My, how the mighty have fallen! Upper Deck, considered by many to be the premiere football card producer just a few years ago, has changed dramatically in two short years. In 2009, UD was producing solid set after solid set. Then, after some assumed financial and legal problems, UD lost its NBA, MLB, and NFL licenses all in a few months, and even lost its exclusivity with the NHL. The once proud company followed suit by grabbing an exclusive NCAA license, but never mustered the energy or organization to really produce anything substantial in 2010, skipping its flagship football product all together. UD appears to be making a stronger effort in 2011 and its flagship is its first attempt to turn the tides in the current year.
The Box – Click for Detail
Hobby boxes come with 20 6-card packs for a total of 120 cards. I got this box from Dave and Adam’s Card World for $86, which translates into a moderate $0.72/card ratio. That isn’t terribly expensive, but it is actually quite a bit higher than previous UD flagship releases. The price per box is higher, the card content is significantly reduced, yet the box seems a bit larger than usual. What’s in there? Let’s find out:
Does this pack have an Auto Letterman?
Base Cards: 89 (24 duplicates)
Star Rookies: 15 (included in base total above — 0 dupes)
Star Rookies 15 Stripe: 1
20th Anniversary: 10
Historical Programs: 4
Conference Clashes: 6
Dream Tandems: 4
Class of…: 4
Rookie Signature Letterman: 2
Click image for full-sized scan
FIRST AND GOAL’S FOUR DOWNS:
1st Down, Design: In prior years, Upper Deck would come up with a base design for its baseball product, and then just copy it for its other sport releases throughout the calendar. We once again see that…in a different way. 2011 UD Football uses the same design as the now infamous (for all the wrong reasons) 2010 Baseball set. How does that work? There was no 2010 Football set and UD wasn’t brave enough to attempt a 2011 Baseball set. The design is actually pretty solid. Silver foil stamping for names and logos never scans well, but I actually don’t mind it in person. The design is a typical UD layout: clean, uncluttered, and overall crisp. The card back also has a fairly standard short bio and statistics area (all collegiate stats for obvious reasons). I usually love UD base sets, and this one follows the general template, so why am I not impressed? First, the best thing about UD sets of the past was the photography. Going with legends in their collegiate uniforms meant going to the photo archives, many from before UD was even in existence. I understand that is going to cause problems. But why are some of them SO bad? The Mike Singletary card above looks like they just scanned an old newspaper article. And speaking of photos, there are three copies of the same photograph on each legends card. Poor form, UD. The Star Rookies cards make great use of the second photo box by swapping in a team logo. That should have been done for all of the base cards since licensing is not an issue for this release. But then UD added a bunch of obstructive border boxes to the front and took away the nice graphic elements of the card back. Odd.
2nd Down, Inserts: I’m trying to stay positive with reviews (and The Hobby in general) this year, so let’s start with the good. The 20th Anniversary inserts are FANTASTIC. Maybe UD still had the original raw design templates, because the “retro” design is spot on, right down to the old UD logo and the marble texture of the borders. The card backs are also spot on with the original 1991 release, and even feature a different photo from the front. Proof that UD can still find two photographs of the same player in any given year! But after that, the inserts go downhill in a hurry. The Historical Programs set was a great concept, but poorly executed. You could have legendary coaches or “then and now” images to show consistency at the top. Instead, UD chose to feature just one player per school in the midst of a hodge-podge of over-the-top design elements. Yuck. Also, is a program with 400 total wins and nearly a .500 average really a historical program? The team selection seemed based more on recent success than anything. Conference Clashes is a throw away set. Again, not a bad concept, but also not well done. It’s so difficult to pick just one player from each school in a storied rivalry. Plus, some schools like Alabama are featured on several cards. There are even two different Alabama/Georgia cards. I didn’t realize that was even one of the most fierce rivalries in college football. The Class Of… set is also a waste. Not a great concept and overly complicated design. Just not working for me. The Dream Tandems set wasn’t bad. It had a fairly clean design, but almost came across as lazy. It doesn’t help that I don’t like cards that feature multiple players from multiple teams. The Saturday in Action is a nice set and reminds me of the Fleer In Action cards of yesteryear. Only problem? All modern sets have action photography, so these shots weren’t all that special. The parallels also confused me. The Stripes idea is another throwback to the early 90s…but in a reference to Wild Card…not UD. Way to pick an original concept. Lastly, the big cards in the product: the Rookie Signature Letterman. These are very well done and are actually quite popular. The resale value of these seem to do very well and they are some of the more popular early cards of top-tier rookies. I’m still not pumped about manu-patches, but at least the design is decent and the player photo isn’t relegated to a teeny-tiny corner.
3rd Down, Collation: I feel like in the past, this was always one of UD’s strengths over the other guys. This time, at least in my box, that wasn’t the case. I pulled a staggering 24 duplicates from my box. It doesn’t help that there are only 50 veteran base cards and all of the rookies are obviously short printed (at least compared to the vets). What also didn’t help matters? The fact that within a 50-card veterans base set, a bunch of players were featured twice. You can’t possibly tell me Upper Deck couldn’t come up with AT LEAST 50 legendary college players for its set. The last time I saw something that off was 2008 Masterpieces, which featured several players multiple times and even skipped various card numbers. At least that set had an amazing design concept to help it along. I would have loved to see way more 20th Anniversary cards and way fewer duplicates, but that’s my opinion. Also, the side of the box promised 3 Rookie Autographs in every box. I pulled exactly 2. One fewer than advertised. Granted, I also pulled twice as many Letterman Autos as advertised (I pulled 2 while only promised 1), but I still feel jipped. That’s not a good way to get back in my good graces, Mr. Deck.
4th Down, Overall Value: This is a pretty tough call. The cards are generally well designed and the Rookie Signature Letterman are pulling great resale values on eBay. Upper Deck has also become a trusted brand over the past 20 years and was (at least at one point) viewed as superior to anything else, even the historical powered Topps. But how much will someone be willing to pay for a Troy Aikman base card in a UCLA uni? And how about a John Cappelletti card with way too much design fluff? Die hard college football fans will love a product like this, especially since SAGE and Press Pass can no longer show actual college unis or logos, but I feel like the general football card collecting community still won’t care all that much. If UD had dropped the inserts and focused on producing a large legends-focused set with a great design and checklist (a la 1997 Upper Deck Legends), this could have been a golden product. But a limited and repetitive checklist and lackluster inserts just aren’t cutting it. Even the top tier rookies won’t be nearly as valuable once the first NFL-branded cards are released in a few weeks. Overall, this product is mediocre at best.
RED ZONE RESULTS: MISSED FIELD GOAL FROM THE 3-YARD LINE, ON THE CENTER HASH Upper Deck had a lot going for it. The only official NCAA licensed company. 20+ years of collecting history and branding. Some of the best early rookie autograph cards. The ability to include some of the greatest players in college football history. After a long and strenuous march down the field (the past two years), Upper Deck had the ball centered on the three-yard line and was poised to get a chip-shot for 3 points on the board…and shanked it wide left. Adam Vinatieri, Upper Deck is not. The inserts lost my focus. The duplicates and repetitive base checklist got me frustrated. The missing autograph card flipped my lid. I wanted to like this product. Hell, I wanted to LOVE this product. I’ve been such a big fan of UD products for so many years, this one just couldn’t fall short. But it did. And I’m back to waiting for the first NFL releases just like every other football collector.
NEXT UP: 2011 Leaf U.S. Army All-American Bowl