Jay Cutler. I missed him by a year. I didn’t know a whole lot about Vanderbilt football when I applied. Like most things in my life, I set out to do what people thought I never could or should. I heard I could never get into a school like VU with my 2.5 high school GPA, so when I got the opportunity to leave the Marine Corps and go to college, I shot for the moon. I suppose the admissions committee was feeling rather patriotic that day or perhaps they were impressed with my junior college 4.0… Regardless of how I got in, I did. Then everyone started asking me about Jay Cutler.
I lived on a Marine base in Japan from 2003-2006, so I missed all that was so great about Jay Cutler. As a student and eventual Hustler sports writer I did not miss ole Earl. This essay is not so much about Earl the player – though I could elaborate for days on my experiences watching him on Saturday at Dudley, but rather how I became one of the country’s biggest Earl Bennett memorabilia collectors.
For those of you not familiar with the current state of sports card and memorabilia collecting, it is quite a different world than the late 1980s and early 1990s that was the true heyday of sports card collecting. Today’s cards are embedded with game-worn pieces of jersey and are frequently autographed and produced in very limited quantities – many times as few as one single card is produced.
In 2006 when Jay went pro, I started picking up his rookie football cards. I amassed a fairly good sized collection of Jay Cutler rookies and autographs, but as he was one of the top 3 quarterbacks of the 2006 draft, his stuff started out highly priced and continued to increase in price as time went on in Denver and now in Chicago. His least expensive autograph runs around $45-60 and nearly any jersey autograph card is $100 or more.
The rarest Jay Cutler piece is the 2006 Upper Deck Exquisite autographed rookie patch card. The card features an oversized swatch of Jay’s game-used college jersey. At its highest point, this card was sold for as much as $6,000. Though Cutler has faded a bit in the eyes of most collectors – with players like Cam Newton, Tim Tebow and RGIII commanding the highest prices for rare rookie cards today – this card is still bought and sold today for $2,000+.
What would make that card worth $2,000 or an eye-popping $6,000? It was limited to only 20 copies and it also features his black and gold college jersey. (All the rookie cards from that set featured patch swatches from the NFL Rookie Premier photo shoot – a made-for-fans event where players wear as many as 10 different pro-jerseys for a few minutes each and pose for photos. Those jerseys are then sold to various memorabilia companies who chop them up and put them on football cards.) Legend has it that Cutler had a wedding to attend that day, so instead of going to the photo shoot, he skipped it and sent Upper Deck a college jersey for inclusion in the set. The fact that it is actually game-used jersey and not just player worn from the photo shoot increased its desirability.
For the first few years, I tried to compete with other Cutler fans for his collectibles and cards. But, being a college student and later Marine Officer, I didn’t have quite the budget that a lot of the most enthusiastic Jay Cutler collectors did. I realized that even with a degree from Vandy, it was going to be a while before I was able to afford a $2,000 Jay Cutler rookie card. I also came to grips with the fact that though Jay Cutler was a good pro-athlete and went to my alma mater, I had never actually seen him play live or seen him play in college.
That’s when I decided to switch the focus of my hobby from Jay Cutler to the Earl of Receptions.
To contrast the difference between collecting a starting quarterback like Cutler and a guy like Earl Bennett just take a look at Earl’s best rookie card. It comes from the 2008 Upper Deck Exquisite set – which cost $600 a pack at the time – yes a pack! But I picked up mine for $30 on eBay.
When I was a die-hard Cutler fan, I had champagne taste and a "Beer-30" budget. I always seemed to get out-bid on the good Cutler stuff. Once I switched to collecting Earl, I could afford to get his best stuff for the same money - multi-colored patch cards, limited edition stuff, etc. I enjoyed watching Earl Bennett on Saturdays and I enjoy watching him in Chicago now. I usually spend about $10-30 a month on Earl stuff and have some pretty sweet cards.
Collecting Earl Bennett was a lot more fun for me and now I have one of the best Earl collections in the country. Now, I am not hoping to inspire anyone else out there to compete with me for the best Earl Bennett cards on eBay, but collecting football cards is a fun hobby and I hope that my experience can introduce someone new to collecting – without breaking the bank or leaving them picking up the crumbs of others who collect only headliner stars like Cutler.
2012 has been a good year for collecting Vandy guys – Casey Hayward’s stuff is not that expensive at the moment (I just picked up some autographs and limited edition cards for less than $6 a card) and I think he has a great shot to make Defensive ROY, so his stuff may see a little spike in price after that. With Zac Stacey going pro next year and potentially Jordan Matthews (I really hope he stays though), if you’ve ever enjoyed collecting cards in the past but gotten out of it, now is a good time to get back into it from a Vanderbilt perspective.
Here is a little glimpse of my best Earl stuff:
2008 UD Premier Earl Bennett Multi-colored Patch Autographed Rookie Card (Print run: 30 copies)
2008 Topps Finest Earl Bennett Refractor NFL Equipment Tag Autographed Rookie (Print run: 15 copies)
2008 Donruss Souvenir Stamps Earl Bennett Autographed Rookie Card (Print run: 21 copies)
2008 Donruss Exquisite Earl Bennett Jumbo Patch Autographed Rookie Card (Print Run: 199 copies)
2008 Donruss Elite Aspirations Die-Cut Rookie Card (Print run: 99 copies)
Things I have yet to get, but are on my radar to buy:
2008 Playoff National Treasures Jumbo Patch Autographed Rookie Card (Print run: 99 copies)
2008 SP Authentic Earl Bennett Jersey Autograph Rookie Card (Print run: 999 copies)
via i.ebayimg.com (There is a variation of this card which Earl signed only by his nickname "Juke." It's VERY rare.)
2008 Press Pass Earl Bennett "Juke" Autographed Rookie Card (Print run: unknown)
Earl Bennett Agent Orange Watch - I need this one for my collection and so I'm not late for things.