Is it the real deal or just a raw deal?

aWilson_tail.jpgThe early 1990s saw the rise of the 92.3 percent genuine, almost authentic, replica NFL retail jersey. These jerseys featured the same fabrics, numbering, lettering, and logos as the jerseys worn by players on the field. As the decade progressed, spandex panels and sleeve cuffs were added to these authentic-style replica jerseys to enhance the level of realism. The authentic replica NFL jerseys being marketed today possess these accoutrements. To the untrained eye, these contemporary high-quality retail jerseys could pass for bonafide gamers.

aWilson_cowl.jpgIn a perfect world, you would never find one of these 92.3 percent genuine authentic replica NFL jerseys misrepresented as “game used” or “game issued.”  However, this world we live in is far from perfect. Fraud, driven by greed and tempered only by a touch of ignorance, will result in these misrepresentations being marketed and subsequently sold to game jersey collectors who have yet to learn to separate fact from fiction.

The term “game issued” may be the most misused phrase in the English language. It is certainly the most improperly applied piece of terminology in the game-used uniforms lexicon. For too many that are loosely involved in this endeavor, “game issued” pertains to any jersey that is similar to what a player would wear on the field. I have lost track of how many “authentic-replica” style NFL jerseys and helmets I have seen listed for sale on eBay as “game issued.” Some sports memorabilia dealer websites are also guilty of this misrepresentation.  Dan Marino, John Elway and Brett Favre jerseys seem to be the most common of these replicas. I guess that “game issued” is a more marketable term than “authentic replica,” honesty not withstanding.

I can spot an authentic-replica jersey by its blocky cut, even before having to inspect its tagging or other features. Unlike NFL game jerseys, these authentic-replicas are tailored for “street” wear and are similar to any other shirt in your closet in that regard. However, for those less familiar, the tagging may be the best way to separate the “street” jerseys from those intended for the gridiron.

aReebok_authrep.jpgWilson supplied a number of NFL teams with game jerseys through 1996. Likewise, Wilson produced a large number of high-quality authentic-replica jerseys. The tagging used on each type of Wilson jersey is distinct enough to help separate the real deal from the raw deal.

aReebok_tail.jpgThe Wilson tail tagging on its authentic-replica jerseys featured the verbiage “Tailored Exclusively For Authentic Pro Line” as well as the NFL shield logo. Like the tagging on Wilson game jerseys, the jersey size on the authentic replicas is printed on a separate flag attached to the bottom or side of the main tag. Some Wilson authentic-replica NFL jerseys were lettered and numbered by Athletic Supply Co. out of Dallas and will display a tag to that effect.

Wilson’s NFL game jersey tagging featured the same “Tailored Exclusively For” statement as the authentic-replica tagging; however, the difference was a “Prestige Teams” pronouncement as opposed to the Pro Line designation. Starter, Nike, Logo Athletic and Adidas placed “Pro Line” tagging on game jerseys, however, Wilson did not. There was a variation of the Wilson game jersey tagging that was used by the Miami Dolphins in 1994 and 1995 and by the Jacksonville Jaguars in their inaugural 1995 season.

This tagging was placed inside of the cowl as opposed to on the tail. The tag was square and measured 1-by-1 inches. It was printed with a red Wilson “W” as well as the word “Wilson” in red and the jersey size in black. Both the Jaguars and the Dolphins game jerseys sported a year tag below the Wilson cowl tag. Some of the blatantly misrepresented “game-issued” Elway and Marino jerseys I have seen offered on eBay were cowl-tagged similarly, only the tag itself was black and no year indicators were present.

Like Wilson, Reebok game jersey tagging resembles and yet at the same time shows stark differences from its authentic-replica counterpart. Current Reebok NFL authentic-replica tagging features the NFL Players Association logo in addition to the team’s helmet logo. The tagging will also have the jersey’s size usually lettered printed on the face of the tag. Of course, the real game jersey tagging will be number sized and have that number on an attached flag. In an effort perhaps to evoke a realistic image, the authentic-replica tagging features an “extra length” tag that is not too dissimilar to what the real game jerseys are equipped with. Inside the cowl of the authentic-replica jersey will be a square flap tag bearing the “NFL Equipment” logo as well as a rectangular wash-care instructions flap tag printed in English, Spanish and French. One exceedingly important point to remember is this: real NFL game jerseys are made in the good ‘ole USA.
The current 93.2 percent real jerseys are manufactured in exotic locales like Honduras. The French translation as printed on the flap tag is “Fabrique En Honduras.”

So far, it seems fairly cut and dried, right? Well, not so fast, my friends. Recently, while walking through a local shopping mall, I encountered a fellow wearing a home/black Jerome Bettis Pittsburgh Steelers jersey. As the gentleman continued toward me, I noticed that the jersey had Starter logos on both sleeves and that those sleeves were short and cuffed. The jersey was also equipped with spandex side panels. The numbers were the correct font and of course sewn on tackle-twill. The NFL logo was correct, as were the durene knit shoulders and sleeves. I approached this young man and complimented him on how authentic his jersey looked. It was then that I noticed on the un-tucked front tail an Exclusive Starter/Pittsburgh Steelers tag-correct for what the team wore on its game jerseys during the mid-1990s.  The only thing lacking was a year tag. The gold letter font on the nameplate was also spot on.

Other than the slightly boxy cut, this could have been a real game jersey in the eyes of the uninitiated. The chap wearing the jersey explained to me that it was a limited-edition jersey sold for a short time back in the 1990s. I have to wonder if any of these “limited edition” Bettis jerseys have been sold on eBay as “game-issued” or to take it a step further, dinged up and sold as game worn?

Authentic-replica jerseys are designed to provide the fan with somaething that is “just like what the player wears on the field.” In my opinion, the phrases “just like” and “exactly like” are slight exaggerations but will work for the guy or gal who wants to wear a top-quality jersey to the game or out to the local sports bar. After all, it’s better to spill beer on an authentic-replica than on a valuable game-used jersey.

The issue that must be reckoned with is when these authentic-replica jerseys are misrepresented as game issued, game cut, or game used. This false advertising is done on eBay, at trade shows, and on dealer websites. Most often, this perversion of terminology is done through ignorance or laziness.

Still, there also exists a deliberate attempt out there in the jersey world to confuse, embellish, and twist terminology to pass a bill of goods on to an unsuspecting buyer. If you are a novice game-used jersey collector, the tagging tips in this article, as well as a little common sense, will help you to avoid making a careless mistake when embarking upon this exciting hobby of collecting game-used NFL uniforms.

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One thought on “Is it the real deal or just a raw deal?

  1. Mike McDonnell on said:

    Are you still available if I have a specific question regarding a jersey I have? I have a Joe Montana jersey with the exact “tail” as the one at the top of this article. Also, there is no NFL shield on the front neck. I am not interested in selling this jersey, but more interested in what I have. There is no Pro Line designation. Also, is there an easy way to authenticate? Thank you for your consideration.

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