Sports Cards

No. 7, October - December, 1997

For other issues, related links, the catalog of my entire collection, and other administrative or trivial issues, please jump to the end of the page.

To see the individual pages about each deck, click on the small images on this page. To see full-size images of the cards themselves, click on the small images on the individual pages.

"Any team can win any game on any day." Sports has always been a curious mix of superior ability and divine (or diabolical) intervention, inspiring fans as obsessive about their sports as they are about its memorabilia. Sports trading cards may be big business now, but playing cards are an older form, and by no means underrepresented in the legions of sports souvenirs. And in some sense, playing cards are a most appropriate form of memorabilia, sharing many of the virtues, and vices, of the sports themselves. The truism that led off this issue is no less true of cards than of sports, with the shifting fortunes of random numbers often at least as important as skill in the game. And while trading cards may mirror the back-office wrangling of salary negotiations and player trades, in the end, the play of the game is all that that matters.

[Cal Ripken Jr.]Like trading cards, playing cards can be used as poor-man's portrait galleries, a simple collection of images of the heroes (like Cal Ripken Jr., from Baseball Aces 1993). Many decks are little more than this, the ranks of the very best players of a sport for a given year. But playing cards can be much more than this. In my collection I have historical and commemorative cards, as well as the humorous, instructional, and even simple celebrations of particular sports. Golf, football, fishing, baseball, and any other sport you can think of is represented on some deck somewhere. Well, perhaps not bungee jumping, but give it time. It'll be here soon.

This issue, I present one standard deck of pictures of the best of this season (Hockey, in this case), a historical educational deck, a historical commemorative deck or two, a humorous golf deck, and an instruction manual on the subtleties of football. A fair cross section of my collection, it's still only a part of the wide variety of sports-related playing cards that can be found in the world. Enjoy.

[NHL Aces]This first deck is a good example of the classic deck of sports cards. A portrait gallery of the biggest names on ice, the NHL Hockey Aces, 1996-1997 isn't a whole lot different from a collection of hockey trading cards. All that's missing are the statistics on the back of the cards. This deck, and many more like it, are published by the U.S. Playing Card Co., the undisputed leader in merchandising tie-ins. The requirements for appearing on the deck aren't mentioned, but it appears that they took the best players from each team, and filled in the remaining space with the winners of the league's player awards.

[Baseball Legends]The other major approach to sports cards is the historical, educational deck. And no one does "historical and educational" better than U.S. Games Systems. One in a sizeable series of similar educational decks produced by them, the Baseball Legends card game takes advantage of their tried and true format, featuring thirteen major figures in baseball history, each given four cards each of historical information. From "Honus" Wagner to Roberto Clemente, this deck is full of interesting facts spanning the history of the game.

[NASCAR]Another in the historical/educational set is this deck from Hoyle. The NASCAR Collector Series 1947-1959 is actually the first of a set of three decks, covering the whole history of the organization from 1947 to 1993. In each deck are pictures of races, diagrams of tracks, historical trivia and statistics from the years covered. For the racing buff and the automobile enthusiast, this deck provides lots of great pictures and interesting information.

[Centennial Olympic Games]When the Atlanta Committee of the Olympic Games wanted to publish commemorative decks of playing cards, where do you think they went? To the U.S. Playing Card Co., of course. Quite a wide array of decks were produced for the Centennial Olympic Games, from cartoons of Izzy, their unusual mascot, to historical posters, to simple souvenir decks with only decorative backs. This deck is an amalgam of these, containing the historical poster collection featured in other decks, and including historical trivia about the modern Olympic Games.

[Golf]This deck falls on the lighter side of sports. It's not a true joke deck, but as a deck with novelty suits and the occasional tongue-in-cheek caricature, it's humorous nonetheless. Produced by the appropriately-named Novelty Playing Card company, Golf Playing Cards is a straightforward alternate-suits deck. featuring Clubs, Sand Traps, Bags and Balls, it also has regular suits shown next to the fanciful ones, so that the deck is perfectly usable in regular card games.

[Football Widows]A very different sort of sports playing card deck is the Football Widows deck from U.S. Games Systems. The deck forms a decent introduction to the sport of football, including terminology, signals, plays and the rules of the game. It's intended precisely for the people from whom it takes its title - the widows (or widowers) who lose their spouses to football every Sunday. With careful application, this deck can help these people understand and be with their spouses during these dark hours, by making them conversant in the sport.

The End of the Page

My collection, the list of publishers and manufacturers, and the history of my personal collection of cards can all be found in the "My Collection" page.

I thought about doing the standard Net thing and assembling a list of useful links surrounding playing cards, collecting and such, but no effort I could produce could possibly rival The Bob Lancaster Gallery of Unusual Playing Cards. He has a monstrous list of collectors, artists, manufacturers and just plain interesting sites about playing cards. And so, in deference to his monumental efforts, I provide only a link to him. I hope he doesn't have to pay by the hit...

And people are always asking me where to buy cards. There are plenty of places throughout the net that sell them, from little theme sites that happen to have a deck or two to enormous cards and games superstores. Bob's site lists many of them, but I have to confess - I just like Newt's Playing Cards. And they've got a heck of a selection.

Other Issues:

Issue 9, 10/99 - 12/99: Oh, the Places You'll Go

Issue 8, 11/98 - 12/98: Playing With Cards

Issue 7, 10/97 - 12/97: Sports Cards

Issue 6, 8/97 - 9/97: A Game of War

Issue 5, 6/97 - 7/97: Playing Cards As Art

Issue 4, 4/97 - 5/97: Court Fashions

Issue 3, 2/97 - 3/97: A Fortune in Playing Cards

Issue 2, 12/96 - 1/97: Literature on Playing Cards

Issue 1, 10/96 - 11/96: Handmade Playing Cards

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