I missed pulling Gordie Howe cards by a year.
Now, this also means I missed pulling Wayne Gretzky rookie cards straight out of the pack, but I rationalize this by realizing I would have surely dumped them all in trades. I lived in Calgary and nobody in his right mind would have hung onto Oilers if it wasn’t absolutely necessary. I’d have kept one for my set, but doubles would have been gone, for sure.
As it was, 1980-81 was the season the Flames came to town and my Grade 5 class was just awash in cards. That’s when I got hooked.
Like many kids, I’d lay all my cards out on the floor and pore over them during the game, or dinner, or when I was supposed to be getting ready for bed. I loved all the stats and info on the back and was always fascinated by players who’d been around a long, long time.
One card that I remember in particular was Hartford’s Rick Ley – mainly because of the cartoon on the back:
This was something. A guy named Gordie Howe had played the year prior at age 51 (actually 52 by season’s end). That was notable. I think I showed my parents.
By Grade 7, I was deep into hockey history and realized just who Gordie Howe was. Along the way, I read somewhere that as Howe announced his retirement, he said that he really felt he still had another half-season left in him but didn’t want to retire mid-season. This made me bitter. If only he’d played that one extra year, he’d have had a card in the ’80-81 set and I’d have had one. I felt kind of gypped, particularly since I’d gotten to see a copy of the ’79-80 that a friend had and it instantly became one of my holy grails.
A year ago, I made a new final card for Bobby Orr – the one he’d have gotten if Topps/OPC had given him a standard card rather than a farewell special. I’ve been mulling over trying the ’80-81 Gordie Howe ever since.
In making the Orr, I realized that matching fonts is a pain and it’s far better to cut and paste the bits I need from cards that already exist. For this exercise, I took three 1980-81 Whalers:
Mark Howe and Gordie Roberts give me the two names I need and Blaine Stoughton gives me the position. The Stoughton becomes the base and I’ll sub in the names.
The other thing that became apparent was that most of the Whaler-era photos available of Gordie Howe are actually too good to use directly. The print quality in 1980-81 was terrible. All the images are grainy and the contrast is wacky. Most of the pictures I found were crisp and vibrant. This just wouldn’t do!
Yet other thing is that most cards from that set have pictures either taken during the warmup or at faceoffs. I needed something showing minimal action with marginal colour.
I started with this:
then took the bit that I wanted and mucked it up with my photo-editor:
I adjusted the brightness and contrast and pixellated it a little bit so that it would blend in better with the other cards in the set. I then was able to drop my template on top of it and this is what I got.
Here it is:
The colours aren’t bang-on. Topps/OPC managed to get the greens a lot greener, but this is also a limitation of my source image. I think it fits overall.
The main reason I wish OPC had made a Howe card that year (other than Mark) was that they went with full stats on the back. This is what they had to do to crush Dave Keon’s career onto the back of a card:
Imagine that Howe started fourteen years earlier. It would have been microscopic.
Edit: after some discussion on Twitter, I made a back (based on the Keon above) that shows just how small the text would have to be to show 34 years of stats (32 seasons plus two “DID NOT PLAY” seasons in 1971-72 and 1972-73).
That’s pretty small. Most kids have good eyes, right? (I didn’t, but hey….)