Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Lion's Roar

It's tough to put into words the thrill of pulling a valuable card at random from a sealed pack of sports cards.  No matter what your primary motivation is as a collector (e.g. team/player fan, set collector, autograph chaser, etc.), every unopened pack is an opportunity to pull something great. 

Barring high-end products (where a single pack of cards will run you upwards of $200 or more and shorter print runs guarantee scarcity), the odds of pulling something rare from your average pack of cards is often directly proportional to the pack's cost.  For example, a single pack of Topps 2011 football will run you $1.99 and get you (10) cards.  The odds of pulling a card autographed by a player start at 1:239, although buying an entire box (36 packs) will net you slightly better odds. Conversely, a single pack of Topps Chrome 2011 football will run you $3.99 for (4) cards. The odds of finding a rookie autograph improve to 1:24, or effectively one per box.  Although not always the case, it's reasonable to temper your expectations when you buy low or mid-grade products like these.
It's also important to remember that rare does not necessarily mean valuable; a parallel refractor of a star player or rookie is sure to bring more than your average wideout or QB, even if both cards were short printed to 50.  The true value of a card is often subjective, with factors that include scarcity, condition, player appeal and collector interest. You never really know what a card is worth until you sell it, and it is that sense of the unknown that makes finding good cards even more exciting. I mention all this because I experienced the pull of a lifetime just a few weeks ago, and the experience was surreal.

The Pull of a Lifetime (so far)
Wiping the sleep out of my eyes on a rainy Saturday morning, I decided to forgo breakfast and instead bust the 2nd of two Bowman Chrome Football 2009 boxes I bought on the web ($55 each).  The first box was a dud (no-name auto and refractors), so I wasn't particularly happy.  Roughly ten packs in, however, I noticed a 2/5 marking on a card back.  This indicates the only five copies of the card exist in the world.  Flipping it around, I saw an even bigger surprise; a red refractor Matthew Stafford rookie autograph card. From a collector’s perspective, the Detroit Lions QB is still considered to be the most coveted player from the 2009 draft class.  I knew right away the pull was valuable, and when I couldn't find it in my Beckett price guide, I became even more excited.  Never before had I pulled something worth (potentially) so much*. 

I admit I was anxious to get it graded right away.  3rd party authentication services will inspect a card's condition, assign it a numerical value (or grade) and encase it in hard plastic for protection.  The grade can greatly impact a card's value; a rating of 10 (Gem Mint) can increase a card's value by up to 200%.  Fortunately for me, the card came back with a 10 grade, guaranteeing its pristine condition to would-be buyers.  A five-day listing on EBay led to a flurry of e-mails from collectors offering me cash to close the auction early.  Although tempted, I chose not to and was eventually rewarded for my patience. 

I won't go into details about the final selling price, although I admit I was shocked a modern day card could sell for so much. Suffice to say it may be awhile before I come across another card like that; given the odds, it was really just dumb luck.   Now that I have so much spare cash available, however, I feel the itch to buy more packs (a lot more).  Perhaps lightning will strike twice? 

*My wife has been a good sport about the whole thing.  The morning I pulled the card, I woke her up just to show her.  Instead of grumbling, she expressed interest and was offering to drive to a card show up in northern NJ to get it graded in person.  Although we didn’t make the trek, she’s definitely entitled to some of the proceeds.

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