By Ross Forman
The binders filled with his football cards will be coming out in the years ahead.
Blake Bortles was the No. 3 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, nabbed by the Jacksonville Jaguars following his successful run at the University of Central Florida.
He led UCF to a 2012 Conference USA East Division Championship and bowl victory and then, as a senior in 2013, led the Knights to an upset of then-No. 8-ranked Louisville to win the inaugural American Athletic Conference Championship, and an upset victory over sixth-ranked Baylor in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl.
However, the binders we’re talking about now are filled with baseball cards.
“I grew up collecting baseball cards with my brother. We were baseball card freaks,” said Bortles, who attended Oviedo (Fla.) High School. His brother, Colby, was a freshman infielder for the Ole Miss University baseball team in 2014.
Bortles chose to forgo his senior season of collegiate eligibility for the NFL. He was picked well before highly-publicized fellow quarterback Johnny Manziel, the former Texas A&M quarterback who went to Cleveland.
“Growing up, I always wished I’d someday be on a (football) card, as kids always do,” he said. “It’s awesome. That’s a childhood dream: To play any sport professionally, and then to have your own trading card. That’s unreal.”
Now 22, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound quarterback is juiced to be a Jaguar.
“Being able to stay in Florida is awesome,” he said. “The coaching staff is unreal, same for the GM. It’s been a great environment to walk into as a rookie. I’ve had a blast so far. Your first NFL season always is special; you’ll always remember it.
“I don’t know how you put into words being drafted into the NFL. You grow up dreaming of something your whole life, and then to have it become a reality is an unreal feeling.”
Leading up to the NFL Draft, Bortles had no idea where he was going to end up.
“Being drafted third was very special. I had no idea when I was going to get drafted. I was enjoying New York and then my phone starts ringing and I thought, ‘I should probably answer that.’ It was awesome.”
Bortles has already hit the show circuit, having attended the Fanatics Authentic Sports Spectacular this past summer in Chicago. Bortles is under an exclusive contract with Fanatics Authentic.
“I didn’t know (the sports memorabilia industry) was nearly as extensive as it is until I got in with Fanatics and saw things like these shows,” Bortles said. “Seeing shows like this, wow, it’s unreal.”
Bortles on collecting
Bortles still has all his old baseball cards; he’s kept the binders under his bed in his parents’ home. As a big Atlanta Braves fan, Bortles’ binders are filled with such former Braves as Chipper Jones, Brian Jordan, Marcus Giles, Julio Franco and others.
He also recalls an early Ken Griffey Jr. card, which shows the former baseball standout throwing a football. “I thought that was the coolest thing,” Bortles said.
“My goal now is to get a card or autograph from every person Fanatics has (on its roster). I don’t think I shared that information with (Fanatics executives), yet,” Bortles said, laughing.
He said he would have gotten an autograph from Bo Jackson at the summer show, if they appeared on the same day. “Jackson was a freak of nature, and yet before anyone really even saw him, he was done. I’d really enjoy talking to him, if I had the chance,” Bortles said.
Bortles has not collected cards since sixth grade, “but I might have to bust out the binders and get it rolling again,” he said.
Nor has he sought autographs for his collection in years. He used to go to Atlanta Braves spring training games annually in Florida. “I don’t think I’ve asked for autographs since I stopped doing that,” he said.
Bortles said he gives all his game-used memorabilia to his mom.
“She hangs it up, or does whatever she wants with it … maybe throws it away; I don’t really know,” he laughed.
Bortles said his prized piece of memorabilia is his game-worn jersey from the 2014 Fiesta Bowl victory.
And what relic would he want? Bortles said a game-worn jersey from Brett Favre, who was his hero growing up.
Bortles said he receives “a lot” of fan mail, dozens of letters per day.
“I try to answer it (all), but sometimes it gets backed up,” he said.
Bortles said he likes all of his football cards to date, except “one of me throwing (a ball) wearing a black shirt or something; it’s weird.”
So what makes a good football card?
“You have to have a good picture, a good action shot or a good posed photo, and then the decoration, the design around the card, be it shiny borders or whatever. And it has to have a good story on the back. I like cards with bios on the back, not cards with just stats,” Bortles said.
And yes, he reads the back of cards.
“I enjoy that; I like seeing people’s stories, reading about them,” he said.
Ross Forman is a freelance contributor to SCD. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.