Long before Gary Barnidge was a high school football standout, a Division 1 college player and a ten-year NFL veteran, he was an avid sports card collector. Prior to seeing himself on cardboard years later as a pro himself, like many kids of the 1980’s and 90’s, he collected sports greats like baseball icon Ken Griffey, Jr. and football star Warrick Dunn.
After an extended break from the hobby, Barnidge is back in a big way, teaming up with longtime friend and fellow NFL veteran DeAngelo Williams to participate in box breaks, trades, flips with the goal of launching a sports card business of their own.
Road to the NFL
A big, bruising athlete, Barnidge played high school football for the Middleburg Broncs in Middleburg, Florida, then signed with the University of Louisville where he played from 2004 through 2007. His involvement and impact on the field grew each year for the Cardinals, culminating with a senior season that saw the Sports Administration major haul in 53 passes for 655 yards and seven touchdowns.
Drafted in the fifth round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers, he fought through injuries and a lack of playing time but made his biggest impact on special teams during a five-year stay. Prior to the 2013 season, the Cleveland Browns signed Barnidge as an unrestricted free agent.
With the Browns, Barnidge saw his targets and attention grow, leading to a career year in 2013 where he had 79 receptions for over 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns. Those nine scores tied Pro Football Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome’s team record and led to Barnidge making a Pro Bowl appearance that season.
In 2011, Barnidge and former teammate Breno Giacomini co-founded American Football without Borders. AFWB was designed to bring the sport of American football to many different corners of the world, in a humanitarian effort to help children while building the sport’s global awareness.
Since his retirement following the 2016 season, Barnidge has been busy, making a number of appearances on various television shows including Total Divas on E!, providing security for Impact Wresting star Moose in the squared circle, and most recently teaming up with Williams to place fourth on season 32 of the Amazing Race.
Tonight @DeAngeloRB and I tackle the Mega Leg in India on @AmazingRaceCBS all I can say is the Rickshaws are tiny for me. What other fun can we get into #India #megaleg #cinnamonandsugar #amazingrace pic.twitter.com/IhiXV97Mlv— Gary Barnidge (@garybarnidge) November 25, 2020
I recently chatted with him to get the stories of his childhood card collection, seeing himself on cardboard for the first time and his desire to level up in the current sports card market.
Tony Reid–As a high level athlete, you have signed your name countless times for fans. When was the first time you were asked for your autograph?
Gary Barnidge-It was sometime during my freshman year in college. For me, the biggest thing is that I never turn someone down for an autograph. You never know what they are going through. That autograph could change their whole outlook on the way their day or even their life is going. It’s a positive, so it’s always a good thing to do.
TR–What is your most memorable fan interaction over the course of your playing days?
GB-It’s not really signing an autograph it was more something I did for the fans. When I was in Cleveland and Carolina I did a movie giveaway where I took fans to the movies every week during the season. I would do a trivia question and take ten fans. I took some fans to the movies and one of the fans was a military guy. He just got back from doing a tour overseas. He gave me his Cleveland Browns flag that he wore under his vest every time he went out. For me, that was an amazing thing that I touched him that much by just interacting with him and spending some time with him that he was willing to give me that. When you can affect someone that much, it’s just an amazing feeling.
TR– Do you have an office area, or man cave where you have your memorabilia displayed?
GB-I have a library at my house and I have an office where I have my jerseys hung up from high school, college, the NFL and my Pro Bowl jersey. I have some of my helmets from the teams I played on and I have Pro Bowl helmets signed. I have some college awards and stuff in my office, too. I have a bunch of stuff in those two areas.
TR–Your rookie cards appeared in a number of 2008 products including Bowman, Bowman Chrome Rookies & Stars and Donruss Threads to name a few. When was the first time you saw yourself on a trading card?
GB-They actually give us some of the cards in our lockers. So, I came in and I saw it. That was the first time I saw my card. I wasn’t buying packs during my rookie year. I didn’t get back into cards until 2012. I collected a lot when I was younger. I didn’t collect in college. That was the first time I saw myself on my own cards there in my locker.
TR–Being a collector, to walk into the locker room and see yourself on a card had to be pretty cool.
GB-It was. I guess it was sort of an achievement. I played sports growing up so I always wanted to have my own sports cards. Growing up in football and baseball, my parents would always get me the pictures of a trading card picture. I would always get those. I was collecting trading cards at the time. To know I’ve been able to achieve that and be able to do that was an awesome feeling.
TR–What did your collection look like as a kid?
GB-I am a huge Warrick Dunn fan. I grew up a Florida State fan. I tried to collect a lot of Bucs cards. I was watching his games and collecting Warrick Dunn cards. I was a huge Ken Griffey, Jr. fan. I was trying to get the Mariners cards. That was my big thing. I was also big into Pokémon cards at the time, too. I collected a lot of Pokémon cards, too.
TR–We all know how the sports card market is through the roof but Pokémon is really up as well.
GB-Any kind of trading card from Yu Gi Oh, Pokémon to wrestling and racing, they are all skyrocketing. With COVID, nobody really has anything to do. This gives them something to do to pass the time. I think it’s awesome. It kicked off something in everybody. People tried to relate. They couldn’t watch live sports but they could at least collect the sport. The trading card hobby has really come back in the last year and a half. Before that, it was super dead. I could go to the store and see cards everywhere. Now you can’t find them anywhere. A lot of that has to do with resale, because everybody buys and resells. I think that hurts the hobby. The idea of sniping all the stuff and reselling really hurts the hobby. That takes away from people that really want to collect.
TR– I might already have the answer but what are your thoughts on the complete change in the retail aspect of sports cards?
GB-It’s crazy to me. I enjoy collecting. I’ll sell a card or two. I’ll do a break here or there. I’m not doing it to make money. I am doing to get more people involved in the hobby. I enjoy it. I think the hobby is fun. You can enjoy the hobby with your friends and family. I have a bunch of friends and we do box wars with ourselves. It’s just to have fun.
I think a lot of the aftermarket stuff is really hurting the hobby part of the industry. Things are so overpriced and getting so expensive it’s hard for people to find and get product. Even at the beginning of this year with Mosaic basketball. People were flipping those for $150. They are $20! I can understand marking it up a bit but marking it up $100 or more, that blows my mind. You have no other option. If you want to collect cards you have no other choice. That’s with everything right now. You are seeing it with PlayStation and Xbox, too. I am so against the resell market because of that stuff.
DeAngelo and I have a legit business. We are accredited and everything. We are trying to get into trading cards. Nobody is opening new accounts for new businesses because they think they are just going to flip it. How are we supposed to get into it? The only way they will do it is if you open a brick and mortar store. Newer people trying to get into it, you can’t get an account to get product because they are worried that you are just going to try to flip it, which hurts the business itself. It’s a tough situation to be in. It seems that the distributors are being stingy with it because they are worried about the resell market. There are other things that could get put into place to stop or curb the resell market. I have been getting into breaks in other groups. It’s not about making money. It’s about getting the cards to people. If I can get the boxes or cases I am giving the people the opportunity to get the cards and just make my money back. That is all I am really doing. It’s more of a fun aspect than trying to make it a business.
TR–What are some of the nicest cards in your collection right now?
GB-Honestly, I am going through all of my cards right now, getting a bunch ready to send off for grading. I just sent off two LeBrons. I am not a LeBron fan. I got a gold LeBron out of Mosaic that is a 10/10 and a stained glass Mosaic LeBron that I sent off. I am hoping to sell those once those get back and I will use the money to pay for the grading of the rest of my cards. I am going through all of it right now and I do all three sports. I am enjoying baseball right now. I think baseball cards look amazing. I feel like the designs are so much more out there than basketball is. I know basketball is the most expensive and football is in between. I am really enjoying it and doing it with my friends is always fun.
TR–If you could have any sports card which one would you pick and why?
GB– I would love to have a Mike Trout rookie card. I don’t even care if it’s autographed, just a Mike Trout rookie card in general. I think he is hands down the best player in baseball right now. I think he is such a tremendous talent. Just having one of his rookie cards would be awesome. I was just going through some 2012 stuff and I found Russell Wilson rookie cards that I didn’t even know I had. I have had those cards forever. So, I think I would want any Mike Trout rookie card. I wouldn’t want to sell it, I would want to have it for my collection.
TR– Jersey swapping is a big tradition in professional sports now. Did you trade jerseys often with other players during your career?
GB-I would say Ken Griffey, Jr. It’s going to be Griffey or Warrick Dunn. I would throw Barry Sanders in there, too. I think Barry Sanders is arguably the greatest running back of all time. You could argue him or Jim Brown. Sanders didn’t have the offensive line he had to do it himself. Again, Warrick Dunn was a guy I watched growing up. I played defensive end growing up, so I would also say Julius Peppers, too. I tried to model my game off of him in high school. I played with him. I never got his jersey. I played with him in Carolina.
You can find Gary on Twitter here.