Sunday, April 10, 2016

1988 Smokey Bear San Diego Chargers Set

Click here to find Smokey Card Sets on eBay

The San Diego Chargers were the subject of a "Smokey Bear" fire prevention set that was released in 1988. This was the second Chargers Smokey set issued over a a string of four consecutive years, from 1987 through 1990. All of these sets feature cards that are over three times larger than the standard size of 2 1/2 by 3 1/2 inches.

The '88 Smokey Chargers cards measure 5 by 8 inches. They are printed on thin cardstock (a stacked complete set measures less than 1/2 inch thick), and a set is complete at 52 cards. Incredibly, 17 of the 52 cards are shortptrints; cards would be withdrawn from distribution as players were injured or left the team. The entire fronts of the cards are filled by candid, game day photos, with the only borders being a rectangular pinstripe that frames each card edge. The only other graphics found on card fronts are all in the lower right corner; the subject's name and position, along with a small Smokey Bear head and Chargers football helmet. Backs each feature a prominent drawing that promotes fire safety, as well as a few biographical points for the person who is the subject of the card. The sponsors are listed across the back bottom, and include the Chargers, Forest Service, U.S.D.A., California Dept. of Forestry and Fire Prevention, and the Bureau of Land Management, U.S.D.I. Cards are not numbered except for player uniform numbers.

There is much to like about these cards, especially when one considers the landscape of the football collecting hobby back in 1988. Topps was still the only game in town in '88, though things would change quickly just one year later with the welcome arrivals of ProSet and Score... But until these two new football card makers would go on to forever raise the standard of action photography on every card front, collectors were stuck with the usual mediocrity of Topps and their endless parade of helmetless, sitting or standing player photos (look up any Eric Dickerson or Tony Dorsett "regular" Topps card released during the 1980s and you'll see what I mean). 

The Forest Service used this design for several sports-related sets over the course of roughly three years, from 1988 through 1990. This somewhat timeless design ranks among one of my personal all-time favorites, and was used for football, baseball, and even a small set of rodeo cards in 1990. A few months ago we featured the 1988 Smokey St. Louis Cardinals set, which shares a similar motif.

The fact that there are 52 different Chargers players and staffers found in this set makes it a must-have for fans who are looking to collect obscure names that were underrepresented in the nationally-released football sets. Two such names are Head Coach Al Saunders and Chairman of the Board Alex G. Spanos, since Topps did not include staff cards in their football sets. Quarterbacks Mark Hermann and Mark Vlasic are both pictured before their rookie cards were printed in national sets. Tight end Rod Bernstine is also pictured a year before his ProSet rookie card was released, and fan-favorite receiver Wes Chandler is pictured a year after his last Topps card was issued.

There is one known variation card found in the set, featuring Chairman of the Board Alex G. Spanos. The first printing of his card incorrectly states on the back that he purchased the team in 1987; the corrected version of the card gives the year as 1984. The incorrect version is the scarcer of the two and is one of the more valuable cards in the set.

The shortprints are obtainable, meaning a set must have them to be considered complete. Generally speaking, the '88 Smokey Chargers cards don't show up in any significant quantities on eBay; I would not consider these cards scarce, but similar to many other oddball sets from this era, the cards were dissipated to collectors and non-collectors alike many moons ago and tend to stay tucked away. When a set comes available, I'd expect the value to be in the $35 to $50 range.

Click here to find Smokey Card Sets on eBay

(2) Ralf Mojsiejenko, P
(9) Mark Hermann, QB (Shortprint)
 (10) Vince Abbott, K
(13) Mark Vlasic, QB
(14) Dan Fouts, QB
(20) Barry Redden, RB
(22) Gill Byrd, CB/S
(23) Danny Walters, CB (Shortprint)
(25) Vencie Glenn, FS
(26) Lionel James, WR
(27) Daniel Hunter, CB (Shortprint)
(34) Elvis Patterson, CB
(36) Mike Davis, SS (Shortprint)
(40) Gary Anderson, RB
(42) Curtis Adams, RB
(43) Tim Spencer, FB
(44) Martin Bayless, SS
(50) Gary Plummer, ILB
  (52) Jeffrey Jackson, ILB
(54) Billy Ray Smith, OLB
(55) Steve Busick, ILB (Shortprint)
(56) Chip Banks, OLB (Shortprint)
(57) Thomas Benson, ILB (Shortprint)
(58) David Brandon, OLB
(60) Dennis McKnight, G
(61) Ken Dallafior, G
(62) Don Macek, C
(68) Gary Kowalski, T
(69) Les Miller, DE
(70) James Fitzpatrick, G/T
(71) Mike Charles, NT
(72) Karl Wilson, DE
(74) Jim Lachey, T (Shortprint)
(75) Joe Phillips, DE
(76) Broderick Thompson, G/T
(77) Sam Claphan, G/T (Shortprint)
(78) Chuck Ehin, NT (Shortprint)
(79) Curtis Rouse, G/T (Shortprint)
(80) Kellen Winslow, TE
(81) Timmie Ware, WR (Shortprint)
(82) Rod Bernstine, TE
(85) Eric Sievers, TE
(86) Jamie Holland, WR
(88) Pete Holohan, TE (Shortprint)
(89) Wes Chandler, WR (Shortprint)
(92) Dee Hardison, DE (Shortprint)
(94) Randy Kirk, LB
(96) Keith Baldwin, DE (Shortprint)
(98) Terry Unrein, NT (Shortprint)
(99) Lee Williams, DE
(NNO) Al Saunders, Head Coach
(NNO) Alex G. Spanos, CB/President (ERR, 1987)
(NNO) Alex G. Spanos, CB/President (COR, 1984)

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