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Trading Card Set of the Week (Special Fourth of July Edition) – Desert Storm (Pro Set, 1991)

July 4, 2013


Though the Fourth of July isn’t an American holiday explicitly devoted to military remembrance, it’s a day for flag-waving like no other. And there were few times in the 237 year history of the United States of America when the flags flapped as happily as they did after the successful prosecution of Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Prompted by Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and the threat to the Middle Eastern oil supply, a United Nations-sanctioned, U.S.-led force went in and booted out the aggressor country, in a brief conflict that was sanitized for easy television consumption — an early progenitor of reality TV. To go along with this advent of the Wolf Blitzers and Scud Studs of the news media landscape, everyone around in the U.S. at the time remembers the ubiquitous flags and yellow ribbons during and shortly after Desert Storm. It all made for a star-spangled, unified time not seen again until the awful days after the September 11th terrorist attacks.

There was indeed a brief era of good feeling after the Gulf War, one not generated by searing, out-of-nowhere tragedy. There was broad international consensus backing the U.N. action — by definition, there had to be. Lest we forget, George Bush the Elder had something like a 150% approval rating as the troops returned. (There was a wonderful Saturday Night Live skit at the time, with potential Democratic rivals participating in a Campaign ’92 debate entitled “The Race to Avoid Being the Guy Who Loses to Bush.” Mario Cuomo, played by Phil Hartman, had the best line: “I have mob ties.” There’s obviously much retrospective irony in this.) For once the American public didn’t seem to be separated into sparring camps.

Because of all this, and because Desert Storm was such a (seemingly) bloodless, distant, rah-rah affair when viewed from American shores, trading cards seemed an appropriate tie-in.

Enter Pro Set, which was one of the companies that cropped up in the early-90s sports card boom and disappeared  just as quickly. They were mostly known for their first football set, which looked fairly nice, with its bright, colorful borders and decent photography. Unfortunately, they printed enough so that every human on the face of the Earth could have three sets, and the company name became a byword for “glut.” They were here and gone in an instant, but not before they became one of two major companies putting out Desert Storm cards.

Oddly enough, it was their competitor, Topps, who were the most glutinous. Topps had multiple series of cards, with a maddening number of series variants that remain a pain in the ass to collect to this day, whereas Pro Set kept it (fairly) simple, with one set of 250 cards sold in wax packs, and two tiers of factory sets (some sold in military stores), each with an assortment of extra cards. It’s the lower tier of the factory sets that’s the fodder for this post — and I committed collectability sacrilege by tearing of the plastic wrap and opening it up. Never say that I don’t make sacrifices for this feature.

It’s not a bad product, visually or content-wise. It maintains the top and bottom borders seen in the NFL product, substituting desert camouflage for the day-glo colors of sports franchises — a nice touch, if an obvious one. Of course there’s a flag on every card, most of the time Old Glory. The cards fall into various somewhat educational categories, encompassing all the military and political aspects that went into Desert Storm. A selection follows. Enjoy. Or not.

First up is geography, as the nations that were interested bystanders and parts of the coalition are profiled. As we see here, some that weren’t involved got thrown in:


Yes, no one will soon forget when China did absolutely nothing in Desert Storm — something made clear on the back of the card:


That back design — another picture, some facts and a block of text — is pretty much what you see on the back of every card, just so you know.

Next up are the leading political players of all the major countries, which reads like a Who’s Who of 1980s-1990s geopolitics. Mikhail Gorbachev, Margaret Thatcher — hell, even Brian Mulroney gets a card. Of course, dear old Saddam Hussein, one-time anti-Iran ally of necessity, eventual bête noire of the United States and the Bush family, is in there — treasure always your Saddam rookie card:


Speaking of bête noires, it’s easy to forget that there was a time when Dick Cheney was a capable Secretary of Defense, not a figure loathed with white-hot passion by the American left. I’m sure there are people reading this blog who’d be more than happy to download the following image, print it out, and chuck darts at his half-smiling face (I don’t recommend this — let it go):


There are cards describing the forms of government in each country. Since it’s the Fourth, here’s the U.S. Constitution. Hey, I know it’s not the Declaration of Independence. So sue me.:


The branches of the military with all their associated personnel and hardware of course make up the bulk of the set. I was struck by this card for the Coast Guard — they still have ships with sails? Or at least did in 1990?:


I’m sure nothing scares drug runners in speedboats more than billowing sails coming after them. Or receding in the distance, as it were.

The various skills — compass-reading, discipline, fitness, etc. — that go into the makeup of a fine soldier are highlighted, including the old tool of the artillery trade: range. Hey, look, they managed to get a little NFL in this set after all!:


In fairness, what other profession has built-in yard-markers?

Here’s a great shot of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt, which would surely have made its naval-minded namesake overflow with martial, manly pride. I personally like to think that this card, considering the sails seen above, is invisibly subtitled with a loud “UP YOURS, COAST GUARD” from the Navy:


We all remember the classic tech showdown of the Gulf War: Patriots vs. Scuds:


This particular factory set has three additional cards (and a few numberless header cards) that couldn’t be found in normal packs. (The upper level set has an additional lucite “Peace” card.) They certainly do a good job of encapsulating the flag-draped aftermath of the war — and please note the lack of the borders on card 253, which shows what had to be a crowning moment for General H. Norman Schwarzkopf’s fine career:


As you can see from the box lid, 100% of the profits of this set were supposed to go to Desert Storm vets. I’m not sure of the accounting of that, though I have no reason to doubt that Pro Set followed through (other than innate skepticism of all good intentions that are broadcast for the world to see). At least that, on the face, takes away the criticism of a commercial item profiting from war — which is grotesque in the extreme. Inside the four corners of the set, we see that Pro Set put out a nice, simple, straight-forward product, if one that might have had a bit too much filler in it. (Who let China in, anyway? Was it because of their seat on the U.N. Security Council?)

Happy Fourth to all American readers. Enjoy some sun, eat awesome, disgusting food, and, even though it’s not a veteran holiday, take a second to think about the men and women who’ve served in conflicts past and present, and fewer have to in the future.

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