From 1985-86 to 1990-91, both Topps and O-Pee-Chee printed special trading cards on the bottom of the boxes of hockey cards. If you think about it, these “box bottoms,” as they are usually called, are like the short prints of the vintage era because you only got four per box. You either had to buy the entire box of cards to get just four box bottoms, or find other ways to acquire them.
The 1987-88 O-Pee-Chee Hockey Box Bottoms set features cards of players who led their playoff-bound teams in scoring during the regular season; that is, they were on a team that made the playoffs and led their team in scoring during the regular season. This just might be the high-water mark of hockey box bottom sets, as 12 of the 16 players here were later inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Player Selection (5 out of 5)
So many great players are in this set, including The Great One himself, Wayne Gretzky. But the rest of the lineup is not too shabby either: Steve Yzerman, Luc Robitaille, Doug Gilmour, Ray Bourque, Joe Mullen, Larry Murphy, Dale Hawerchuk, Ron Francis, Michel Goulet, Denis Savard and Bryan Trottier all had excellent careers and ended up in the Hall of Fame.
One thing that amazes me is how many of these Hall of Fame-bound players eventually ended up on the Pittsburgh Penguins; Mullen, Murphy, Francis and Trottier all helped the Pens win back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships in 1991 and 1992, while Robitaille joined the Penguins for the 1994-95 season.
Three of the last four cards are not too bad either. Tim Kerr, Mats Naslund and Russ Courtnall all had good NHL careers. The only odd duck is Walt Poddubny, who led the Rangers in scoring by virtue of being a decent player on a bad team. (In the 1987 playoffs, he became a bad player on a bad team, going pointless in six games.)
Front Design (3 out of 5)
These box bottom cards are almost identical to the design of the 1987-88 O-Pee-Chee Hockey and 1987-88 Topps Hockey cards, except that the borders are yellow instead of white. That was probably a good idea, as white borders are unforgiving to dirt and blemishes, and these cards would most likely have been face-down on a store shelf.
What makes box bottom cards cool is that they use different photographs than the cards issued in packs. They also have different information on the back, which brings me to my next point.
Back Design / Stats & Info (2 out of 5)
The card backs show the player’s regular season scoring stats from the 1986-87 season, and their scoring stats from the 1987 playoffs. And really, that’s it. Even the “Super Action” cards in the 1981-82 Topps and O-Pee-Chee sets, which focused on players on teams in the playoffs, had more information than that.
1987-88 O-Pee-Chee Hockey cards were sold in 48-pack boxes, meaning that someone had to purchase 48 packs at a time to get four box bottom cards.
Or, they had to find them in a retail (non-card) store, like the local drug or grocery store, and ask for them. As a kid, I would just empty out the box, except for a few packs, and then tell the cashier that I was buying the last packs, and ask if it was OK if I could have the empty box, too. They always said yes. Of course, this never worked at a card shop, were they would many times sell the box once it was empty.
Considering that a box of 1987-88 O-Pee-Chee cards had 48 packs, and each pack had seven cards, you would get a total of 336 cards in a box — but only four box bottoms. That means that four out of 340 cards, or one in every 85 cards, is a box bottom, making these harder to find than most short printed cards are today; even more so if you consider that many box bottom cards are found in less-than-stellar condition.
These cards are difficult to find in near-mint condition or better for many reasons. Because these were printed on the bottom of the box, the card fronts are subject to scuffing or shelf wear. Also, many times the corners of uncut panels have creasing. And in the late 1980s, kids may have even cut them apart with scissors — I did that with some 1985 Topps Football Box Bottom cards, because what did I know? — so you often find them with crooked edges or not cut to standard size.
If you are completest like me, then this set is a must-have, considering that it is hard-to-find — even more so in great shape — and has many superstar players from the 1980s and 1990s. But most can probably sleep at night without owning these cards, as they don’t really add much to the 1987-88 O-Pee-Chee Hockey set.
The entire 16-card set.
A – Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton Oilers (see back)
B – Tim Kerr, Philadelphia Flyers (see back)
C- Steve Yzerman, Detroit Red Wings (see back)
D – Luc Robitaille, Los Angeles Kings (see back)
E – Doug Gilmour, St. Louis Blues (see back)
F- Ray Bourque, Boston Bruins (see back)
G – Joe Mullen, Calgary Flames (see back)
H – Larry Murphy, Washington Capitals (see back)
I – Dale Hawerchuk, Winnipeg Jets (see back)
J – Ron Francis, Hartford Whalers (see back)
K – Walt Poddubny, New York Rangers (see back)
L – Mats Naslund, Montreal Canadiens (see back)
M – Michel Goulet, Quebec Nordiques (see back)
N – Denis Savard, Chicago Blackhawks (see back)
O – Bryan Trottier, New York Islanders (see back)
P – Russ Courntall, Toronto Maple Leafs (see back)
DOUBLE OVERTIME BONUS
Images of the uncut box bottom panels
Panel 1, with cards A, B, C and D. This is probably the key panel to collect, as it has cards of Wayne Gretzky, Luc Robitaille (this could be considered a rookie card) and Steve Yzerman (see back).
Panel 2, with cards E, F, G and H. All four of these players — Doug Gilmour, Ray Bourque, Joe Mullen and Larry Murphy — were eventually inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame (see back).
Panel 3, with cards I, J, K and L. This panel is probably the least in-demand, since it has only two cards are of superstar players (see back).
Panel 4, with cards M, N, O and P. This panel has two of the greatest French-Canadian players from the 1980s: Michel Goulet and Denis Savard (see back).
Question: Do you collect box bottom cards from vintage sets? Or are they just a bit too “out there” for your tastes? Leave a comment below. ■