The Making of Tom Brady’s First Rookie Card

When I look back at the years I spent developing products for the various sports card companies I worked for, the memories are all over the spectrum.

When I left Pinnacle, I was one of the last eight people remaining in the company. At the beginning of 1998, we had a staff of nearly 300. I landed at Collector’s Edge of Tennessee, based in Denver, Colorado.

Confused? Yeah, I was too.

While Pinnacle was the hobby’s overdog, Collector’s Edge was the hobby’s underdog. They were based in Denver, but owned by the Shop at Home TV Network based in Nashville. They were one of a number of innovative companies that entered the football card market in the early 1990s. Edge made its mark by producing plastic cards developed to maintain quality over time. Collector’s Edge and Action Packed were two brands I liked at that time, but then again, I liked everything.

I often think that Collector’s Edge may be the most underrated company and product line of all time. Yes, I am biased because I worked there for a couple of years. But because we were an underdog, living in the shadows cast by Upper Deck and Topps, we had to be innovative and creative.

One advantage we had was the ownership of Shop at Home. With Don West pushing our products on TV and with Ken Goldin often joining him, there was seldom a dull moment, but there was also a built-in ability to maximize sales. Ken secured autograph deals with Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf, and often the $99 packages that were sold included a box of cards with an autograph as a value-added item. 

One of our strategies for success was to be the first football card set released each year. In 2000, Edge Supreme hit the market before anything else. Not only did being first maximize our hobby and retail sales, but it did very well on TV.  There were 24 packs per box with a suggested price of $2.99 per pack.

Because the year was 2000, I had decided that all of our rookie cards in Edge Supreme should be serial numbered to 2000. Back in those days, short printing rookie cards was done sometimes but serial numbering was still a relatively new thing that was just starting to take off.

Choosing the rookies for 2000 Edge Supreme was difficult. We would receive an Excel sheet from the NFLPA on a regular basis. Players that had signed their product agreements were okay for the card companies to use. If a player had not signed, we could not use them. If a player who had not signed was used in a set, the company would be fined $250,000, no small figure today and definitely not in those days. Time was crucial.

Our President, Alan Lewis, made a deal the previous year to get us into the NFL Rookie Premiere and its photo shoot, giving us quality images of top rookies in their NFL uniforms. In 2000, Tom Brady was not invited. Other than the 30 players at the event, we had to fill in the rest of our rookie line-up.

I went over the list of available players with our photo editor. She looked at which players we had shots of, and who was on the list. Sometimes, we didn’t have good photos of the players we wanted, and sometimes, we had great shots of someone we didn’t want to necessarily put in the set.

The QB From Michigan

And then there was Brady. He was a sixth round pick out of Michigan, where he had split time at QB with Drew Henson in his last two years. For all of the research we did and all of the experts we talked to, nobody saw Brady playing having a meaningful career in the NFL.  He came out of the draft combine with the label of “unathletic.” Most scouts were not very impressed with him. He went into his rookie year as a fourth stringer, behind Drew Bledsoe, John Friesz and Michael Bishop.

At the same time, though, the hobby had just been turned upside down by the scramble to get Kurt Warner on a football card. He wasn’t supposed to make it either. The lesson we learned than is that if there is a rookie or drafted quarterback out there, it’s worth putting him in a set, but Brady still wasn’t a no-brainer for us.

Then we started to break it down. Michigan-based Meijer was one of the largest retail customers we had. Because Brady was a Wolverine, his card would be popular among the many collectors who shopped there. And what if, by chance, he is the next Kurt Warner? Nawww, that couldn’t happen.

But there was another factor that ultimately led to the decision to put Brady in 2000 Edge Supreme.  There was talk that he might have a future in professional baseball. I thought back to one of my favorite Pinnacle cards, a TCMA John Elway card from the New York-Penn League’s Oneonta Yankees. John Elway. Shortstop.

Then I thought of some of my other cards of crossover sport players. Danny Ainge, Deion Sanders, Bo Jackson, Rick Leach – there are more than you think, and they are all cool.

I was actually more than familiar with Brady as a baseball player. I was a die-hard Montreal Expos fan. The Expos drafted Brady in the 18th round of the 1995 MLB Draft as a high school catcher. They threw a lot of money at him – second round money – to forego college and sign. Montreal GM Kevin Malone said publicly that Brady had the potential to be one of the greatest catchers of all-time. He was a great lefthanded power hitter, he had a great arm, and he was cerebral behind the plate.

This image of a fake Tom Brady baseball card has been around for more than a decade. Brady even posted it to his Instagram account on his anniversary of being drafted by the Montreal Expos.

If Tom Brady becomes a superstar in baseball after he gets cut by the Patriots, I thought, our Edge Supreme would be an amazing card to have some day.

Of course, Brady became a superstar in football, proving us all wrong. He never got the chance to play baseball. Maybe if he did, the Expos would still be around.

There are three versions of Brady’s Edge Supreme rookie–the regular version numbered to 2000; the “Rookies 200” version numbered to 200 and the Hologold parallel numbered to just 20.  These days, prices for all of them are way beyond anything we could have imagined then (but all things considered, maybe they’re a little undervalued).

There were 44 different Tom Brady rookie cards made in 2000 and they’re some of the hottest cards on the market. That was the last year Collector’s Edge was in business. I developed the last few card products for them before I left and even wrote all the card backs. The company did not go bankrupt as has often been stated. Rather, Shop At Home was in the early stages of being sold to EW Scripps, who owned the Food Network and HGTV. The writing was on the wall that anything to do with sports, including Collector’s Edge, was getting the axe. I had offers from Fleer and Upper Deck, but ended up at Pacific, where we made lots of Tom Brady cards.

And the ironic thing about Brady’s rookie year was that none of the manufacturers made a cent off of his cards. He was a fourth-string quarterback added to round out sets with a skill position player. Collectors in 2000 were looking for cards of Ron Dayne, Chad Pennington, Chris Redman, Jamal Lewis, Plaxico Burress and the other top draft picks. By the time Brady became popular and collectors started looking back, most leftover boxes with his rookie cards would have long been sold to close outs or repackers.

I wish we would have been able to make a Tom Brady baseball card when I was at Pinnacle. But being part of the Collector’s Edge team that made his first NFL rookie card is a special hobby memory.

About Jeff Morris

Jeff Morris is a hobby veteran who has been a collector for more than 50 years. Originally a hobby journalist, he became brand manager at Pinnacle, and then was an executive for Collector’s Edge and Shop at Home before joining Pacific Trading Cards as VP Marketing. He is the former editor and publisher of Canadian Sports Collector magazine, and he was also a columnist for ESPN.com.

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