Best of the 70s #14 – 1977-78 OPC WHA

The first WHA card I ever had was a ’77-78 Dan Labraaten RC. He was one of my first favourite players and the first for whom I had a jersey made up. (The store spelled his name wrong on it.)

The intent of this series is not to dump on the WHA sets.  The fact that I’ve got them ranked (to this point) near the bottom of the list is a bit misleading.  Of the sets I’m profiling, I don’t think any of them is really a bad buy.  All 70s sets are fun.  It’s just that some wind up being more interesting than others, even if the reasons why come down to the most arbitrary forms of hair splitting (which I certainly do here).

Context

1977-78 OPC WHA is the last set produced for the WHA.  They were talking merger with the NHL (and had been doing so on and off for years) and it may be that this led OPC not to bother with a set for 1978-79.  It might have just been that the league was so volatile that they didn’t want to try to figure out where people were playing anymore.  It might just have been that the WHA sets didn’t sell like the NHL sets did.  Perhaps there wasn’t even a license granted that year.

It’s too bad, because a ’78-79 WHA set could have theoretically included rookie cards of names like Gretzky, Messier, Goulet, Vaive and Ramage.  Pretty solid list.

At 12 cards per pack on a 66-card set, the entire thing could have been purchased for just $0.90 and you’d have gotten six sticks of gum to boot. I bet kids had lots of doubles.  As in 1976-77, the image on a WHA pack is of a Chicago Black Hawk.  Looks a bit like Dale Tallon.  (pilfered eBay image)

The set has been scaled back from the previous two issues.  It just has 66 cards – 65 players and one checklist.  Playoff cards, leader cards, all-star cards, everything that fleshes out a set is gone.  This is just the basics.

As a set, one thing it really does is capture the volatility of the league in 1977.  The WHA was shedding teams left and right and players were bouncing to whatever teams were still standing.  Of 65 players in the set, 17 (a little more than 26%) are flagged with OPC’s “Now with (insert team here).”  A number of players included in the set are shown in uniforms of teams that even then had ceased to exist.  For any team that didn’t make the merge in 1979-80 (notably Cincinnati, Houston and Birmingham), this is the last time you see them as a viable entity.

Design/Photography/Feel

This set is fairly typical of the 1970s in that it’s not particularly overdesigned.  It’s a white-bordered set with a two-colour stripe along the base that bends like a hockey stick.  A puckish logo sits on what would really be the shaft of the stick.  I don’t know if that’s a metaphor for the WHA, that it’s a league for whom the puck just bounced over the stick blade at the wrong instant, but it works well enough that I’ll go with it.

Of all the WHA sets, this one has the best proportion of game-action photos (or at least ice-level) photos.  There are still a lot of posed pictures, but they don’t dominate to the same extent.  A number of the posed shots are several years old.

Not a lot of design, but a little meat on the bones, at least.

The backs are typical WHA.  Three basic blocks of space: one for a French writeup, one for english and one for stats and vitals.  There is just a single year’s worth of stats and the career totals include NHL numbers, so Bobby Hull is shown as having 859 career goals.  Wow.

Significant Cards

There are no big rookies (again, imagine a WHA set with both Gretzky and Messier RCs in it), but this set has the last cards of some of the biggest names to play in the league – J.C Tremblay, Frank Mahovlich, Paul Henderson, Andre Lacroix.

This set also has the only card (other than his 1972-73 OPC NHL All-Star card) to picture Bobby Hull in action.  It’s not a great shot, but it’s the one that proves that he did indeed step on the ice.

Come for the cards but stay for the

teams you never see again.  There are so many of them and the uniforms just scream 1970s.

Calgary Cowboys

Phoenix Roadrunners

Houston Aeros

Cincinnati Stingers

Minnesota Fighting Saints

Indianapolis Racers

Birmingham Bulls (pilfered)*

Los Angeles Sharks (pilfered)*

*I do my scanning a while before I decide what I want to talk about, so had to go hunting for a couple images.

Note too that the Lacroix card above has a ninth extinct team – the San Diego Mariners.

Coolest card

I really, really want to say it’s the Hedberg.  I love this card so much.  But Anders is more hilarious than cool.  Still, I will show it again, because it’s so incredibly awesome:

This just never gets old.

Another candidate has to be this picture of Richard Brodeur.  Yes, it’s a posed shot, but not one you see all that often and it really works in my opinion.  You would often see the pose with a forward or defenseman putting a stick blade near the camera, but the glove is just different.  It’s one of the better-framed cards in the set.

Still, though, the answer has to be this one:

Gordie Howe, complete with “Now with New England Whalers” inscription and facsimile autograph, is the key card in the set.  It merits its own special back with the big number nine on it, though they missed an opportunity to put the career stat totals on the back.  That would have been even cooler.  So we don’t actually know how he performed in 1976-77.

Awesome all the same.

Conclusion

It’s a small set that’s pretty light on rookies, but at the same time it’s probably the most readily-achieveable of all the 1970s sets.  For someone looking to get their hands on some of the biggest names in history at a pretty easy price point, this is really the set to start with.

Why do I rank it above the ’74-75 set?  Well, it was close, but this has the action shots, a Gordie that’s every bit as cool as the Howe family shot from ’74-75, and it has the Hedberg.  I love the Hedberg.

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4 Responses to Best of the 70s #14 – 1977-78 OPC WHA

  1. shanediaz82 says:

    Another great post, really liking this series. Not surprisingly, this is the only WHA set I’ve completed so far…

  2. one of my smarter purchases back in the mid-80’s was this set, nice and minty.

  3. dave h says:

    Great set and great series! Please keep them coming.

    I just recently landed this set myself and I hope to share it soon!

  4. CoffeeJunkee says:

    I’m with you on this… I really like this set and at some point will finish building it. So many of the greats in this one.

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