By TJ Hill aka napuke46

It’s late in the winter 1988. I am eight years old and I come into the living room and Dad is watching a bunch of guys on ice skates swat around at a little black thing. “Whatcha watchin?” was all I could think to say. He replies, ”It’s something called ice hockey.” with this tone in his voice of, “Who knows but it’s something to watch.” That winter evening way back then was the start of something that has lasted over 20 years. It was that night of hockey that got the entire family started into the sport. Season tickets two years later would lead free packs of 1990-1991 Pro Set hockey cards given away at the no-longer-there Capitals Center in Largo, Maryland. Of course being the little guy who liked hockey I got everyone’s free packs and that started it all.

Since those free packs I have spent thousands of dollars in purchasing cards over the past 20 years. It stayed low end as a kid with packs of those early 1990s Pro Set.

I can remember when the Series 2 Peter Bondra rookie card was all I could hope to pull, when the Wayne Gretzky all-star card was like pulling his rookie card and all of that from one sports card store in Birmingham, Alabama where a kid my age could get a pack of cards for 50 cents. Of course, after a while, the hobby died down because getting the same cards over and over again became boring and Mom and Dad wouldn’t spend the $2 a pack on Upper Deck for the really cool cards. That meant my collection consisted of hundreds of Pro Set cards until I came back to Maryland in 1994.

It was the fall of 1994 on a trip to the local K-Mart that I jumped back in full force. There were boxes upon boxes for sale and all less than $29.99 each. It was those boxes that would jump start an interest in this hobby that would rise and wane over the next 15 years but those boxes still were the most fun to crack open. It was from those boxes I would pull a 1995-1996 Upper Deck Freeze Frame Wayne Gretzky from what would become known in the hobby as a “hot box”. I fought like tooth and nail to find the Felix Potvin /Patrick Roy Next in Line from 1993-1994 Upper Deck. It was Christmas mornings like 1996 when Mom and Dad spent the $110 for a box of Select Certified from the local store from which I pulled the Select Certified Gold Team of none other than Wayne Gretzky. For a 16 year old kid who bought boxes from K-Mart to pull a card valued at over $100 was a Christmas made for stories like these. It could only be topped by the three packs of 1994-1995 Stadium Club for one dollar each at that same local card store that produced my Wayne Gretzky First Day Issue card.

It was not long after those great pulls that I found other things to do in high school and cards just fell to the wayside. A few years later I tried again and had some decent pulls out of the 2001-2002 Topps Retail packs and got a great kick out of the quad jersey in every blaster box of 2001-2002 Pacific Heads Up. I also enjoyed the entire wax box of 1998-1999 Collectors Choice in the Target Re-Packs. But it fell to the way side again to be brought back like everyone else in 2005 when Sid the Kid and the Great Eight hit the scene. And I, like many others, pulled a Sidney Crosby Young Gun from my very first Upper Deck box. But even that pull, as big as any pull a guy could ask for, does not come close to that 1990-1991 Pro Set Peter Bondra Rookie or that Wayne Gretzky card with that tiny piece of foil that says First Day Issue. I still have those cards and it’s those pulls that made you bigger than life and feel like you were on top of the world, not wondering what you could trade it for or how much it would sell for on eBay. If we could all only go back to those days, the days of being a kid and not loving the cards for what we can get for them but for who was on them.