Here it is: the 2011 season debut of 1&G Product Reviews. Now, you may be asking yourself, “Wait, is it just me or did the last few episodes from last season never air?” No, it’s not just you. There are 3-4 2010 product reviews that I never got around to writing up. I do have the scans and the product breakdowns, so I just believe they are on hold for right now. Perhaps we’ll go on a review frenzy and knock them all out in a weak wacky wax week. But for now, I’d prefer not to delay the 2011 reviews any longer than they’ve already been delayed. I’ve got 4 boxes of 2011 product busted already, the first was 2011 SAGE Hit Low Series, as reviewed below:
Hobby boxes come with 30 5-card packs for a total of 150 cards. I got this box directly from SAGE Collectibles, but current online prices are around $92, which translates into a moderate $0.61/card ratio. That may seem a smidge high for a pre-draft set with no college licenses, but you do get 6 inserted autographs per box. At $15 per auto, that is actually a decent bargain, compared to other slightly cheaper boxes that only have 1-2 autographs.
1 insert in each of these bad boys
Base Cards: 113 (63 duplicates)
Pre-Rookies: 6 (1 duplicate)
Write Stuff: 3
Big Time: 6
Make Ready (#/50): 2
Red Autos: 2
Silver Autos: 2
Gold Autos (#/250): 2
FIRST AND GOAL’S FOUR DOWNS:
1st Down, Design: When you are a small and fairly young company, and you’ve lost your main license agreement, you had better come up with a solid card design to make your product worthwhile. In my opinion, SAGE Collectibles did just that with 2011 Hit. Instead of just grabbing a hodge-podge mix of poor quality photos and airbrushing out logos, SAGE went the extra mile and actually scheduled exclusive photo shoots with most of the athletes (along with Senior Bowl and workout shoots). Granted, the photography isn’t the intense and raw in-game imagery you may find in other sets, but it works. This is a pre-draft rookie set, so why not show the athletes in their pre-draft mode? The overall design of the cards is clean and simple. The player name font ties nicely into the SAGE/Hit theme. I particularly like the blue glow player image. What really takes it up a notch is realizing that these aren’t stock football player images. Rather, they are processed in-game photos of the athletes themselves. When you factor in the unique photo on the back of the card, that’s THREE different images of each player per card! Not bad for some unlicensed pre-draft set. Speaking of the card back, this is about as solid of a back as you could have. Unique player image, graphic design background, comprehensive player stats AND a very short bio. That’s nice. I also like the artistry subset. Yes, I realize these aren’t original paintings, but it still shows effort to make the set stand out. It is also a very effective way to help mask the lack of college helmet logos. Lastly, I was skeptical at first about the horizontal lines running through the background of each card, especially the upper one, but seeing the set altogether, it actually works. Each card naturally bleeds to the next, and there is a strong sense of continuity within the set, especially when placed in a 9-pocket album page.
2nd Down, Inserts: This was a big area for SAGE to either make or break the product. To me, they made it. I forgot to scan a base card parallel, but the silver and gold foils are actually pretty cool. Similar to 2010 Hit, the parallels appear to have small bits of foil or glitter pressed onto the card surface. But unlike those awful birthday cards you get from your grandparents, this shiny doesn’t rub off on your hands and everything else in the house. The Pre-Rookie cards are nothing extraordinary, but it is an interesting concept. It is similar to when NFL sets throw in a few cards with stars in their college unis. In a set with mostly college players, it makes sense to show the stars in their high school unis. The Write Stuff insert is a nice concept. I like the classic feel to it and once again we’ve got TWO player images on the same card. The card back takes a look at various features of the player’s signature and describes player aspects based on those features, which is actually pretty interesting. There is also an actual autograph version of this card where the patented SAGE auto label replaces the faux printed sig. The autograph cards are decent. Again, there is a simple design, but hints of solid design and graphical work like the subtle shadowing around the autograph label and the glare from the background stadium lights. The Make Ready cards, similar to last year’s effort, are still awaiting the jury’s decision. It is an interesting concept, but in an age when actual 1/1 printing plates are often pack inserted, having printing plate-like cards #/50 just seems a bit off. The cyan, magenta, and black cards aren’t bad, but I did pull a yellow card that is very hard to see, especially in the dim lighting of my living room. Lastly, the Big Time insert. Based on comments from fans when I premiered the exclusive first look at this insert, it is obvious that not everyone has the same opinion. I, for one, LOVE this insert set. There, I said it. This set reminds me of old athlete posters and card sets from my childhood. The colors grab you and the graphic artist really nailed the photograph munipulation. The Big Time attributes could have been a bit stronger and the suped up portion of the player could have been a bit more “suped-up”, but hopefully that is just room for improvement next year.
3rd Down, Collation: If you are like me, and God help you if you are, your first thought after reading the breakdown above should be, “113 base cards with 63 duplicates! Holy cow!” And yes, there are a lot of duplicates in a hobby box. There are a few saving graces: 1) you should definitely be able to pull the entire 50-card base set; 2) you can probably get 2 complete base sets. I think I only had 2 cards that had a single copy in my box. So if you really like the base set, you can go halves with a buddy and each take away a complete base set, a handful of inserts, and 3 autographs. Speaking of autos, I find it interesting that I pulled exactly 2 reds, 2 silvers, and 2 golds. I am going to assume that is not a coincidence. If SAGE is really the only company that has an all-hands on deck approach to product pack outs, then this sort of very consistent collation should come as no surprise.
4th Down, Overall Value: This is always a tough category to grade, especially for early pre-draft sets. This was the first 2011 product on the calendar, bringing you the first cards, and perhaps more importantly, the first autographs of this year’s draftees. There is definitely value in that. On the other hand, a lot of these pre-draft sets diminish in value quickly once the first post-draft and NFL-licensed sets are released and definitely once there are cards with rookies in full NFL unis. On the optimist side of things, you’re getting 6 autographs for the same price you’d usually get 2-3. On the pessimist side, highly touted rookies could turn out to be flops and singles you’re trying to unload in $1 lots could turn out to be future studs; there is a lot of risk in prospecting. So it depends what the focus of your collection is. If you like complete sets, this is a great early season set to collect and it’s easy to complete. If you like prospecting and the risk/reward it entails, this set could pay dividends. If you are a player collector, this set gives you a great way to kick-start a favorite rookie collection. If you view cards as an investment that will pay for college, you definitely want to look the other way. But then again, if you think pieces of card stock with 22-year-olds pictured on them are a safe investment for the future, you may want to seek professional financial consultation before making any decisions. And I mean any.
RED ZONE RESULTS: TOUCHDOWN, FAILED PAT I like this set. I really do. The solid base design, the unique inserts, and the autograph content are all there. In the first full year in dealing with the licensing issue, SAGE stepped up its game and created some really nice cards. It could have played it safe by kicking a field goal and basically recycling a prior design with airbrushed logos. But it didn’t. It took a risk and went for gold with its graphic artist(s) and unique artwork. The Big Time insert did it for me. That set alone found paydirt for this entire set. That insert isn’t like anything else on the market right now and isn’t just a stale reproduction of an old design like all of the throwbacks sets. It really stands out, in a good way. My only complaint is that there are only 15 Big Time cards (30 if you include the Low and High series together). Unfortunately, the licensing issue blocked the PAT attempt. I hate to even mention it because it’s not their own doing, but all SAGE products took a hit when Upper Deck decided it was more important to throw money into an exclusive NCAA license rather than actually revise its business model and figure out why it just lost nearly all of its professional licenses. In the football card market, we expect to see action shots in full pads and helmets. We want to see that “game face” of our favorite players. We need to feel that twinge of team pride when we see a certain animal and combination of colors. But for now, SAGE can only offer artistic renderings and studio/work out photos. It’s a shame, too. Can you imagine how exponentially greater this set would be with full licensing? Upper Deck had better hope it never loses that exclusive deal because SAGE is one David that is poised and ready to dominate that Goliath.
NEXT UP: 2011 Leaf Metal Draft