Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Finding a rare Tom Brady football card

This is my story of how I found a rare Tom Brady card from early in his career buried in my card collection.   

Maybe it's not the same as ESPN reporting on a story of the Hench family finding rare cards in the attic of their family home in Ohio.  That was one of the most significant baseball card discoveries of all time (would later come to be known as the Black Swamp find), as it included a 1910 E98 Hans (Honus) Wagner which would be graded by PSA as gem mint 10, and have a population of 1.  

And maybe it's not the same as the Al Rosen find back in 1986 that included 75 Mickey Mantle cards from 1952 Topps -- a find that Sports Collectors Digest ranked in 2021 as the most significant sports card find, ever.  

Black Swamp Find Honus Wagner and a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle

Maybe my find of a rare Tom Brady card buried deep in my collection is not significant to the sports card collectible industry, but it is significant to me -- and this is the story.   

30 Years Ago

My interest in sports card collecting began back in 1984 when I was just a 9-year-old boy growing up in the small town of Kingsford, Michigan.  That year marked the start of my fandom for Dan Marino, Ryne Sandberg, and Michael Jordan.  We had a grocery store just two blocks from my house that was owned by a family friend where I was able to buy packs of cards with my weekly allowance.  

My attention would shift from football cards to baseball cards with the release of the beautiful wood-grained borders of 1987 Topps.  My friends and I would take our bikes from the Little League field at LoDal Park to local card shows at the Birchwood or Midtown Mall.  We lived and breathed baseball.  I still remember my Dad telling me that I should hang on to the Mark McGwire.  As a Cubs fan, I didn't see much American League baseball because it wasn't on TV, but my Dad was reading about McGwire hitting home runs (33 by the All-Star break) and knew that this could have some value.  Of course, this was the start of the "junk wax era" and this card is not as valuable as his 1985 Topps Olympic card, but I digress -- it was still a big part of my youth collecting.  

1987 Topps Mark McGwire rookie card

Once I entered high school, got my driver's license, and discovered the importance of girls, my card collecting would taper off.  By 1991, my common cards were stored in shoe boxes and any card that had a value of more than $1 (which to a kid in the late '80s was a fortune) was safely stored inside a 9-pocket protector page and kept inside 3-ring binders.  

I had four total binders for my prized cards and these binders were all stacked together in a plastic milk crate that I "borrowed" from my job working in the dairy department of the local grocery store.  This milk crate would be moved from my parent's home to college, to my first apartment after college, and then in 2001 to my first house in Menasha, Wisconsin.  Through all of these moves, I might have taken the binders out no more than a handful of times to look at the best of my cards.  

20 Years Ago

As with most kids working in their first professional job, I found myself with a few more dollars in my pocket than when I was a poor college student looking forward to 99 cent Whopper Wednesday.  So in 2002, I decided to check out the local hobby store in the Fox Valley to see what the current sports card landscape had to offer.  

Just a few months earlier, a guy named Tom Brady lead the New England Patriots to their first Super Bowl win over the Greatest Show on Turf (Kurt Warner led St. Louis Rams).  As everyone knows, Tom was a sixth-round draft pick (#199) in the 2000 NFL draft coming out of the University of Michigan.  He took over for an injured Drew Bledsoe in September of 2001 and the rest is history.  

So I decided to hand over $70 at the local card shop in late August and walked out with a box of 2002 Topps Chrome football which featured the current G.O.A.T. quarterback at the time (Joe Montana) on top along with Tom Brady.   Brady had several rookie cards in 2000, but his first Topps card came in 2002.  

When I went home to rip the box, I was left with that lukewarm feeling of not pulling any big hits other than a Detroit Lions Robert Porchert Pro Bowl jersey card -- not exactly striking it rich.  I did pull three Tom Brady cards, which were his base card (#100), his weekly wrap up card (#150), and a ring of honor insert card.  Keep in mind that at the time, he was just an up-and-coming player, so these cards had no real resale value.  And back then, I had no idea what "graded" cards were or the process to submit a card for grading.  I put the rookies and the star cards into my 3 ring binder to protect them, knowing that I really didn't have anything special.  

5 Years Ago

Fast forward to Christmas 2016.  I was feeling a bit nostalgic, so I picked up a box of 1987 Topps baseball and wrapped it up with a label that read "To Eric from Santa" and put it under the Christmas tree.  This rekindled my fondness for collecting cards, and as many 40-somethings do, I began to yearn for my youth by collecting cards that I could not afford as a kid.  I built complete sets of Topps baseball dating back to 1972 and through the end of my collecting days in 1991. 

2 Years Ago

In the process of feeling like a kid again, I started to submit cards to PSA for grading.  If they came back as 9's (mint) or 10's (gem mint) it meant that they were worth more.  I still wasn't planning on ever selling any cards, but knowing that they were sealed and protected forever in that graded condition had some appeal to me.  

So in early 2020, I was going through my 3-ring binders (which had grown from 4 to 90 in just 2 years of my "old man collecting" days) looking for cards to submit for grading.  I was mostly looking for older vintage cards, but I came across the binder that had my modern football cards in them.  

As I paged through, I came to the dozen or so pages that had the 2002 Topps Chrome football cards in them.  First, I saw my Tom Brady weekly wrap up card, which was very off-center and not worth grading.  Then on the last page of the album, I saw that I had four Ring of Honor cards (Steve Young, Richard Dent, Terrell Davis AND Tom Brady).  The Brady looked in decent shape, so I pulled it out of the album so I could insert it into a penny sleeve, then a hard case.  I thought that at best it might come back as a PSA 9 and possibly be worth a few dollars.

1 Year Ago

I sub my PSA cards through a very trustworthy source, who then submits cards on my behalf.  Scott Cowsert and his bulk subs have been my go-to for all grading services for the last few years.  He deals with all the headaches of the actual submission process on my behalf, which I am extremely grateful for.   

When I was filling out the PSA paperwork to send to Scott, I noticed on the back of the Tom Brady Ring of Honor card that it had a serial number on it -- 21/100.  I was bewildered and didn't really know what I had.  After some research, I discovered that the Ring of Honor insert set, also had a parallel refractor version which were all serial numbered.  At the time, the only recent sale was a PSA 9 from 2017 and it was $129.  But that was before the sports card popularity explosion (partially fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic), so I thought mine would be worth just a little more than that if it came back as a 9.  I noted that it would have a value of around $500 once graded and shipped the card off to Scott in mid-November of 2020.  

PSA Sales as or late 2020

In early January 2021, I got a message from Scott noting that the late November sub(mission to PSA) still had not been entered into the PSA system.  Even though PSA was overloaded with work, they were still operating, so this was unusual that it was taking so long.  The panic started to grow day by day, thinking that somehow the cards were lost!    

After a lot of research and trips to the USPS distribution facility, Scott learned that the package with all the late Nov Sub cards in it, showed departing the St. Louis distribution facility, then being scanned back in the next day.  However, then he learned that the package had never actually left St. Louis!  Scott was spending 3-5 hours a day on the phone with USPS trying to get the status of the package and they would not let him show up in person to simply pick up the package.  This went on for weeks as the backlog of package delivery at that USPS distribution facility alone was as many as 100 semi-trailers at one point.  

Eventually, the package showed up in Des Moines, then Los Angeles, then Pasadena, then Newport Beach on February 16.  And I was able to take a deep sigh of relief that the cards were safely at PSA.  I am so thankful that Scott was persistent on this and was able to stay in constant communication with all those that had cards in that sub.  Now the waiting period would begin, which was assumed to be 9-12 months based on the backlog of submissions at PSA.  I quickly tried to forget about my cards in hopes that by some miracle, they would be ready by Christmas.  

Present Day

Just before Christmas, I received a message from Scott about my cards.  

He said that PSA had notified him of an upcharge on the grading of the Tom Brady card in the amount of $2,000.  I was riding on my bike trainer at the time and I thought maybe I had misread the message.  After my ride, I read it again and saw that the amount was correct, the upcharge was $2,000!   PSA charges more to grade a card with a higher value, which is outlined in their pricing.  For premium options, they charge $2,000 to grade a card that has a declared value of between $25,000 and $49,999.  

PSA premium grading price scale

PSA had graded the card as a GEM MINT 10, and they were estimating the value to be as much as $50,000.  I nearly passed out.  Not figuratively, but literally.  

Here are the PSA grades and pop reports for Brady's cards in the 2002 Topps Chrome set.  

Regular series

Insert cards 

And appeared on these short-printed inserts or serial-numbered parallel cards

So of all the cards that have been graded, the only card to have a population of 1 is my Ring of Honor Refractor, shown below.  PSA cert 58640711.

A total of 11 copies of this card have been submitted to PSA.  3 have received a grade of 8 and 6 have been graded as a 9, with one graded as authentic.  Then there is the single card with a grade 10, mine.  

PSA Population Report as of January 18, 2022

While we are specifically looking at PSA grading, I have also researched BGS grading population reports as well.  Of the 7 cards that have been submitted to BGS, none have ever been graded above a 9.0.  

Next Steps

The card was delivered to me on January 18th.  After a few days of intense research of the top auction houses, (Goldin, Pristine, PWCC Premier, Mile High, and Robert Edward Auctions) I decided to send the card to PWCC for their monthly Premier Auction.  I had pondered holding on to the card until Brady is inducted into the Hall of Fame.  At that point, the card may have increased in value, but considering the time value of money, I wanted to move the card now, versus waiting to capitalize on his stardom a decade from now.

What do I think the card is worth?  Well, let's review what it has going for it.
  • It's Tom Brady.  He is the GOAT and that is undeniable. 
  • With his retirement announcement, fans, collectors, and investors are all swarming to own any of his collectibles.  
  • It is from the 2002 Topps Chrome set, which was the first time he appear in Topps Chrome.
  • The card was a limited issue, only 100 printed.  How many more are sitting out there in GEM MINT 10 shape just waiting to be graded after 10 years?  So it is a good bet that it may stay as pop 1 forever.  
  • The most recent sale of a grade 8 (shown below) was $6,055 as of late November.  If a grade 9 is worth 1.5x-2x more than a grade 8, and a grade 10 is worth 5-10x more than the price of a grade 9, the card may be worth six figures, to the right buyer.  
PSA most recent sale November 29, 2021

Final Words

So many people my age thought they might retire on the value of their card collection.  But with the mass overproduction of cards in our youth, the supply is plentiful and the demand is just not that great to drive up the price.  To me, 99.99% of my collection has more sentimental value than the actual value and I don't plan on selling.  And even though I could just sit on this Tom Brady card for 40 more years and see what happens, I think the smart move is to sell now and that is what I will do.  I hope that the card finds the right new home to someone that is a Tom Brady fan, and if that person is a fellow Michigander then that would be even better.  


Update - 2/3/22

The auction went live at 6pm on February 3rd and runs through February 19th.