SCU Go-Live Report: 2014 Topps Football Signals the Real Start to the Season!

As I talked about yesterday, 2014 Topps Football is one of those days on the calendar that really makes things obvious that football is back. Although I am not a base collector, and have yet to spend the time putting together a set in my life, this product is still exciting. Topps has always been a leader in making their big products look great, and the 2014 set this year is no exception.

Check out some of the bigger hits already up:

2014 Topps Sammy Watkins 1963 Auto On Card /150

2014 Topps Teddy Bridgewater 1985 Auto On Card

2014 Topps Khalil Mack Jumbo Patch Auto
2014 Topps Jadeveon Clowney 1965 Tall Boy Auto /150

2014 Topps Carlos Hyde 1985 Auto On Card /150

Here are some of my initial thoughts after seeing previews and the first cards up, some good some bad. Ill try to organize everything so its easier to follow along.

The Good

Topps has made it a point over the last few years to include some great photography in their sets. It has been more impressive in recent years for Flagship, and I really like a lot of the pics this year for non-rookies. The Variations with TD dance celebrations are really cool, a theme that has never really applied in years past.

I also really like the changes in the Rookie Premiere Autos, even though its another subset autograph with the exact same pics from Inception. Because of how short a period of time it is between the draft and the rookie premiere, both Panini and Topps have had to recycle a lot more of the retouched work that constitutes their initial on card offerings. At least the work is really well done.

Another good part of the product has to be a better checklist of veteran base autos, which includes some guys that havent had Topps autos in a very long time. These are some of my favorite cards in the set, and I wish there were many more of them to fill things out a bit.

To add some nice flare, the insert designs this year are pretty eye catching. Although they do have a bit of a video game feel to them, the lighted stadium look isnt something I am going to complain about after seeing some of the examples from previous Topps sets. The theme of "Unleash the Future" is a nice idea, but unfortunately named after recent news.

When it comes to the 1985 autos, I absolutely love these, as I think they are vastly improved over the 1986 autos from last year’s set. The design is similarly iconic, and though black stock does not lend itself well to being manhandled by the rookies, the cards still look awesome.

Topps has also done a good job with interactive programs in their products over the years, and the Power Players is one that was a popular fantasy style game with Baseball. It was reconfigured for FB, from early pulls, and I think it is definitely going to be fun chasing down some of the inserts.

The Bad

I am beyond done with these Tall Boys. We have had them in 2012, 2013 and now 2014 on multiple occasions, and all three times I have not bought a single one. I despise the sideline shot with helmet off, even though I know that was the way they were originally done back in 1965.

Adding other minis with similar work on the pictures doesnt make things any better for me either, as I wish we could have gone a different direction and used a different style of pic – retro theme be damned.

After reviewing some of the rookie variation cards, I sincerely wish the photos were much more different, as so many of them look like they are just the next pic on the roll. One pic is right as they are winding up, with the variation pic seemingly taken a split second after. We need more changes to be cool. Im still going chase them, but Im not as excited this time.

I also am really against using Fantasy Football as a theme for any card set. It plays into two different sets this year, and I find it completely off putting. Although I understand that fantasy is a big element of the success of the NFL, im just not a fan of adding it to this product as a theme TWICE.

All that being said, I think 2014 Topps really did turn out very nicely, and is an improvement for sure over 2013.

2014 Topps Football – Rebuilding After A Weak Class

This is one of the bigger weeks for Football cards as Topps releases its flagship brand, even more so with a strong class. Its clear that they are banking on a big year for 2014, as the checklist that was just released is definitely showing some surprises.

Here are some of the cards already up:

2014 Topps Football Johnny Manziel RC

2014 Topps Football Blake Bortles RC

2014 Topps Football Jadeveon Clowney RC

2014 Topps Football Tom Brady Commemorative Coin Card

This set will likely be lost after next year with the Panini exclusive kicking in, and it should be abundantly clear how big a loss that will be. For now, Ill bask in the glory of one of my favorite sets of the year. Here is what to look forward to.

Rookie Premiere Autograph Changes

As I mentioned during the first preview when the product was solicited, it was the right call to switch the format of these cards. Because of the limitations of the premiere, Topps had said it was getting tougher and tougher to get the rookies to sit down for their pics, which led to inconsistency in the set. Using the inception pics looks better anyways. These cards should end up being VERY nice.

Here is what I mean by inconsistent:

2013 Topps Geno Smith Rookie Premiere Auto – On site pic from RPS

2013 Topps Montee Ball Rookie Premiere Auto - On site pic from RPS

2013 Topps Zach Ertz Rookie Premiere Auto – Retouched pic

Better Autograph Content

Back in 2013, Topps started adding base veteran autographs to their checklist to make up for a weaker rookie class. This is in addition to the other non-rookie autograph content that was already present. Typically, it is rare to have really top level players constitute the checklist, but it looks different this year. This year, there will be another push for top signers, including from what I am seeing on the release, Tom Brady.

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1985 Autographs

If you are unware of the 1985 design, its time to familiarize yourself with it, because it is featured in this year’s set. Not only is it one of my all time favorites, but it lends itself perfectly to retro content. They used it last year for a rare auto redemption that turned out great, and I am happy they are bringing it back full scale. I was never a real fan of the tall boys or any of the helmet off pics used for the minis, and these cards definitely look really good from the previews.

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Largest Set in Years

I am not a set collector, nor do I identify with the motivation to painstakingly put together a huge base set. As I high end collector, I strive for the biggest and best single cards I can find. This year Topps seems to be going back to its roots in building a huge product with tons to collect. There are going to be a lot of happy people there.

More Variations

As mentioned above, the base set is of LITERALLY no interest to me, but I do love the rare variations that tend to carry tons of value upon release. Top rookies and players can easily generate 20-30 dollars in a non-parallel non-autograph which says a lot. The variation checklist is pretty large this year, and I cant wait to see some of the pics. *CROSSING MY FINGERS FOR AN ADRIAN PETERSON ORANGE PEANUT CARD!*

Nicely Designed Inserts

This is where Topps has always beaten the shit out of Panini, as their design team has always been miles ahead. However, last year’s inserts left A LOT to be desired. After seeing some of the previews this year, we are FAAAR past that point, thank god. Some of them were horrendously bad.

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In all likelihood, Topps should hit eBay tomorrow night, with early breakers listing their pulls. Time will tell how the product performs, but I am predicting big things a la 2012 with such a strong class.

2012 Contenders Robert Griffin III Autos Called Into Question

Determining autograph authenticity in sports cards has been an issue for years. It is also likely an issue that will never be solved until the companies invest in its solution. I want to reinforce that this is something that can be prevented by the companies, but ultimately it is the player that should be held responsible. Players having cards ghost signed is not like situations presented with cards like the 2007 RP autos – that is all collector douchebaggery at work.

Here is the breakdown. On blowout, some of the hardcore collectors of Robert Griffin III are claiming that there is a part of the print run from his 2012 Contenders autograph that are signed by someone else. This is evident when comparing version one versus version two, and if an amateur like me can tell – it’s an issue.

Here are some of the real ones:

2012 Contenders Robert Griffin III Rookie Ink Auto

2012 Contenders Robert Griffin III Playoff Ticket Auto /99

These loopy signatures are the ones in question:

2012 Contenders Robert Griffin III Ticket Auto Variation

2012 Contenders Robert Griffin III Ticket Auto

I have met Griffin personally, and his autograph looks nothing like this on the ones he signed for me.

This is not new to Panini either, as other cards like we saw with autographs from players like Dez Bryant, Ryan Mathews, and Cordarrelle Patterson had the same issues.

Real Patterson: 2013 Topps Five Star Cordarrelle Patterson Auto RC
“Real” Patterson: 2013 Crown Royale Cordarrelle Patterson Silhouette Auto Patch

Real Dez: 2010 Topps Platinum Dez Bryant Auto
“Real” Dez: 2010 Certified Dez Bryant Auto

Real Mathews: 2012 Topps Supreme Ryan Mathews Auto Jumbo Patch
“Real” Mathews: 2013 National Treasures Ryan Mathews Dual Auto

Unlike Topps, almost all of Panini's signings are done through the mail with a signed affidavit from the player saying the cards they are returning are real. The issue is that many of the players A) dont need the money, B) dont care about a lawsuit, C) know a lawsuit isnt coming because of the need to get other autographs. If collectors ever question the authenticity of an autograph, the company goes to the agent and asks for clarification. Of course the agent isnt going to out their client, so it all comes back as real. The grading companies wont help either, as their relationships with the card companies are too important to tarnish with truly giving their opinion.

However, thanks to the huge community of pictures online these days, its almost too easy to spot when things dont look correct. In reality, this is a vicious cycle that can only be fixed with in person autograph signings, which not only take a ton of time to coordinate, but a ton of money to execute. Topps has said on numerous occasions that they strive for this with every signing, and as a result have had the least amount of problems of this nature. Panini has no doubt had the most problems, but Topps hasnt been without issues in the past.

Card collectors really dont know what to do either, because they automatically assume that ever autograph they get is real. Since the beginning of widespread autograph content in packs, this has been a challenge that has never gone away. We are just much more able to identify it these days. Players are getting pressed more and more to sign thousands of autographs at a time, which only exacerbates their frustration with the process.

For amateur sleuths like myself, I can easily pinpoint the issues when ZERO certified in person autographs bear the signatures in question. There are times when players will switch the content of their autographs, without question, but there will also be in person examples to reflect the change.

Because the worst offenders are usually higher profile players, its hard to ban them from signing. Cam Newton was accused frequently back in 2011, but has since come back on board with regular signatures that look player signed. Dez Bryant has never really had the opportunity to sign more cards after collectors outed him. From what it seems like, the companies never went back to him. It should come as no surprise that the most immature players are the ones that have a tough time fulfilling commitments, but that is always a risk. Its why the Rookie Premiere is so important each year. The companies have a captive audience and they try to milk it for all its worth. I dont blame them one bit. Players are humans who usually see autograph sessions with card companies as a nuisance.

On the Radar: 2014 Bowman Chrome Football is BACK!

If you have been reading this blog for some time, you know that I am a huge fan of anything Topps makes with Chrome in the title. This year, we are already getting two new sets that puts my fandom into action, one being Topps Chrome mini, and now the other being 2014 Bowman Chrome.

2009 was the last time Bowman Chrome was its own set, although it did make subset returns in Topps Chrome in 2010 and 2011:

2009 Bowman Chrome LeSean McCoy Auto Blue Refractor

2010 Bowman Chrome Tim Tebow Auto Refractor Insert

2011 Bowman Chrome Cam Newton Auto Refractor Insert

2011 Bowman Chrome AJ Green Auto Refractor Insert

Topps had told me in the past that it was hard to continue brand equity with Bowman Chrome as its own product (because of how popular Topps Chrome was), and that it was almost diluting the market. I said that one can never have enough, especially in a hobby where so many of the products are forgettable. After two VERY strong years of regular Bowman in 2013 and 2014, I am beyond happy they chose to resurrect this brand.

To be frank, I do agree that there is a lot of overlap between the chrome stock brands for Topps, with the calendar already consisting of five to six products. However, I think there are a TON of collectors who would happily give up an overpriced set like Bowman Sterling to have another more affordable option available in Bowman Chrome.

I mean any time you have on card autographs with chrome stock, im not going to complain. I just love the way the cards eventually turn out. Im also going to need as much of this style as possible knowing that it wont be back after 2015 thanks to the pending Panini exclusive. The more the merrier.

Here are the pics:

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Mid August Surprise: Topps Releases 2015 Series One Designs!

This is a big day for baseball cards each year, and I am always excited to see what Topps is able to come up with each time the design is released. Playing off a lot of retro themed looks for recent sets, it should come as no surprise that the new design has a feel similar to some of the older sets from the late 1990s.

Base Design

I really like it, and I think it will transfer EXTREMELY well to Chrome and parallel structures. As much as a conservative look as 2014 Topps turned out to be, this is a complete departure. I think it presents a very cool take on how to present the MLB players in a way that looks fresh, and they have done a really good job here.

Last year:

2014 Topps Jose Abreu RC

2014 Topps Masahiro Tanaka RC

2014 Topps Yoenis Cespedes Platinum 1/1

This year:

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Strata

There is no other set in baseball that I like more than Strata signature relics. Making their debut in football over previous years, Strata came to baseball last year and were some of the most sought after high end inserts of the year. The design is a carbon copy of 2014 football, which is its own set, and I hope the checklist works out to have some of my guys in the mix.

Last Year:

2014 Topps Strata Reggie Jackson Shadowbox Auto

2014 Topps Strata Hank Aaron Shadowbox Auto

This Year:

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Metal Frames

In previous years, Topps has done reprints of iconic rookies with Metal Frames /10, and it looks like they are returning as a parallel to the base set. Not only do I think this is a really cool element to the set, but I like adding them as a parallel instead of a subset.

Last Year:

2014 Topps Cal Ripken Jr RC Metal Frame Reprint /25

2014 Topps Derek Jeter RC Metal Frame Reprint /199

This Year:

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Other Inserts

I think this years group of inserts are actually about 100 times better than 2014. Where I thought 2014 was horribly boring and uninspired, these look to have a much better theme and presentation to them. I am exposed to these inserts so much on Topps Bunt that I am kind of invested in their look. These are nicely done.

Last Year:

2014 Topps Mike Trout Trajectory Auto

2014 Topps Felix Hernandez Commemorative Patch

This Year:

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Overall, its no secret that Topps needs to make a splash with their upcoming products in light of recent news, and I think this is a damn good start to the 2015 card year. Im actually pretty excited.