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Cards Available for Most Every Sport

by Paul Angilly
August 15, 2005

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It's probably a safe estimate to say that at least 95 percent of all sports trading cards made in the United States fall into one of four categories: baseball, basketball, football and hockey. About four out of the other five percent are accounted for by the golf and soccer sets made by Upper Deck and the NASCAR cards made by Press Pass.

But for the true sports connoisseur, just about any sport you can think of has been depicted in at least one trading card set.

On a recent hot and overly humid summer day, I perused a table of mostly non-sports cards at a local card show when I found a set that turned my thoughts to the cool days of winter: the 110-card collection of Iditarod trading cards issued in 1992 by MotorArt, a company - oddly enough, considering the subject of the set - based in Orlando, Florida.

For those unfamiliar with the event, the Iditarod is probably the world's most famous sled dog race, held in late winter every year since 1973 over the Iditarod National Historical Trail between Anchorage and Nome, Alaska. Mushers lead their dog teams over more than 1,100 miles, with the temperature often dropping to 50 degrees below zero. Only once in the race's history has a team finished the course in less than nine full days; most mushers take 10-14 days to finish.

Aside from some nice glimpses of Alaskan scenery, MotorArt's set details the first 20 years of the race's history. Among the interesting tidbits:

  • Apparently, almost every musher experiences hallucinations on the trail due to lack of sleep and other factors. The back of one card tells how the featured musher saw bedsprings hanging from the trees and a big white rabbit straight from the pages of "Alice in Wonderland."
  • After 1,048 miles and more than two full weeks of racing, Dick Mackey and his dog team won the 1978 race by just a single second after a wild sprint to the finish line in Nome.
  • During the race, a 45-pound dog might consume as many as 9,000 calories per day just to maintain its weight.

The set also pictures all of the race's past champions, along with most of the top 50 finishers in 1992. Also included are other key personalities, including a woman whose husband escaped from communist Czechoslovakia in a race car during the Czechoslovakian Grand Prix.

Also pictured is 86-year-old Norm Vaughan, a 1992 Iditarod competitor who had previously competed for the USA as a dog musher in the 1932 Olympics, traveled across Antarctica with Admiral Byrd, recovered top secret parts from fallen aircraft in Greenland during World War II, mushed down Pennsylvania Avenue as part of a Presidential inauguration parade and gave Pope John Paul II a dog sled ride.

Of course, there are plenty of other card sets out there featuring what might be called "oddball" sports.

Among those in my own collection are a series of Jai-Alai sets issued depicting players from the defunct Hartford Jai-Alai fronton.

Each year from 1979 to 1986, a series of eight different cards was made available. Fronts of the cards included black and white photos along with the playing name of the person pictured (such as Zulaica, Pierre and Remen), with the player's full name listed on the back (i.e. Jesus Zulaica, Jean P. Etcheverry and Juan Rementeria) along with personal information. The final four years even included a line of statistics on the back.

The cards are a nice memento of a part of Hartford's sport/gambling history which has unfortunately disappeared.

Fans of professional bowling have a few sets to chase after, including a 40-card PBA set from 1972 (originally sold in packs of four cards each for 49 cents), a 100-card Kingpins PBA set from 1990 and Little Sun "Strike Force" LPBT women's bowling sets from 1991 and 1992.

Anyone still caught up in Tour de France cycling hoopla might look into chasing a pair of Italian-made sets from Fournier's: the 32-card "Ases Del Ciclismo" set from 1998 and "Ciclismo '92" from 1992. There may be others, too - but those two years were available on eBay recently.

For pro lacrosse fans, there are at least a couple of hard-to-find sets out there: a 12-card National Lacrosse League All Star game set from 1999 and a 32-card Major League Lacrosse set from the league's inaugural season in 2001, including the now-defunct Bridgeport Barrage.

For horse racing fans, a company called Horse Star Cards made sets of jockey cards for 10 straight years - 1991 through 2000. There was also a set of cards devoted to the Kentucky Derby made during the early 1990s.

Then there's a pair of trading card sets from Rodeo America, issued in 1991, including a 50-card "Professional Rodeo Cowboys" set and a 99-card "Pro Rodeo Cards" set. Or if you prefer water to dirt, there's always the 1990 Big League Bass Collectors Edition 60-card set.

Whether he can be considered a sports star or simply a unique American cultural icon, anyone who was a regular watcher of ABC's Wide World of Sports during the 1970s will no doubt remember the exploits of the legendary Evel Knievel. In 1974, Topps devoted an entire 60-card set to the motorcycle stunt rider. A recent eBay auction for the set drew bids in excess of $85.

For tennis fans, Ace Authentic will release its second tennis card set of the year - 2005 Ace Authentic Signature Series - at the end of this month. An average of three autographs and two jersey cards will be found per box.

Along with the 100-card base set, packs will contain certified autographs and jersey cards from players including Maria Sharapova, Andy Roddick, Roger Federer, Martina Hingis, Lindsay Davenport and others. Also included will be three subsets that contain dual auto and jersey cards: Grand Slam Champions, Signature Moments and Court Kings and Queens.

To promote the new set, Ace Authentic produced an exclusive Maria Sharapova game-worn card - featuring a piece of a dress she wore at the recent Wimbledon Championships - which was available exclusively to attendees of the recent National Sports Collectors Convention in Chicago.

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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