05 March 2008

Set Spotlight:::::Leaf Rookies and Stars football

One of Donruss/Playoff's most significant football sets over the years has been Leaf Rookies and Stars. It emerged from the nebulous history of the company in the late '90s. When the trading card industry struggled in the mid-1990s, Donruss and Leaf were a casualty. The brands were sold to Pinnacle in 1996 and became one with the Pinnacle and Score brands. Pinnacle was in not much better shape financially, however, and in 1998 declared bankruptcy. It wasn't until a year later that Donruss finally found some solid financial footing with the acquisition of the Donruss, Leaf and Score brands by the Playoff Corporation out of Texas. In the midst of the financial chaos, the Leaf Rookies and Stars set debuted.


Pinnacle had begun moving in a higher-end direction with the Donruss and Leaf brand names in 1997 with the release of the Donruss Preferred set that featured levels of foil cards and the "Precious Metals" insert that included actual precious metals in the card foil. Topps had begun producing the Finest, Topps Chrome and Bowman's Best sets and Upper Deck had begun its Black Diamond, SP Authentic and SPx sets as the hobby began to move in a quality-more-than-quantity direction in some respects. Pinnacle had also started its Pinnacle Certified set while still using Donruss and Score to compete with the usual Topps and Upper Deck base sets. The Leaf Signature and Studio sets with way oversized 8x10 cards included had debuted in 1997 but must not have worked out real well as that size of card didn't return from the company. With Topps and Upper Deck winning the card war and Pinnacle in dire financial straits, things bottomed out for the company in 1998. None of the Donruss sets were released, the only Pinnacle set released was Pinnacle Mint, and the only Score released in that good year for rookies was the base Score set, which did feature rookie autographs. Somehow, though, Leaf Rookies and Stars did serendipitously debut in 1998 featuring a 300-card base set including 70 RCs. the debut of the Longevity parallels (one parallel #d/50 and a holofoil version of 1/1s), a "True Blue" parallel #d/500, and 12 serial numbered insert sets, some with lesser numbered parallels of their own, which would become a staple of the set for the company, to some collectors' dismay and to others' delight. There were no autographs or game-used cards in the debut Rookies and Stars set but the rookies and Power Tools subset, seeded in 1 of every 2 packs, made the set hard to neglect. Peyton Manning's RC from the set books at $50 while Randy Moss is next at $30 and Hines Ward and Ahman Green are each $25. Manning also has a Power Tools card that books $25 in the set. As you can see at left, the base card design was originally one of the strengths of the set. The insert sets also had nice designs, and many would be featured in most, if not every, year's Leaf Rookies and Stars set -- "Freshman Orientation" inserts of rookie players #d to 2500; "Ticket Masters" dual-player cards #d to 2500 with a die-cut parallel; "Great American Heroes" star inserts #d out of 2500; and the "Crusade" star insert with a green version #d out of 250 and lower-numbered purple and red parallels as well. With Dan Marino, Barry Sanders, John Elway and Troy Aikman still in the league at the time, those stars helped beef up the insert and base sets somewhat as well. Anyway, despite the company's problems, the set had featured enough to put Leaf Rookies and Stars on the map in the card hobby.


1999 was a good year for Donruss, Leaf and Score in many ways as the brands were given new life with the acquisition by Playoff Corporation. Besides the Playoff sets that had been produced since the early-to-mid '90s, Donruss and Donruss Preferred returned, Donruss Elite debuted in a big way (maybe to be featured in its own spotlight at some future point), Leaf Certified debuted as a higher-end product, Score survived with the added debut of a new and short-lived Supplemental set as well, and Leaf Rookies and Stars returned as one of the company's better middle-grade products. Another solid group of rookies (expanded to 100 for the 1999 set) helped, including the set having one of the few RCs of a breakout quarterback named Kurt Warner. It also helped that game-used and autograph cards were added to the 1999 version of the set as a five-card "John Elway Collection" included helmet, shoe and jersey cards of the Broncos great. A 30-card "Dress for Success" game-used jersey and dual-jersey set and "Prime Cuts" game-used patch insert were added along with a "Signature Series" 30-card autograph insert. As in 1998, all the inserts were serial numbered and the familiar inserts and parallels returned. The RCs continue to do all right in terms of book value today. Warner, Donovan McNabb and, another rare rookie from the set, Jeff Garcia, are the highest booking ones at $20 each -- rookies were once again seeded 1 in every 2 packs with no Power Tools subset included in 1999. Edgerrin James, Daunte Culpepper and Torry Holt's rookies from the set also still book in double digits. The Dress for Success game-used set features a dual Barry Sanders/Emmitt Smith jersey card as well as a Brett Favre/Troy Aikman jersey card, a Tim Couch/Dan Marino jersey card and a Randy Moss/Jerry Rice jersey card along with single jersey cards of all those guys. The Elway Collection cards were somewhat different as both a blue helmet swatch card and a swatch from an old-style orange Broncos helmet were included. Favre and Marino (left) have the highest-booking Prime Cuts cards although 7 book in triple figures. The Signature Series autographs were also good investments for the most part as Marino, Edgerrin James, McNabb, Culpepper, Rice and Moss are also included, as are dual auto cards of Marino and Couch, Terrell Davis and James, and Moss and Torry Holt. The "Slide Show" and "Statistical Standouts" inserts also debuted, including a parallel version in Statistical Standouts numbered to various low amounts corresponding to each player. The wide variety of hits from the product made hobby boxes a good purchase and nice card designs made the set an attraction once more.


In 2000, Score Supplemental was scrapped and Quantum Leaf added to the company's portfolio. Leaf Limited also made its debut as a high-end product. Those products were overshadowed to some extent by some new additions in the Leaf Rookies and Stars set. The biggest splash came from the inclusion of exchange cards for special extended rookies of the top QBs, RBs, WRs and defensive players selected in the 2001 NFL Draft, which ended up including LaDainian Tomlinson, Mike Vick, Drew Brees and Deuce McAllister, among others. Tomlinson's is currently the highest valued of these cards at $100 with Vick's still going for $50 (although I bet not for long). For the first time, RCs in the set were also serial numbered (to 1000), and a 40-card subset of NFL Europe prospects was included #d to 3000. The first 200 of each RC was also autographed, and the number of rookies in the set continued to expand as the 2000 set had 160 rookies plus the NFL Europe prospects. Rookies and Stars continued to pay off in its selection of rookies to feature as Tom Brady is among the rookies in the set and his RC currently books at $300. Brady does not, however, have an autographed version of the card. Jake Delhomme's RC from the set has also held up well in value over the years as have the Shaun Alexander, Jamal Lewis and Chad Pennington rookies. The set was also one of the few to feature a RC of former Chiefs kick returner Dante Hall that was hot at one point a few years ago. The Dress For Success and Prime Cuts game-used inserts returned, although this year it was "Dress Four Success" in that set with five different memorabilia cards (ball, jersey, helmet, shoe and a combo of all 4) for 10 different players. The Marino and Rice combo cards #d/25 are the highest booking cards in the insert set. Prime Cuts, which had been limited to 50 for each player in 1999, was even more limited at 25 in 2000 and featured another star-packed lineup headed by Favre and Marino. The company turned its attention to another legendary QB as there were five "Joe Montana Collection" memorabilia cards #d between 125 and 300, each with 25 autographed versions. Another new addition for the 2000 product was an autographed version of the Great American Heroes insert set known as "Great American Signatures" with Marino, Elway, Rice, Barry Sanders and Kurt Warner among those included. The Signature Series autographs didn't return for 2000, but a "Great American Treasures" memorabilia set of game-used cards from certain games for 10 players was included, each #d out of 100 with the first 25 autographed. Other than that it was the usual parallels and inserts and insert parallels that had filled out the set in its first two years. The base design was basically the same as in 1999 but the layout and fonts were shuffled somewhat. The set still looked nice, all in all, and the XRCs of the 2001 draft class helped make the set a huge hit.


The set was back and the company had a new name in 2001 as early in the year it became Donruss Playoff LP. The newly named company kept trying to keep things fresh as the Leaf Certified set was expanded to "Leaf Certified Materials" complete with a very large amount of game-used cards included. Donruss Preferred and Leaf Limited were dropped, but Quantum Leaf was back and a new product was added in Donruss Classics, which became an instant success. Playoff Honors and Playoff Preferred joined the lineup, and a hobby version of the Score base set was released under the name "Score Select" featuring #d RCs and more autos and game-used cards. Playoff Contenders, with its autographed RCs, continued to be the keystone of the company's sets, and Leaf Rookies and Stars had solidified its position near the top of the annual products. The set was broken into three levels for 2001 with 100 rookies seeded 1 every 4 packs and another 100 seeded 1 every 24 packs, or 1 every hobby box. The set's hallmark of including key RCs continued as Antonio Pierce, Eric Johnson and Drew Bennett were among the rookies seeded 1:4 packs (Bennett's books the highest at $20). Steve Smith (the Carolina one) also has one of his few RCs in Rookies and Stars (left) as one of the 1:24 pack rookies. Dominic Rhodes and Kendrell Bell were at one time hot rookies that have a select few RCs -- with one in Leaf Rookies and Stars. Tomlinson books the highest among the 1:24 RCs at $80 with Vick and Brees at $30 and Smith and Ocho Cinco at $20. As with the lineup of products, Donruss Playoff also tried to keep the Rookies and Stars set fresh. For some reason the draft exchange cards didn't return (maybe people didn't like having to wait so long for a redemption???), and the Prime Cuts patches were rolled into the Dress For Success (back to its 1999 rendition and now including some retired legends like Lawrence Taylor and Elway) game-used set as a parallel. The Crosstraining set featured dual game (or event)-used cards (pairing a rookie and positional counterpart "star") for the 2001 set, and the Freshman Orientation inserts also went to an event-used format using jerseys from the rookie photo shoot (and a "Class Officers" patch parallel). No one player was featured as Elway and Montana had been as Leaf included a "Players Collection" game-used insert set. The rookie autographs retuned, most notably featuring LaDainian Tomlinson, Smith and an early T.J. Houshmandzadeh auto, and the Slideshow insert set (now also game-used) also featured autographed versions. A "Triple Threads" card of triple game-used from certain teams also debuted in the set in 2001, including a good one of the Cowboys "Triplets" of Aikman, Emmitt and Irvin plus a Harrison, Edge and Peyton and a Jim Kelly/Thurman Thomas/Andre Reed. Basically, it seems that Donruss Playoff looked at the competition and decided to try and push the envelope by blowing out the game-used in the product, but as the industry gradually became saturated with game-used, the 2001 set had included enough nice pulls and RCs to make its mark.


Quantum Leaf and Playoff Preferred were mothballed for 2002 and the company added the hit Gridiron Kings product as well as Playoff Piece of the Game. Leaf Rookies and Stars evolved with some new things and some old returning inserts. The new things were "Initial Steps" shoe cards from the rookie premiere photo shoot, "Rookie Masks" facemask cards, a "Run with History" insert honoring Emmitt Smith becoming the all-time NFL leading rusher, the debut of the "Action Packed" insert honoring the former Action Packed sets of the early 1990s, and the return of the "Standing Ovation" insert idea from the original set in 1998. The "game-used in every insert" idea was dropped, as were the short-printing of the 200 RCs in the set, as now the product featured a RC per pack. I can argue either way on the RCs. It's nice to get something per pack other than just base commons (some foreshadowing there....), but it's also nice to know a RC you pull is short-printed and maybe worth a little more than it would be if it was just a RC per pack. Since the RCs weren't short-printed in '02, none book higher than $15, led by Clinton Portis and Jeremy Shockey. Only 8 of the 200 rookies book in double figures as the '02 draft class has been good but nothing too great. The key RCs in the set are Ed Reed, Brian Westbrook (left), David Garrard, Julius Peppers and one of the few of Vikes RB Chester Taylor. The rookie autographs returned with serial numbering to 150 and are headlined by Portis, Peppers and Westbrook. The Dress for Success game-used insert reached its low point with the set in 2002 as only 2 now book in Beckett -- Tomlinson and Anthony Thomas. Freshman Orientation returned as a game-used set with an autograph parallel featuring an early Garrard auto #d/25. The Great American Heroes insert featured an auto'd parallel as well with Michael Vick's currently booking the highest at $100 (as noted earlier, probably not for long), although those numbered less than /25 don't book in Beckett. The company also honored its past with the hard-to-pull "Pinnacle" insert seeded 1 every 670 retail packs. The set features a rare Tom Brady that could be a good investment at a high book value of $20. The Initial Steps set featured some unique game-used pieces with the colorful leather of the shoes worn by the players at the rookie photo shoot. Playoff had been an early leader in the game-used shoe department in the Absolute Memorabila Ground Hoggs and Boss Hoggs shoe inserts, and the move into rookie shoe cards with Initial Steps was a shrewd one. As much as I like the Initial Steps cards, the Rookie Masks facemask insert was a little underwhelming to me, although I do give Donruss Playoff credit for trying something different. The cards feature a cross-section piece or two from facemasks worn at the rookie photo shoot with Shockey and Portis once more leading the set in value at $40. With Emmitt Smith closing in on history and the Cowboys featuring a huge built-in fan base, the Run with History set was a sure thing for Donruss Playoff and the company was wise to number the autographed parallel to Emmitt's number, 22. The 2002 Triple Threads jerseys weren't as good pulls as they had been in 2001 but did feature a Favre/Ahman Green/Glenn card that books at $100 and may go up with Favre's retirement. The Raiders' trio of Tim Brown, Rice and Gannon should end up being a card featuring jerseys of two Hall of Famers in Brown and Rice, plus a not-too-shabby QB in Gannon. The only other one Beckett singles out is the Bears trio of A Train, Urlacher and David Terrell, which has ended up looking not as good now as it once did. Basically, 2002 was another year of Donruss Playoff changing things up somewhat but once again finding a couple new ways to keep the set interesting.


The changes kept rolling in 2003 as Playoff Piece of the Game went away and Donruss Playoff brought back Leaf Limited as a high-end product, and introduced Playoff Hogg Heaven. This time there weren't a lot of changes in Leaf Rookies and Stars. One change that wasn't made was the return of Jeff Garcia as poster boy on boxes. Really? Jeff Garcia for two years in a row? I mean, he was good in San Francisco, but was he THAT popular? Don't think so. Maybe that was the first sign the company was showing its age and lack of investment in the set. The biggest move for '03 was putting the rookies in three tiers with a fourth tier of dual rookie jerseys. There were 100 basic rookies that were fairly easy to pull, followed by 50 rookies #d to 750 and 30 jersey rookies #d to 550. The 15 dual jersey cards of rookies were numbered to 400. The rookie autos were #d to 150 with jersey RC autos #d to 50, although oddly the company also included autos in the Longevity RC parallel and #d to 25 with unautographed RC jerseys #d to 10 and the dual jerseys #d to 25. Initial Steps and the Masks event-used insert sets returned but Dress For Success was scrapped and Prime Cuts returned with patch cards #d/25. All in all the set was pared down with some of the other inserts being taken out. The set's wide variety of rookies struck paydirt again in 2003 as both Tony Romo and Antonio Gates feature rare RCs in the set, with Gates one of the more common first 100 and Romo's #d to 750. Romo's RC still books well at $60 while Gates' unnumbered RC books at $30. Troy Polamalu also has a #d/750 RC that books $30 in Beckett. Mike Furrey, Osi Umenyiora and Asante Samuel also rank among the good RCs among the basic 100. The big RC names from 2003 have a jersey RC with Carson Palmer and Larry Johnson booking the highest at $30. $30 is also the highest book value for the dual jersey base cards as Palmer and Byron Leftwich and the L. Johnson/McGahee card lead the pack. Romo and Polamalu are the cards to get among the Longevity parallel autos (Romo's books at $800! don't think I'd drop that much on it, but $250 for Polamalu isn't bad....and even that's a tad steep for a card #d/25.) with Jason Witten also having one that books triple figures. The Freshman Orientation jerseys and class officer patch parallels also returned along with the Great American Heroes and auto parallel there (altho the GAH set did include some retired guys for the first time, most namely Mel Blount). Initial Steps and Masks feature mainly only the top rookies, although the Prime Cuts patch insert does include Favre, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Jerry Rice in its 36-card lineup. Romo's rookie auto (right) books $450 to lead that insert set with Larry Johnson's jersey auto next at $250 and Carson Palmer's jersey auto at $200. Slideshow and Ticket Masters numbered inserts returned for another year, and the Triple Threads jerseys were an upgrade from their 2002 version. Favre/Green/Driver leads the way with a Manning/James/Harrison also included and a Brady/Ant. Smith/Troy Brown jersey as well. Gannon, Rice and Brown return on the Raiders card as another good pull from the set. As noted with the choice of Garcia for promotional materials for the set, 2003 was the year Donruss Playoff seemed to begin "mailing it in" to some extent with Leaf Rookies and Stars, although the jersey rookies were a nice addition. The "mailing it in" factor would become more apparent with the 2004 set.


Donruss Playoff seemingly decided the best move to make in 2004 with Leaf Rookies and Stars would be to blow the set out. Besides adding Playoff Prime Signatures as an ultra-high-end product to replace the mid-grade Gridiron Kings set, which I thought had been fairly popular, the company decided to do what it does and put out a Leaf Rookies and Stars Longevity set (guess kinda like a Chrome version) complete with five base parallels plus five levels of game-used parallels to boot. At least the company snapped out of the Garcia funk (sounds like a Grateful Dead jam tune) and put Tom Brady on the boxes. I'll put it this way, if the set spotlight of the Rookies and Stars set was a VH1 "Behind the Music" episode, this would be the point the set is near-bankrupt, 75 pounds overweight and having health and drug problems, but still shows signs of a potential comeback if it can put its act together. Being that the Longevity set was still around in 2007, I'd say the set is having trouble kicking the habit. The first thing that hits you in looking at the 2004 set is that the base design isn't that different than in 2003. Of course, the prior years had all shared the same basic look, but not like this with all the busy lines and patterns. If anything, go back to an older set look to try and hearken back to that 1998 set that put you on the map. Don't copy a design that wasn't that great to begin with. The big addition for 2004 was the "Fans of the Game" autograph insert set that spanned a bunch of Donruss Playoff's baseball and football products. At least Rookies and Stars got Tony Hawk and Michael Phelps included in its batch for the celebrity product, which is more than others can tout. The Longevity parallel in the base Rookies and Stars set (did we really need both the Longevity parallels PLUS a whole Longevity set?) returned and this year, for some unknown reason, expanded to include a holofoil parallel and the return of the "True Blue" parallel which I'd think was cool if not for the introduction of a Longevity set. This time there were no big insert changes, although the "Crusade" insert returned complete with five parallels (ugh). The base set RCs are highlighted by Willie Parker and 2007 emerging star Wes Welker in the first, easy-to-pull 100 rookies. Fast Willie books $25 while Wes is up to $12 and could go higher if he and Brady continue connecting on the field. Michael "The Burner" Turner is the highlight among the 50 rookies #d/750 as his books $8. The jersey RCs also were brought back along with the dual jersey RCs and benefitted from what I consider a better draft class in 2004 with Eli, Big Ben, Phillip Rivers, Steven Jackson and Larry Fitzgerald. Big Ben's leads the pack at $50 while Eli's is $30 but should go up if he keeps bringing deep playoff runs to the Giants. Roethlisberger's cards were the big pull of all the rookie event-used sets the set continued to pump out. His Masks, Initial Steps and Freshman Orientation cards from the set continue to book well at around $50-60. The Great American Heroes set was upgraded to include Joe Namath among its autograph pulls along with Brady and Rivers in his rookie year. The rookie class brought decent lineups to the Initial Steps and Masks sets, and the Prime Cuts patch insert returned with Favre, Namath, Brady, Emmitt Smith and Rice headlining. Rookie autos had become a staple of the set and returned with Eli and Big Ben leading the way, and Triple Threads also made another appearance featuring a Favre/Green/Walker card, another Manning/James/Harrison and Gannon/Brown/Rice, and this year a Brady/Bethel Johnson/Ty Law card that at least gives you a Brady jersey included. Honestly, it seems like I'm really ragging on the 2004 set but I can't complain too much, as I broke a box or two and was lucky enough to pull 2 of the Patriots Triple Threads cards plus Big Ben's Masks insert and a couple of the Freshman Orientation patch cards. Somehow I managed to miss the Parker RC, tho, but did pull a Steven Jackson jersey RC. To touch on the Longevity set, the debut there was based on cutting down the numbering on the rookies plus putting out colorful emerald, gold, ruby, sapphire and black parallels. The Longevity set was jampacked with jersey cards although they were all just parallels of the base set plus the different colored parallels. The lower-numbered parallels did feature patch cards as plus-pulls. Despite the some-good, some-not-so-good nature of the product, maybe the biggest thing missing from the product as it entered 2005 was that the company had stopped taking chances with the set. Some of the big hit items from the set worked, but there was no "Elway Collection" or draft exchange RCs to keep it fresh.


Playoff Prime Signatures and Playoff Hogg Heaven left the football scene in 2005 and Donruss Playoff brought in three new products -- Donruss Gridiron Gear, Throwback Threads and Zenith. Leaf Rookies and Stars, meanwhile, was anything but new. The only difference from '04 was basically the removal of the "ROOKIEROOKIEROOKIE" line from the card on the rookies, and maybe a slight font change. Oh, and the lines in the background were made vertical or horizontal rather than diagonal. Plus Michael Vick joined Brady on the box. And we're done. Throw in a basic minimal insert redesign, slap together the same basic idea of a Longevity set only with Sunday Signature autos inserted, and that's your Rookies and Stars and Longevity sets for 2005. It just doesn't seem like a lot of thought was put into the set -- like it was an afterthought -- in 2005. Oh, a "True Green" parallel was added to the base set, because all it needed was another parallel (the Donruss Playoff maxim of maxims), the Crusade insert got a game-used version, with its own three parallels too, the Great American Heroes guys also got a jersey parallel and that's it. The four tiers of rookie cards/dual jerseys were back for a third run. The '05 rookie class has done so well that only Lofa Tatupu's RC books out of the first 100 easier-to-pull RCs. Shawne Merriman and Derek Anderson are probably the rarest (in terms of # of RCs) of the rookies to be included in the next 50 #d RCs, and Cadillac Williams still leads the way among the jersey RCs, booking at $25. The Longevity parallel once again came autographed from the rookies with Aaron Rodgers currently booking the highest at $100 (I pulled the Derek Anderson one, which at the time was nice but nothing too cool....needless to say I'm way more pleased with it after his '07 season). The Crusade and Freshman Orientation inserts didn't feature anything too great, but the Great American Heroes insert, auto and jersey sets again featured some retired guys (this time the best ones were Herschel Walker (personal favorite) and Jim Plunkett). Initial Steps and Masks were back as change-of-pace kind of event-used cards as in previous years, and the '05 Prime Cuts patch insert featured Peyton Manning, Brady, Favre, Roethlisberger, Eli and Tomlinson in its lineup for another strong year. Rodgers, Williams, Ronnie Brown and Alex Smith lead the cards in the rookie autographs set, although Anderson and Merriman are also featured here as one of each guy's early autos. The Triple Threads insert is probably my favorite design of the set and is led in book value by the Roethlisberger/Bettis/Ward at $50. Manning, Wayne and Harrison are featured for the Colts while Favre, Green and Walker return for the Pack. Eli, Shockey and Tiki Barber comprise the Giants' card. Other good cards from that set include Brady/Dillon/Branch, McNabb/Westbrook/Owens and Brees/Tomlinson/Gates. As stated earlier, Longevity didn't change much from '04 to '05 other than adding the Sunday Signatures autos, which did include a healthy number of retired greats like Y.A. Tittle, Fran Tarkenton, Herschel Walker and Warren Moon.


Donruss Playoff had no excuse to not make
changes to its football lineup in 2006 as the company wasn't given a baseball card license from the MLBPA. Zenith had a short run as it was one-and-done in 2005 and Playoff Honors was dropped after 5 years in the company's lineup. Taking their place were Playoff National Treasures as an ultra high-end product, the Playoff NFL Playoffs set, and the return of Select. Throwback Threads came back for a second year but had its name changed to Donruss Threads. Despite a set design that once again used the lines, although in a less-busy way, the company did make some needed changes. The font on the cards was made easier to read, but a key change was made to the format of the set. This time there were no "easy-to-pull" RCs as even the 100 basic rookies were limited to 999 copies. Another tier of 50 rookies was numbered to 599 while 20 jersey RCs were numbered to 799 and a new level of 11 autographed jersey rookies was numbered between 99 and 449. In other words, it took most of the retail selling value out of the product as you could, say, spend $20 and get nothing but commons, although a "Materials" game-used base set parallel was added to put some value in retail packs. The parallels were changed up as a gold parallel was added and the Longevity parallel was expanded to gold, silver, holofoil and black parallels. A 1948 Leaf Blue rookie insert set was included as a bonus in Wal-Mart blaster boxes, the Crosstraining insert and game-used version returned, Dress for Success returned as a rookie event-used set (the company put a good new spin on the insert by including facemask, helmet, shoe and patch parallels to roll Initial Steps and Masks into one multi-level event-used insert), "Elements" debuted as a star insert set with a game-used version, Freshman Orientation, Prime Cuts, rookie autos, Standing Ovation and Statistical Standouts all returned, an NFL Kickoff Classic set was included and a new "Rookie Crusade" insert and game used version were introduced, although the Triple Threads jersey were discontinued. Among the rookies, Leaf Rookies and Stars again nailed it as Marques Colston had one of his few RCs in the product. The jersey auto'd RCs were nice pulls as Vince Young, poster boy Reggie Bush (the first rookie to debut on the box since Ricky Williams in '99), Laurence Maroney and A.J. Hawk were among the 11 rookies included in that subset. The good rookie class made all the event-used cards good pulls. Favre, Tomlinson, Peyton and Eli, Brady and Roethlisberger were included in the Crusade set and game-used version and much of the same group was also in the Elements set and game-used version. Peyton and Brady were the big guns featured in the Prime Cuts patch insert, which was again one of the best pulls of the set. Jay Cutler and Addai were short prints among the rookie autos while Colston's standout season made his rookie auto a very nice pull. The set scored another rarity with a Tedy Bruschi autograph included in the Standing Ovation autos set. The Longevity set was issued through Target and included the usual parallels plus rookie autographs and a "rookie material autographs" set. With the lineup of rookies included, that was the best thing that could have happened to Rookies and Stars after the '04 and '05 sets. The company had made the tradeoff of more all-commons packs but the hits were there and could be big for collectors of the set in 2006.


A couple sets were trimmed back by Donruss Playoff in 2007 but Leaf Rookies and Stars returned with a continuance of the renewed vitality shown in the 2006 set. Finally all the lines were cut out of the design. The rookie structure remained to make 'em harder to pull as in 2006 but those collectors who did get hits could pull a rookie jumbo "embroidered NFL patch" auto #d/99. There were 85 base rookies #d/999 and 66 of the auto'd embroidered patch rookies numbered from 99 to 299 of each. The parallels and materials base parallels returned, as did most all of the inserts from the 2006 set. The Dress for Success format from 2006 returned, only with Longevity parallels of each type of material in the set. The rookie autos were expanded to include a "college" version featuring an embroidered college patch for each rookie in the set. Rookie jerseys were also inserted with a jumbo swatch and parallels as well as a college version there featuring a big piece of college game-used jersey for the player. Another new insert included was a "Studio Rookies" that replaced the 2006 1948 Leaf Blue rookie insert exclusive to Wal-Mart blasters. As for Longevity, it was pared back to include only the base set with three colored parallels. Time will tell how the 2007 set fares as far as somewhat rare RCs go. The embroidered rookie autos were a nice new touch to the set as Adrian Peterson's #d/99 books at a hefty $350. Calvin Johnson, Brady Quinn and JaMarcus Russell's rookies also book in triple digits. Tom Brady, Favre and Tomlinson again highlighted some of the star game-used inserts in the set, including Prime Cuts. The main frustration for me in the 2006 and 2007 sets is that, despite the good hits available, the product isn't really suited for by-the-pack purchases anymore. You can even buy a blaster box and get all commons with maybe one #d insert thrown in. It's hard for me to consider laying out the money for that product when I know I can get at least a decent hit out of another product's blasters. At least if I buy an Upper Deck $10 blaster I know I'll get a somewhat short-printed RC. I know, I may not pull an Adrian Peterson auto jersey #d/99, but what are the chances of that happening from a blaster box anyway? The only way to fly now in Leaf Rookies and Stars is to go for the hobby box, which is unfortunate for the people who remember the days when you could actually get something out of the product via retail. I've probably bought 10 retail packs and a couple hobby packs of Leaf Rookies and Stars from '07 and the only non-common pull I've had was an Eli Manning jersey base card parallel. I'll take it, but I'm not sure it beats the days of a rookie in almost every pack.

Looking back at the set's history, it's hard to believe the complex set of today developed from the simple yet successful set issued in 1998. The company has had its ups and downs but, through it all, Leaf Rookies and Stars has survived. It has taken its lumps and not everything has been a masterpiece, but from year to year the set has at least offered a couple cards that almost any collector would love to add to his or her collection. The new ideas of the last couple years give me hope for the set. Now if I could pull a RC, that'd be nice....

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