The Impossible Dream: Owning a unique set of cards

By Ray Carson

    A dream is a dream is a dream. Sometimes a dream can be so far-fetched that there is no way it could ever possibly be anything more than that.

    But what if it weren’t impossible? What if the impossible were possible? What could possibly be more of an emotional high than doing what is considered impossible? Doing the impossible can be so emotionally arousing that a person cannot help but have a cold chill run up his spine at just the thought of it.

    Have you ever imagined what it might feel like to own a set of trading cards that no one else owns except you? An obscure set of cards that is so rare that very few collectors would know what these cards look like. The thought is exhilarating.

    Like many collectors, I’m generally more interested in the older vintage cards than I am in the newer ones. But every once in a while something vastly different gets my attention. This was the case when I purchased some parallel insert cards of the 1996 Playoff Illusions Football Set. They were Dominion and Elite insert cards. I found the Dominion insert cards the most exciting and challenging. What I learned about these cards since then is nothing less than amazing. So much so that it created a burning desire within me to own the set.

    When parallel insert cards were first introduced in the 90’s they were extremely popular. They provided collectors the opportunity to collect different types of cards of the same players that appeared in the regular set. Despite their popularity, very few collectors attempted to complete parallel insert cards of the regular sets. I have never known anyone who owns such a set. There are several reasons why attempting to put a set together is impractical. For starters, it is time-consuming. Limited availability makes completing a parallel insert set difficult and can soon become quite frustrating. Although it may be possible, it is not easy. These cards would have to come from a multitude of sources in order to complete a set. Fellow collectors and even hobby shops don’t generally have many of them.

    Collectors frequently do not know much about parallel insert cards. Most don’t have the vaguest idea of what they look like. These cards often are not included in the price guide listings. If the guide happens to acknowledge their existence, often they don’t include a picture of what the cards look like. These are just a few of the problems associated with putting together these sets.

    In 1996 packs of Playoff Illusions Football cards retailed for $4.39. There were five cards to a pack. That’s almost $0.90 per card. I believe there are two basic reasons why they were so expensive. Both had to do with the cost of producing these cards. Producing these cards required an extremely sophisticated and highly technical printing process. Several varieties of holographic gold foil were used in making them. Added to this expense was the fact that they were printed on thick plastic card surfaces instead of regular cardboard.

    What makes these cards so special is their scarcity. Scarcity is a strong motivating element in our hobby. To own cards that other collectors don’t own always has its appeal. Scarcity was the main reason I had for choosing these cards.

    The extreme problems associated with completing the Dominion version of this set are astronomical. The first problem is the rarity of these cards.  Very few were produced. Only one Dominion card was available in every 192 Playoff Illusions Football packs opened. In other words, 192 packs would have to be purchased and opened in order to obtain just one dominion card. That’s incredible. At $4.39 a pack, the total cost would be about $720. More than 23,000 packs would have to be opened to get one set of Dominion cards. This assumes that there would be a different Dominion card in each of the 192 packs purchased. It would cost thousands and thousands of dollars.

    The second problem is that of obscurity. These cards are not included in some price guides and are not pictured in others. Only by looking in the largest of price guides can their existence and identity be found.

    Thirdly, even if you were able to locate enough of these cards, the cost would be prohibitive. Price guides use multiple formulas for calculating parallel insert card values. Star players in the Dominion set can be as high as four times the value of the same cards in the elite version of the Playoff Illusions set. For example, the Elite version of Brett Farve is listed for $20, but the Dominion version is valued at $80.

    It’s been 13 years since Playoff issued the Dominion parallel set. Despite the odds, I am proud to say I was able to complete the set, along with some partial sets. It was a challenging task. At times it became very frustrating. There were times I felt like quitting. But the search was fun. I got the same kind of feeling I used to get years ago when I was putting together sets. I got an emotional rush the closer I came to achieving the goal. It felt like I accomplished something with the inclusion of each new card. Then once the set was complete, the feeling was nothing less than exhilarating. I am now living the "impossible dream."   

    Trading cards provide many opportunities for enjoyment. One such opportunity that has not been exploited is that of collecting parallel card sets.  This aspect of the hobby may not be for everyone. However, for those seeking a different and challenging approach to collecting, it can be a very rewarding experience. The beauty of collecting parallel card sets is it offers varying degrees of difficulty. Some sets are relatively easy and inexpensive to put together. Others can be just the opposite.

    I would like to encourage you to consider collecting a parallel insert set. Not all sets are as difficult or time consuming as the Dominion version of the 1996 Playoff Illusions set. But the emotional rewards can be just the same. You can feel the enjoyment you used to experience. You can experience the joy and anticipation you felt each time you found a card that was needed to complete your set.

    Relive the past. Relive your youth. Once again feel the excitement you felt before. It won’t remove wrinkles, but it can make you feel young at heart. Let card collecting be fun again. 

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