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Panini's 2016 Gridiron Debut: Basic Set Football Cards

Pat Mills is a loyal Topps collector and a fan of sports cards. Some work of his has appeared in print in "Gridiron Greats" magazine.

For the last two years, ever since the NFL declared Panini would have the NFL card market all to themselves, I have said that Panini needed to release a base brand set. Since their arrival on this scene in 2010, they have released cards under their subsidiaries Score, Leaf, and Donruss. In 2016 alone, Panini has also released its Panini Certified and Panini Contenders card sets. Finally, I got my wish, and I had to see for myself.

Card Appearance and Colors

Nobody is going to accuse Panini of not making a colorful set. Team colors dominate the card front and back, and the front photo is presented in a jersey design. The look, however, is the primary thing the 2016 Panini basic set cards have going for them.

The player shot on the front is standard and unexceptional, and the back of the card has a cropped version of the same shot. In addition to the photo, collectors get a quick note about each player and an equally quick look at their 2015 and career stats. The 300-card basic set contains 200 veterans and 100 rookies. With its very ordinary presentation, I don't feel the Panini debut set warrants collectors to spend $3 for a pack of ten cards.

Chase Cards and Non-Parallel Inserts

Chase cards abound, as has been the case with most sports cards for far too long. A couple of the sixteen non-parallel inserts have interest to me, especially the Combine Champions inserts and the Royal Family cards.

  • The Combines feature some rookies that do not appear in the basic set.
  • The Royals primarily feature brothers who have played in the NFL.

I wish the Royals set would have been more inclusive in terms of family. Brothers Rob and Glenn Gronkowski, for example, have also had two other brothers who briefly made their way to the NFL. Cousins Clay and Jake Matthews are, to my mind, members of a family who stand out as the prominent family on the field. Not only have Clay and Jake had brothers who played in the league (Clay's brother Casey and Jake's brother Kevin), but so did their fathers (Clay and Bruce), as well as their grandfather (William Clay Matthews, now 88 years old). I guess each member of these families would have had to agree to appear for Panini.

Half of the non-parallel inserts consist of autograph cards and jersey swatches. Most of the memorabilia is just not that special.

Parallel Cards

Panini also included ten different parallel cards of each player in the basic set. Anybody with the time and money to build a master set of this issue would have to collect over 7,000 cards to finish. That's enough to include every active player, every practice squad player, and every head coach three or four times.

For 25 years, I have railed against the parallel card, when Wild Card, a Cincinnati-based card company who long ago went bankrupt, released this scourge of a card to the collecting market. I have virtually no interest in them—and, it seems, neither do collectors. Show me a parallel card, and I'll show you dealers on eBay and Sportlots selling them for the same price as its basic equivalent.

Overall Rating

If Panini saw what I'd written previously on this website and on Gridiron Greats, I thank the company for reading and responding. Even though this is their seventh year in the NFL card market, Panini now has to show loyal Topps collectors such as myself why they deserve to get my business.

The base brand cards are not sold in hobby stores, and my local card store dealer doesn't seem the least bit disappointed that Panini chose to exclude places like his to sell this product. He and I both know that Panini has made a 2016 gridiron set that collectors like better. For a brand of football card that carries the name of its company front and center, Panini proves to be a raw rookie when it comes to the presentation and marketing of this collection.

On a scale of zero to four stars, I give the 2016 Panini card set 1.5 stars. Much color, but little substance.


Pat Mills (author) from East Chicago, Indiana on November 21, 2016:

My recommendation would be Donruss. I have seen factory sets of them in the stores for about $40, if you want to go that route. I would take them over Score because Score doesn't have rookies in their NFL uniforms. I even like the look of the Donruss cards better. I might get a more high-end line like Prizm for certain players, but I like size in my sets. Donruss, with 400 cards in the basic set, is one of the best in size. I miss Topps as well, so I hope you find the set that takes the place of Topps in your NFL card collecting.

Victor on November 20, 2016:

What would be the best set of cards to collect then? I have for years bought the Topps complete sets at the end of the year and am looking for the best set to replace them this year. I was looking at the panini score or possibly the prizm sets but am a bit torn. I'm a casual collector, but have had a complete set every year since The 80s as my dad used to buy them for me for Christmas and I don't want to stop now

Pat Mills (author) from East Chicago, Indiana on October 10, 2016:

I'm still wondering that myself, Mel. Even in the early and mid 1990s, Topps still charged just 50 cents for a pack of 15 cards. These days, collectors can get packs for 99 cents, but get 4 or 5 cards. An extra buck will get them packs of 10-12 cards. I started to collect seriously during the card boom of the late eighties and early nineties. Some collectors, I know, want a better quality card, and the companies accommodate them. I and others still enjoy the "cheap" fun. Thanks for commenting.

Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on October 10, 2016:

I too was a Topps guy, though more of a shoebox vs. serious collector. Trading cards used to be cheap fun. What happened? Great hub.