In nearly 30 years of covering sports, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to write about some of the biggest sporting events in the country.
I’ve reported from NBA and NFL playoff games, college football bowl games, and a college basketball national championship.
I’ve been entrenched in an MLB pennant race and enjoyed more college baseball than a man deserves to.
I’ve covered 23 Daytona 500s, nearly every big auto race in the country, and one in Japan.
I’ve covered golf and tennis tournaments, soccer matches, swim meets, track meets, and races of the two- and four-legged kind. I’ve covered football games on baseball fields, and baseball games on football fields. I even covered a college football game on a racetrack that set a national attendance record.
A stick-and-ball guy, I’ve covered events I never envisioned or anticipated writing about.
Now I get to take in another — one as unique and as utterly surprising as any I have ever encountered.
The National Sports Collectors Convention is the Super Bowl of sports collecting. In 41 years, it has emerged as the World Series of trading cards and memorabilia and a crown jewel event in the hobby world.
It is the most anticipated event of the year for the hottest collectible industry in America. And what better time to check it out than following a pandemic-induced absence in the midst of a boom era of historic proportions.
I can’t fathom what it will be like inside the 450,000-square-foot Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, which will be filled wall-to-wall with the most rare and valuable treasures in the industry. Treasures that collectors covet, that dealers and investors spend millions to get their hands on, and that elaborate auction houses handle with kid gloves as they orchestrate the bidding of hobbyists with dreams of owning a piece of sports history.
I’m not sure any sport can match that kind of passion, not in today’s world.
The buzz surrounding The National, which is expected to draw its largest crowd ever, has a championship feel to it. Anticipation among hobbyists from all over the country has reached a fever pitch, especially after going a year without in-person shows and the personal engagement that drives the hobby. The drama should build over the course of the five-day show, climaxing into a celebration of the hobby.
One of the biggest thrills of being around any big sporting event is meeting the heroic and legendary figures that draw us to sports. Whether it’s Michael Jordan, Jeff Gordon or Tom Brady, they are awe-inspiring. That’s why we stand in line for hours for just a moment of their time and their signature on a precious piece of memorabilia.
Thanks to TRISTAR Productions, some of the biggest names in sports will be at the 41st National. Its star-studded autograph lineup rivals any the hobby has ever seen. Nearly 60 Hall of Famers will be on hand to meet collectors and fans, from Barry Sanders to Emmitt Smith, from Pete Rose and Johnny Bench to Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell, from Bill Walton to Kevin McHale.
There’s Chipper, Big Papi, Pudge and The Bus. There’s the Wizard, the Cobra, Hawk, and Chief. King Felix and The Iceman. There’s even the lovable “Ham” from “The Sandlot.” I can’t wait to get a glimpse of them, and hopefully the chance to meet a few.
But even they are not the biggest attraction. That distinction belongs to the faces on the cardboard treasures we covet. The ’52 Mantle, the ’33 Ruth, the “Holy Grail” Honus Wager. Rookie cards of Wilt, Russell, MJ and LeBron. The auto/patch/ticket specials of Brady and Trout. Hot new stars like Acuna, Franco, Ohtani and Vlad.
They are the big draws — the reason we spend our valuable time and dollars collecting their images and relics. They are the stars of the show as dealers and collectors dicker over their value and breakers anxiously bust open boxes, hoping to be kissed by fate.
I’ve experienced many exciting and dramatic moments in sports. I imagine those types of moments happening every few minutes at The National, with the excitement building with each pull, every big sale and another new discovery.
I can’t wait to soak it all up and add it to my list of great sports moments.
— Jeff Owens is the editor of Sports Collectors Digest and sportscollectorsdigest.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @jeffowens_jeff.