It is not too often in professional sports that autograph seekers come out in masses for a head coach, but there is always an exception with the Phoenix Coyotes. When your head coach is considered by many to be the greatest player ever in the sport of hockey, it is easy to see why the crowd of collectors is so big whenever Phoenix hits the road.
It just seems like yesterday that Wayne Gretzky was making his debut as a NHL head coach, so it’s hard to believe he is already in his fourth season. While the Coyotes are having a good season on the ice, the main focus for collectors is not with the players, but rather with their coach.
Normally in Minnesota, Gretzky takes a car over to the arena and thus can avoid getting close to collectors waiting on the sidewalk. That has meant we have been unsuccessful in securing a signature from him for many years. He stayed true to form when heading over to the arena for a morning practice by jumping into a car and not signing any autographs.
However, luck changed at night, as he came walking out to the team bus a few hours before game time. He walked over to the large group of collectors and debated if he would sign for us or not. After giving us some grief, he decided to sign an item for everyone waiting.
Landing a signature from “The Great One” sure made everyone’s day. One of Gretzky’s former teammates also was in a friendly mood, though he is pretty much a lock when it comes to signing. Former Oiler Grant Fuhr was a dominating goaltender, a member of the NHL Hall of Fame and one of the nicest guys in sports. It was no surprise that he signed as he walked over to the arena before the game.
Two players on the Coyotes who were sought-after signatures were youngsters Kyle Turris and Peter Mueller. Turris is just 19 years old and is considered to be one of hockey’s young prospects. Mueller is just one year older and is already one of the team’s top offensive threats. Other good signers with the Coyotes included Daniel Carcillo, Shane Doan, Todd Fedoruk, Olli Jokinen, Ed Jovanovski, Ken Klee, Derek Morris, Steven Reinprecht and Mikael Tellqvist.
Taming the Bears
A couple of late December football teams that came through Minnesota proved to be surprisingly helpful with collectors.
The Chicago Bears and New York Giants both made late-season trips to town, and the pair were very good about signing autographs for fans.
The Bears did not have the season they hoped for, missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season after their Super Bowl appearance in 2006. Most of those key members from the Super Bowl team are still with Chicago, which makes them an attractive team for autograph seekers.
The heart and soul of the Bears for the past decade has been Brian Urlacher. While he has never been easy to obtain here in Minnesota, he is generally very accessible and willing to sign a few autographs at the team hotel. Urlacher somehow snuck out of the hotel and suddenly got out of a cab the night before the game. While walking back into the team hotel, he grabbed items from fans and signed while he walked for many of the people waiting. His signature keeps getting worse and worse (see photo) over the years, but at least the defensive standout is willing to sign.
Another dominating presence on the Bears defense for many years is defensive lineman Tommie Harris. The former Oklahoma star came out of the hotel and tried to joke with collectors that he was someone else, but he ended up giving in and signing for everyone.
On the offensive side of the ball, return specialist and wide receiver Devin Hester is as explosive as they come and the former Miami Hurricanes star was quick to exit the hotel – but not before signing for anyone who asked.
Backup quarterback Rex Grossman was once considered to be an up-and-coming force after leading the Bears to the big game. Grossman never has quite regained that success, but he is still a nice signature to land and was willing to sign for a few of us waiting. The other good signers with the Bears included Marty Booker, Lance Briggs, Alex Brown, Desmond Clark, Robbie Gould, Brad Maynard, Greg Olsen, Adrian Peterson and John Tait.
Shortly after the Bears appearance came the defending NFL Champs, the New York Giants. The postseason turned out to be a big disappointment for the top regular season team in the NFC, but landing a few signatures while the Giants were in town was considered a smashing success for us collectors.
The Giants travel with their own security guards and they do a great job of allowing little-to-no access to the team’s players and coaches. However, they seemed to be a little laid back on the morning of the last regular season game of the season and allowed a group of collectors within 15 feet of the players.
Unfortunately, quarterback Eli Manning gave us the wave as he walked by, but there were some other positives. Landing a signature from longtime Giant Amani Toomer is always nice. Toomer has been a great help for collectors for many years, and he generally will go out of his way to sign whenever he is asked. Also being fan friendly was former No. 1 pick, David Carr.
Sam Madison went to four consecutive Pro Bowls as a member of the Miami Dolphins. Being a 12-year veteran of the league has taken its toll on Madison, but he is still providing help in the Giants secondary. Madison is always a treat for collectors, as he stood outside in freezing temperatures with just a T-shirt on while he signed for everyone waiting.
Other good signers with the Giants included John Carney, Craig Dahl, Mathias Kiwanuka, Sammy Knight, R.W. McQuarters, Antonio Pierce, Fred Robbins, Aaron Ross and Justin Tuck.