Topps Continues To Prove That Finest is a Dead Brand

Back in the late 1990s, Topps Finest was just that. However, since the recent switch to the current format, it has been nothing but stale, boring and absolutely ugly. This year’s incarnation of the brand seems to be further evidence of this troubling trend for a key product for the company. After seeing the previews for Topps Platinum earlier last month, I think you will understand why I am so underwhelmed by this preview – its basically the same product.

Not only that, but Topps returned to old disgusting habits once again, and the result is less than stellar. First, the main problem with each of these cards is the way they make the sticker the focus of the design. For every product not named Topps Chrome or Bowman Chrome, the designers have this stupid idea that they need to border every sticker so that you have no choice but to look right at it. Rather than hiding the sticker in a design that is built around the player, we instead get a cardboard tetris screen with each element seemingly one long log away from a completed line. The jerseys have borders, the sticker has a border, and meanwhile the player is stuffed away in a corner trapped by the falling blocks. HEY TOPPS – BORDERS DONT WORK ON INDIVIDUAL ELEMENTS PRESENT ON FULL BLEED CARDS. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!
The worst card in this preview is the Bradford, as it looks almost identical to the ridiculously bad swatch autos out of last year’s Bowman Chrome. The swatch covers up so much of the picture that I cant believe someone actually looked at this mock up and thought that it worked. It looks horrid, cluttered, and draws your focus away from a design that really isnt terrible, minus all the other elements that shouldnt be there. Its funny, I actually think that the person who designed this took photoshop and put the swatch window at the EXACT center of the card. I mean, where else could it go right?
On top of all of that crap, Topps is bringing back the Atomic refractor for a sport that has never really been big on gimmicky parallels. Football never had the baseball late 90s, and yet, Topps doesnt seem to get it. The result is a crazy example of when something just doesnt work, and I cant help but feel like they arent trying anymore. Yeah, you would think they would bring the heat with a newly revived license, but they havent shown much from their mid end calendar to this point. I assume once we get the same ole triple threads as before, its only going to get worse.
Most importantly, when you compare this snoozefest to Platinum, the similarities are undeniable, and that should not be happening with so few products on the calendar. The fact that the biggest company in the industry cant design two separate products and get on card autos really makes me question the commitment Topps has to anything other than churning out cookies from their cookie cutter.

When it comes down to it, the golden rule of Topps continues to be a factor with every release. If the product costs more than 100 bucks, stay away. I may have to lower that limit if things continue to head down this path. Wow.

Which Chrome Style Brand Works The Best?

Each year, Topps releases 4 or so Chrome board sets for the NFL, all of which are pretty popular releases. Bowman Chrome and Sterling, Topps Chrome and Finest, all have huge collector followings for different reasons, but which one reigns supreme?

2009 Base Design

I think this category is a two horse race between Finest and Topps Chrome. Finest went with a simple, yet cool design that hearkens back to the glory days of finest. Topps Chrome’s design this year was also great and simple, more so than any other Topps flagship design for the last few years. For this I am more partial to Chrome because I bust so much of it each year, but the base design has to go to Finest for the way the team color elements combine with the full bleed, borderless design.
Winner: Finest
2009 Refractors

Bowman Chrome and Topps Chrome are the home of the refractors, so its obvious that they are going to be at the top here. Finest’s Pigskin Refractors are cool, but the others are a bitch to even recognize. Bowman Chrome’s design lends itself more to the colored refractor look, and I really like what it means to truly have the rainbow with these. The Red Refractors even look better than the Topps one, and carry more value. You also have silver and bronze box toppers, which can be a parallel nightmare, or cool depending on how you feel about the number of refractors in Bowman. Topps is more simple, but the numbering is a little too high for them to make a truly centerpiece worthy piece. This one goes to Bowman Chrome.
Winner: Bowman Chrome
2009 Autograph Rookie Cards

I think all four sets have their merit in autograph cards, but Sterling’s awful design and relic placement takes them out of the running. As for Bowman Chrome, the autos fit well into the design, and the colored refractor autos look very good. However, Topps Chrome’s look that much better in my opinion. First off, the Black and Gold refractors are awesome, and the swatch placement on the ridiculous jersey autos is better than Bowman any day of the week. Finest probably would have taken this spot, but they added a needless swatch when it wasnt needed on ALL of their base rookie autos.
Winner: Topps Chrome
2009 Added Content

Whether its the letter autos in finest, or the one per case base variations in Topps Chrome, there has been a move for added content this year. Bowman Chrome has added more refractors this year, but that isnt really a good thing in some cases. Sterling, well, Sterling is quickly becoming a distant fourth in everything here. Im not really a letter person, but the finest ones that are built with pro uni colors are nice. However, when you see how much the 1 per case variations go for, its a tough race with Topps chrome. I love the idea, but I cant decide what works best.
Winner: Topps Finest and Chrome (tie)
2009 Price
Sterling is automatically a fourth place for having such a huge price tag for the junk you get. Finest is nice, but there isnt much value outside of the autos in that box. For Topps Chrome and Bowman Chrome, you can miss on the auto, but still do awesome on the box thanks to the value of the refractors. They are both under sixty bucks, but Bowman Chrome gives you a box topper, and a bunch of color per box. Topps has the possibility of reds, and coppers, but there isnt much else in a hobby box.
Winner: Bowman Chrome
Overall Champion

When it comes down to it, I think this is going to continue to be a tight race between the two Chrome brands, though this year, Topps Chrome just has a little more going for it. The design is great, the autos are great, and most of the added content is great. The Cheerleader cards are fucking annoying, but you can still get past them because the other cards are awesome. The values of the box hits are higher, and the retail prowess is great on it. Its at the top of the leader board for a reason, as so far its my favorite product of 2009.
CHAMPION: 2009 Topps Chrome

Topps Finest Is Here, Or What Is Left of It

A decade ago, Finest was just that, the finest around. In recent years, it has become a stale mid year release from Topps that has ranged from high end at over 150 a box, middle end around $80-90. It even has switched formats a number of times, going from one box of 24 packs to three mini boxes of 8 packs each, to now two mini boxes, all of which makes us long for a simple product with simple cards. In lieu of a review that has little purpose with the way the product is set up, I just want to talk about what I have seen so far out of a product I used to love. For the record, going back to 1993, I have bought a finest card of every player I collected. From Kirby Puckett, Joe Mauer, Adrian Peterson, Shawn Kemp, Drew Bledsoe, and the rest, I still have all my cards. This year, for the second year in a row, im passing on this offering.

First is the configuration, something that has bothered me to no end over the last few years. The mini box idea is a complete waste of packaging and time, especially when you look at the success this product had before the switch. We would all have just as good of a time opening one big box, but then it would be harder to justify the mystique of being able to buy half the box and come away with a hit. I think with any finest, chrome, and similar products, they should be more adept at keeping it fresh and old school at the same time.
Speaking of needless “improvements,” I still have yet to find out why Topps felt the need to shoehorn (thanks Slette) a relic into the rookie autos. Like Chrome, these DID NOT need a relic, and the definitely didnt need to be placed where they were on the card. They arent as bad as the Frankenstein abominations from Bowman Chrome, but they are still completely useless. Companies need to realize that adding relics to existing designs is never a good idea, even more so when the collectors have gone for years loving the other way.

Still in the “Improvement” column, the Letters are making another appearance, this time sticker free. Im hoping the good part of this addition will be a lack of Topps Lettermen this year, but I know I am not that lucky. The letters arent horrible, signed on the letter in the right kind of pen, even with pro color letters instead of black or college. They arent too elaborate, as all of them are one color, even the Eagles, something that speaks more to the speed they were built than anything. Personally, im not all that disappointed with them, but when you factor in that finest has never needed them before, its kind of like putting a headrest TV screen in a Duesenberg.
One thing that has improved without a doubt is the design of the cards. Last year, Topps Finest was full of cards that had no heart and no purpose, using weird color schemes and stupid concepts. Those are all gone this year, sticking with the normal colored refractors and xfractors. I like it that way, and Im guessing a lot of the Finest collectors out there do to.
Im still wondering when they will figure out that they should go back to less refractors per box, more like the 90s when the refractor was something you looked for due to the rarity and value. Instead of contrived scarcity in the colors, maybe make it even more of a chase some how. That will drive value more than anything.
When it comes down to it, Finest is just another mid year set I am going to avoid, but at least its much more worth your time than other products like SP Signature Edition.
Rating =

2009 Product Leaderboard (SO FAR)

1. Topps Chrome (4/5 GELLMANS)
2(t). Donruss Limited (3/5 GELLMANS)
2(t). Bowman Chrome (3/5 GELLMANS)
2(t). Donruss Certified (3/5 GELLMANS)
2(t). Upper Deck Football (3/5 GELLMANS)
2(t). UD Philadelphia (3/5 GELLMANS)
2(t). Topps Football (3/5 GELLMANS)
2(t). UD Icons (3/5 GELLMANS)
2(t). UD Heroes (3/5 GELLMANS)
2(t). UD Draft Edition (3/5 GELLMANS)
11(t). Topps Finest (2/5 GELLMANS)
11(t). Upper Deck SP Threads (2/5 GELLMANS)
11(t). Upper Deck SPX (2/5 GELLMANS)
11(t). Playoff Absolute Memorabilia (2/5 GELLMANS)
11(t). Bowman Sterling Football (2/5 GELLMANS)
11(t). Donruss Threads (2/5 GELLMANS)
11(t). Donruss Classics (2/5 GELLMANS)
11(t). Donruss Elite (2/5 GELLMANS)
11(t). Playoff Prestige (2/5 GELLMANS)
11(t). Bowman Draft Picks (2/5 GELLMANS)
20. Score Inscriptions (1/5 GELLMANS)
21. Leaf Rookies and Stars (0/5 GELLMANS – NR)

I Am Very Scared For This Year’s Finest

Thanks to Jerry for sending me a preview of the Sanchez.

First off, last year’s finest was bad, REALLY BAD. The parallels were pastel shades of pink and blue, and really didnt make sense. They put manufactured NFL logo shields into auto cards for no reason. Lastly, they said a ton of shit was going to be numbered, and it wasnt at all. Yes, they offered to fix it, but thats not the point. Basically, the point is, for Topps Finest 2008, there was let down after let down for the set.
This year, like last year, looks promising from the original images that were leaked. They have a patch auto parallel, they have good looking base cards that dont look like pink film strips, and it looks like things may finally be back to the form we were used to from pre 2005.
However, this is a Topps product that just barely breaks the golden rule of Topps football cards. Last year, 2007, 2006, and 2005 were pretty much design diarrhea, but for 2009, it shows promise.
That doesnt mean im not holding my breath for the coming Topps Finest apocalypse. I have that feeling, deep down inside that they will find some way to fuck it up beyond belief. I mean, they are using the foil stickers, as usual, and the rainbow foil seems to be making a return for a second year. Lets hope they realize that colored parallels only work when they are done in a chrome product that costs 80 dollars less per box.
As with any higher end product, parallels usually have no place unless there is something extremely differentiated between the cards. Colors dont cut it for a product that costs this much, especially when they have a scheme equal to a box of lucky charms.