A couple weekends back, I was detoxing. I’m not sure precisely how I was convinced to do this, but the upshot of the story was that about five minutes after I started it was decided that we would host a family barbecue. I got to watch everyone around me chowing down on hamburgers while I “enjoyed” some concoction made up of pureed dandelion greens and spinach.
It was an experience not unlike watching the Leafs during the free agent period. You can rationalize that what everyone else is consuming will be ultimately bad for them and most likely be right in this, but it’s not too fun to be sitting on the sidelines being “responsible” while everyone else is enjoying themselves.
That thought aside, what made the following days palatable was the arrival of a neat, fat-free treat – a 600-count box loaded stem to stern with an unknown quantity/quality of 1979-80 OPC hockey cards. Dave from Wax Stain Rookie had seen it at his local card shop while picking up a compelling-sounding box of 1979-80 Topps. I figured that for the asking price of $20, if it even had 150 solid cards, it would be a steal.
The attraction of 1979-80 is that it’s a set I didn’t collect. I did 1979 OPC baseball, but not hockey. The first year I really bought hockey heavily was 1980-81. I ended up with maybe 75 of the ’79-80s through trades and then bought the set outright in about 1982 (probably cost <$25 – I should have bought 10 of them). After that, I’d pick up the odd thing for my star books, but I never once tried putting the set together on my own. This, I thought, would be a decent start.
The first thing I noticed was that this box was full. Dave had stacked a few extras in there as well as some modern Leafs (including what he described as a “joke card” – more on that later). I pulled about an inch of cards out of the front. This was on top:
I don’t know whether anyone else remembers Danny Labraaten, but he was actually one of my first favourite players. Great condition, too. This was a good omen.
I expected that the box would have heavy duplication and that it would be basically star-free. I hoped for maybe 150 good commons. As I got into it, it became apparent that while there were not going to be any Gretzkys or Gordie Howes, this was not devoid of stars:
Note too the condition of these things. There’s a little edge chipping and the odd corner touch, but they’re basically ding-free and a pretty sold EXMT-NM all around. While there were four different Chico Resch cards and about the same number of Bunny Larocques, there were a lot more singles there than I expected. I began thinking that instead of 150 good ones, there might be 300.
The other thing that was kind of fun was seeing cards of current NHL execs and TV people:
There’s a Milbury, too. I’ll post it next time.
You get the cards of vanished teams like Colorado, Quebec, Hartford and Winnipeg v1.0, and they’re all cool, but the ones that were really prized in Calgary in 1980 and 1981 were these:
The Atlanta Flames were both foreign and familiar since 90% of the players made the trek to Calgary.
A couple days ago I finally sat down and put the box in order to see just what percentage of the set I had here. The final tally, out of 396 cards in total, came to 384.
Now, obviously almost every card that is missing is someone significant – there’s Gretzky, obviously, Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, Ken Dryden, Lafleur, the Smith, Tonelli and Simmer rookies, Mike Bossy. Another 25 cards or so need upgrading because they’re bashed or too far off-centre even for me and this includes two checklists, but wow – that’s a serious haul. This was once a nice-grade complete set – I can only imagine the state of the Gretzky. Even now, it’s a great find.
What was the joke card? There were maybe a dozen new cards included (I’ll post them later, too), including some hockey shinies which I didn’t have and a nice Phaneuf canvas, but the joke had to be this:
This, of course, isn’t from 1979-80 but rather the Upper Deck homage to the set from 2008-09. This was the best OPC set and the best retro set UD ever made, and is probably the key reason why Topps went to court to make sure they never did it again.
Jeff Finger wasn’t a bad player and he didn’t do anything to disgrace himself here. He simply made too much money. When you sit and grumble that the Leafs didn’t do anything of note on free agent day, remember that they also didn’t do anything silly. Pureed dandelions aren’t as fun as hamburgers, but they don’t spend the next few years hanging off your middle either. And sometimes great things come for not too much money.
Thanks for picking up the box, Dave.
(I liked it so much I ordered a second one from 1978-79. Can it live up to this?)
(Note too – all the scans came from that original inch of cards I grabbed. This was a really great box.)