Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Being a University of Houston Collector

Most of the traffic on this blog isn't from consistent readers. Most comes from search engine referrals about a specific player. That's fine with me because one of my goals is to promote the University of Houston.

But there is a whole card collecting blog world out there. One of the more popular card blogs and one of my favorites is Sports Cards Uncensored. A new experiment starting there is a card blog round table where several bloggers address the same topic from a slightly different perspective. I love the idea and here's my take on what it's like to collect my favorite team, the Houston Cougars.

Hello. My name is David and I'm a University of Houston collector. Do I sound like someone confessing an unhealthy addiction? It's an addiction, it's not unhealthy, but it's a little outside the norm. It would be much easier to be something like a Dallas Cowboys collector (my favorite NFL team) or Elvin Hayes collector (probably my favorite player and UH athlete), but my passion is for the Houston Cougars.

Why do I collect Houston Cougars cards and blog about it? There are several reasons. One of my favorite is to learn more about the history of Houston athletics and its players. Blogging about these players and their cards lets readers, UH fans or not, become more aware of some of the great athletes in UH history.

There are so many ways to be a UH collector too. You can collect players in their college uniforms or as a pro. You can collect everything from new ultra rare high dollar Kevin Kolb cards to old overproduced with no monetary value Andre Ware cards. You can collect almost any sport from baseball to football to basketball to golf to track. You can collect a few cards of a wide variety of players or focus on a superstar with a huge selection of cards like Hakeem Olajuwon. You can collect vintage cards from the 50s, 60s, and 70s or recent releases. I dabble in a little of everything, but you can't go wrong whatever you choose.

UH collecting is definitely a niche hobby. That has both positive and negative implications. On the positive side, many of the players aren't in high demand so you don't have to pay premium prices. For newer products, wax busters may flip some of the "hits" on eBay rather than keeping them in their collection. That means it may be easier to collect those "hits" by purchasing on the secondary market instead of trying to get lucky busting wax.

On the negative side, it can be tough to bond with the rest of the collecting community. If I collect Cowboys cards and you collect Giants and we both bust wax, we can easily trade. If I collect Cougars and you collect Giants, you may not even know who is a Cougar making obvious trades more difficult. Plus there may not be enough Cougars to bust wax while there will always be enough Cowboys.

On the blogging front, I'll never have a huge following like the greatness of Wax Heaven or Sports Cards Uncensored. My visitor list will always be much smaller and my regular readers may be even fewer even if I was the greatest card blog writer on the web (which I'm not). But I consistently get 20-35 visitors a day which I honestly wasn't sure I'd get in a month when I started this thing.

So why do I collect UH? Why do I blog about UH cards? Not for money or fame because that's not going to happen. Not because it's cool because it's not. It's because I'm a fan.

I want to thank everyone who took the time to read this especially if you're a first timer here because of the round table. Even if you're not a UH fan, you're always welcome here. I'd love for you to come back. I'd love for you to post comments. I'd love for you to send me an e-mail ( If you have a UH collection or collectible, I'd love for you to guest post or be a regular contributor. But even if you don't do any of those things, I'm still very happy that at least once you visited my humble little corner of the blogosphere.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Cougars of Any Color by Katherine Lopez

Jerry Wizig's Eat 'Em Up Cougars: Houston Football is a classic book that should be required reading for all University of Houston students, alumni, and fans. I'm happy to say that Katherine Lopez's Cougars of Any Color just published in 2008 is another must read.

Cougars of Any Color tells the story of the integration of UH athletics with the recruitment of Warren McVea for football and Elvin Hayes and Don Chaney for basketball.

The book begins with the story of integrating the University in general. Like most southern Universities, UH was an all-white institution. Unlike many universities, once integration finally occurred it was basically a non-event. There was no violence, no protests, and no decrease in enrollment.

Next the book provides a brief history of the football program including its attempts to join the Southwest Conference. For those Coogs who think of Rice as a lovable loser sister school, please listen to the story of Rice's actions when UH tried to join the SWC in 1964. Rice had agreed to be UH's sponsor, but they asked that UH not contact any other school for sponsorship. When it came time for consider UH's membership, Rice backed out and said that Houston belonged in a smaller conference with less competent schools. Due to Rice's backstabbing, UH was again left on the outside looking in.

The remainder of the book covers every aspect of integrating the UH basketball and football teams. And when I say the book covers every aspect, I mean EVERY aspect. It starts with the recruitment of the players from the high profile story of McVea to the relatively low profile stories of Hayes and Chaney. It tells of the newspapers' and opponents' reactions to that recruitment.

It covers the housing arrangements for the players and the on and off campus social life. It talks about the reaction of the African American community in Houston as well as some national reaction. It covers the reaction of the opponents's fans from booing, to racial taunts, to death threats. It covers the reaction of UH fans which in some cases also included booing and racial taunts, but also includes the embracing of these great athletes and Cougars.

Finally it covers the careers of the players. The coverage of the careers though is not solely from an athletics perspective. Their careers are considered for their impact on integration.

This book exceeded every expectation I had. I love Wizig's Eat 'Em Up, but it is almost a marketing piece with all positive stories. Written by a UH grad student, Cougars of Any Color could have easily followed that path. Starting off as a graduate thesis, it could also have turned into a very dry recitation of facts, but instead it is very entertaining.

The book prevents a very balanced story including both very positive and very negative aspects. One of the most amazing aspects of the book is the documentation of the facts and stories in the end notes. I guess I should expect that since it started as a thesis, but even the notes are sometimes entertaining. Reading the notes, I had wished this book was online instead of on paper because I wanted to open and read every newspaper or magazine article and listen to or watch every interview. I hope to follow up and read (or collect) many of the articles in the future.

Before I read this book, I really didn't understand UH's role in the integration of college athletics. UH fans are proud of our role, but I was concerned that they were overstated. After all, major programs in the north and west had already integrated. Schools like North Texas had also recruited African American athletes. UTEP won a basketball championship with an all African American starting lineup.

So how did UH contribute to the integration of college athletics in the South? The biggest impact may not have been having the players on the team, but it was who they played against. McVea was the first African American to play at an SEC stadium. That alone is an important footnote. It is also important that UH's African American players weren't just guys on the team. They were leaders and superstars. By having superstars playing in previously forbidden places, Southern teams realized that they could no longer recruit just White athletes if they wanted to remain elite. By seeing UH players on their fields and seeing that the world didn't end, it became a little more acceptable to consider adding players to their own teams.

So my recommendation? READ THIS BOOK!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

1990 Score #649 Alton Montgomery

When people think of the 1989 University of Houston team, they generally think of Andre Ware winning the Heisman trophy and the Run and Shoot offense. There are good reasons to think of those things, especially since the offense averaged 53.5 points per game.

But the UH defense was also very solid giving up only 13.6 points per game. Even with a mediocre offense, by allowing less than two touchdowns per game a team can win plenty of games. The 1989 Cougar defense pitched two shutouts and allowed 20+ points only three times. One was a heartbreaking shootout loss to Arkansas 45-39. That Arkansas team finished at #13 in the polls, one spot above the Coogs. One 20+ point game was to Texas Tech although UH won fairly easily 40-24. That Tech team finished 19th in the polls. The final 20+ point game was 21 points for SMU. Of course UH won that game 95-21, so the defense can be forgiven for the 21 points given up there.

One of the great players on that defense was Alton Montgomery. A strong safety, Alton played for the Cougars from 1988 to 1989. In 1988 he was named Southwest Conference Defensive Newcomer of the Year, Second Team All Southwest Conference, and All American Honorable Mention. In 1989 he was First Team All Southwest Conference and again an All American Honorable Mention.

In 1990, he was selected in the 2nd round of the NFL draft (52nd overall) by the Denver Broncos. He played three seasons for the Broncos and then three seasons for the Atlanta Falcons.

Today's card is the 1990 Score #649. I think this is a great looking card. The border is primarily red with gradient shading on the sides from red to white. Major bonus points as usual for the player being shown in his Cougar uniform. You can barely see the skinny UH logo on the helmet. No airbrush removal of the logo here. I don't know if that's because it's barely recognizable as the UH logo or if it's because they received permission. Hopefully it's the latter. I absolutely hate airbrushed UH helmets. I love the red gloves too.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

2008-09 Press Pass Legends Select Signatures Clyde Drexler

Despite being retired since 1998, you can still pick up brand new Clyde Drexler cards. So far in the 2008-09 basketball card products, Drexler is featured in Hot Prospects, Press Pass Legends, and Upper Deck.

Today's card is the 2008-09 Press Pass Legends Select Signatures. Press Pass isn't considered one of the major brands, but I really like their focus on college.

The card front includes a black and white photo of Drexler going up for a basket in his University of Houston uniform. Is that a layup? Why isn't he dunking?

It also features an autograph. There are several autograph variations. This version is in red ink and includes his number. Most signatures are in blue. There are also Clyde "the Glide" Drexler autographs.

Most controversial to me is the "wet cougar" modern UH logo. Of course this logo was never used when Drexler was at UH. That is a very recent logo. I wonder if they can only use current, university approved logos or if they could possibly use old logos to match the time the player was in school. If you're going to do retro/legends cards, I think you should use the appropriate retro logo.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Custom McFarlane Andre Ware

McFarlane Toys makes some very nice sports action figures including this sweet Clyde Drexler figure. There is a decent selection of huge stars, but what if you want a player that's not officially offered by McFarlane toys?

Enter custom McFarlane figures. People take existing McFarlane figures, disassemble them, and create a custom figure by painting, adding decals, and in some cases doing some additional sculpting. The basic process is described in this article.

It can be a very involved process. The quality of the customization can vary dramatically, but some high quality custom McFarlanes are available in the marketplace. Some even include quality packaging.

Of course these custom figures are generally not licensed by McFarlane or by the school or athletic association. So it's definitely buyer beware. But depending on the level of artistry, the figure can be highly collectible.

Today's item is a custom McFarlane Andre Ware figure that I recently saw on eBay. It features Ware in his 1989 UH uniform. The packaging says it is part of the Heisman Series and looks very professional.

I love this piece. It shows how the talent and passion of individuals can contribute to the collectibles market.