Author: Matt W.
As I mentioned in my introduction, I am one of only a handful of people to have ever completed the 1977 Topps Mexican football set. And while that is quite a hobby accomplishment (as Slowdog kindly noted in the comments), it’s the story behind my quest which is much more interesting than the accomplishment itself.
The story begins in the year the set was issued, 1977. I was in first grade and was just starting to collect cards. One of my best friends was a kid named Charles, who lived just up the hill from me in San Francisco. We did all sorts of things together, among them opening our first ever packs of baseball cards. Towards the end of the summer, Charles told me that he had some bad news…he was moving. I asked where to, and he said Mexico. Turns out that his dad worked for the State Department, and had just gotten posted to the US Embassy in Mexico City. We said our good-byes, promised to write letters to each other (yes, people still did that back then), and prepared to start 2nd grade fifteen hundred miles apart. Letters went back and forth, Halloween and Thanksgiving came and went, and soon Xmas was upon us. I sent Charles a package of Topps Basketball cards for his Christmas present, and in return he sent me a package of Topps Football cards. It wasn’t until I looked at them carefully that I realized that they were in Spanish. Suddenly Roger Staubach was a member of the “Vaqueros” and Terry Bradshaw was playing for the “Acereros”. And who were those “Pieles Rojas” anyway? Interesting cards to be sure, but as soon as the 1978 baseball cards started to show up, the Mexican football cards went into shoeboxes with all the other cards I owned, and there they sat, gathering dust, for almost fifteen years.
Fast-forward to 1991…I’m twenty years old, just finishing my junior year of college, and my Mom’s arthritis is becoming much more severe. My parents decide to sell our house and move into a smaller one with fewer stairs. I spend a significant part of the summer going through boxes in the basement filled with stuff from my childhood, deciding what will be kept, and what will be donated to charity. I discover the box filled with these weird Spanish football cards.
By this time I had become fairly knowledgeable about the hobby, and am aware that these cards are pretty rare. I take them out of the box and count them up…just under 200 different cards. I decide that it would be a nice challenge to try and complete the set. Little did I know what I was getting into. I did a little research and discovered that while single cards were very hard to come by (this being four years before Netscape and eight years before Ebay), several people had substantial stashes of unopened boxes (Mark Murphy and a guy named Steve whose last name I don’t remember). Although some of these were boxes of the rarer 4-card packs, mostly these were the infamous 2-card packs (usually one of the two cards had a gum or wax stain). Two or three times a year I bought a new box to open, a pattern which would continue for the next few years until I realized that the law of diminishing returns was starting to take effect and that I was getting more duplicates than new cards. I’m not sure exactly when I decided that opening boxes was no longer the most cost-efficient way to proceed, but it might have had something to do with the box I opened that featured 17 Brian Sipe and 14 Ken Anderson cards out of the seventy-two cards in the box (yes, the distribution was sometimes that bad!). By this time I was at roughly 400 cards, constituting roughly ¾ of the set.
As the years passed and the Internet started to make it easier to meet other collectors, I started to find other people also working on the set with whom to trade. My wantlist slowly started to shrink, until by the turn of the century I was down to about twenty-five cards. Although by this point I was well aware of the huge number of cards owned by Michael Hattley at Touchdown Treasures, I realized that it would be far too easy (never mind expensive) to simply buy all the cards I needed from him. So I vowed to try to complete the set by either trading with other collectors or finding cards on Ebay. By 2005, my list was down to single digits, and by 2009 I was down to just one last card (of course one of the Dirty Dozen). Early last summer it popped up on Ebay as part of a lot from a seller in Mexico and I was able to win the auction at a very reasonable price. This was the final piece of the puzzle:
While it took 32 years and caused me much aggravation, it remains one of the most challenging and fulfilling things I have ever accomplished as a collector. I met numerous new collectors along the way and made several new friends, and although I was not the first to finish the set (several other people with the $$$ to buy cards at full price beat me to it), I can pride myself on having been the first to start it.
And if anybody else reading this is working on the set, I’ve still got several hundred duplicates looking for a nice home…