During the years that I worked in the sports card industry developing products and marketing plans for various manufacturers, there were days when I felt like I was in the right place in the right place. place at the right time. There were also days when I was clearly in the wrong place at the wrong time.
And then there was the perfect storm.
He was the perfect player with the perfect background glowing on the perfect NFL stage at the perfect moment.
I was working at Collector’s Edge that year. Heading into a small, flexible company where I had free rein to develop products was very different from my previous product development job as a brand manager at Pinnacle. At Pinnacle, a great idea led to a few months of executive meetings in boardrooms, in-depth cost analysis meetings, and six months later the idea could come to fruition.
At Collector’s Edge, we haven’t had this problem. If we saw something that made sense, we made it happen.
In 1999, we achieved this by incorporating Kurt Warner, the St. Louis Rams starting quarterback, into our end-of-season football card products. Thinking back to that year, I don’t think Pinnacle could have put it on a plateau if they were still in business in 1999. Make no mistake. Pinnacle made amazing products and had extremely talented people. But things moved slowly due to the size of the company and the extent to which things were done in advance.
Manning and Leaf vs. Warner
If you look at the football card markets in 1998 and 1999, the market drivers were at opposite ends of the spectrum.
And you have to understand that for football card companies the majority of their products are conceptualized and pre-sold before the start of the season.
If you worked for a manufacturer or distributor or owned a store or showroom dealer in 1998, there’s a good chance Peyton Manning generated sales for you. If you were a collector speculating on Ryan Leaf, that was a different story. There’s also no way to live up to the massive hype.
So while Manning and Leaf had the impossible task of meeting the hobby’s expectations, Kurt Warner had no expectations. Most had never heard of him.
Thank Mike Cramer of Pacific for bringing to market the first Kurt Warner map and the only Warner rookie map released before the start of the 1999 season. Map # 343 features Warner on a dual map with receiver Tony Horne. One of the first conversations I had with Mike when I went to work for him in 2000 was about the Warner card. He told me that Warner played a game for the Rams in 1998 and never had a card. When there was a quarterback who had never had a card, Pacific was the perfect set to add a player like Warner. A month into the 1999 season, every holster, box, bundle, and card with Warner and Horne on it was long gone.
Warner takes over
When I arrived at Collector’s Edge, my job was to develop all of our products, do the checklists, write the backs of the cards and develop the marketing, advertising and communication plans. Because I had a background in journalism and photography, I actually took a lot of photos on Collector’s Edge cards from 1998-2000. In other words, I was doing work that was equivalent to what 20-30 people at Pinnacle were doing, but I wasn’t overworked.
I was sitting at my desk at home watching week 1 of the 1999 season. The St. Louis Rams were a team to watch that year. We had heavily featured Rams rookie wide receiver Torry Holt in our sets until then. But quarterback Trent Green got injured. Warner, a companion at best at the time, not only had his chance to play in Week 1, but he blew it up. He had 309 yards and three touchdowns in a 27-10 win over the Ravens.
The next day, I spoke to Collector’s Edge President Alan Lewis and our VP of Sales Ted Kreder. I told them we had to put Kurt Warner in a set ASAP. The Rams were a great team, and if he could step in and play like that, collectors would go crazy for him.
In his first four games, Warner passed three 300-yard games and threw 14 touchdowns. As the days went by, distributors and owners of hobby shops pressed Ted. I think he started a conversation with the same question. “How soon can we have Kurt Warner in a set?”
One of the perks of being at Collector’s Edge is that we always produce special cards for Shop At Home. Perhaps they were special commemorative cards or autographed cards. I was relentless facing Alan about Kurt Warner on a map – not in a bad way. Alan was certainly not a huge football fan and had never been a collector. He had a background in printing and graphic design and had a very good technical, financial and organizational mastery of our company. He brought me in for reasons like this – to put Kurt Warner on a football card before everyone else.
The first set we released after the start of the season was 1999 Collector’s Edge First Place. Alan had a form in press and we were able to quickly get a photo and put it on a card as a player added to the set. The card was limited to 500 copies, and they were numbered by hand on the back of the card. I’m not sure which of the three of us came up with the idea of numbering them, but we all thought it was a great idea. Ted and I were big fans of serial numbering before it really was a thing. I think Alan numbered the cards by hand. It clearly wasn’t me – the cards would have looked like what a pharmacist had written on them.
With the inclusion of Warner and the buzz of this map, First Place Football has taken off. Hobby sales have exploded. Vintage Sports Cards, the company that distributed the cards to Target stores, increased its order. I alternated weeks between our Collector’s Edge office in Denver and Shop at Home in Nashville at the time, and I sat down with our on-air guy Don West to come up with a first-place deal. The offer included a box of First Place and an autographed card from Peyton Manning, as well as a box of a previously released product for $ 99.
The ever-enthusiastic Don was at its best that night, and the result was the best selling result that a Collector’s Edge deal has ever had on Shop At Home. Today, you can still own boxes of 1999 Collector’s Edge First Place for under $ 70.
The next football set with a Warner card was Odyssey. This was a multi-tiered product, with the core set broken down into first, second, third and fourth quarter subsets. The cards of the first quarter were the communes, and every other subset was abbreviated, the cards of the fourth quarter being the rarest.
Our best product of 1999 was Masters Football. One of my products at Pinnacle was fully certified, which has been very successful. It was a unique product with each card serial numbered. When Ted and I reviewed our products at Collector’s Edge, we told Alan that we wanted to offer something that is structured like Totally Certified.
The Masters base cards were serial numbered over 5,000, but some of the rookies were shortened to 2,000. There were parallels in this set as well, with HoloSilver numbered 3,500, Galvanized numbered 1,000, and HoloGold numbered 1,000. 25. Masters also included 500 hand-signed and numbered Kurt Warner cards. It was one of Collector’s Edge’s most successful products. You can find them on eBay these days, but they’re not that many.
There were only 14 Kurt Warner rookie cards made in 1999, and Collector’s Edge made three. Topps and Upper Deck had to scramble to put Warner into an end-of-season product. But when you look at the First Place and Masters Warner cards, the only Warner rookie card with more weight is the Playoff Contenders Kurt Warner Autographed RC, with a circulation of 1,825.
Alan and I went to the Super Bowl in Atlanta that year. We sat 35 rows, right on the goal line where Kevin Dyson was stopped within a yard in the last play of the game. Kurt Warner had the game of his life, passing for a Super Bowl record 414 yards and two touchdowns as the Rams won.
After Warner played one to Isaac Bruce for a 73-yard touchdown with about two minutes left, I remember making a comment to Alan.
“I hope you realize that we are here watching what is possibly the greatest Super Bowl ever to be played.”
He marinated the comment for a minute and said, “Do you really mean that? “
“Without a doubt,” I said, too excited to hide my Canadian accent with that sentence.
Three months later, I was at the 2000 NFL Players Inc Rookie Premier photo shoot in Orlando. Alan told me to stay a few more days with my family because the annual Pop Warner football banquet was there. We were a sponsor of Pop Warner, and Alan wanted me to say a few words on behalf of the company to the crowd of “about a few hundred football coaches with mustard stains on their t-shirts.”
I underestimated the crowd, as I walked out of the water park to dress in my crumpled shirt and shoes that weren’t waxed. I hadn’t shaved and could smell Typhoon Lagoon.
When I arrived I was invited to the VIP room. I joined Dick Vermeil and his wife, Drew Bledsoe’s father, Lynn Swann, Paula Abdul, Governor Jeb Bush and a few other famous footballers. I sat next to Dick Vermeil during dinner and had an amazing conversation with him. We talked about Kurt Warner, and he was interested to hear about the impact he had on the sports card industry.
He gave me a glimpse of Warner.
“He would never have reached the NFL if he hadn’t played in the Arena Football League,” Vermeil told me. “He learned to do some reading and he became extremely good at throwing cross roads which was a big part of our attack.”
Warner’s life is now a movie, although it’s more of a love story than a football movie.
In the past 22 years, the hobby has never seen a rookie who went from being a complete stranger to turning the NFL and the sports card industry upside down like Kurt Warner did. It probably won’t happen again.
That’s a shame. Because the hobby loves an outsider.