A Short History of Lacrosse Card Collecting
Lacrosse Card Collecting – Can it Help Promote the Sport (by Jim Coughlin, July 2017)
Cards have been collected since the late 1870s when cardboard images of actresses or athletes were inserted in cigarette packs both to protect the contents and provide incentive to purchase the product. It readily became apparent that youngsters would harass smokers for these desired items and thus a hobby was born. Although cigarette card collecting seriously declined during World War I, new items arrived in the form of what became known as trade or trading cards (cards issued with chewing gum, candy, baked goods, etc.). Although not the first, Topps built this concept into an empire of sorts when they began releasing annual baseball card sets in 1950. Many baby boomers educated themselves on baseball and its players by memorizing stats and demographics from the backs of these cards. The photos led to player recognition and brought fans even closer to the sport they loved. The phenomenon later expanded to football, basketball and hockey, as well. In the early 90s, however, sports card collecting took a nosedive due to overproduction, saturation by multiple manufacturers, and reliance on insert cards to move the product. As a result, cards became an item more for investors than for youth and collectors. Nonetheless, cards are still utilized to promote all the major sports and for a multitude of other purposes.
Where does lacrosse fit into the card collecting universe? As most are aware, lacrosse, rather than ice hockey, is the national sport of Canada. Between the years of 1910 and 1912, three large lacrosse card sets were issued by the Imperial Tobacco Company in Canada, at the same time as hockey tobacco cards were produced. The card have been designated as follows: C60 (1910) – a color set of 98 cards; C59 (1911) – a color set of 100; and C61 (1912) – a black and white set of 50. Collecting interest for these cards in later years was spurred by the fact that many hockey Hall of Famers were included. For example, Edouard “Newsy” Lalonde appears as card #97 in C60, #100 in C59, and #21 in C61. Joe Malone is card #84 in both C60 and C59. Other HOFers include Paddy Moran, Horace Gaul and Mickey Ions. Even boxer Tommy Burns (#42) is featured in the C60 and C59 sets.
There were cards issued with Murad Cigarettes between 1909-1911, featuring colleges with their prominent sport depicted. Four of these 150 cards depict lacrosse: Swarthmore (#20), Johns Hopkins (#59), Stevens (#124), and Hobart (#145). From that point until the early 90s, however, only sporadic cards would feature lacrosse, sometimes a generic scene, but occasionally a famous player. In 1924, Willard’s Chocolates put out a general sports set with their product, with three of its cards featuring lacrosse players (Charlie Querrie, Gordon Thom and Buck Johnson). Dominion Chocolates had two cards related to lacrosse Weston Lacrosse Team, Johnny Laing) in a similar set the following year (1925). Bowman’s Wild West series (1949) had a card (#17) entitled “Indian Lacrosse,” while Fleer Indian cards (1959) included one showing “Indians Playing Lacrosse (#27).
Although college lacrosse had maintained a fervent following, there was no professional league yet in sight. There were semi-professional box leagues, mostly in Canada and Upstate New York. The Western Lacrosse Association (WLA) has been around since 1969, although there were much earlier versions in Western Canada. One of its clubs, the Coquitlam Adanacs, put out a 21-card set produced by Big League Cards in 1989. Rodney Tapp and Jim Veltman are noteworthy players in that issue. In Eastern Canada, Major Series Lacrosse (MSL, formerly the Canadian Lacrosse Association and Ontario Lacrosse Association-OLA) has provided many skilled players the opportunity to shine indoors in NHL rinks and other facilities. (The MSL Peterborough Lakers would eventually issue two fine card sets in 2013 and 2014). There had been attempts at a professional lacrosse league to bring the indoor to greater exposure in the United States, including the original National Lacrosse League (1974/75) and the Eagle Pro Box Lacrosse League (1987), which became the Major Indoor Lacrosse League (MILL).
The groundbreaking lacrosse card set emanated from the MILL when, in 1992/93, Nastasi International (based on Long Island) produced a set of MILL Cards. There were 70 player cards, including an average of ten from each of the existing seven franchises (Baltimore Thunder, Boston Blazers, Buffalo Bandits, Detroit Turbos, New York Saints, Philadelphia Wings, Pittsburgh Bulls), as well as five special cards (among them a special foil card for both Gary and Paul Gait). The Nastasi set is a veritable “Who’s Who” of 80s/90s lacrosse, with prominent players like Kevin Alexander (21), Darris (24) and Rich Kilgour (25), John Tavares (26), Jim Veltman (27), Sal Locascio (45), Dallas Eliuk (52), Kevin Finneran (53), and the Gaits (Gary–54, Paul–55). Noted referee Mikko Red Arrow (48) appears. In addition, there are great players who also became famous coaches: Rick Sowell (7), John Tucker (8), Tim Soudan (19), Tony Resch (59), and Dave Pietramala (69) to name a few. I apologize for not mentioning others as the checklist is so impressive.
A significant indoor lacrosse set came in 1995 from Slapshot Images Ltd., which produced a number of fine minor league hockey issues. They did a set for the OLA Jr. A Kitchener Waterloo Braves that is particularly noteworthy for being the first card of long-time indoor star Colin Doyle (8).
The MILL had evolved into the second incarnation of the National Lacrosse League (NLL). There were two small NLL sets issued at the end of the 90s, including a 12-card NLL All Star set sponsored by Chase Pitkin. Every player in this set is a legend (the Gaits, Casey Powell, Mark Millon, Tom Marechek, Jake Bergey, John Taveras, etc.). In 2000, ROOX, a budding card producer making in-roads in high school and college sports, did a twelve-card NLL Championship Game set. This included five players each from the Toronto Rock (Bob Watson, Chris Gill, Colin Doyle, Dan Stroup and Jim Veltman) and Rochester Knighthawks (Cory Bomberry, Curt Malawsky, John Grant, Jr., Pat O’Toole and Tim Soudan), plus two special cards. These sets appeared to mark a new beginning in lacrosse cards.
In 2001, three NLL clubs put out team sets: The Buffalo Bandits (25 cards, sometimes seen as an uncut sheet), Columbus Landsharks (25 cards, also usually in uncut sheet form) and the Calgary Roughnecks. The Bandits set features Ryan Powell, John Taveras, Rich Kilgour, Scott Self, and Chris Driscoll, among other notables. The Landsharks issue has the first card of Tracey Kelusky, as well as Todd Richard and Bruce Codd.
The year 2001 also represents the debut of Major League Lacrosse (MLL). The league, the brainchild of Dave Morrow and Jake Steinfeld, now gave lacrosse players the option of competing in the outdoor game on a professional level. The talent amassed even for the first season was truly remarkable. As a lacrosse maven, I took my family to our first MLL game at Bridgeport’s Ballpark at Harbor Yard on August 19, 2001, to see the home town Barrage defeat the Boston Cannons. As a card collector, I was additionally thrilled to see large cardboard boxes containing cellophane-wrapped packs of six lacrosse cards each. I purchased a number of these packs and managed to put together what I later learned was a full set of 36 cards. Each of the MLL’s original six franchises (Baltimore Bayhawks, Boston Cannons, Bridgeport Barrage, Long Island Lizards, New Jersey Pride, Rochester Rattlers) was represented by six cards. The card backs even featured early season stats for 2001. The amazing part was the constitution of players in the set – so many greats: Tom Marechek, Mark Millon, Josh Sims, Ryan Curtis, Roy Colsey, Blake Miller, Gary Gait, A. J. Haugen, Casey Powell, Jon Hess, Jesse Hubbard, Jay Jalbert, Tom Ryan, Ryan Powell, Rick Beardsley, Brian Dougherty, and John Grant, Jr. (again, my apologies to those not listed). In retrospect, I hope these cards helped develop interest in the fledging league just as baseball cards had done for so many youngsters in the 50s and 60s.
The Victoria Shamrocks of the WLA issued card sets from 2001-2003, a practice they resurrected in 2014-2016. The 2001 set includes many indoor stars like Kaleb Toth, Blaine Manning, Devin Dalep, and John Taveras, as well as cards for past Victoria players like Gary Gait and Rodney Tapp. From time to time, the WLA has also had giveaway sets of former greats, including hockey star Jack Bionda.
The San Jose Stealth of the NLL did a 27-card set given away in at least two different series in 2005. In addition to indoor notables like Curt Malawsky, Scott Ranger and Cam Woods, there is also a card for GM/Coach Johnny Mouradian and the first professional card for recent Princeton grad Ryan Boyle. Boyle also appears in an outdoor set from the same year issued by the Philadelphia Barrage of the MLL. Although 2005 is the only year in a four year span (2004-2007) that Philadelphia did not win the MLL Championship, the set is loaded. Among the 29 individuals depicted are: Roy Colsey, Brian Dougherty, Kyle Sweeney, Matt Striebel, Doug Shanahan, Doug Knight, Matt Lucas, Brian Kuczma, and Brian Spallina.
A significant company entered the realm of lacrosse cards in 2007: Choice SportsCards. Choice had been in existence from the mid-90s and had (and continues to) produced cards for minor league baseball and hockey, fire and police departments, film and other non-sports topics, and much more. Their cards feature excellent photography, glossy finish and great design overall. Their first venture was a four card set for the 2007 Rochester Knighthawks, including John Grant, Jr. and Regy Thorpe. Starting the same year, Choice SportsCards would issue lacrosse cards in panels for the Boston Cannons (MLL) for four consecutive seasons (2007-2010). The panels would include four or five cards and were given out one per every home game for each of those seasons. Virtually the entire roster, coaches, the mascot and past players populated these sets: 2007 (30 cards), 2008 (28), 2009 (24) and 2010 (24). The 2008 set features the first two professional cards of Paul Rabil. Unfortunately, no MLL club has utilized the services of Choice since 2010, but the company has remained involved with NLL clubs. In 2013, Choice did a set for the Edmonton Rush comprised of 25 cards including Zach Greer, Kyle Rubisch and Aaron Bold. They did cards for the Buffalo Bandits in 2015 (John Tavares’ final card) and 2016, both sets including Dhane Smith, Mark Steenhuis and Ryan Benesch. These were actually sold at the Buffalo team store. Choice did sets in 2016 and 2017 for the Vancouver Stealth that were giveaways (first 1000 fans) at a late season home game (“Lacrosse on the Go” Night). (The Stealth also had sets in 2014 and 2015 done by a different manufacturer, while also giving away Canada Lacrosse Hall of Fame card sets from 2014-2016). In any case, the lacrosse sets produced by Choice SportsCards have all been of excellent quality.
Also on the NLL front, the Calgary Roughnexks enjoyed a three year run of card sets (2009-2011) produced by hometown RAD Printing. The first two sets also featured a cleverly designed box to hold the cards. Noteworthy indoor players fill out all three issues, including Kaleb Toth, Josh Sanderson, Tracey Kelusky, Jeff Shattler, and Dane Dobbie. The 2011 set includes the first pro card of Curtis Dickson. At every home game, 3 or 4 players were given 50 cards of themselves to sign and distribute during a fan meet and greet after the final whistle. The new ownership in 2011 unfortunately chose not to renew their relationship with RAD after that season. For two years (2011 “Totally Rock,” 2012 “Generation Rock”), the Toronto Rock gave out cards at each game (or sold them with the game program). Fans could obtain cards of Colin Doyle, Garrett Billings, Stephan Leblanc, Cam Woods, Kasey Beirnes, and other favorites. Aside from the Stealth sets, the most recent NLL issue is the largest single team lacrosse produced to date: the 2016 Rochester Knighthawks, comprised of 42 cards (including the team owner, VP Paul Gait, coaches, other front office staff, and, of course players). There are cards for Joe Walters, Dan Dawson, Joe Restarits, Stephen Keogh, Sid Smith, Cody Jamieson, Mark Cockerton, and more. The cards were sponsored by the famed Rochester meat concern, Zweigle’s.
So, as the NLL made strides in building fan support with trading cards, where was the MLL? Aside from the 2001 league set, the 2005 Philly team issue, and the Cannons four seasons of panel sets, there were some other team-related issues. The expansion Los Angeles Riptide did perforated panel sets in 2007 and 2008. The 2007 set includes Anthony Kelly on Panel 1 and Sean Lindsay on Panel 2. The 2008 set is more noteworthy, with Chazz Woodson and Kyle Harrison both on Panel 1 and Spencer Ford on Panel 2. The Rochester Rattlers did a five (schedule) card set in 2008 featuring Joe Walters, Brodie Merrill, Jeff Zywicki, Casey Powell, and John Grant, Jr. The Washington/Chesapeake Bayhawks did schedule cards from 2006 to 2009. The 2008 set was the largest, consisting of four 4-card panels. Players on these sked cards include Paul Cantabene, Tom Marechek, Kyle Dixon, Matt Ward, Matt Bocklet, and Billy Glading. The final issue (2009) was sponsored by TD Bank.
Then came major news for lacrosse fans and card collectors. On May 14, 2010, the Upper Deck Company of Carlsbad, California announced it had signed a long term deal to produce cards for the MLL. Upper Deck had been producing beautiful card sets for both sports and non-sports for more than twenty years. Commercials ran on MLL broadcasts during the 2010 season. Matt Danowski was the spokesman for the cards. I had the good fortune to attend the MLL Collegiate draft at the Lanham Center at Yale University on June 6, 2010. My son Brian, who writes for Inside Lacrosse, was covering the draft for the Long Island Lizards, for whom he was interning at the time. I was able to watch the Upper Deck photographer take pictures of the top six draft picks (Ned Crotty, Michael Kimmel, Max Quinzani, Parker McKee, Ken Clausen, Brian Carroll – to be cards #94-99) and talk with an Upper Deck representative, who spoke optimistically of the partnership between her company and MLL.
The 2010 Upper Deck set was released on July 8, 2010, to coincide with the MLL All-Star Game that day. Rather than issuing packs, the cards came in a nice 100-card boxed set. There were 82 players, 10 Stars of the Game, the aforementioned six “Young Guns,” a card of founder Jake Steinfeld, and a checklist card. All six (at the time) teams (Long Island, Boston, Chesapeake, Denver, Chicago, Toronto) had at least 13 players represented (and as many as 15 – the Lizards). The photos were excellent, the stats adequate, and the player selection quite good. Perhaps one drawback was that the mini photo on the card back was a cropped version of the front of the card. A head and shoulders portrait sans helmet would have been better for player recognition. The set did not do well, however, and card dealers were soon selling them at well below the list price ($20).
Upper Deck had gathered photos of former and current players in both college and pro uniforms, initially to be part of a more comprehensive set for 2011. Plans shifted, however. Among athletes from the four major sports, golf, soccer and more, 45 lacrosse cards ended up in Upper Deck’s initial World of Sports card set. Former players like Gary Gait, Scott Urick, Greg Cattrano, Jay Jalbert, and others were grouped with current stars such as Paul Rabil, Lee Zink, Matt Danowski, and Max Seibald. There were also parallel autographed cards, apparel cards, “Clear Competitors” (acetate cards of Danowski, Rabil, Gary Gait and Casey Powell), and a dual signed card of Rabil and Danowski. Upper Deck repeated the “World of Sports” idea in 2011. Again, 45 players were in the mix, although this time they were mainly current stars. In addition, there were various inserts – autographed cards, jersey cards, even “Shadowbox” cards of Danowski, Rabil and Kip Turner. Upper Deck also had a few lacrosse players in their multi-sport Goodwin Champions in 2011 and 2012. The 2011 set had Rabil, Danowski, Turner, Brodie Merrill and Matt Poskay, with mini card versions, signed and jersey cards, and more. Ned Crotty and Billy Bitter joined Rabil and Danowski in the 2012 set.
During the 2011 season, then Lizards VP Casey Hilpert informed me that MLL teams had been asked to submit particular player jerseys, presumably to be cut up for materials cards as inserts for that year’s set (which was never made). Instead, Upper Deck utilized the jerseys to make up two boxed sets (a regular and “premium” version) of jersey cards that consisted of twenty players and came out more than a year and a half later. Other than a couple of odd cards (e.g., Matt Danowski as card #15 in the College Colors multi-sport set) that was the end of Upper Deck and lacrosse cards. What began with such promise fizzled quite rapidly.
As in the 1920s, there have been some individual lacrosse players whose cards have appeared in larger series for companies not known for lax cards. Mikey Powell, the youngest of the three lacrosse playing Powell brothers, was featured in a few different sets produced by Donruss and then Panini from 2007-2010. The sets include Sports Legends and College Heroes. As became standard practice, there were parallel versions of the cards, signed cards, uniform cards, and the like. Towson head coach (and former Hopkins, MLL Bayhawks and NLL Wings defender) Shawn Nadelen was included in the Topps Allen & Ginter set in 2013, again as a base card, as well as in mini versions, autographed and jersey cards. The most recent example of such a card came with the inclusion of Lyle Thompson as card $ 250 in the 2017 Topps Allen & Ginter set. As with the Nadelen card, there are the usual variations of the Thompson card – a glossy version, a uniform relics card, a few different mini cards, a limited autographed Thompson framed mini, etc.
Since the demise of Upper Deck as a lacrosse card producer, MLL issues have been sparse at best. In the forefront, however, has been the New York Lizards who issued cards in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017. In 2014, the Lizards had two promotional nights, with a different six-card set given out at each, with the first 1000 fans receiving a set. The 2014 set represents the first card of Rob Pannell, as well as that of Brian Karalunas, JoJo Marasco, Tommy Palasek, and Joe Fletcher. The 2015 set, sponsored by Frucci Jewelers, was given out at the June 5th game vs. Florida. That set includes Pannell, Marasco, Drew Adams, Greg Gurenlian, Brian Spallina, and newly acquired Paul Rabil. For the first home game in 2016 (April 23rd vs. Rochester), the Lizards gave out sets with Pannell, Rabil, Adams, Gurenlian, Fletcher, and a cover card. The Denver Outlaws did similar giveaways during the 2015, 2016 and 2017 seasons in conjunction with local restaurants and businesses. There were two different card giveaway nights for each year, with a cover card and five players (or the mascot) distributed in plastic bags. The 2015 set is filled with players from the 2014 championship team, including Lee Zink, John Grant, Jr., Drew Snider, Jeremy Sieverts, and Jesse Schwartzman. The second 2016 set featured newly drafted Jack Kelly and Matt Kavanaugh. The Outlaws had but one card night (June 16th vs. the Cannons) for 2017, with their latest set including Jack Kelly, Tom Kelly, Matt Bocklet, BJ Grill, and Eric Law.. The Lizards gave away their 2017 set at the final regular season game vs. Charlotte, with Pannell, Rabil, Adams, and Gurenlian all appearing once again along with new addition Joe Walters.
The Florida Launch have revived the concept of schedule player cards over the past three seasons. The 2015 sked cards showed Kieran McArdle, Casey Powell and Tucker Durkin. In 2016, the Launch schedules depicted Lyle Thompson, Miles Thompson, Casey Powell, and Brett Queener. For 2017, Durkin and Duncan Clancy were the players showcased.
Sports Illustrated for Kids, (SI for Kids) which originated in 1989, has included a sheet of nine perforated cards of athletes from a wide range of sports with every issue to date. One of their significant contributions to lacrosse card collecting is that they have not ignored the women’s game, so critical to the growth of the sport. Although there have only been 17 lacrosse players depicted by SI for Kids among almost 3000 cards in their 28 year run, ten have been of women – and great ones at that. The first lacrosse player in their series was Maryland’s Kelly Amonte (September 1996). A number of women’s Tewaaraton winners have appeared, including Georgetown’s Erin Elbe (9/2002), Duke’s Katie Chrest (8/2005), Northwestern’s Hannah Nielsen (9/2008), Northwestern’s Shannon Smith (7/2011), and Maryland’s three-time winner Taylor Cummings (9/2014). Princeton’s Ryan Boyle (8/2003) and Hopkins’ Paul Rabil (9/2007) had their first cards in SI for Kids. The most recent lacrosse players featured have been Denver’s Wes Berg (7/2015), Brown’s Dylan Molloy (8/2016), Princeton’s Ellie DeGarmo (12/2016), and Stony Brook’s Kylie Ohlmiller (7/2017).
I would be remiss to fail to mention that the most prolific producer of lacrosse trading cards in recent times has been Goods Cards, exclusively on-line images created by Buffalo native and Marquette alum Jack Goods. Beginning in 2014, Goods has produced card images for both the NLL and MLL with an unique card design for each season’s set. Goods has released images of card fronts and backs on an almost daily basis over the past four years, with the number of cards as follows: 2014 NLL – 73 cards, 2014 MLL – 84, 2015 NLL – 160, 2015 MLL – 157, 2016 NLL – 162, 2016 MLL – 186, with 2017 NLL and MLL sets still in progress. Trading card manufacturers should take note of Goods’ site ( removed link ) as a preview of what could be. Although one cannot get the tactile feel of a physical card in the hand, the visuals are tremendous.
The question of the significance of lacrosse cards remains unanswered, however. In an era where card collecting has declined in popularity and after a major company (Upper Deck) failed to establish an ongoing relationship with MLL, can cards have an impact in growing the game as Topps did for baseball (though certainly not on that scale)? When I had spoken to the Upper Deck rep at the 2010 MLL draft, I suggested a set that blended current players with past ones. In addition, I stated that cards explaining the rules and tradition would be of value, as well as cards honoring major figures in the game’s history – college coaches and such. I have always believed that cards can educate and inspire. It is not about how much a card is worth, or if it could be an investment for the future. People do collect the players and teams they like, but helping young and old embrace the great traditions of lacrosse, come to appreciate its nuances, and recognize the stars of yesterday and today would all serve a definite purpose. I still see youngsters – and some adults – getting 2010 Upper Deck and other cards signed after MLL games. A concept that promotes connections between fans and players while building knowledge and love of the game cannot be bad. I hope that all professional teams continue to utilize lacrosse cards to these ends.
This is great stuff, Jim. Thank you for posting it! Prior to our connecting, I came across this article whenever I attempted to do any research on lacrosse cards. It is certainly a landmark work!