CEDAR RAPIDS – Twenty years ago, I sent a letter to Shaun Van Allen, asking him politely to autograph his hockey card for me.
I don’t remember doing that. I have a hard time recalling what happened 20 minutes ago, let alone 20 years ago.
But I must have.
Last month, my parents received a small envelope in the mail that was addressed to me. It was in my handwriting.
Inside was a 1993-94 Mighty Ducks of Anaheim O-Pee-Chee brand card of Van Allen that was signed. The envelope, which wasn’t even securely fastened, had the appearance of being 20 years old.
The U.S. stamp at the top right corner was from 1995. This was beyond weird.
Let’s begin by saying that I am an autograph card collector and have been for, well, about 20 years. Mostly it’s hockey and baseball, and — I stress — I never have and never will sell any of them unless there are dire circumstances.
Some of the autographs have been obtained in person and some through the mail. When you write a player, you write something nice about them and include a self-addressed stamped envelope for the return process.
Of course, there never is a guarantee you will get a reply. You also never have a guarantee that the signature you get back actually is authentic.
I choose to believe most of them are legit.
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Sometimes players are prompt in their responses, sometimes you wait a few months. Sometimes you apparently wait 20 years.
Why did it take Van Allen 20 years to give a response? I have no idea, though my guess is my letter was in a box of things that were stowed away and just recently found in a cleaning-out process.
How did this envelope find its way to my old house? That’s an even better question, considering it was a 20-year-old U.S. stamp and evidently sent from a Canadian address.
Van Allen lives in Ottawa, by the way. He played 794 National Hockey League games for the Ducks, Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, Dallas Stars and Ottawa Senators before retiring after the 2003-04 season.
Google says he has done radio work for the Senators and been an assistant coach for a local college team there.
He never was a top player, by any means. But of the thousands of autographed cards I have, his is now at the top of my favorites list.
It has to be, right?