Wayne Gretzky and the Zweig Brothers…

Last week, a Wayne Gretzky hockey card sold at auction for $1.29 million. It was a 1979 O-Pee-Chee Gretzky rookie card and it set a new record as the first hockey card to sell for over $1 million. (O-Pee-Chee produced hockey cards in Canada, and the Canadian cards are more valuable than the identical American hockey cards of the time produced by Topps.) [NOTE: The record was smashed on May 27, 2021, when a Gretzky rookie card sold for $3.75 million.]

Apparently, this Gretzky card is one of only two from his 1979–80 NHL rookie season to have earned a “Gem Mint” rating from PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator) out of the 5,700 or so that have been certified. In a story by Kevin McGran in the Toronto Star last week, Chris Ivy of Heritage Auctions in Dallas (who sold the card) said even brand new O-Pee-Chee cards in 1979 would have had difficulty earning a top rating due to the poor paper quality used, the wires used to cut the cards, and the issues they often had with poor centering.

The record-setting Gretzky card certainly looks to be well-centered, with no folds or chips in the paper. And, apparently the slightly jagged edge on the right side only adds to its authenticity in an age where it’s easier than ever to fake these cards.

So, hey, collectors! If you like jagged edges, check out this Gretzky rookie card that belongs to my brothers and me. (David was the biggest Gretzky fan in the family, so he has it at his house.)

The edges are definitely rough! There are some issues with the corners, and some of the blue edge has worn away, probably where somebody’s thumb handled it too often. The centering looks good, but the biggest issue to a collector would be the hole from the push-pin near the bottom.

And therein lies, (as Paul Harvey used to say), “the rest of the story.”

My brothers and I were, essentially, children of the 1970s. Children of the 1970s — like the generations before them — may have enjoyed collecting sports cards, but we didn’t preserve them for their future value. We played with them!

Farsies. Topsies. Knock-Downs. Scrambles. (Some times for fun, sometimes for Keepsies!)

The damage to the back of our card is even worse!

I don’t think any of the Zweig brothers ever put their cards in the spokes of their bikes, but David and I definitely had our own, special game for them. We would take the plastic nets off of our table-top hockey game and put them on the floor. We’d put a goalie card leaning up in front of each net, then we’d grab a card in each hand, get down on our hands and knees, and whack around a marble (and each other!) while trying to score on the other one’s goalie. Most of the hockey cards we have to this day still have creases that bend perfectly between four fingers and a thumb.

Our Gretzky card didn’t get that kind of treatment. Not because we were thinking of its future value, but because David and I were now 15 and 17 years old and less likely to crawl around on the floor body-checking each other.

David and I were both big Gretzky fans. As I wrote back in February, we’d been so since February of 1978 when our father took all three of us to see Gretzky play for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds against the Toronto Marlboros at Maple Leaf Gardens. We followed him in the newspapers in the WHA in 1978–79 and, I saw Gretzky play for the Edmonton Oilers against the Maple Leafs at the Gardens the first two times they played there in 1979-80; once in November and once in March. Gretzky had two goals and four assists in the March 29 game (the Oilers beat the Leafs 8-5) to close in on Marcel Dionne for the NHL scoring lead, and it was amazing!

I’ve never been much of a collector, though I’ve held on to plenty of things!
When card collecting was huge in the 1990s, I bought these two 1910 hockey cards because of their connection to my first book, Hockey Night in the Dominion of Canada.
If I’m remembering correctly, I paid $250 for Lester Patrick and $225 for Cyclone Taylor.

I saw the first Gretzky game on November 21 with my friend Mike Baum, who we called “Guy” because he loved the Canadiens. (Gretzky had two goals and two assists in a 4-4 tie that night.) I saw the March game with Steve Rapp, and afterwards we waited around to get autographs. I got Gretzky’s on a scrap from a popcorn box. (I believe I got his linemates Brett Callighen and B.J MacDonald too.) Since David was the bigger fan, I gave him the autograph … and he pinned it to the bulletin board in his bedroom, along with the Gretzky card — because Gretzky was his favourite player.

So, there you go. The autograph hasn’t survived, but because of the pinhole damage (not to mention the damage from the tape on the back!) the value of our Gretzky rookie card drops from a potential $1.29 million to maybe $1.29 hundred.

If we’re lucky!

And, hey, if I don’t get around to posting anything again over the next 10 days or so, Happy Holidays to everyone and best wishes for 2021. (How could it not be a better year?!?)

NOTE: The autograph still exists too! David has kept it all these years. Says I promised I’d get it for him if he let me wear his Gretzky jersey to the game that night. (I remember that I wore it, but don’t remember the promise! He says “I couldn’t believe you came thru.”)

17 thoughts on “Wayne Gretzky and the Zweig Brothers…

  1. Thanks, Eric. This was a nice, easy to read personal story. I have to admit that I never was involved in sports due to very poor eyesight since childhood. When it came to hockey – I couldn’t even follow the puck.

  2. Thanks Eric,

    Another great story. Your card may not be worth a million but it has lots of memories. All the best for the coming year.


  3. I am sure we had that exact card hanging around the house for years. I recognise it. Somewhere in the Medicine Hat landfill I suppose…

  4. Dear Eric:

    You sure touched a nostalgic nerve. The good kind. In Brooklyn we spoke of them as “Pitcha Cards.” (Translated: Picture cards.) In 1939 they were all baseball. A penny per card and we threw away the bubble gum. “Hard Cards” were ones few guys got. Hardest card of all in Williamsburg was the Dodgers Alex Kampouris. Thanks and Happy Hanukah. Stan

  5. My memories of buying & playing with hockey cards always include you & David as much as my brother Alan. I love reading your articles! 🙂
    Benji Rusonik

  6. ROFL>>I can see a younger you & David body checking each other Eric!! Great story! I’m sorry your Gretzky card is not worth as much as the one sold… Now Gretzky’s autograph; that is priceless!

    Happy Chanukkah to you & your family.
    Sincerely, Sherri-Ellen

  7. I thought I had the biggest loss of dinerro til I read this. As a kid, in the 15th century, I collected a few comic books. My mom gave them away when I was a teenager and no longer reading comic books . I had discovered GIRLS. A less rewarding hobby.
    One of the books given away was the first Superman comic book someone gave me as we were both Canadian, Jewish, and born the same year, though not in the same hospital. We both were only children to older parents. But I wore my red underpants under my breaches, not over them. And I can’t fly. Covid 19 restricts travel to other planets. So my comic book, and I kept some in mint condition, vanished, along with a large sum of potential money.
    But your tale is sadder. Then again, being an only child I wouldn’t have to split my millions with siblings.
    Another fun article. I enjoy reading them.
    I understand that since his death Eddie Shack memorabilia are in demand!

  8. Great story Eric – really enjoyed reading it! Enjoy the holidays, especially Chanukah and good health & much happiness in the New Year! Myrna & Bernie

  9. Hey Eric,
    Nice little vignette to brighten up the holidays in this crazy year. I had the same approach as you with my hockey cards, also collected the Coke/Sprite bottle caps for the entire 6-team league in 66/67. These get very corroded over time …… and most of the names and faces are not legible. Had a lot more fun collecting them than trying to preserve them for the next 40 years.
    All the best to you for Christmas and 2021! Look forward to more great yarns in the New Year!
    Rod Nystrom

  10. Eric:
    Thanks for yet another great hockey story.
    No, I did not save any of my hockey cards from my childhood in the 50’s & 60’s.
    I do however have a signed photo of “me” with “The Great One”…
    You may recall in the mid to late 80’s when one of the endorsements Wayne did was for Travelers Insurance… remember the big red umbrella. I was one of a select group of Toronto area Life Insurance brokers who placed “group plan” business with Travelers that were invited to a Traveler’s sponsored product launch at the end of May, 1987. Wayne was the guest speaker. After the lunch, Wayne posed individually with each of us who wanted their picture taken.
    Yes, three weeks later, I received my picture…personally signed by Wayne.
    Of course, I still have it. Framed of course.

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