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This Seasonís Football Cards Already on Shelves

by Paul Angilly
May 25, 2004

Even while the NBA and NHL head toward the start of their championship series, the first of the 2004 NFL football card sets are being released. SA-GE and Press Pass got the ball rolling with their first issues (picturing 2004 draft-eligible players with their college teams) last month, but the football card collecting season is now in full swing as the NFL-licensed sets hit the market.

Hereís a quick look at the sets that are currently available, along with some of the ones that will be released through the early part of July.

Playoff Prestige

The basics: 210-card base set (150 veterans, 60 rookies found one per pack), now available.

The good: This is the first NFL-licensed card set of the year and itís also the first set to include cards of players from this yearís draft with their NFL team name indicated on the card (players are pictured in their college jerseys).

The bad: Prestige seems to be aiming for an upscale look befitting its name, but the cards actually have a disappointingly bland design.

The ugly: Individually, the memorabilia inserts in this set look nice; but seen collectively, the eight different memorabilia insert sets are just a little too much. Donruss/Playoff makes some nice cards, but they all start to look the same very quickly and few remain in high demand.

Fleer Ultra

The basics: 233-card base set (200 veterans, 20 rookies found 1:4 packs, "Lucky 13" rookies numbered to 500), now available.

The good: One of the longest continuously-issued sets on the market, dating back to 1991, these full-bleed cards are known for their clean designs and excellent photography.

The bad: Rookie cards are just short-printed enough to make set collecting inconvenient, but not enough to be highly prized.

The ugly: Despite its long history, this brand is not held in high esteem by many collectors and tends to be forgotten as other brands are released.

Topps Draft Picks and Prospects

The basics: 165-card base set (55 veterans, 55 prospects and 55 rookies found one per pack), due out this week.

The good: These days, a $3 per pack price with a rookie card in every pack is a good deal. The set is not impossible to build and includes some good young players in addition to this yearís rookie class. The cards also feature one of the most attractive designs of the early-season sets, with photos second only to Fleer Ultra. Every box (24 packs) should include two autographed and/or memorabilia cards, which is also not bad for this price point.

This issue also includes LaVar Arringtonís first licensed card with the Washington Redskins, plus a very limited insert card including autographs from Archie, Peyton and Eli Manning.

The bad: A parallel card in each pack sounds good, but thereís little demand for these cards.

The ugly: While one of the more attractive early-season sets, this issue will almost certainly once again be relegated to bargain bins once the more high-profile sets from Topps are released later in the year.

Fleer Showcase

The basics: 150-card base set (100 veterans, 50 "Showcasing Talent" rookies numbered to 599), due out June 2.

The good: The memorabilia cards are attractive, and an autographed card numbered to 300 or less and two serial-numbered memorabilia cards are found per box. At least two of the "Showcasing Talent" rookie cards are also found in each box.

The bad: The base cards have an overly-busy design and with just 100 veterans, thereís not any players in this set you wonít see on better-looking cards elsewhere.

The ugly: An expensive product ($6.50 per 5-card hobby pack) that, like many of the early-season releases, will likely be all but forgotten by collectors by the start of training camps.

Donruss Elite

The basics: 200-card base set (100 veterans, 100 rookies numbered to 500), due out June 23.

The good: An early-season premium product, Elite is known for its "Passing the Torch" and "Turn of the Century" autographs, along with its "Throwback Threads" memorabilia insert. All return and should he hotly pursued again.

The bad: The card design is just a little too metallic-oriented for my tastes. Iíve also never been fond of card issues where half or more of the set is short-printed.

The ugly: Suggested retail price is $5 for a five-card pack, and unless you pull one of the limited rookies or memorabilia inserts, youíre not going to get much return for your money.

Upper Deck SP Game Used

The basics: 200-card base set (100 veterans, 100 "Star Rookies" numbered to 499), due out July 9.

The good: You get what you pay for -- at a suggested retail price of $30 per pack, youíll get an extremely limited autograph, memorabilia card or autographed memorabilia card in every pack. One in six packs (one pack per box) will include an autographed or memorabilia card numbered to 100 or less.

The bad: With a pack price this high, EVERY pack should include an autographed or memorabilia card numbered to 100 or less. Also, the problem with including 100 different rookies in a set this early in the season is that very few of them are likely to play a major role with their teams this season. In fact, a good number of the rookies pictured in this set will probably be cut by the end of training camps.

The ugly: A suggested retail price of $30 per pack for three cards. Thereís always the chance of pulling an extremely valuable insert, but youíre more likely to find the cards are worth much less once you open the pack.

Shameless Self-Plug: UConn fans might want to check their local newsstands for a copy of the June 2004 issue of Beckett Basketball Collector magazine, out now. Not only does it feature a photo of former Husky Emeka Okafor on the cover, it also includes a pair of short articles about the popularity of UConn memorabilia written by yours truly. Look for the "Two Is Twice As Nice" article in the "Short Prints" section on page 10, and also the short "UConn Goes For The Double ... Again" brief on page 80.

About the author
Paul Angilly is a sports reporter for The Bristol Press in Connecticut, and has been collecting sports cards and memorabilia for 30 years. He is not a dealer, nor does he make a profit from buying and selling cards. His weekly sports card and memorabilia collecting column appears each week in The Bristol Press and several other daily newspapers in Connecticut.

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