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Trade You Eight Reillys For a Vick

Are you an avid collector of sports memorabilia? If so, what you're going to hear next is going to make you take up a new hobby, perhaps sword swallowing. I now have my own football trading card.

Sadly, this is true. Donruss has a series of cards called Fans of the Game, and this year they asked me if I'd like to be on one. They said my picture and my alltime favorite team (the extinct Los Angeles Rams) would be on it. This is a sickening trend in trading cards: putting nonathletes on them and causing 10-year-old boys everywhere to puke up their Skittles.

Last year, for instance, Topps put out a series of World Treasures that included Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela and Princess Diana. The only card signed by the Pope went for $10,400 on eBay last weekend.

I broke the news about my card to my 16-year-old daughter while trailing five feet behind her at the mall. "Rae, your dad is going to have his own football card!" I yelled up.

And she whispered back to me, "Dad, you promised to keep a gap between us at the mall! In case my friends see me!"

"There is a gap between us!"

"No! A Gap store."

O.K., the kids weren't impressed. But when I was a boy, my collection of baseball and football cards were my life. I'd put them in three shoe boxes according to worth--KEEP, FLIP, and KNIFE.

Keeps were any Ram or totally cool player, like Joe Namath (who wound up being both). Flips were ammunition for lunchtime games of Match It, which you could play as long as the nuns didn't catch you and match you with the school paddle. And the Knife cards were doomed to be thumbtacked to the door of the bedroom--laundry room my brother, John, and I shared. He could stand 10 feet away and flip his pocketknife so that it stuck in the door. I can remember his sticking the Baltimore Colts' John Mackey in the right eye, a feat so amazing that Mackey remained pegged to the door for nearly a month, a hapless one-eyed Jack.

And then, 37 years later, my brother is waking me out of my daydream with a phone call.

"Guess what I just bought on eBay!" he says. "Your football card!"

"Oh, crap," I moan.

"Guess how much I paid?"

"Please don't tell me."

"One cent!"

"One cent? Who sells anything for one cent?"

"Well, he got me for $3 shipping."

So between my brother and my kids, a good bit of the glory was gone by the time a box of 750 cards came. Secretly, it was a minithrill, except there were no stats or cartoon on the back of my card. You know? Like, on the old cards, they'd have Jim Taylor's yards per carry, plus a funny drawing of him getting pulled through the water by a fish with the caption, Jim once caught an 800-pound marlin!

Of course, what were they going to put on mine? My adjectives per paragraph? And maybe a drawing of me, sitting stubble-faced at a laptop, with a bottle of Dewar's and a blank balloon over my head? Rick's drinking tends to worsen with writer's block!

I autographed 250 cards and sent them back, and Donruss sprinkled them among the other 1,000 they printed and put in packs of NFL cards. Can't you see some kid paying $2.99, hoping for Michael Vick (worth as much as $1,600 signed) and getting me instead? No wonder there's so much youth violence today.

A few weeks later I got an e-mail from Tracy Hackler of Beckett's collectibles magazines. He said they had priced my autographed card at $50, ahead of those of other Fans of the Game like Erik Estrada of ChiPs ($30) but "slightly behind" Tony Danza's ($250). Ouch.

He said my unsigned card, at $2.50, compared favorably with those of such current NFL stars as Ryan Moats, Brock Berlin and Chris Rix. And I had two thoughts about that:

1) Take that, Ryan Moats!

2) Who the hell is Ryan Moats?

With 500 cards to get rid of, I went to Denver's hot new watering hole, Elway's, and started handing them out to perfect strangers. "Hang on to that," I told them. "That could be worth seven or eight cents someday."

And every person looked at me and said the same thing: "Will John Elway be here tonight?"

So far, I've gotten one (1) card in the mail to sign. From Jeff Majeski of Fairmont, Minn. I called him up. He said he has some great signed cards, including a Joe Montana, which he keeps in a safe. Others he puts under the glass on top of his desk. "You're in my bottom drawer," he said, sheepishly.

Hey, beats the Knife box.

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