Behind The Wax: 2017 Panini America NFLPA Rookie Premiere – There are few events for collectors that truly go “behind the wax” like the annual NFLPA Rookie Premiere, and this year, Panini America went above and beyond to bring the event to collectors like never before.
The Rookie Premiere is a chance for the NFLPA to gather 40 of the top rookies from the recent draft for official licensee photo shoots, autograph signings and leadership training. This year’s rookies included Chicago Bears number 2 pick Mitch Trubisky, Leonard Fournette (Jacksonville Jaguars), top quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes II (Kansas City Chiefs), Deshaun Watson (Houston Texans), and DeShone Kizer (Cleveland Browns).
Notably absent was collegiate star and top-ten draft pick Christian McCaffrey (Carolina Panthers), as well as any defensive players.
The three day event kicked off Thursday with the GTS Distribution Customer Appreciation Day at the Beverly Hilton. With stunning views and an amazing spread, collectors, breakers, and dealers were all in a great mood by the time the six participating rookies arrived.
Tracy Hackler (www.twitter.com/TracyHackler) of Panini America served as emcee of the event, asking such fun questions as “What is your nickname and how did you get it?” Trubisky gave a great answer, explaining how he earned the moniker “Mr. Biscuit.”
To the obligatory “What cards did you collect as a kid” question, Fournette provided the now-popular “Yu-Gi-Oh & Pokemon” answer we have come to expect from at least one rookie each year.
The player’s personalities really shined through during this intimate segment of the afternoon. It was exciting to see how genuinely enthusiastic they were about participating in the event.
After the questions, players ripped some packs with collectors and breakers. Davis Webb (QB, New York Giants) pulled a Peyton Manning 1/1, while John Ross (WR, Cincinnati Bengals) pulled a redemption. Reps took advantage of the disappointment to explain to all the players that redemptions are what happens when they don’t return their autographs to the company promptly.
Finishing up the GTS Distribution Customer Appreciation Day was a photo op for every single attendee, along with a gift bag with a box of cards and a signed 8×10 of each of the players at the session.
I wasn’t able to make it for Day Two (Friday), which featured a ton of additional autograph signing for the players. I will say, Panini took Instagram to the next level for this event, and you can find tons of great content taking you further Behind the Wax on their page.
Day Three (Saturday) was where the true magic really happened. Field Day! Starting at 8am, rookies spend their entire day in full pads shifting in a well-choreographed dance between nearly twenty different stations over the ten-hour day.
Stations varied between work and play. Numerous photo stations provided card photos from portraits to on-field action shots. Fanatics and Panini each had autograph stations for both cards and memorabilia.
The most fun to watch was the “Quarterback Challenge”. Here, rookies of all positions competed in a distance and accuracy throwing contest. Chicago Bears’ number two overall pick, Mitch Trubisky, well known for his accuracy while playing at UNC absolutely drilled it! Watch below!
In addition, Panini sponsored an exclusive Fan Zone for customers. This pavilion had complimentary boxes of cards, catered lunch, a photo booth, and players coming in constantly to interact with fans.
For me, as a collector and a fan, nothing could beat spending time around the players, talking with them, seeing how they go about their work, and noticing which ones complained and which ones treated everyone with respect.
Fandom can be an arbitrary measure, and something as simple as an autograph, a handshake, even just an acknowledgement can make a fan for life when deciding which of the 1,696 NFL active roster players to cheer this upcoming year.
A perfect example: around 4:00 PM, in 94 degree heat, Notre Dame alum DeShone Kizer found himself at the Panini Super Bowl Kid Reporter station with some time on his hands. Instead of taking to Instagram or putting in headphones and zoning out, he did this:
Fan for life.
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