(This story originally appeared on www.espn.com)
NFL legend John Elway isn’t just a hired gun spokesman for Topps, he’s also a past customer.
It’s been 26 years since Elway’s rookie card was in circulation, and now it will be among many cards that Topps will give away.
"That’s one good thing when you’re in a set, usually you get a whole set of that year’s and they send you several others of yourself, and so, fortunately I was able to get that," Elway said of seeing his 1984 rookie card. "I don’t remember, it’s been a long time since I’ve been through the cards that I have, so I’m not exactly sure how many rookie cards I do have left, but I do know I have a couple."
With code cards found in packs of the latest football card series, Topps is giving away autographed memorabilia and original Topps football cards produced between 1956 and 2009, including rookie cards such as the 1965 Joe Namath, 1957 Johnny Unitas, 1958 Jim Brown and 1984 Elway.
The Pro Football Hall of Famer and former Denver Broncos quarterback spoke with The Life recently about the Topps Gridiron Giveaway and his memories of collecting cards when he was a kid.
The Life: Were you much of a card collector as a kid?
Elway: I was, yeah, actually, baseball, basketball and football depending on what the season was. But to me as a kid it was always like getting a present because you wanted to see who you were gonna get next. Unfortunately I don’t know where all those cards went. I’m sure that I had some good ones that were valuable but don’t know where they are.
The Life: You played all sports as a kid, but did you prize any sport’s cards over another?
Elway: You know what? I was a fan of [Cowboys quarterback Roger] Staubach in football and [Los Angeles Lakers guard] Jerry West in basketball. I was a Dodgers fan in baseball, so I liked all the Dodgers, whether it would be a [Steve] Garvey or a Ron Cey or a Rick Monday. …
The Life: Any other particular players in football stand out besides Staubach?
Elway: He was my hero when I was younger, so I mean, that’s really the only one that stood out. But obviously I’m sure I had a ton of them because I bought them all the time. If I had a quarter I was buying cards.
The Life: The industry has been slumping for a few years, but Topps is one of the survivors. Do you think it will see an upswing?
Elway: There’s still a lot of collectors out there. And obviously back when we were kids and back in our day that was really more of the connection. There’s so many different ways to connect now, but cards are still one way to connect to the NFL.
And it’s a lot like fantasy football in the fact that you can identify the players through the cards and so especially for the older generation, but the younger generations are still buying the cards also with the value and the collections that they’ll keep for a long time.
The Life: Besides your Super Bowl rings and any Super Bowl awards, what would be your most prized memento from your playing days?
Elway: You know, I’ve got a trophy from the ’97 Super Bowl, and so that is [my favorite]. You know, I love the rings and they’re great, [but] I don’t wear them much. But I’ve got the Super Bowl trophy at my house, so that is definitely my most prized possession.
I’ve got a lot of memorabilia from a lot of guys I’ve played with that are signed. I’m not a huge collector of memorabilia, but it always brings back great memories.
The Life: Are they in a very big display at home?
Elway: No, not really. They’re kind of tucked away. I really did all that for my kids later on when I’m gone that they have some mementos … hope they have that value someday.
The Life: Do you recall what it was like to see yourself on that first rookie card?
Elway: That’s one good thing when you’re in a set, usually you get a whole set of that year’s and they send you several others of yourself, and so, fortunately I was able to get that. I don’t remember, it’s been a long time since I’ve been through the cards that I have, so I’m not exactly sure how many rookie cards I do have left, but I do know I have a couple.