Hunting Down A Guy Lafleur Rookie Card, Getting It Signed, And Discovering The Worth Of Cardboard
Guy Lafleur, like many of you I suppose, is the main reason I fell in love with hockey, or more specifically, the Montreal Canadiens.
Before I encountered Lafleur, I simply liked hockey alot. I played ball hockey on the street, a fan of no particular team, and was somewhat amazed by the exploits of one Bobby Orr, who I rarely got a chance to see play.
That all changed one evening. It's a story I've recounted at this site a few times before. In essense, my Dad took me to a junior game in town - the Cornwall Royals versus Lafleur's Quebec Remparts. Guy was in the midst of a 130 goal season in junior, and he absolutely, singlehandedly destroyed my Royals that night. Five or six goals - the night was a blur the moment my captivated imagination left the rink. Lafleur was on everyone's lips that game, even before it began. It had become apparent that the Canadiens would be drafting him. I still recall declaring that if it came to be, the Habs would be my team for life. I was all of 8 years old. You know the rest.
For anyone growing up at this time, Lafleur became larger than life. No explanation is needed to explain why.
For whatever reason, I've always clung onto every detail about Lafleur. I guess fanaticism makes one that way.
Sometime around 1991, I became heavily involved in hockey card trading and collecting. One day I saw a Guy Lafleur rookie I once owned, but foolishly parted with in my teenage hormonal nonsense.
I wanted this card real bad. The store owner, a real dick named Herb, had it priced at $200.00. I could hardly afford that sum, so I asked if I could make a trade for a few other valuables.
"No dice", he said. I tried selling off a few cards, raising a $150. I flew to Herb's store the next day, only to find that the scum had repriced the card at $250. Herb could be a good guy one day, and an absolutely you - know - what the next!
There was a card show in town that weekend, so I figured there would have to be a cheaper one there. There wasn't. At least I got to shake hands with Jean Beliveau!
Returning to Herb's store the following Monday, I discovered he now had three Lafleur RC's in his counter, all priced the same. He said he added two from the card show, but I was there the whole time and never saw him. I decided I would try different tack.
An Eric Lindros card, pictured in his Oshawa Generals jersey and titled "Future Superstar", was all the rage at the time. Due to it's supposed rarety, it immediately sold at ten bucks a pop. Herb couldn't keep them in stock. The price was going up fast. Clients were coming in every day asking when he would get it. He was taking phone numbers down to meet the demand.
A woman I knew who was a trading partner of mine, had a proposal. She badly wanted a Mario Lemieux RC I owned for a deal she was trying to seal on a complete set of O-Pee-Chee's. I owned two Lemieux RC's that Herb wanted no part of, so parting with one was no biggie for me. The Lemieux card was gaining in value, as he had just won his first Stanley Cup. She had a myriad of card collector connections, so I offered that if she could come up with 25 Lindros cards, we'd have a deal.
Anna came up with them within 90 minutes. I wondered about that for a spell. All 25 cards came in a small plastic container. I was at Herb's store at 8 a.m. the following morning.
"There is at least $250 dollars of Lindros cards in this stack, Herb. Do we have a deal on the Guy rookie?"
His eyes bugged out with greedy allure. I had him by the short and curlies! "Even up, kid. No problem!", he dribbled.
Just then, something about making a deal with Herb hit me. The dude could be an absolute shyster. He was sly and greasy to the max. He had screwed me over in deals a good a time or two, and now that I had something he wanted, it was my time to crimp the vice on him. A rival store had just set up shop in town, and I let him know I was aware of it. He upped his offer two dollars per card to twelve bucks each, but I left with my stack in hand and told I'd be back in the morning.
A few weeks earlier, Herb had shafted me real bad on a Fedorov card from a limited edition subset. He had talked about finding one for weeks, and when he found some, he priced them at fifty bucks each in his showcase. Convinced they'd be hot trading cards, I bought one from him for fourty bucks, only to find out a matter of days later that they were about as common as apples. It was a five dollar card at best. I raged back into Herb's store ready to scruff him by the throat with my complaint.
His answer: "You shoulda checked it out first!"
The new store in town had no Lafleur rookies, and weren't yet getting en masses inquiries for the Lindros card. I wouldn't let Herb know my bargaining power had evaporated. The next morning, at 8 o'clock sharp, I went to Herb's shop and handed off my 25 Lindros cards for the Lafleur rookie. I was doubly thrilled! He gave me twelve bucks for each one. I bought the Lafleur RC, and pocketed fifty bucks.
A few days later, I went over to Herb's store, and he dashed out from behind the counter, with looks that could kill.
"Half of those Lindros card have guages in them."
"They have bumps, like a printing press knicked the whole stack in the same place. I want that $300.00 back."
"No way!", I laughed. "Shit, Herb. Guess you should have checked them out first."
Now I guess I knew how Anna had come up with them so easily!
Sometime the following winter, my friend Shaun and I went to Zellers one day. I think he wanted to pick some socks and undies, maybe. As we walked in, Shaun elbowed me, just as I was about to bump into a lineup of people. The string of about a dozen people, was nowhere near the cash registers. I looked to the head of the line to see what was going on, when my jaw hit my boots.
There was Guy Lafleur, signing autographs, posing for pictures and shaking hands.
Time. Stood. Flipping. Still.
I shoved both eyes back into my hed, got a grip on my melted self, and proceeded to find out what in reincarnation was going on!
Quickly, from attendants helping Guy, I learned that he was doing some kind of fundraiser for the Canadian Cancer Society, and was signing autographs and selling photos. He would be done in half an hour!
I told Shaun to grab his knickers, I was heading back home to get all my Lafleur cards and a camera. I told Shaun to wait for me right there. Fifteen minutes later, I arrived back at Zellers. Lafleur was in conversation with one man alone at his line. I handed Shaun my camera, and waited for Guy's conversation to allow me an in.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity, I moved towards him and we made eye contact. A female Cancer Society rep was still at his side. The man in the suit that he had been speaking with, was now talking with her. I sheepishly moved in, and asked if he would sign some cards for me. The woman sternly spirraled and informed me that Guy would only sign photos I purchased to benefit the cause.
I would have mortgaged my home at that moment, but I had nary a dime on me.
They didn't take checks!
As it was almost closing time, I stood there talking with my hero, hockey cards in hand.
I told him about the day, more than twenty years ago, in which he'd made me a fan. Guy responded as though my story was unique, although it surely isn't. He had remembered the arena in town's name and told me he had driven by it along the way. I told him about the game my Dad took me to at the Forum, October 29, 1977, wherein Guy scored all three Habs goals in a 5-3 loss to Marcel Dionne's Kings. Lafleur remembered it, mentioning Dionne also netted a hat trick, and that he was chosen the game's second star. I asked him a trivia question about himself, which he got half right, and was a bit surprised I knew all the details of. I pulled out my stash of cards, and was about to explain to him all the difficulties I had in being able to get my hands on the rookie card, when tables behind him began being folded up.
Guy motioned with his hand, that we should take a walk towards an aisle as we spoke. Partways down, he reached for my hand holding six of his hockey cards, took out a felt tipped marker and began signing his name.
When he reached the prized rookie card, he put his marker back in his jacket pocket.
"I shouldn't sign this one."
Guy quickly made it clear that he does not like to sign his most valuable card. It was a personal issue, based on the growing market for resellable autographed momentos. He explained his resistance by stating that there were a lot of fake signed cards out there. His concern was for the value of my card, and had nothing to do with what his signature might be worth. Besides, he said, "an unauthenticated signed card is worth nothing."
"Worth nothing!", I countered. "It would be priceless to me!"
"If I mark this up", Guy said, "This card will be worthless."
Right then, Shaun, who'd been standing off at a distance snapping away, moves in for some closeups. I never thought of having a photo to authenticate the signature, I just wanted a picture of myself and Guy. I thought Shaun and I should pose with him for one together. We stopped a customer passing by, and asked her if she would mind taking our picture. She seemed to have no idea who Lafleur was.
"Is this a relative?", she asked.
"Cousins I haven't seen in fourty years", Lafleur answers. Shaun and I hadn't even turned 30 yet.
The lady clicks the camera, unsure the photo took, and hands it back to me. Just then Guy starts to laugh out loud. Shaun forgot to slide the shutter over. I never told him he had to. The are no more photos left to take. The roll is finished.
Number 10 then looks at my last unsigned card, and offers up a solution I never even thought of.
"I can sign the card to you, like a gift?"
"Like a what...?", I'm confused a bit.
"I can sign the card: "To Robert", is that okay?"
And that is what he signed.
I swore to him, even if I needn't to, that it would be the last hockey card I'd ever own.
He shook my hand, and with that I was about to leave, when Lafleur's agent came to speak to him once more.
Shaun ran off to buy the remainder of what it was we were there for in the first place, and I met up with him at the cash register within minutes. Ahead of us was Lafleur's agent, buying four cartons of Du Maurier king size.
On the way out the door, Lafleur's agent met him outside the Zellers front doors, handed him a bag, and said: "Dix piastres moins qu'au Quebec!"
Ten bucks a carton less than in Quebec!
I've long admired Lafleur for his accomplishments on the ice, the Cups, the hat tricks, the fact that I couldn't watch him play and sitting down for long stretches at once. That day at Zellers, he went a little out of his way to suit me, and I appreciate it to this day still.
Sometimes we forget in worshiping our heroes, that what we often appreciate best is the regular guy beneath all the accomplishments. Just as Lafleur likely recognized the bumbling camera schmuck looking to ruin a pricy card was just a regular fan.
A man has a superior talent, becomes a household word, is treated like a God, almost. His fame, will never leave him. The same for how fans see him.
Away from the hockey rink, Guy Lafleur and other hockey greats have not always skated so gracefully. But that's just life. As unreal as their accomplishments sometimes seemed, each player is indeed very real.
Guy Lafleur gave me much more than a lifetime of thrills in 20 hockey seasons. The humanity of one precious moment spent with him has lasted, and now when I think of him, I hope that all is well in his life, health, sanity and family.
Odd isn't it, that he offered to sign a card to me, instead of for me? I met Lafleur the person that day - not the superstar. That cardboard is worth that moment to me.