goals in 20 games
Charlie Simmer: 21 goals in 20 games

And maybe, maybe a few more folks in the hockey world began to think about 50-in-50. After all, both players were about halfway there, and keeping pace.

Bossy would add 16 more goals in his next 20 games, which gave him 38 in 40.

As for Simmer? He'd do even better, adding 18 more to his totals in the same 20-game stretch. That gave him 39 in 40, including these four consecutive games:

Dec. 20 vs. Buffalo: 2 goals
Dec. 23 vs. Edmonton: 2 goals
Dec. 26 vs. Vancouver: 2 goals
Dec. 27 vs. St. Louis: 2 goals

Yikes again.

Now at this point, 40 games into the season, the NHL world, its media, the regional news, even the guys playing pick-up hockey at the local rinkthey must have all been talking about the chance of both players hitting the magical mark of 50 goals in 50 games.

What would happen next?

Well, in Bossy's next five games he'd add just three goals. That made it 41 in 45.

And Simmer? He'd do only a little better, adding four more and giving him 43 in 45.

"They're starting to feel the pressure", you can hear the reporters say.

Oh, those reporters of little faith. 

What did Mike Bossy do in his next two games?

Game 46, Jan. 13 vs. Pittsburgh: 4 goals
Game 47, Jan. 17 vs. Washington: 3 goals

Even though he wouldn't score any goals in game #48, Mr. Bossy now found himself at 48 goals in 48 games.

And Mr. Simmer?

Game 46, Jan. 17 vs. Pittsburgh: 1 goal
Game 47, Jan 18 vs. Philadelphia: 0 goals
Game 48, Jan. 20 vs. Detroit: 2 goals

Simmer now had 46 goals in 48 games.

"They've both still got a chance!" You can hear those fickle reporters say.

However, the roller coaster ride wasn't over.

Mike Bossy's game 49?
Jan. 22 vs. Detroit: 0 goals

Charlie Simmer's game 49?
Jan. 22 vs. Toronto: 0 goals

Their totals remained the same. Mike Bossy: 48 goals in 49 games. Charlie Simmer: 46 goals in 49 games.

"Bossy can still do it, but it looks like the mark is out of reach for Simmer", most would say.

So it would come down to the 50th game for both men. And of course, as if it were scripted, both games took place on the same night: Wednesday, January 24th, 1981. (Exactly 40 years to the day.)

Bossy's Islanders hosted the Québec Nordiques, while Simmer's Kings were in Boston, facing the Bruins. And that made the script even better: two East-coast starting times.

Who'd score first? Would either man hit the mark? Would the Nordiques and Bruins do even more than usual to try and stop them? 

Sheesh, what a lead-up there must have been in the papers and on the news.

"We'll be periodically interrupting your regularly scheduled programming to bring you updates on the chase for 50 goals in 50 games", the station announcer would say.

Without internet and live updates, you'd have to tune in. And stay tuned.

And wouldn't you know it, both Simmer and Bossy forced everyone to do just that—stay tuned all night

In Boston, the puck dropped and the Bruins scored two goals by the halfway point of the first period (both from Rick Middleton). Despite two power plays for the Kings in the second half of the period, neither Simmer nor the Kings managed to score.

End of first period in Boston: Bruins 2, Kings 0.

Over on Long Island, it looked to be more of the same. The Nordiques got on the board first, but about three minutes later the Islanders tied it up. Was it Bossy? 

No. Clark Gillies.

End of first period on Long Island: Islanders 1, Nordiques 1.

Back to Boston now, where the Bruins added another goal about two minutes into the second period. They'd continue to frustrate the Kings until the 12:18 mark, when the shutout was broken. Was it Simmer?

No. Marcel Dionne.

But then, about five minutes later, on the power play, a news update:

"Charlie Simmer has scored a power-play goal at the 17:40 mark of the second period in Boston. He's now got 47 goals on the season, only one behind Mike Bossy for the league lead, and three short of 50 goals in 50 games."

That second period would end with a score of Boston 3, Los Angeles 2. The Kings were back in it, and so was Simmer.

And Mike Bossy on the Island? The second period did yield a broadcast announcement.  

"After the Nordiques scored a goal to take the lead 2-1, the Islanders replied with two power-play goals in less than a minute . . ."

Surely this must be it!

". . . both coming from the stick of Anders Kallur. The Islanders have taken the lead, 3-2, but Mike Bossy is still not on the score sheet."

The Nordiques added a late goal from Michel Goulet, and the score was tied after two periods of play, 3-3.

And while Islanders fans may have started to feel their first bit of deflation (could our guy score two goals in the third period alone?), Kings fans were on the edges of their seats:

"Back to your scheduled program in a moment, but first an update: Just 1 minute and 23 seconds into the third period, Charlie Simmer has scored another power-play goal. He's now tied for the league lead with Mike Bossy at 48."

Think about the difference in time zones for a moment. When the game started, the 9-to-5 Los Angeles crowd would have still been on the clock at work. But at this point in the game, they surely would have been out of the office for an hour or so, and stationed next to any TV or radio they could find. Could their guy catch—and even surpassMike Bossy before the night was over? Incredible! 

Islanders fans were concerned in an equal but opposite way. About five minutes into the third period, the Nordiques pulled ahead 4-3 on a goal by Anton Stastny. At the halfway point, the home team did tie it up again . . .


. . . but the goal was from Steve Tambellini (who was traded to the Rockies later in the season). Only 10 minutes to go, and Mike Bossy hadn't even gotten to 49.

Things were moving along in Boston, though. Less than a minute after Charlie Simmer had scored that 48th goal, Billy Harris scored, giving the Kings a 4-3 lead. A couple of minutes later, Boston tied the score on a goal from Brad Park. 

But then a few minutes later, the Kings went ahead yet again on a goal from . . .

. . . Jim Fox—assisted by Charlie Simmer. Would that assist mojo at the halfway point of the third period get Simmer going? He'd only had two shots on goal in the game, but scored on both of them. He needed another two.

Minutes ticked by, and although the Kings were ahead by a goal, Simmer was running out of time. I can only imagine he was double-shifting for the rest of the game (staying on the ice for another consecutive shift while his linemates went off for some rest). And you'd better believe his teammates were trying their hardest to set him up.

But the minutes continued to tick by. With just a little bit of time left, Boston, still down by one goal, pulled their goalie Jim Craig for an extra attacker. Simmer was on the ice. Could he get to 49 with an empty-netter, and somehow put in another quick goal after that with Craig back in the crease? Another interruption hit the airwaves:

"This just in from Boston: Charlie Simmer has scored into an empty net, giving him three goals for the game and 49 for the season . . . 

. . . The goal was scored with one second remaining in the game, and Simmer, although giving it everything he had, has simply run out of time in his quest for 50 goals in 50 games."

On Long Island things weren't looking too cheery, either. Those 10 minutes Bossy had to work with had quickly dwindled to 5 without a change to the score sheet. But then:

"Folks, we'll get you back to your program in a moment, but we have an update from Nassau Coliseum: At the 15:50 mark of the third period, Mike Bossy has scored a power-play goal, with assists from Stefan Persson and Bryan Trottier. The goal gives Bossy 49 on the season, and he's got just a few minutes left to net his 50th. If he can do it, he'd tie the record of 50 goals in a team's first 50 games set by Maurice Richard 36 years ago."

I wonder if at this point any television channels went to the live game broadcast and stayed there (similar to when Pete Rose set the all-time hit record, and they went live to the game for the entirety of each of his at-bats). 

It would have been wise if they did, because:

"Ladies and gentlemen, we interrupt your regularly scheduled program once again, because with less than two minutes remaining in this evening's game against the Québec Nordiques, Mike Bossy has scored his 50th goal of the season, giving him 50 goals in his team's first 50 games!"

A near-miss in Boston, but elation on Long Island. 

Looking back, I wonder if that race to 50-in-50 was anything like the home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in 1998. I was a college student then, working at a sports memorabilia store. It's all anyone wanted to talk about through the summer and into the fall. We pleaded with our boss to have cable TV installed so all of us, customers and employees alike, could tune in whenever a Cardinals or Cubs game was on.

Do you think hockey fans have specific memories from that 1980-81 season? Can they tell you where they were when Bossy scored his 50th? And when Simmer came ever-so-close? I don't think there's much doubt about that. 

What a season. And remember, on top of the race between Simmer and Bossy, you had all those other players scoring points at record-setting paces. Forwards, defensemen, rookies, goalies. Not to mention a young Wayne Gretzky who was starting to blossom (he'd score 55 goals and add 109 assists that year, and then the following year . . . watch out). There was so much for hockey fans to be excited about.

But let's get back to Simmer and Bossy for a moment. After the mad rush to game #50, how did the season shake out for both of these phenomenal players?


Charlie Simmer reached 56 goals by his 65th game, and then unfortunately suffered an injury that ended his season. But what a remarkable season it was. He and his two linemates, Marcel Dionne and Dave Taylor, all reached the 100-point mark, setting a record. And keep in mind Simmer's absurd shooting percentage of 32.7, which was another record. (Mike Bossy finished at 21.6, which is also tremendous.)


As for Bossy, his goal production slowed down a little bit, as to be expected. But he still finished with a league-leading 68 goals in 79 games. Of those 68 goals, 10 were game winners, which also led the league. And 28 of them came on the power play, which not only led the league, but set another record. 

All the more meaningful, he and the Islanders would lift the Stanley Cup at season's end—their second of what would turn out to be four straight championships. Bossy led the league in playoff scoring that year as well, with a staggering 17 goals and 18 assists in 18 games. What an incredible time it must have been for him.

So that's part II of the series, with help again provided by the 1981-82 O-Pee-Chee hockey set. I hope you enjoyed the walk-through and the "broadcast" bit.

Thanks very much for reading.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

1980-81 NHL Scoring: What Was in the Water? (Part I)

A little more than a year ago I wrote about a largely forgotten NHL record. During the 1980-81 season, the Triple Crown Line in Los Angeles did something quite special. Each player on that lineMarcel Dionne, Charlie Simmer, and Dave Taylorfinished the season with more than 100 points. And the folks at O-Pee-Chee commemorated the record with a card in the 1981-82 set.

That record-breaker card caught me by surprise, so much so that after writing about it I began looking deeper into the full set. Quickly I'd find the other record breaker cards. Have a look at the complete list:

#390: Hat tricks (Mike Bossy, 9)

#391: 100+ points by each member of a forward line
(Marcel Dionne, Charlie Simmer
, Dave Taylor)

#392: Points (Wayne Gretzky, 164)

#393: Points by a rookie defenseman (Larry Murphy, 76)

#394: Assists by a goalie (Mike Palmateer, 8)

#395: Points by a rookie (Peter Stastny, 109)

There was so much offense, even the goalies were putting up points! And if no player on your hometown team was setting league scoring records, you probably still watched a couple of your guys set personal scoring records. It's a trend that would continue throughout the decade. What a time to be a hockey fan.

But there's a peculiar side-note to all of this: Those record breaker cards go from #390 to #395, despite the fact that there are 396 cards in the set. So what's the final card? A checklist? A team card of the Stanley Cup champions?


#396, the final card in the set, is . . .

Bob Manno.

Well that's odd. After a great run of record breaker cards, why not end the set with one more? Or push Manno back to card #390 and move all the other record breaker cards up one spot, so the set ended with the Stastny card? 

I started to wonder whether O-Pee-Chee, at some point in production, thought about creating another record breaker card but then scratched it for some reason.

After some digging in the stat books, I found two possibilities:

(1) Mike Bossy put up a whopping 28 power-play goals during the 1980-81 season. Up to that point in NHL history, it was the highest total ever (he broke the former record of 27, which had been reached most recently just two seasons earlier by . . . Mike Bossy).

(2) Charlie Simmer had a record-setting shooting percentage during the 1980-81 season, and the number is so high it will knock you right out of your chair. Get ready:


Yes. That's correct. Charlie Simmer scored on more than 3 out of every 10 shots on goal he took that season. Practically 1 out of every 3. And he scored a total of 56 goals. It was the highest NHL single-season shooting percentage ever.

But Bossy (#390, hat tricks) and Simmer (#391, Triple Crown Line) already had record breaker cards in the set. Perhaps O-Pee-Chee began working up #396 for either Bossy or Simmer, but then thought that one record breaker card for each of them was enough.

And so Bob Manno got the spot. Airbrushed into an Maple Leafs jersey. Oy.

One more theory? Another record was tied that year, and it was a big one: Mike Bossy scored 50 goals in his team's first 50 games. Maurice Richard was the first to do it, 36 years earlier, and no one had done it since.

I suppose it's possible that O-Pee-Chee had thought about reserving spot #396 for a "highlight" card of some sort to celebrate the record-tying feat, but changed their minds. Or maybe, if production schedules called for the set's design to be completed before the end of the hockey season, they were hoping Bossy would score 50 goals in fewer than 50 games, flat-out beating the record and allowing for a final record-breaker card. Or, as mentioned earlier, it could have simply been a case of too much Bossy. He already had seven cards in the set:

#198 (Base Card)
#208 (Super Action)
#219 (Team Leader)
#382 (League Leader, Goals)
#386 (League Leader, Power-Play Goals)
#388 (League Leader, Game-Winning Goals)
#390 (Record Breaker, Hat Tricks)

Regardless, think about the onslaught of goals and assists and points and rookies . . . and goalies with eight assists of their own. What an exciting season 1980-81 must have been. And we can thank O-Pee-Chee for documenting much of that excitement on cardboard.

Stay tuned for part II, coming next week.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

He, Himself, and a Custom Card

1969 Topps #351, Carroll Sembera

The image on this card instantly reminds me of one of the wackiest actors of the 1990s. Think you know who it is? If not, here are some hints:

One of his characters had a soft spot for animals (except for bats, as much as he didn't want to admit it).

Just when you thought another one of his characters couldn't get any dumber, he did something to totally redeem himself.

If he were a pitcher, you might say his fastball was Ssssssmokin'!

Alright, here's the custom card:

The image I used is from the film Me, Myself & Irene. I haven't watched it, but I do remember seeing advertisements and previews that showed Mr. Carrey (i.e., Charlie Baileygates) sporting the same spiky flat-top haircut you see on Carroll Sembera's card, and that's what made the connection. I think some of the other features are quite similar, as well.

And if Jim Carrey were a baseball player, he'd have to be a pitcher, wouldn't he? The wackiest of characters across baseball history often have been. 

Just think back to Ace Ventura wearing a tutu and playing football at Shady Acres. Or recall almost any of the characters he portrayed on the show In Living Color. Could you imagine Carrey's antics on the mound? His mannerisms? His wind-up and delivery?

Tickets for every game he started would be sold out.

Let's get to the man on the original card now, Carroll Sembera. Here are his career stats, accumulated over 5 seasons with Houston and then Montreal, from 1965 through 1970:

3-11, 4.70 ERA, 6 saves, 94 strikeouts, 139.2 IP

The bulk of those starts came in 1967 with Houston, where he went 2-6 with a 4.83 ERA over 45 games of relief work. He earned 3 saves along the way and struck out 48 while only walking 19. 

After his professional playing career ended he stayed in baseball, scouting for the Seattle Mariners for more than a decade. 


Because Jim Carrey played quite a few memorable characters throughout his career, I wanted to find a way to feature a couple of them on a vintage card, too. If you're thinking the multi-player rookie cards that were a perennial feature in Topps products back then would be a good fit, then we're on the same page.

This combination card is based on the 1966 Topps design (Senators Rookie Stars #11), and features the two characters that are most memorable to me: Ace Ventura and Lloyd Christmas.

I changed the team name from Senators to Jim Carrey, and changed the 1966 Rookie Stars header to 1994 Movie Stars.

It's almost absurd to think that Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (February 1994) and Dumb & Dumber (December 1994) were both released in the same calendar year. How could Jim Carrey have developed and portrayed two iconic screwball characters like Ace and Lloyd so expertly in such a short time? I don't know.

Regardless, here's to wackiness. And to another two custom cards.

Have a favorite Jim Carrey character? Favorite line from one of his films? Share in the comment section. And thanks for reading!

Sunday, January 3, 2021

The 1982-83 O-Pee-Chee Dating Game (Episode 14)

Welcome back to The 1982-83 O-Pee-Chee Dating Game, where we'll randomly select three eligible bachelors from the set and you, the reader, will choose which one wins that date with a special lady. How do we know they're bachelors? Why, it says so right on the back of their hockey cards, that's how!

Previous episodes are available here.

The big winner of episode 13 was Kevin Lowe.

Now, let's start the 14th round and introduce the bachelors chosen by the randomizer! [APPLAUSE]

Bachelor number 1: Defenseman from the Calgary Flames, Paul Reinhart
Bachelor number 2: Defenseman from the Edmonton Oilers, Paul Coffey
Bachelor number 3: Center from the Quebec Nordiques, Pierre Aubry

Folks, we've got a Battle of Alberta with a Quebecios tagging along!

Let's find out more about these gents from the back of their cards.

Alright studio audience, who's earned this week's date with a lovely lady?

Bachelor number 1: Paul Reinhart, horseback rider. (Calgary fans must love him for that.)

Bachelor number 2: Paul Coffey, golfer and fastest defenseman in the West.

Bachelor number 3: Pierre Aubry, the Quebec native who's so happy to have started his NHL career in his homeland that he forgot to list a hobby.


Giveaway prize mailing update:
I've mailed out most of your prizes from the giveaway I held last week, so keep an eye out. For those of you who may have missed it, there are still some prizes available so I'm keeping the giveaway open for a while. Feel free to go back to last week's post and claim a remaining prize by leaving a comment.