You know the feeling - you open the refrigerator to answer the call of a growling stomach, hoping to prepare a turkey sandwich or maybe grab a quick snack (like a cheese stick or a tupperware full of last night's leftovers) only to find a chilly emptiness within your suddenly hollow appliance. With a groan and a sudden realization that you're going to have to go grocery shopping eventually. Your aching belly makes it clear that if you keep denying it gratification any longer, there are going to be severe gastric problems in the near future. With all of that rattling among your frustrated thoughts, you sullenly lace up your sneakers, snatch your keys off of the hook, avoid the temptation of dozens of fast food options along the away, and make your way to a local grocer. The deed must be done.
Perhaps I'm being a touch overly hyperbolic, but I truly detest grocery shopping. If food could suddenly apparate (Harry Potter-style) into my fridge and pantry, I'd be a happy man - where's that technology, 21st century? Huh?
It was the very situation that I described above that led me to the local Food 4 Less, endeavoring to pick up some odds and ends to replenish my neglected food stocks. Groceries to be sought out included properly ripened bananas, pre-packaged lunch meat, Kraft singles (my wife's preferred "cheese"), and some turkey hot dogs. Luckily for my perturbed digestive system, I found all of these items without much difficulty and fairly quickly. However, there was one extra item that wasn't on my hastily scribbled shopping list, but still caught my attention; this item was going to keep my impatient belly waiting, despite it's increasingly aggressive growls becoming more like a roar.
I've habitually checked the ubiquitous quarter vending machines, located in the foyer of most chain stores, as I complete my trip to hell... I mean, the grocery store. It's a tick that I developed many moons ago, likely the result of the beloved 50 cent machine which distributed 1996 Fleer baseball singles at the local ice cream shop, when I was a young lad. Times are different now and the hobby is nowhere near as over-arching as it was in the mid-90's; however, I still glance over at the red, metal vendors on my way out, just in case. Lo and behold, today was the "case."
Nestled among the Finding Dory and Trolls stickers, memes, and temporary tattoos, I was surprised to discover an apparent set of licensed NFL stickers. Better yet, from the picture on the outside, the design of these bad boys appeared to simulate that of a traditional trading card. Sorry stomach, this was an opportunity that I had to seize.
For fifty cents a pop, one could have their very own sticker of Phillip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Peterson, etc. I'd never seen nor heard of these oddballs before and my curiosity was piqued; so, I quickly dug around in my pocket and was relieved to discover that I had a dollar in quarters rattling around in my blue jeans. In exchange for my four silver Washingtons, the "Stickerama" machine spat out a pair of plain, white, cardboard envelopes, which contained my goodies. With that, I quickly made my way out of the Food 4 Less, lest someone see this full-grown adult messing with and taking pictures the kids novelty items.
Plus, by this point, I was hungry enough to unhinge my jaw and eat anyone who might have noticed. That just wouldn't have been good for anyone.
After speeding home, I re-loaded my lonely fridge, made myself a wholesome snack (definitely wasn't half a box of fudge stripe cookies) and sat down to reveal the contents of my surprise, cardboard envelopes.
I didn't (and still don't) know if there were any Chicago Bears in this set; but, the fact that I came across these football stickers on the very same day as their first preseason tilt had to be a good omen, right? Drum-roll, please:
Who's contained within envelope number one?:
Ahhhh, that's a touch "deflating." Not that I actually have a problem with Tom Brady - I truly feel like he gets a lot more flack than he deserves and he has my respect as a once in a generation talent - he just doesn't really move the needle for me.
But, that's okay - that's why I purchased two stickers. Fingers crossed that first is the worst and second is the best. Cue those drums again, Giphy:
Who's hiding in sleeve number two??:
Again, I guess I don't personally have any strong feelings about Tony Romo; however, being that my Delaware-born wife is a enthusiastic Eagles fan, she absolutely detests Mr. Romo and his Cowboys. In the course of our time together, I seem to have developed some secondhand distaste, in a show of solidarity. Of course, she also hates the Bears too - I suppose I should just be happy that my wife enjoys football.
While the player selection here turned out to be underwhelming, I'm still thrilled to have made this unexpected discovery at Food 4 Less. Let's take a moment to examine these oddballs a little bit more in depth.
The "cards" are a little bit over-sized... I would guess they are about the size of your average index card, but I don't have a ruler handy to back that up. The stickers themselves (the part which is actually removed) are a tad smaller and make use of rounded corners - perfect for lockers, trapper keepers, or notebook covers. As for their design, they are very basic, with a team logo and color-coordinating "lower-third" name bar at the bottom. For the most part, the pictures do the talking. All in all, appropriately enough, it kind of reminds me of a Topps or Panini sticker release.
As for the backside:
While I honestly expected to find them blank on the back, we get a remind of the player name, the team logo, "card" number, and all of the respective legal information. On that latter bit, we discover that the vending machine set was copyrighted in 2012; obviously, this is several years before the NFL went exclusive with Panini. I can't imagine that the trading card company, which originally made it's mark with sports stickers, would be thrilled about these hitting the market today. That said, at the time, these stickers were fully-licensed by the NFL and the NFL Players Association and were produced by Maryland-based A&A Global Industries, Inc.
Believe it or not, this isn't my first encounter with A&A, which is a giant in the vending machine industry:
Last fall, again while on a mission for food, I came across a machine stocked with MLB team stickers at the nearby Mr. Submarine location. Nowadays, A&A still partners with the NFL, but due to license exclusivity, they can only deal in team logo merchandise, including stickers, super balls, tiny stuffed animals, etc. Their reach goes far beyond the NFL and the MLB though, as they are "the premier distributor of toys, novelties, candy, plush and merchandiser kits for the bulk vending, amusement and family entertainment industries," according to their website. They've been at it since 1938, as well.
Basically, if you've ever dropped a quarter into one of these machines, A&A were probably responsible for the prize you received.
Oh boy - I need to find these vending machines for my rubber duck collecting wife!
At any rate, while they may not get to make them any more, I was thrilled to come across their player stickers and I wish they could still be a thing. I've said it many times on here, but stupid license exclusivity. Although, at least at this grocery store, the stickers don't appear to have been a huge hit, seeing as the machine still sat stocked a full five years after their release. Oh well, more joy for me.
If you collect the Patriots/Tom Brady/Cowboys/Tony Romo and would like to claim the oddballs above for your own collection, just let me know and they are all yours - they just don't really fit into my "ultra-focused on the Bears" football collection. There might be more of these coming too, as I have a feeling that I'm going to be "grocery shopping" a tad bit more often now, in search of Monsters of the Midway.
Thank you, A&A, for making my grocery shopping experience a lot more tolerable!