Something about being a child makes you want to collect things. In pre-school I knew kids that collected different smoothed out colored rocks, others liked buttons of varying shapes and still others gathered living specimens in the form of those little grey nuggets of gold called "Rolley-Polleys". Once I got into elementary school trading cards became the most sought after item on the playground, with the difference being that they actually had monetary value (however miniscule) since the packs had to be purchased.
Sports cards from Upper Deck were like magic with their holographic diamond insignia, followed in popularity by Fleer and to a lesser degree Donruss. I remember talking my Dad into buying a giant mix n' match bag of 50 packs of baseball cards from Price Club (pre-Sam's Club) so that I could fit in.
Unfortunately, I sucked at tee-ball which meant to my childhood brain that I would NEVER fit in with the cool, athletic kids and subsequently hated any ball related sports. So the baseball cards sat in the garage for many years until they were most likely eaten by bugs with multiple packs left unopened due to lack of interest.
So imagine my elation when one of my friends came to school one day with a pack of trading cards featuring my favorite super-heroes. These were the first series of Marvel Universe cards. Finally, the outcast and uncoordinated were represented on brightly colored cardstock displaying the exploits of Spider-Man, Captain America, Wolverine and the rest. What's more, certain cards not only had a small diamond of holographic material on them, the entire card was a hologram! Egads!
After much pestering I got directions to the only known card shop that sold "Marvel Cards" from my friend's Mom and enlisted the help of my own Mom, who drove me two towns over to a dingy, late 70's strip mall that was as glorious as the gates of heaven to my 8 year old eyes. Soon I had my own binder full of these comic-based beauties that I was constantly admiring.
Not long after Marvel released series II and DC comics caught on with their own collection of "Cosmic Cards" that had a cool gimmick of having 3 different cards for each of the more popular characters depicting their look during the Golden, Silver or Modern age of comics. But since I didn't know most of the DC characters I didn't buy many packs.
I don't remember doing a lot of trading because I usually got ripped off in a trade anyway, but I do remember admiring the collections of my friends and handing over the occasional "double" to those looking to start their own. Those were the glory days of card collecting. Where previously only sports related rookie cards seemed to be worth anything, now within the protective glass cases of hobby shops could be found a Magneto or Incredible Hulk hologram card selling for $10.00 a piece!
It seemed hobby shops starting springing up all over the place to cater to the growing masses of card collectors or more likely, stores that were once devoted only to R/C cars and model airplanes decided to add trading cards to their register counters. The stores also provided a place to buy your nine-card plastic protection sheets that fit perfectly into binders so as to keep your cards in "Mint Condition". Some people opted for the simple clear plastic box wherein the cards were stacked on top of one another, but this option was more for the collector who didn't feel the need to admire his collection every spare minute.
It's not that card collecting was non-existant prior to this, Garbage Pail Kids had ruled the trading card world at one point, it's just that my own passion fueled by the mob mentality of my classmates had not taken affect until this moment in time. Eventually it got out of hand when a series called Marvel Metal was released where every card was printed on chromium paper, thus removing the joy of the hunt for the rare "Chase Cards" while jacking up the price to $5.00 a pack. But just prior to this greedy misstep, another contender threw its hat into the collector's ring and reigned supreme for a moment in time. Yes, it's true, this was all just a long introduction to my memories of the slamtastic phenomenon known as POGs.
For those youngsters that missed the short-lived fad, the game of POGs basically consisted of stacking a bunch of thin cardboard discs on top of one another and pummeling the tower with a heavier plastic or metal disc in an attempt to topple the pile, causing any number of the discs to flip over which would then be awarded to that player. While the game itself was fun (for about 10 minutes) the real draw was the colorful game pieces. A POG disc was usually blank on one side and then had a printed design on the other, which could be as simple as a palm tree or as intricate as machine-gun toting Gecko rollerblading down a volcano (it was a strange time).
The same went for the heavier discs or "Slammers" as they were known, although they tended to have designs impressed or etched into them as their material allowed. Some were made of plastic, others were made of metal and I'm sure some kids tried to use flat, circular stones as well, but that was no way to get respect in the POG playing community. Shortly I'll tell the tale of the ultimate slammer.
I must admit, I got onto the POG bandwagon pretty late. I went to live with my Mom's side of the family in New Jersey for the first half of 6th grade and when I got back to California everyone was caught up in the POG frenzy. This was 1993, so I'd be curious to hear from you East Coast RetroJunkers about when POGs landed on the scene in your hometowns. I actually received my first handful of POGs from my next door neighbor, Al, whose printing company had started producing them, plus he was from Hawaii (where the game originated) so he knew about the phenomenon long before anybody else.
My favorite POGs were super hero themed, whether from DC, Image or Marvel, I got the same rush opening a pack of POGs that I did from my favorite trading cards. Quickly the fever spread to all corners of the business world. Pretty soon every brand of cereal was coming with their own version of the discs and even your neighborhood dentist was giving them out in lieu of business cards.
My most prized set was from a special mail-away offer by Hi-C that contained POGs of all the X-Men. This was a real treat b/c I also got to drink the Hi-C ("sugar drinks" were forbidden in my house) to get the proof of purchase seals. You could even buy plastic sleeves just like the ones made for trading cards, which is exactly what I did and where they still reside to this day.
Of course the more common carrying case was "The Tube". You would just stack your POGs and slammers inside the plastic tube with its pop top and when it was game time, empty them all over the floor. Usually this happened at a friend's house, but pretty soon kids were bringing them to school and that's when the controversy started.
I was more into the collectible nature of the POGs as opposed to the game, but a lot of kids relished the opportunity to win another kids stash in a blacktop match-up. Of course the kid who lost would go whine to the yard attendant and now the adults were in on the playground POG racket. The consensus among teachers was that that it was all equal to gambling and so the game was outlawed.
Now it became a matter of rebellion and in my opinion there was one type of slammer in particular that personified POGs' descent into "The Danger Zone". This was the famed "8 Ball" slammer. Basically it just had a billiard ball design, but the deep black of the ball seemed to symbolize the flight into the shadows POGs had taken and all the coolest kids had one. I didn't, but I never professed to be cool.
My main slammer was a custom one I made by attaching a sticker of Gambit from X-Men to a hyper-colored plastic slammer, but I always wished I thought enough of myself to buy an 8 Ball. You know 'cause then I'd be fulfilled knowing I had street cred in the POG world.
The last gasp of the POG fad found its place in tournament play at the local hobby stores, who were now pushing their R/C planes even further back in favor of the more lucrative POG market. I only attended one of these events, but I will never forget that Saturday. The first step was to pay your $5.00 entrance fee and accept your bag of "regulation pogs" with one slammer. Next you were matched up inside the roped section of the parking lot in front of the store against another POG player. Play was monitored by store attendants and the contestant to win the most POGs each round would continue on to the championship round. I'm sure the final event was a sight to see, but I wouldn't know, I had too many tears in my eyes.
My first round was also my last, but that wasn't the bad part. Hanging out on the sidelines a shifty-looking kid asked me if I wanted to play him in a pick-up game. I still had a few POGs left so I agreed and we stacked 'em up. Realizing too late that the kid I was playing against must have been a "POG Shark" (he probably bathed in the POGs he had swindled from kindergartners) I soon went into panic mode as in one fell swoop he flipped all my POGs and scooped them triumphantly into his hands.
Now understand my frame of mind: I wasn't a sore loser, I was a collector. So watching all my memories of that day greedily grabbed by this scoundrel overwhelmed me and I started to tear up saying, "But I thought we were just playing for fun, I didn't know it was for keeps". To which he boldly replied, "Hey, that's the game, man".
My brow furrowed more intensely and my breathing got more rapid as I realized how stupid I had been. Soon however, the grifter's conscience got the better of him (or maybe he just didn't want a scene) and he gave me back my stack, quickly disappearing into the overcast afternoon. The last thing I remembers was the roar of triumph as a new POG champion was crowned ending the tournament and in my mind, the era of the POG.
I still have my tube and collection of battered cardboard discs, but they have not been put into play for many years now. Usually I just run my finger along the smooth edge of any one of the once powerful POGs, remembering when I could have traded it for a Jolly Rancher to a classmate looking to add height to his stack.
The reign of the POG was brief but unforgettable and surely it earned its place among the retro-fads of yesteryear alongside the slap bracelet, Gak! and those little figures that came in garbage bags that dissolved in water revealing your freaky mutant, does anyone remember what those were called?
Thanks to davidyck, for mentioning his interest in reading an article about POGS, this one's for you.