Like many other boys growing up in the 1980s, Matt Morgan collected sports cards. He knew his stuff from an early age, appreciating cards of legends like Hank Aaron and Willie Mays as well as those of stars of the time like Don Mattingly.
Unlike most other collectors, Morgan was certain he’d be immortalized on cardboard himself at some point. He just wasn’t sure how, and even he’s surprised at the particular way his boyhood dream has come true.
“Not to sound arrogant or anything, but yes I did,” he said when asked if he thought there would ever be Matt Morgan trading cards. “I didn’t know if it would be baseball, football or basketball. There were just a lot more different avenues in those sports back then. But did I ever think I would appear on professional wrestling cards? No way.”
It’s only fitting that TNA has chosen its biggest collector — both figuratively and literally in the case of the seven-foot-tall Morgan — to spread the word about the release of its 2009 iMPACT! trading cards. It’s the company’s second set of the year and fourth overall as a result of its collaboration with Tristar Productions, and the man known as “The Blueprint” talks them up with genuine excitement in his voice.
In addition to 99 base cards that showcase TNA stars, the new set features several limited edition inserts that can be found in every 20-pack box. The more innovative ones include cards with actual pieces of Sting’s face paint and the popular Kiss Cards, which are actually kissed by the TNA Knockouts and then sealed so their lipstick is captured on the cards.
Morgan is also fond of the autograph cards, some of which he signed himself.
“They’re the cleanest looking cards,” Morgan said. “The design is great, and there’s a huge space for the autographs.”
The wrestler also singles out the Then & Now cards that show a current picture of a TNA personality alongside a shot from his or her past. In Morgan’s case, it’s a photo that reminds fans that he was once a good enough college basketball player to secure tryouts with two NBA teams.
Before he was experiencing March Madness with Monmouth, Morgan was amassing a pretty nice stash of baseball and basketball cards. He remembers first getting bitten by the collecting bug around 1982, when he was only five years old.
Though he was wise enough not to put them in the spokes of his bicycle, Morgan and his friends did have a pretty unique game they would play.
“We used to take our cards and we would grade them on a scale of one to 10,” he said. “We used to hide them around the house or in the yard. You had 15 minutes to find them, and if you found them, you could keep them.”
Morgan managed to unload a 1986 Ryne Sandberg for a 1967 Hank Aaron that way. He also recalls his favorite trade ever, one that seems like a bit of a fleecing with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.
“I traded a pair of hockey skates and an Upper Deck Kevin Maas rookie card, back when he was hot for a minute, for a 1955 Willie Mays,” Morgan said. “Don’t feel sorry for the kid though. He had three of those cards, and he had no idea what he had.”
There’s little doubt that the youth of the 21st Century don’t connect to trading cards in quite the same way. Sports Illustrated recently ran a story that detailed the downsizing of the industry, which has seen sales shrink from $1.2 billion less than 20 years ago to $200 million in 2008.
Nevertheless, Morgan feels the TNA cards can reach out to those who wouldn’t normally collect. That includes the guy walking through a big box retailer who stops in his tracks when he sees an Angelina Love Kiss Card, as well as some younger fans who wouldn’t be pulled in by traditional sports cards.
“I have nieces and nephews that don’t collect baseball or basketball cards, because they’re not interested in those sports, but they’ll collect TNA iMPACT! cards all day long,” he said. “We’re going to get people outside our target demographic and give our fans another outlet to connect with us.”
Another difference is that the cards are made by Tristar instead of hobby giants like Topps or Upper Deck. Though the Houston-based company is better known to many as a producer of large regional card shows, Morgan says it’s employees have been great partners.
“They’re real fun to work with and very receptive to talent to come up with new ideas,” Morgan said. “I don’t think [other companies] talked to baseball players and said, ‘What do you think?’ That’s what separates them.”
For his part, Morgan will continue to rake up as many boxes and packs as he can and marvel that people will pay money for his autograph card. He’ll also be working on acquiring something special that would be the centerpiece of any collection: the TNA World Heavyweight Championship.The 2009 iMPACT! cards are on sale now, available at Walmart and hobby stores across the U.S. Canadian fans shouldn’t fret either, as they can also be found at SHOPTNA.com.
“That should be every wrestler’s goal, and if it’s not, you should quit,” Morgan said. “I’m going to try and make that a reality this year. I really think it’s going to happen.