Giants’ storied past means memorabilia gold

Here’s a trivia question that’ll be sure to baffle even the most knowledgeable football buff: What do the 1934 Chicago Bears and 2007 New England Patriots have in common? Give up?

Both professional football superpowers advanced to the Championship Game of the season only to fall to the New York Giants.

Now, there’s no question that the Bears’ bruising fullback Bronko Nagurski was a bit dissimilar when compared to the Pats’ Laurence Maroney, and Super Bowl XLII MVP Eli Manning doesn’t share too many indistinguishable traits with Mel Hein, who won the league’s MVP as the Giants’ center in 1938. Nevertheless, memorabilia from New York’s early years is as collectible as the new pieces that are currently hitting the hobby – and at a rapid pace, I might add.

Part of the reason many hobbyists have flocked to pieces of the G-Men for years is because of their strong tradition. In fact, the current owner of the Giants, John K. Mara, is grandson of the Giants’ original founder Tim Mara, the father of the team’s previous owner Wellington Mara.

Throughout the Mara family’s involvement in Giants football, which spans all the way back to the franchise’s origin in 1925, the team has won NFL Championships in 1927, 1934, 1938 and 1956, along with Super Bowl victories in 1987, 1991 and now 2008.

 Collector John Essmann, who attended the Giants NFC Championship this year at Lambeau Field, enjoys collecting memorabilia from the early days of pro football, boasting one of the best Giants ticket collections in the hobby.

“I enjoy collecting tickets from the ‘old’ NFL,” said Essmann. “The Giants are one of the founding teams of the league and have a wonderful history in the NFL. Throughout the ’30s and ’40s, they played in the Championship Game seven times. The most memorable, arguably, is the 1934 Championship dubbed the ‘Sneaker Game.’ With the field turned to ice, long before the Ice Bowl, and the teams’ hard rubber cleats quickly wearing down and giving no traction, Abe Cohen, the Giants equipment manager, rode the subway to Manhattan College and acquired the college’s basketball shoes, and the Giants scored 27 fourth-quarter unanswered points for the win. Papa Bear was furious.”

Essmann features a ticket stub from that historic contest in his collection, and is amazed that during such a rough time in the U.S., someone could even afford to attend a football game.

“Games like these demonstrate a different time,” said Essmann. “When I pick up a vintage ticket and realize the games were played in the heart of the Depression, I wonder who would have spent the $2.20 ticket price to go. Times were worse than tough. Players often weren’t paid until after gate receipts were collected, and often there was no money to buy even basic supplies such as tape to wrap ankles until after collecting the gate. How the teams and the league survived often amazes me. Not to mention, the NFL was second or third rate as a national sport at the time when baseball was king.”

Ticket stubs from the Giants’ early years aren’t the only pieces that make collectors reach for their wallets. Stadium banners, game programs, game-worn equipment and autographs all command big money in an industry that once reserved high-dollar realized values for baseball memorabilia.

According to autograph guru Les Wolff, signature collectors on a national scale are in search of some of the Giants’ earliest members, including what may be the toughest Hall of Fame football autograph of them all – Tim Mara.
“He’s one of the toughest football Hall of Fame autographs to get, period,” said Wolff about the team’s founder. “Almost every major collector needs him.I’ve never had one and have only seen one maybe in a book or something.”

That’s a pretty amazing quote considering Wolff has handled hundreds of thousands of autographs in his 38 years in the autograph business. According to Wolff, a cut signature of Mara, if you can even find one, would sell anywhere from $5,000-$10,000.

According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame website, in 1925, Mara purchased the team for $500. I wonder what he would have thought about the prices that some of the vintage Giants memorabilia has been getting, or even prices from the current New York team, for that matter.

“If you have anything to do with the current team, you’ll do real well,” said Mike Hattley, owner of Touchdown Treasures. “A team-signed helmet right now is going for somewhere in the neighborhood of $3,200.”

Dennis Jose, owner of Chicagotix.com, acknowledged that ticket stubs from Super Bowl XLII are selling anywhere from $50-$400, depending on condition and color variety.

“It wasn’t an easy ticket for us to obtain,” said Jose, whose company has become known for specializing in special event tickets to sell to hobbyists. “On the demand side, for the Patriots fans, it was on their ‘must-have’ list for two months leading up to the Super Bowl. Win, lose or draw, it is the ticket they want in their set as a memento for the year, as they have a lot of the other tickets from the year. Then the overlay of the Giants fans who enjoyed the big surprise of the big game, that’s been essentially the double bubble in terms of the demand of the tickets.”

Jose added that ticket takers at the game scanned the audit stub bar code, but still tore the bottom portion off of the tickets, making a full ticket from the game rather scarce. According to Jose, fulls have been selling for $300-$1,000.
Similar to how previous Giants Super Bowl victories created notables among collectors, such as players like Ottis Anderson, Jeff Hostetler, Carl Banks, Mark Bavaro and Phil McConkey, Super Bowl XLII was no different when it comes to guys who rose to the occasion in the big game, most notably Justin Tuck, Kevin Boss, Steve Smith and the man who will be forever remembered for his 32-yard catch that kept the Giants’ final drive alive, David Tyree.

Other than Tyree, the Giants and their fans, there probably is nobody more excited about that historic catch, in terms of memorabilia at least, than Al Mercado.

“He’s a part of history for life,” said Mercado, Tyree’s marketing agent. “David’s very excited. He had a rough season, but he’s a huge part of the Super Bowl. It was, make that amazing catch or go home. They’re saying his catch is the No. 1 in Super Bowl history. Is it going to affect the market? Of course. He’s pretty much a national hero now.”
That catch already affected Mercado’s signing show, an event that will feature current and former Giants players, which will take place in New Jersey on March 9. Tyree was originally planned to signed autographs for $12, but now will sign any item for $40.

“I think he (Tyree) happened to be in the right place at the right time,” said Jim Reynolds, who has been collecting game-used memorabilia for 22 years. “They were all joking with him that in the Friday practice he dropped everything they threw at him. He’s now the Bobby Thomson of football. You get the no-name, average guy who just for one moment of time does something incredible on the playing field. You got these guys that do this crazy one-time thing and that’s their only claim to fame, and all of a sudden they’re a household name, and that goes down as one of the greatest catches in football history.”

Whether you’re a collector of vintage or modern memorabilia, one thing is for sure – Giants pieces are hot and will remain hot until someone takes over the throne of NFL Champion. The Super Bowl not only changes the lives of the players involved, but also tends to change the mentalities of collectors throughout the hobby.

“I think the Super Bowl victory will definitely increase the awareness and value of Giants-related items,” said Reynolds. “The Giants have always been one of the more popular teams and have had a lot of popular players over the years. Any time a team wins the big game, people want to collect a piece of the action.”

Check out Chris Nerat’s blog, Gavel Chat at: gavelchat.sportscollectorsdigest.com. Readers may reach him at Chris.Nerat@fwpubs.com or call him at (800) 726-9966, ext. 452.

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