Saturday, August 9, 2014

35th National Sports Collectors Convention Recap Part 5 of ?

When we had breakfast we knew we were in for a long day. Most people would assume that meant it would be bad, but we were extremely excited. We knew today we'd share the stage with our friends, the crowd would be bigger than other days, and we'd have a visit from legendary Hockey Hall of Famer, Bobby Hull. The evening was going to be stellar.

The Panini Grand Case Break featured the only case of National Treasures basketball in the building and a case of Prime Hockey. Both products contain mind-boggling, unreal hits. So as 11 a.m. rolls up we are ready to go, there is a good crowd forming and as I am talking to the people, I notice our friends from Tristar have Bobby already at the stage. How about that? A star that's not only on time, but actually early? Nice! So I walk Bobby up and begin to introduce him. He starts telling me a story about his playing days and I am a fan, so I am listening intently. As I go to shake his hand, he starts talking about forgetting something. It was his teeth! His front teeth are all a grill and he had them in his hand when he hit the stage. Now THAT is an entrance. An unforgettable National moment indeed and some of it is caught on video here as we walk up on stage and National founder Mike Berkus talks with those surrounding the Amazon.com Sports Collectibles Main Stage.



Bobby joined Tracy Hackler on the stage and they proceeded to break into Prime Hockey. Then something else happened that those watching won't soon forget. Bobby opened up his first pack of trading cards! This was a very cool moment for everyone, to hear Bobby tell stories about seeing his own cards and describing the quality of cards today. You can see him open up a pack of Prime in the video below.


Up next for me was a quick interview with ESPN's Mint Condition. They were getting some amazing coverage for upcoming shows, and no question, the National is the place to build up a series of future episodes.
Photo courtesy of ESPN Mint Condition.
We're big fans of the show because it gets great exposure for the hobby. Behind the scenes Kelsey Schroyer has put together some amazing segments, while on-air personality Michele Steele knows her sports! We chatted about who to watch out for from the 2014 NFL rookie class and picked one veteran that could have a breakout year. I won't tell you who I chose, but I'm hoping you enjoy it when it airs! That was really fun. I also love that Michele represents women in the hobby. She is a great ambassador for a growing demographic that deserves more attention from the manufacturers.  

The Panini break was followed by something a little different. Beckett took the stage. That was interesting for us. I want to make something clear. What's done is done. I had to deal with a lot of garbage from that company over the years. They didn't want to even engage us in any way shape or form during the first 5-7 years of the 2000s. Sure we'd talk to some of their guys, but anytime we'd try to interview them on our show, they'd refuse. It was childish. They were so in denial about us that they would edit us out of Press Releases from the card companies and leagues that included our name in it. How do I know this? I received the same PRs. It was despicable. I looked up to that company as a kid and believe it or not, I wanted to work there. Two other times, they made inquiries about buying us. It was a waste of our time, and theirs. Then things started to change, Russ actually wrote for Beckett Hockey for awhile and an editorial change hung him out to dry. At that same time I was getting together info to do some writing for Beckett Baseball. Editorial change left me in the cold. Letting someone go is one thing, not communicating at all is lame and uncalled for. What we did do is pick on someone that gave us the cold shoulder, that's all we ever did, again childish... and it ended with a meeting and a photo at the 2011 National.

So when someone asks me why I am hesitant to do anything with them, there you go. Is that good enough for you? Now, all that being put out there. It is water under the bridge. What's done is done. I had the opportunity to meet a few of their guys at this show. Bill Dumas invited us on their radio show. Nice guy. I didn't think it would happen here as we were so busy we didn't even have much time to do our own show. I wouldn't rule it out in the future. I appreciated the offer. I also met their host Derek Ficken, he too was very cool and said some very complimentary things. It was appreciated. I hope that moving forward that's how things go. That's the kind of people Beckett should have representing their company, not some of the miserable people I've dealt with in the past.

So when Beckett took the stage it appeared as if they raided the Topps vault. They had plenty of packs and boxes, some Beckett promo items and instead of a case break, they did pack wars. They did a great job. All the kids were opening packs of 2014 Topps minis and the winners walked away with some great products.I hope their crew had fun, the kids did, no question about it. I wish I had time to think about how interesting it was to see us interacting, but the show was so busy, you just had to go with the flow and keep moving.

There were a couple of more breaks including a giveaway from Dave & Adams, and Scotty from Nastybreaks.com did a Panini Preferred Basketball case which is full of fun things. He was hilarious and owned the stage when he was up there.

Around this time (4 in the afternoon), I got a text from Tracy Hackler and it was about their big VIP event that was scheduled to take place later that evening. I had no idea where it was taking place. So finally I found out it was going to be at Cleveland's FirstEnergy Stadium. I was pumped, I already knew that Broadway Joe Namath, The Human Highlight Film Dominique Wilkins, Bash Brother Jose Canseco, 300-Game Winner and recent HOF member Tom Glavine, NBA Rising Stars Trey Burke and Kyrie Irving, and Dr. J Julius Erving were attending. How cool is that? Rumor had it that a certain rookie QB that was chosen by the Browns was also going to be there, but that was not yet confirmed.

It was a great stadium. The entrance was a shrine for the best to ever play for the Browns including a faux locker room. The staff was so friendly, they were amazing unlike some Chicago stadiums. When we got inside, it exceeded expectations. The room was full of industry peers, fabulous food and drink, there were all-new Panini girls, and soon it would be filled with top tier athletes. The Panini girls crack me up. They are eye candy for a bunch of guys that have been in a crammed into a convention center hall with 97% men for five days. Anyone that's offended by that is silly to me. If you can't appreciate a beautiful woman well...

The first star to hit the floor was Tom Glavine. He was just inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. I was at his 300th win and it was very cool to see him after getting the top honor MLB has to offer. He was so humble. We chatted about the game and that it took him a couple of starts to get the magic win. He was a little self conscious and was telling people he was the least popular guy in the room. I can tell you that was not true at all. We may never in our lifetime see another 300 game winner. He was awesome! Andy Pettitte was closest, no one else is even in the ballpark. Sabathia needs 92. Verlander needs like 150. Glavine was hardly the least popular guy in the room. He was the guy that achieved perhaps the greatest feat of anyone in the room. What an honor to have seen it and to get to talk to him about it! #thankspanini

It was a wonderful week, and I happened to be in the right place at the right time this night. The next athlete out was Joe Namath and I was standing right in front of him when he walked out to the floor. As a kid, all I watched were the Jets.
Every Sunday I would so to my grandparents house in Rockaway Queens and watch the Jets. In fact one of the first collectibles I ever got was a ticket stub to Super Bowl III. My dad had gone to the game and when my parents divorced, I inherited the esteemed ticket. #thanksmom It was my first piece of memorabilia. I got to tell Joe that story and how I followed his career through his final season with the Rams. I still think he should've replaced Pat Hayden! Joe looked great and asked my name. He said, "Doug, thank you and that was some game, maybe the best in my career." He also told people that if we're suiting up he's on our team. I was so happy because sometimes you meet people and you get let down. Thrilled to say this was not the case. Joe 'Willie' Namath is as cool as they come.

Next up was another legend, Dominique Wilkins. As awesome as he is tall. Dominique made me like him even more. Most of the Panini reps were handing out signed photos for the athletes. The Highlight film took it up a notch He personally handed out his own photos while also making sure that anyone that got a picture, got a good one, something they were happy with. Kids, can you say impressive? Again, here is guy that I used to watch simply because you knew when he touched the ball, something outstanding was going to happen. He made an art of dunking and he put the Atlanta Hawks on the map. He made a fan for life on this night.

I've got a little more to share from this evening, but it will have to be in another post. Watch for it soon. If' you'd like to hear a little more recap that includes Panini America's Tracy Hackler. Listen to last night's Cardboard Connection Radio show.


Friday, August 8, 2014

35th National Sports Collectors Convention Recap Part 4 of ?

We decided to something non-sports on Thursday evening. After the show we got something to eat, then we went to go see Guardians of the Galaxy. I am glad we did, it was amazing. I wanna see it again. I honestly thought that Dave Bautista stole the show. He was phenomenal as Drax. Michael Rooker was also pretty amazing, but then... when isn't he? The movie looked sensational, it was funny, the action and effects were top notch and we even got a little more of Thanos. The best thing that happened that night was when we got to the theater. Ryan who is from a remote planet named Hoth, er... Canada, was completely in awe of the machine that lets you select your own drink. It was one of those Coke dispensers where you could choose Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, Powerade, etc and then add Vanilla, Cherry, Orange, Lime, Lemon or Raspberry flavoring. You can only imagine how he reacted when he found out that all of our seat at the movie were luxury recliners. That was priceless.

Before that however we went to the Topps meet and greet. I have been a fan of this event because it gives collectors the opportunity to ask the questions of Topps that need to be asked. Unfortunately in the past those vocal collectors you see making horrible comments on social media NEVER ask those questions in person or try to initiate a conversation to get their point across. I was hoping this year would be different. Topps has had a rough year. Some major customer service issues have had some collectors taking their issues to the Better Business Bureau. They also just found out at the show that they were going to lose football beginning in 2016.

I'll say this. Alan Narz made that event. His energy and levity kept it fun and flowing so that some of the turbulence in the audience didn't escalate. We heard questions like, Why do we see the same photos on cards all of the time? The answer was that they use Getty Images and they only have a handful of photos of certain players that are suitable to be used on a card. If that were me, I'd do what it takes to change that. Cost also came into play, but to me if you are using legends in upper echelon products, make the investment. Sometimes you have to spend money to make money.

Another question was, Why aren't there more women in the company? (to be fair, the front of the room was filled with at least 10 male Topps employees, and their newest team member, Susan, was not there). This was kind of a loaded a question, but it was valid. Topps has female employees, this I know for a fact, but from a female collector perspective, it was a sausage fest. I believe if Topps was really listening, they would make sure to bring out some of the women next time and to other events.  Why? I can tell you that after sitting at a National for five days the crowd is like 75-25% male to female and all of the companies need to work harder to make collecting appeal to all demographics. Say what you will, and note that I am a happily married man, but seeing the Panini Girls later in the week was probably the only female contact some of those people had the entire week.

The other moment that was addressed was the very nonchalant language on the back of Topps memorabilia cards. This one is all about accountability. Not putting any info about the relic piece virtually makes it nothing more than a base card to collectors. I can tell you it is not even a matter of having it dated and labelled to the specific game. It was a plea from collectors to assure that it is REAL and that it indeed came from an event that they can pin it down to. The language currently on the back of their cards is so vague it could've come off the rack at Marshall's for all we know. I usually don't chime in at this event, I like to people watch, but here I did say something. I simply said, show collectors you care and change the language and then we will care about the relic cards again.

Hands down my favorite moment of the Meet & Greet was when one of our favorite collectors spoke up. This man is singly responsible for one of my favorite National moments. To us he is known as Santa Claus guy. Several years back, we were discussing the art (I use that term loosely) of including a Santa card into a product and how it expanded to using memorabilia and autographs of St. Nick in products. This guy literally runs up to our booth and starts going off about how he collects Santa and it created a moment we'll never forget. We thought so much of it, that we actually brought Santa Claus to the National the very next year!


It was funny to see him this many years later still pulling for more Santa cards. Maybe a Santa Claus and Rally Squirrel dual card is in the mix. Just so you know. I find a lot of things funny in this industry. However, this guy is a die-hard, so here is something to think about. One of the problems I have with Santa cards is that they aren't legit, you know why and I am not going to spell it out. But... what if instead of Santa being on a card by himself, he was part of an insert or box set with other people? I'd actually be into giving my kids a card of Anthony Rizzo with Santa or LeBron James with Santa. Make them all horizontal cards with dual autos or dual relic. Perhaps a holiday in store promotion like Black Friday, then all of those Santa hat cards could have some purpose...

Friday was going to be an extra busy day. Things kicked off at 10am and ran through 5pm. The only real gap was a hour at 3pm.We got to see Finest Box Breaks, Bighurt35 and more. There was some excitement for the Upper Deck break because they opened the first cases of Exquisite Golf. That was something to see. Truly some of the most impressive cards come from Exquisite. The designs are unlike any other company's cards. That has always set Upper Deck apart from the rest of the pack. This was no exception. We saw on card autos of Nancy Lopez, Arnold Palmer and a dual Cheyenne and Tiger Woods. UDs Chris Carlin said on the stage that the cases he sent over were ripped off by UPS. He worked with Dave & Adams to make sure he would have the product for the break, and they came through. Lots of ooohs and ahhhs during this one.



I had a chance to roam the floor a little more on Friday and picked up five boxes of WWE Heritage hobby boxes for $20 a piece. At that price, I decided I would put together a master set. I am pretty close actually, just missing 10 inserts, so that was pretty cool.

By evening time we had a couple of options and weren't sure what we were going to do. There were a couple of parties and we just wanted to go check out the city and maybe catch a ballgame. We wound up going to the Hard Rock Cafe for the Peach State event and man was it ever worth it. We got to really chat with some of the people we had been working with over the past few days and see them outside of the case breaker pavilion. That's always good to get a feel for what people are like.


 We were eating when we looked up to see Jose Canseco walking in. Behind him were some Panini America representatives and former NBA great Mark Aguirre. That was an awesome surprise. I know a lot of people railed on Jose when he wrote his books. Not me. I thought he did the right thing. He told the truth and sometimes the truth hurts. I told him that then and I thanked him for it tonight. I also told him a funny story about how when my daughter met him in 2001 at the Big League Challenge in Las Vegas. She was 5 and I was waiting for a couple people at the signing booth for Upper Deck. He saw her and said, "Hey Princess would you like an autograph?" It turned into more than one, and I will never forget that.  He was awesome then, and on this night, he was still a good guy. When I told him the story, he asked to see a photo and I said she's 18 now. He deadpanned, "Damn, I'm Old." I told him man, you still look amazing and I just wanted to say thanks for being genuine. You earned a fan for life.

Mark Aquirre was equally nice. I watched him play often for some of the most amazing Detroit Pistons teams during the 80s and 90s. I love surprises, well good ones at least, and this was truly a surprise. I had thought we were just going to enjoy a dinner with friends, but Peach State and Panini America raised the bar while everyone in the Hard Rock razed the bar.

Here we were 4 days in and the energy level was high and the memories kept coming.

More to come...




Wednesday, August 6, 2014

35th National Sports Collectors Convention Recap Part 3 of ?

I woke up Thursday feeling pretty good. I was really happy to have spent some quality time with my co-workers and friends Rob, David, Russ and Ryan. Each one of those guys just absolutely blew my mind this past week with their ability to just completely adapt to whatever was happening on the Amazon.com Sports Collectibles Main Stage. We did trivia, raffles and told some funny stories in-between and during case breaks to entertain. Trust me, its not easy, but it was fun.

We met so many great people in this segment of the show. I mentioned Scott Bateson earlier and he was stellar, but I was completely humbled meeting Joey and his Friendly Box Breaks crew. They were seriously, some of the most polite people in the building. It was fun sitting in with them for awhile on a break they did later in the week of Benchwarmer. Sir, it was an honor. David and Jason from Finest Box Breaks were also top notch guys that happened to be from Long Island, NY. The same town in fact that I would visit 3-4 times a year when I was a kid, to see my Dad's side of the family. Small world.

David Gelfman's group that includes Bryan Fillmore and Paul Milazzo were also just troopers, breaking all week long. Abby and Grizz from the BreakKing.com were also right next to us and we all became friends throughout the week. To our right was someone I've known now for two or three years, but ironically he has never been on Cardboard Connection Radio for one reason or another. That was Rich Layton of Layton Sports Cards. Let me tell you something. As I watched through the week, I saw a change in him. We had an amazing week. I know he has stories that he'll never forget, and that his breaks were very successful. You should have seen him during the kids break, he was beaming. While watching him teasing the kids for packs and hits, it was another moment I just felt that we had made the right decision to work with this group. It took me 2 years to find out he's from South Jersey, another place I lived for a long time. I can tell you that we are going to have fun in 2016 if the show remains in Atlantic City. We finally sat down with Rich for an interview, and you can hear it right here.

You could see that a lot of the people in the pavilion had no clue what to expect. Neither did we. It could have been a giant cluster, but it was nothing of the sort. In fact there was an area dedicated to breakers that weren't even a part of the show. If one came in and decided he/she wanted to break, they had a place to do it. That area wasn't dead, it wasn't supposed to be filled unless breakers came in and claimed a spot on the fly. With 40+ already part of the inaugural event, I think it is safe to say that many of the best were there already. It was a place to offer an olive branch to someone that was on the fence about participating. I wish people would actually ask some questions when they pretend to be so-called reporters instead of sneaking around or making asinine comments. Do a little research, it could benefit you long-term. These breakers were protecting their business, working to expand their business and brought their A-game to make sure that breaking was represented at and by its best. I applaud them all for working together to make the event a success. Early signs show it will return in Chicago and be even larger in scale.

I had to leave the show for awhile on this day, but boy was it worth it. Panini America had put together a lunch for a huge announcement they planned on making. It wasn't much of a secret at this point. They were going to announce that they signed an exclusive partnership with the NFLPA. I wanna take you back in time again. My very first event that I ever attended as media was one of the most outstanding events of my life. Russ and I were the guests of Donruss Playoff's Tracy Hackler and Taylor Pennington. The event was in Washington and it was called Unsung Heroes. A young Brian Urlacher was the star of the event and I got to meet Karen Bush-Austin, Pam Oliver and many other NFL greats. I can remember Randy Cook did his podcast from the show, I knew then, that was what I had wanted to strive for. I wanted it to be us at those events. I wanted to make sure our name was synonymous with any event that involved trading cards. I am still trying to do that!

Anyway, even then you could see that the Texas-based company put their heart and soul into the relationship. They transcended trading cards and put their stamp on things outside the box. They gave a crap about that too. It showed. They did charity events, they provided things for kids and families and they went way out their way to build a bond with fans of the NFL. Now if I noticed that several years ago, you can bet that a decade later the NFLPA noticed it too. You can say its all about the money, and of course that's a huge part of it, but any good relationship begins with good will and it continues to grow because you pay attention to the relationship, you don't just take it for granted. Trust me on that.

So here we were in the room with a lot of our industry peers and the vibe was unreal. I felt a great sense of pride for my friends. They ALL worked their collective asses off for this to happen. Let's be honest, Topps locked up Baseball, UD Hockey and Panini already had Basketball, so why not go after Football? You can say Baseball is America's Pastime all you want, but Football dominates the ratings. It is the most popular American sport. If I was a maker of trading cards, I'd want my name attached to the game that can get as many people watching their commercials as they do the actual game!

I went to sit down with Ryan and we met up with our buddy Kelsey from ESPNs Mint Condition. Kelsey himself looks like he could put on some pads and hit the turf. He's a big dude, but as friendly as can be. Love sharing stories with him. He did me a huge favor, so I owe him one. As I turn around to scope the room about 40 kids from a local Pop-Warner team sit down. These kids were pumped up, they didn't know what was going on, but that something cool was about to happen. As they sat down, Super Bowl winning QB and NFL Analyst Trent Dilfer walked in. Now Trent is a cool guy and an awesome TV analyst, but he went above and beyond the scope of anything I thought was going to happen on this day. He personally introduced himself to every single on of the kids and asked them what position they played. He genuinely took an interest in their comments and excitement. He also won over just about anyone over the age of 12 with his actions.

I don't' even know where to start on the highlight reel list from this event. It was actually difficult to keep my composure for some of it because I was legitimately surprised by some of the things that took place. No, not the announcement itself, but other more tangible things. Ok, so how about this for instance. We're eating and then Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz enters the room and sits right next to us. I watched this guy every Sunday like clockwork. He was a living monster at 6'6" during his playing days and here he was sharing his stories about collecting with us. He was so nice, a truly awesome representative of the Football Hall. He also got to comment on how he'd deal with up-and-comers like Jadeveon Clowney.

Trent Dilfer and Jason Howarth did analysis on the top rookies in the draft. Trent likes to compare athletes to cars, so we saw some Jaguars, Porsches and Rolls Royces, thankfully no Jalopies. Dilfer was high on the Raiders QB Derek Carr and also noted that Johnny Football if he can slow down to even 2nd or 3rd gear can be a player.

Speaking of Johnny, you read a lot of crap in the news. True or not true, you never hear enough good things about people. Critical, headline grabbing sensationalism sells. That doesn't work for me. Negativity breeds negativity, I don't live on a cloud or in a closet but I can tell you that my life is pretty damn good. So that said, here's a GREAT Johnny Football story.

Remember the kids I told you about? Panini and Johnny Manziel awarded a helmet equipment grant to Pop Warner’s Northeast Ohio Pop Warner Association. The team got up and held this giant check. They had been to two Pop Warner Super Bowls and come up short. They are hoping for a chance to make a third appearance in the big game. They were ready to play right there in the hotel ballroom. In fact, if they do something like this again, I say a little scrimmage would be a blast!

Panini America CEO Mark Warsop also spoke about the partnership and what it means for Panini. He is thinking outside the box and he said that this deal gives them the ability to do things they couldn't before. I am curious to see how they shape my personal favorite category in this industry. They haven't let me down yet. In just the past few years, they've improved designs, improved content, and if they can move away from stickers and bring in some new brands to fill up the schedule, I am confident more great things are ahead. Kind of makes you wonder though if they might look to fill some of those holes with some already established brands or products? Only time will tell. I know some people live and die by Topps, but hey they have Baseball right? Why can't Panini have Football?

After lunch I finally got to meet someone I'd wanted to speak with for a long time. Mr. Keith Gordon of the NFLPA. I told him the story of how it was fun to watch this relationship grow all those years ago. He was very proud of the partnership and said some wonderful things about Panini.

We feel very confident in Panini America’s ability to deliver quality and value to consumers at all levels, while providing long-term stability to the football trading card category, said NFLPI President Keith Gordon. Significant investments in product innovation, quality, authenticity and creative player marketing have endeared Panini to the existing fan base, while actively cultivating the next generation of collectors.

I look forward to speaking with him more in the future.

As we walked out, Tracy was interviewing Trent for a piece on the Knight's Lance I would assume, and I can tell you that their relationship is just getting started. Trent & Panini America have some fun things in store for kid collectors.

I'll be back with more from the National, but if you want some more insight, be sure to listen to the Wednesday, August 6th edition of Cardboard Connection Radio tonight at 10pm EST.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

35th National Sports Collectors Convention Recap Part 2 of ?

One of the things about being a small company is that you have to do a lot of things yourself. It's not that I don't trust other people to do them for me, but I am pretty sure my care level exceeds someone I'm paying to do something for me. So, I loaded up the SUV with all of the radio show equipment, promo items, giveaways and more and headed on over to Cleveland. I was looking forward to seeing the rest of our crew. You see, while we are with each other every Wednesday and Friday, and talk plenty of times a day, we never see each other because we are located in different parts of North America. Modern technology, gotta love it.

Once I got into Cleveland from Chicago in about 5 hrs and change, Rob met me at the IX Center and we began setting up the booth. As we are setting up, it kind of hits me that we are not going to be spending a lot of time at the booth. The schedule for the week was jam-packed. Things kicked off right after the VIP party and we were amped up.

At the VIP party, I met a family that had won a VIP experience through the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Actually there was one winner, her name was Chris Kirsch. She brought along some family members, and boy were they excited. I watched the National's own Ray Schulte take them on a little tour that included a stop at the Memory Lane Inc. booth to hold onto an authentic Babe Ruth bat. From there they went to the front of the line to meet Dale Murphy and Carlos Baerga who were the special guests. Hundreds of other collectors were chowing down on food and snacks while waiting for a couple of their baseball heroes to arrive.

Show founder Mike Berkus kicked off the festivities with a short speech and handed the microphone over to Dave & Adams CEO Adam Martin and Upper Deck Sports Marketing Manager Chris Carlin. Both proceeded to give away a lot of Upper Deck products while announcing the companies 25th Anniversary celebration. I have seen Adam for the past 15 years at event after event, he NEVER remembers my name. It's like a running joke with me and Russ and he didn't know it this year either. Oh well, I guess I didn't make much of an impression.

I had to leave the VIP Party a little early so that I could get set to make our debut on the Amazon.com Sports Collectibles main stage. The event was kicking off with a break of Topps Allen & Ginter. Topps Marketing Manager Marc Stephens joined us to break the case. Ginter isn't an easy break, nor is it thrill-centric in the hit department, but the people in the crowd hung in there. At the end of the day, a sweet booklet bat knob/auto of Steve Carlton and a rip card were the highlights of the case. Several collectors went home with a variety of cards.



It was followed by one of the most amazing breaks I've ever seen of any product -- Super Break Box Breakers Edition with my new friend Scott Bateson of NastyBreaks.com. He was joined by Super Break's Scott Allen and we saw some absolutely NASTY items come out of the box, including an authenticated Beatles photo signed by John Lennon, George Harrison and Pete Best. The evening closed with a break of Panini's Elite Football that was specifically for kids. When we were on the stage, the place was hopping.

After the events on the stage were completed, I sat down and just soaked it in. I had caught up with some friends and here we were just doing our thing in front of a bunch of collectors. Everything was right in the world. In one room, under one roof Upper Deck, Leaf, Panini America, Topps, Heroes of Sport, Super Box, Beckett, Cardboard Connection Radio, PSA, JSA, etc, etc all co-existed. Did some people get snippy? Yep. Did things ever spiral out of control? Nope.

I really loved the set up of the floor plan this year. The Leaf booth was enormous. Possibly too big. But they had a display case full of future product and Leaf Originals Wrestling II is going to be unreal. Everyone from Sting to Goldberg, to Maria Kanellis is included. The art is much better, and wait until you see what the PURE autos of Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair look like.

The Upper Deck booth was also just amazing. They had a spot where you could get your own card made. You could play vintage video games in their faux man-cave, and you could celebrate their 25th anniversary with cake and balloons. It was a blast, but I think the UD crew never got a chance to relax the entire time they were there.

Panini had an amazing looking booth too. Filled with fun events and games and some live case-breaking, it was non-stop action. They were looking to make a statement at this show and let's just say that they went home -- mission accomplished. I am a big fan of their triple-threat marketing team and was pleased to meet the newest member of the franchise -- Sheri. I was thankful for the opportunities to have some great conversations with Jason Howarth, Tracy Hackler and Scott Prusha. Jason is a frickin' dynamo. He is one guy that continues to amaze me with his ability to raise the bar, an asset indeed. Tracy is always the consummate gentleman. After 15 years, he is the same guy I met in Washington DC all those years ago. Scott, well I can't say enough about him too, again after all this time, and a multitude of interviews, I think our best one took place this weekend at the National. In talking about the rich history between Panini and the NFLPA we got to chatting about his role at Panini. It goes back to the year 2000, when the company was still known as Donruss/Playoff. Tracy Hackler was instrumental in bringing him into the fold. That conversation got a little serious and some eyes may have been reddened and teary. You can decide for yourself here.

It was also great seeing another team supreme in action. Another guy I just can't say enough good things about is GTS Founder Lloyd Kee. What a crew he has amassed! Joe Fallon, Karvin Cheung, and now David Reel? Are you kidding me? All well schooled hobby guys that should create new ways for the the business to improve and thrive.

Another one of my favorite people in this business is Jim Grant at Peach State. I don't know him nearly as well as I do a lot of other people, but he makes a very solid impression. He's a guy that will shoot straight with you. It was great seeing him again.

I know some of you are thinking I am name dropping. I am, but it is only because I get to see some of these people once or twice a year, and I know they aren't nearly as excited to see me and I am to see them. It is a thrill for me when you can look out to a certain vanishing point in the IX Center, and you can walk in any direction and run into a friend.

I didn't even get started on my fellow collectors. Seeing listeners of the show and friends like Eric, the dual Chris', Kirk, Kenny and kids that I watched grow up into adults over the years is one of the true highlights for me. You can't touch that. I was also pleased to see my longtime friend Stephen Laroche in his Beckett jersey. He's a good guy, even though he left us out of his National recap! I am happy he found a slot after leaving ITG, It is simply a natural high to enjoy this week among peers and friends.

Before we left for the evening, I took a short walk around looking for some deals. I didn't have to walk far to find them. I picked up some ridiculous wax boxes including  Fleer Star Stickers, Bill & Ted, the Rocketeer and more. My total spent and out the door was like $13. (The Benchwarmer box was a purchase from another day, more about that later).


Before I left I also found some WWE Heritage blasters for $5 and picked up 4. So now all I had to do was check in to the hotel, open some packs and have dinner. We ate at this Italian restaurant inside our hotel. It looked OK so we ordered and sat around catching up, seeing as some of us hadn't seen each other in well over a year. I ordered Veal Parmigiana and the other guys ordered some kind of mixed dish that included meat and pasta. Well after about 40 minutes they came out and said they were out of Veal. I then ordered a sausage dish, and about 30 minutes later our food came out. The others got their plates without pasta and mine was pretty good going down, however about 3am, it all came back up. I was sick as a dog, but you know what? As soon as I got it all out, I felt fine. I went back to sleep and luckily was fine for Thursday's events.

I'll recap that day for you soon.


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