2008 Upper Deck Heroes (Guitar Heroes)

Isn’t it a great feeling when you go somewhere with no intention of buying music, yet you end up buying music? I had been trying to cut back on music purchases in anticipation of hitting up a record shop in late-October, but nonetheless, these purchases somehow found me. Yes, I know how weak-willed that sounds.

I made a trip to the local Long & McQuade musical instruments store (who do not sell records or CDs), but there was a sports card store directly across the street that I had been meaning to check out. Being the eve of the first Sunday in the NFL season, I had football on the brain, so went into the shop (Frozen Heroes Sportscards and Memorabilia) with the hope of finding some Chicago Bears cards to bulk up my meager collection. They kept their football cards in boxes sorted by set, and I came across a short stack of 2008 Upper Deck Heroes cards. A quick Bears hunt landed a Jim McMahon, but then came the unexpected: a trio of rock stars. In the same set as the football guys, of all places. That’s not to say that McMahon wasn’t a rock star in his own right, and he certainly had the rebellious spirit of one, but it’s also safe to say that Tom Morello wouldn’t be able to rage against the machine that is an NFL-caliber defense.

 

Not only was it rather strange that these ‘Guitar Heroes’ cards were included within a set that was primarily for football, every card featured the NFL logo branded on the bottom-right of the back, plus the complete name for the set is listed as 2008 UD Football Heroes. When factoring in the overseas use of the term football, there’s a whole other level of confusion when many look at these cards. At least you could make the argument these rock guitarists would find more of a home among soccer players, given the proclivity both parties once had for their impeccable long locks. In addition, there were also other Sports Heroes lumped into the set such as American track stars Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Michael Johnson. I appreciate the variety, but if you’re going to lump in a good amount of non-football players into the set, why bother with the sport affiliation for the entirety of the set?

 

The content on these cards is decently descriptive, giving just enough for the reader to latch onto to explore the guitarist’s music. A bit more detail would have been appreciated, which would have been possible with less spacing in between the lines. On the above Justin Hayward card in particular, a name of a film or show he composed music for would have been useful. On the other hand, having learning that most of these credits were simply authorizing the use of “Nights in White Satin”, I’ll spare them my contempt and assume that’s why they saved the ink. I do like the red marble texture that’s used, and the gray text box on the rear of the card is reminiscent of how a commemorative plaque would be displayed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Hard Rock Cafe, or other similar attractions.

If you bought sports cards regularly as a kid, this set probably seems familiar to you. The main inspiration for these Heroes cards is the Football Heroes cards that were released as part of Upper Deck’s inaugural football set in 1991. The insert set celebrated the careers of quarterbacks Joe Montana and Joe Namath. Upper Deck also had similar sets for legendary baseball players, beginning with one of Reggie Jackson in 1990, and featured, among others, Nolan Ryan and Willie Mays in future editions of the Heroes insert sets. Here’s one such a card from my collection, highlighting Joe Montana in his breakout year in the NFL in 1981. Which reminds me, speaking of breakouts, that as a teenager I briefly had this butt-ugly poster of Montana on my bedroom wall.

 

Returning back to the 2008 Guitar Heroes, let me demonstrate that while they had the right idea, their corner-cutting handicapped what made for an interesting throwback set. Here are the two Tony Iommi cards I purchased.

Nothing to complain about with these. Two different eras of his career with Black Sabbath are covered in these photos, which made me look forward to seeing what the blurbs would cover on the back.

 

I can’t even remember which card is #264 or #266, and I just scanned them yesterday. The only thing different about them is the brief facts listed in the top-left. All other information is word-for-word identical. The sports set they were based on featured fresh paragraphs on the backs of every card, and the Football Heroes featured in the rest of the 2008 set featured unique write-ups on the back of every single card. By giving more attention to the football players, are they implying that they are more heroic that these rock icons? Could Peyton Manning throw as tight and as accurate a spiral pass if he were missing the tips of two fingers? I don’t think so, so make with the balanced hero-worship, will ya?

The only other guitar player that was featured in this set was Steve Vai. I didn’t find any on this trip, but like the others I have shown, Vai also has three cards in the set. If you’d like to view the rest of this set, sweaty footballers and all, have a look here.

Who would I have featured among the Guitar Heroes should there have been more variety? To respectfully leave Iommi, Hayward, Morello, and Vai in their slots, here are some potential selections for what would be the remaining eight cards (eliminating the “extra” two cards for each man):

Keep in mind that I’m sticking to higher-profile rock and metal guitarists (Vaughan is blues but has crossover appeal with rock crowds), so they aren’t necessarily among my favourites. The likes of Al Di Meola or John McLaughlin are certainly legends on the instrument and have some connections to rock music, but I’m leaving those types off since, although household names among guitarists and other musicians, they are far more obscure to the average person. I also thought it best to get a range of guys who showcase the range of what modern rock has to offer from the 60s through to the 90s. Obtaining the rights to use anybody in sets like this, which I’m sure a manufacturer as mainstream as Upper Deck would do, could leave any of these folk on the sidelines should their representation decline. In that case, you’ve always got plenty of big names like Slash, Carlos Santana or Ted Nugent waiting in the wings.

Upper Deck blew this majorly the following year when they featured rock musicians in the set once again. They got rather lazy, using the exact same guitarists and the exact same photographs, and re-branding them as “Rock Heroes” with a modified border. They took a fun idea and did further damage to the brand, like a sub-par third movie in a franchise coming after an already-disappointing sequel. But, hey, at least they threw in everybody’s second favourite Beatles drummer, Pete Best. I think any football fan would sooner pull a card of the backup long snapper than a guy who is essentially the answer to an over-asked trivia question. They really pushed it here, and I don’t believe they tried their hand at this set again.

At least the cards I bought cost only a dime each, so I guess I can’t complain. But where’s the fun in that?

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