By Ross Forman
I went to a 7-Eleven store in Chicago in late January and was greeted by a large “Slurpee 50” sign in the middle of the door. Must be the 50th anniversary of the Slurpee, I thought, though incorrectly I later learned.
Ah yes, the Slurpee, that frozen treat which is the mainstay of these convenience stores … even though I was going in that day for a cup of coffee and admittedly have not had a Slurpee in years, or more likely, decades.
But there certainly was a time when I liked Slurpees, always opting for Coca-Cola.
Who didn’t like the chilly delight of a 7-Eleven Slurpee, with its roots dating back, in some form, to the late-1950s, when machines to make frozen beverages were invented by Omar Knedlik? The idea for a slushed ice drink, reportedly, came when Knedlik’s soda fountain broke down, forcing him to put his sodas in a freezer to stay cool, which caused them to become slushy.
Customers liked what they got, giving Knedlik the idea to make a machine to help make a slushy from carbonated beverages.
That led to the ICEE.
In 1965, 7-Eleven made a licensing deal with The ICEE Co. to sell the product under several conditions, including that 7-Eleven must use a different name for the product, and that the company was only allowed to sell the product in 7-Eleven locations in the U.S.
In 1967, 7-Eleven launched the Slurpee, named for the sound made when drinking them through a straw.
So Slurpee is now a beautiful 49 – and the 50 signage at 7-Eleven stores earlier this year was for the 50th Super Bowl, I learned after calling the company’s corporate headquarters.
But Slurpee still needs to be celebrated, particularly the sports memorabilia stemming from those sweet treats.
There were baseball and football stars of the 1960s and 1970s whose likeness appeared on Slurpee cups, among other sporting legends. There also were 3-D coins stashed on the bottom of Slurpee cups at one time. Heck, even the WWE had stars such as The Rock, John Cena, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Randy Orton and Shawn Michaels, among others, boldly blasted on Slurpee cups.
“I absolutely collected,” said longtime pro wrestling announcer Mike Tenay on the subject of Slurpee cups. Tenay lives in Las Vegas and now hosts the Professor Vegas Podcast, a weekly audio sports betting magazine from CBS Radio New York City.
“In a way, Slurpee cups were like collecting baseball cards. The biggest difference was, with cards, you never knew what cards you were getting until you opened it. With Slurpee cups, you could see what the next cup was going to be,” Tenay said.
And some of sports’ biggest names have appeared on Slurpee cups.
Baseball Hall of Famers Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and Roberto Clemente have been cupped, so to speak. And so have Pete Rose, Nolan Ryan and Carl Yastrzemski, among others.
Football icons have included Dick Butkus, “Mean” Joe Greene and many others.
“I can still remember getting yelled at from the 7-Eleven employees because, if I already had the next cup, I would just keep pulling out cups from the dispenser until I got a cup that I wanted or needed,” said Tenay, whose pro wrestling career dates back to the 1960s, yet it was in the 1990s when he broke into the international spotlight as a broadcaster for World Championship Wrestling (WCW). “I thought Slurpee cups were a great collector’s item, and I’m sure I still have some from back in the 1970s, somewhere.”
Ironically, Tenay admitted that though he’d seen the WWE Slurpee cups, he never purchased any.
Tenay isn’t the lone celebrity who scored a sports star on a Slurpee cup. Former World Heavyweight Champion Kevin Nash, who earned worldwide fame with WCW and WWE and is a 2015 inductee into the WWE Hall of Fame – drank Slurpees as a kid in Detroit with cups showcasing baseball icons, such as his beloved Tigers.
Todd McFarlane has often talked about his Slurpee cup collection.
The 7-Eleven baseball Slurpee cups arrived in 1972, with 60 different stars of the day, such as Hank Aaron, Johnny Bench, Lou Brock, Orlando Cepeda, Bob Gibson, Reggie Jackson, Fergie Jenkins, Al Kaline, Harmon Killebrew, Juan Marichal, Willie Mays, Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Tom Seaver, Willie Stargell and Joe Torre.
The 7-Eleven football Slurpee cups in 1972 featured Elvin Bethea, Terry Bradshaw, Len Dawson, Ted Hendricks, Sonny Jurgensen, Bob Lilly, Alan Page, O.J. Simpson, Jan Stenerud and Ron Yary, among the set of 60.
Mark Dehem, a longtime dealer from Michigan, still recalls the cups – and the chase. Mark and his brother, Jim, convinced their dad, Jack, to drive them to multiple 7-Eleven stores near their Detroit home just for Slurpee cups.
“After a while it wasn’t even about the Slurpee, but rather about getting the cups,” said Dehem, who still has many of his vintage cups.
Dehem said he was attracted by the players, as well as the artwork on the cups, much more than the frosty drink. Plus, “it was almost all the stars,” of that era, he said.
Pete Rose was the hot Slurpee cup at the time, Dehem said. His favorite cup was former Detroit catcher Bill Freehan, his favorite player.
“By 1973, Slurpee cup collecting was huge. Everyone in the neighborhood collected them,” Dehem said. “One of the biggest appeals back in the day was it was something else to collect besides cards. It was cool.”
One negative of the cups was, and still is, they cracked easily. “If it fell off the shelf, it was cracking,” Dehem said. “Plus, they got scratched easily and are bulky.”
Dehem built a wood shelf at his home as a youngster just to display his Slurpee cups.
“They’re an old-school collectible,” Dehem laughed.
And, yes, Dehem would love to see Slurpee sports cups return. “They’d be a cool collectible again,” he said.
Longtime Chicago-based collector/dealer John Arcand also would welcome a return of sports-themed Slurpee cups and/or coins.
“Of course,” Arcand said, “Who wouldn’t want a Slurpee cup or coin of, say, Kris Bryant, Mike Trout or any of today’s stars?”
Arcand collected all of the sports Slurpee cups and coins, along with superhero cups – and he still has many of them. Plus, he is “a big Slurpee fan, too.”
Arcand said the cups and coins, particularly the cups, “have a lot of sentimental value.”
“It was cool to collect the cups,” she said. “They had a great headshot of the athletes and were so vibrantly colored. They just looked very cool.”
The 7-Eleven cups featured well done, realistic full-color portraits of the sporting stars, with biographical information on the back of the cup. The cups are about 6 inches tall with a 3-1/4-inch or so diameter at the top. One of the biggest negatives of these cups was there were no lids.
None of the baseball cups ever had, or have, huge demand on the secondary market, as witnessed by the prices. Clemente (1972) is, arguably, the most valuable at about $35. Rose (1972) and Ryan (1973) are popular, too, at about $30 each. Many others are just $5 each.
There was a Baseball Hall of Fame set of 20 issued, too, with Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner and others.
Football cups are about $20 on the high end, and about $3 for commons.
A less common but still low-demand basketball cup set features Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and others, including the late Pete Maravich.
Bobby Hull was among the hockey cups, which are very rare.
There also were paper checklists, showing the available cups – and these are very popular still.
The 7-Eleven stores returned to the game in the 1980s – with collectible 3D coins stashed on the bottom of a generic cup. There were 493 different baseball coins produced from 1983-2000, with 29 different sets (plus test sets). Coins were, at times, made by Score and Pacific Trading Cards.
“Dealers often had full sets of the coins for sale at shows, so you didn’t have to go around to the stores to buy the Slurpees,” Dehem said. “You could instead buy a full set for a fraction of the price of buying individual Slurpees to try to complete the set.”
Ross Forman, a frequent contributor to SCD, only wants one 7-Eleven cup for his collection: Wilbur Wood, his all-time favorite player. He can be reached at Rossco814@aol.com.