The Beckett Blog

Inside Tim Tebow’s Helmet: The Anatomy of a Fantasy Football Card by Tracy Hackler


I’ve been where few men have been before. I’ve been . . . inside Tim Tebow’s helmet.

He doesn’t know that — yet. But every time I see a preview these days for a new 2010 Tebow Rookie Card, I’m reminded of my moment in the sun — actually, it was in the shade — wearing Tebow’s most regal Riddell crown. I figured now was as good a time as any to come clean.

I’ve always dreamed of appearing on my own football card. The overly self-indulgent tale that follows is likely about as close as I’ll ever get. Besides, how often do you have the opportunity to look at a superstar’s Rookie Card and say, “Hey, I’ve worn that helmet” . . .

Part I: The Helmet
Tebow’s sweat-kissed, sun-soaked Denver Broncos helmet had been perched – silently majestic, metallically shining – on an inconspicuous table for most of the afternoon. It had traveled all the way from the Broncos’ training complex in Colorado to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for a weekend full of football card cameos.

And now, the very helmet atop Tebow’s head for many of his Rookie Card photos on a postcard-perfect, late-May Saturday morning at the 2010 NFL Players Rookie Premiere was just . . . sitting there.

I first noticed it on the red-draped snack table after lunch, just out of bounds at about the 23-yard line. Tebow had spent the first half of the day with Panini America and Upper Deck; his afternoon was reserved for Topps.

Somewhere, one of the most polarizing football players of all time was posing for his football card photographs topless — you know, without his top, his headgear.

Instead, it was right there within my grasp. At first I just gawked at it. Then I took a few pictures of it. OK, I took 10 pictures of it – from myriad different angles. On the grass. On the table. The front. The back. The side.

Then I put it back on the table, certain that someone – Tebow himself, perhaps, or a representative from Topps or NFL Players – would mosey on over any second now to claim it for its intended purpose. So I waited . . . and watched . . . and waited . . . and watched . . .

Leave it to Jon Gold, the Los Angeles Daily News UCLA beat writer – and frequent Beckett contributor/fellow Broncos backer – to serve as the sandal-sporting devil on my shoulder. He kept prodding me to put the helmet on. I refused at first, wrought with indecision and nervousness.

Let’s be honest, the last thing Tebow needs is some dork like me shoving his nappy-headed mop into an unsuspecting helmet when he’s not looking. But then the fan in me finally won out, like it usually does.

So I grabbed the helmet again, feverishly slid it over my tousled bushel of curls and nervously peered into Gold’s iPhone photo lens. He snapped a few pics – some of me doing the Heisman, some of me merely basking in the helmet’s greatness. Then I ripped the helmet off, checked it for any tell-tale strands (there were none), hand-sanitized it and placed it back on the table.

Less than five minutes later, Topps’ Joe Kellachan darted over frantically in search of Tebow’s lid, which apparently was finally ready for its close-up. I motioned anxiously toward the table, Kellachan retrieved the heralded headgear and returned it to its rightful owner after two or three hours in limbo.

Part II: The Action Photo
I’ve known Topps Director of Product Development Clay Luraschi for at least 13 years and consider him to be a good friend. Surprisingly, though, I’d never had my picture taken with him – until bright and early the morning of the Rookie Premiere.

It was somewhere between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. and Clay was helping his Topps teammates with the final preparations for their stations. I was merely killing time before the players arrived and the event officially began. That’s when Clay introduced me to longtime Topps photographer Ed Mailliard. After an engaging-but-brief conversation, Ed snapped a quick shot of us before Clay and I began tossing a football around.

Rather stealthily, Ed also snapped a few quick shots of that process, too; and they were in my email inbox when I returned to the office a few days later. Swell guy, that Ed.

Unfortunately, there was no photographer around to capture this next part.

Part III: Earning the Position
What kind of football-card hopeful would I be if I wasn’t willing to earn the position listed on the front of that would-be card? A weak one, that’s what kind. So I ventured down toward Panini America’s end of the field late Saturday morning intent on somehow swindling my way into position as Tebow’s primary target.

For the record, anyone who doubts Tebow’s arm strength clearly has never caught – or attempted to catch – passes from the man. His is not so much an arm as it is a flesh-shredding, welt-rendering rocket launcher.

Trust me.

As Tebow was about to begin passing for Panini’s photographers, I strategically situated myself just behind Mike Harpin, a graphic designer by day and one of Panini’s designated pass-catchers for simulated action photography stations during the Rookie Premiere.

I begged asked Harpin if I could briefly fill in for him before Tebow was finished throwing. Harpin refused. I persisted. He refused again. I redoubled. He relented. Swell guy, that Harpin.

In a matter of seconds, I was 15 yards away from Tebow, toeing the sideline and – somewhat surrealistically – preparing to be his go-to receiver. He lobbed the first ball to me for an easy hook-up. My return toss was a little high, most certainly carried there by butterflies.

Tebow then unleashed a series of five whistling bullets, the first of which was unexpected. Much to my extreme disappointment, I dropped it. Flustered and fidgety, I gathered myself, picked up the ball — and my pride — and attempted to rebound. Steadied by renewed focus and intensity, I snared Tebow’s remaining four darts in a three-minute game of catch riddled with adrenaline and euphoria that left me weak-kneed and just a little giddy.

The final tally: Five catches, six attempts and an 83.3 completion percentage. Josh McDaniels hasn’t called . . . yet.

It was an exhilarating experience that left me with reddened hands and a Tebow cross – you know, the “+” brand left in flesh with the tip of a swiftly moving leather projectile. Those well-earned wounds were temporary; the memories from getting them, of course, are permanent.

Part IV: Bringing It All Together
Not only is Chris Olds a darn fine baseball card journalist, he’s also an accomplished designer and a hardcore hobby geek (that’s a term of honor around here). So when I told him about playing catch with Tebow and trying on his helmet when no one was looking, he had only one thought: We should chronicle your pass-snatching exploits on a make-believe trading card.

Secretly, I liked the way he was thinking, so I purposely hid my enthusiasm and let him run with it. All I told him was that my favorite card design ever is 1962 Topps Football. “How cool would it be to appear on that design?” I asked Olds rhetorically.

His answer speaks for itself.

Tracy Hackler is the editorial director for Beckett Media. Have a comment or question? Send an e-mail to him at Follow him on Twitter by clicking here.

10 Comments so far
Leave a comment

2010 Topps Hackler RC, 1/1.

Is there an AUTO version?

Comment by Pete Borini

You need to do the cardback with career stats.

Comment by Lindas1st

I’m just glad you didn’t try to get in his pants … or did you???

Comment by D Lee

Very nice…now that you have accomplished almost everything in life, what’s next?
P.S. Your job is awesome!

Comment by Ken

Ken, I wholeheartedly agree with you. My job is awesome. Clearly, I’ve been blessed with much more than I deserve.

Don’t tell anybody, OK?

Comment by Tracy Hackler

you look like wierd al yankovic

Comment by President Obama

I couldn’t have done that column.


The helmet wouldn’t have fit.

Comment by chrisolds

It’s all about location and timing…and the being blessed part is always nice. I’m guessing that people are gonna find out…eventually, haha.

Comment by Ken

Too funny.

Yeah, some jobs have Perks that are just WAY too cool…


Comment by C-Money

Tracy! YOU feel blessed? YOUR job is awesome? What about me … I got to photograph Tracy Hackler and Tim Tebow on the same day! And that amazing card by Chris … Send me about 10 so I can hang them from the ceiling — as an ‘Olds-Mobile.’ You guys are great. You’re keeping it fun. Thanks for the kind words.

Comment by Ed Mailliard-ToppsGun

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