The recent Ken Stabler Career Collection sale via Pristine Auction was one on my collecting radar from the second it was teased and on my mind until the final gavel came down earlier this month.
Simply put, I had to have something.
Why? Stabler wasn’t the first NFL player I ever met — he was probably the second — and I had his autograph a dozen times from various appearances where I played autograph hound in the past, but I knew I had met someone unique every time I ran into him. I knew that the MVP awards and the game-used items would be out of my reach. I knew that the game balls would be scooped up by serious collectors just like many of the odd mementos in the auction that included everything from wedding photos to belt buckles, cowboy hats and mix tapes.
But I knew I had to have something.
Bidding was strong on even the smallest lots, but I managed to nab a piece from his collection. Why? Just because. There were several assorted lots of football cards in the auction with each of them including a signed card — something I had a few times over — but I settled on one of them because of its having a generous number of his 2001 Topps Archives Rookie Card reprints.
Some of the lots had cards that were potentially unsigned certified autograph cards if they were described or photographed in more detail. Some included bulk lots of cards provided by card companies for sure given their volumes, but each of the descriptions was basic and the stacks of cards were simply fanned out in photos to give an idea of what was to be included. There were no checklists for these lots. Some lots clearly had cards from recent years that had un-ncessary damage that made them a lot less interesting (and likely worthless to most collectors). There were no itemized quantities.
It didn’t matter to me.
These were lots of cards held onto as basic belongings by a lethal lefty on the field who’s now a Hall of Famer and a legend, of course, for Alabama and the Raiders. There were lots with vintage cards — one was 25 signed vintage cards that sold for more than $700 — and there were lots with memorable cards like his 1992 Pro Line Portraits where he posed with a snake. (I’ve got that one, too.)
I spent more than I had planned — and I passed over my second pick, which was a ceremonial wood box that likely at one time had contained a championship ring from well past his playing days — but I got a piece that satisfied by curiosity and a need for something from the collection. It was a lot of cards just like anybody else’s, except this one came with a letter and a hologram showing that it was part of Stabler’s collection. Sure, none of the cards can be ironclad linked to the certificate (short of placing a hologram on them all), but I’m fine with that.
I bought them, anyway. Collecting doesn’t always make sense. And I’m fine with that.
Fast-forward to Monday and they finally arrived from Pristine. The lot of cards was larger than I had expected — the description didn’t even say how many cards were included — but I started sorting. Some were clearly larger lots that maybe his “grand snakes” had picked some favorites from in the past, while others were dinged and damaged making them cards that would be jettisoned if they weren’t part of this collection.
There are 357 cards in the lot — costing me about 28 cents a card when shipped — and there are 61 reprints of his Rookie Card. These are as crisp and white and clean as when they left the printer, clearly never handled except to send to Stabler. Also in the mix were 64 2005 Topps Fan Favorites cards that, thanks to a black edge, show some handling through the years. It also included a surprise in a 1984 7-Eleven disc when he was a New Orleans Saint — and a player no longer on Topps cards — as well as the guaranteed autograph, which was on an oddball Houston Oilers police card. There was a run of 104 2003 SP Authentic cards, too, some with damage here and there, proof that they had been handled some through the years instead of ripped from packs and sent straight to penny sleeves like their packed-out brethren.
But as I sorted and counted the cards, I came upon a beaten up run of older Topps cards toward the end. There were some 1981-83 cards from the end of his career as well as some from the end of his Raiders run. Then, one card, one not seen in the auction preview image at all, that leapt out at me.
It was his 1973 Topps Rookie Card — a card oddly free of creases unlike several of these stragglers in the lot. It’s a card I already have a couple times, but with better centering and sharper corners.
Sure, Snake probably owned several copies of his own Rookie Card, but this was not what I expected to find in a lot bought for its run of RC reprints that I knew would be clean and sharp. (They might be grading-worthy with a “From the Ken Stabler Collection” notation on the slab … I’ll be looking into that.)
Little did I know that this vintage surprise would be there — let alone the iconic highlight from the lot. You know, the one card that makes it all worthwhile.
Like I said, collecting doesn’t always make sense, and I’m fine with that. I’m fine with that and my Snake-owned Kenny Stabler Rookie Card.
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