A look at the nostalgic legacy of American sports trading cards and one clever photographer who is taking the look to a whole new level.
Just days before Super Bowl 2014, thousands of football history fans flocked to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for a glimpse of rare trading cards donated by the late Jefferson Burdick, known as the father of card collecting. Burdick’s 300,000 card collection (which he donated to the MET) contained a series of football cards dating back to 1894 – decades before the start of the National Football League in 1920 and the first Super Bowl in 1967. Burdick would be pleased that the nostalgic fervor for collecting football trading cards today is more avid than ever. After all, if you stop and think for a moment – what do you remember most about a professional football game? Is it a wide receiver making a spectacular sideline catch, a running back breaking a tackle on his way to scoring a touchdown, or a defensive back swarming in for a bone-cracking hit on an unsuspecting player? Loyal fans want to hold on to history-making moments of their favorite sports teams – and that’s why Panini America and its memorializing sports cards have grown into an integral part of iconic Americana.
Founded in Modena, Italy in 1961, Panini has been a household name in Europe for more than 50 years, thanks in large part to the universal appeal of popular sticker collections honoring the world’s greatest soccer players. But when Panini purchased the assets from Donruss Trading Cards more than five years ago and opened a subsidiary near Dallas, Texas, a new chapter in the proud history of NFL trading cards was born. “Donruss was a huge part of the American trading card scene for more than 30 years and we wanted to retain the best of what that company had to offer, while injecting new passion, new creativity and new innovation with Panini America,” said Jason Howarth, the company’s Vice President of Marketing.
To that end, the company has delivered a steady stream of history-making NFL trading cards, including the industry’s first video trading cards, cards embedded with real diamonds and 14-karat gold trading cards. For now, the company’s football focus is fixed firmly on the 2014 NFL season and a highly anticipated rookie class that ranks as the most-hyped of all time.
“We haven’t seen this much anticipation for NFL trading cards and a rookie class like this in a long time. It’s been phenomenal,” Howarth said.
With all of this hype around the 2014 NFL Draft class, it’s clear the fans want more and more of these talented players. That’s where award-winning photographer Marc Serota comes in. Serota, who got his start working as an intern at the Miami Herald in the mid ‘80s, is a renowned news, sports, and entertainment photographer based in South Florida. Sports Ilustrated, ESPN the Magazine, and many other publications have featured Serota’s work. Just recently, he received first place Sports Action Award from the National Press Photographers Association. Having such a stellar background in the photography business, it’s no wonder that Serota was tabbed to shoot this year’s NFL rookies for Panini America during the 2014 NFLPA Rookie Premiere in late May.
“We shot in Los Angeles at the end of May at the Memorial Coliseum,” Serota said. “All of the first-round picks and notable late-round picks were there for this shoot.” Known for his ever-clever approach to sports photography, Serota worked this year’s NFL shoot differently than other photographers would have. He took it – quite literally – out of the box.
“I had the athletes stand inside of a Plexiglas case, and I was underneath the case,” Serota said. “With this approach, I was able to create an optical illusion not usually seen on a trading card. In the trading-card business, everything has been done before. With the Plexiglas, we’re giving fans a fresh new perspective on collectible football cards. One thing fans notice is the shoes. You see the pressure that’s put on the glass by the shoes, and people say, ‘Oh that’s cool. Wait, wait how did they do that?’ And that’s the reaction we’re going for.”
At first glance, it can be tough to see what kind of personality each of these high profile athletes brings to the table. But, as Serota describes, each athlete was unique in their own way.
“Jadeveon Clowney, for example, looks like he can scare the crap out of you, but he is one of the nicest, funniest guys to work with,” Serota laughed. “He’s a quiet, ominous figure who can tell a story just by the look on his face. In Johnny Manziel’s case, there’s definitely a nervousness about him. But he came in, did what I asked him to do, and we made some good images together.”
Panini America’s 2014 Rookie Cards first released inside the company’s landmark 2014 Score product over the summer and will punctuate the company’s entire line of 2014 NFL products.