Autograph guests make National a fun experience for collectors

By Ross Forman

Jennifer Lopez made a surprise appearance Saturday afternoon, July 29, at the 38th annual National Sports Collectors Convention in Rosemont, Ill. She smiled, snapped photos with her cellphone, but didn’t sign any autographs. At least it didn’t look like she signed any, or was even asked.

It was, after all, her boyfriend who was working at the National.

A-Rod and J. Lo at the National Sports Collectors Convention.

Former MLB superstar Alex Rodriguez signed hundreds of autographs at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, site of the 38th National, which attracted about 30,000 collectors.  ARod was one of about 100 scheduled signers in the Tristar Autograph Pavilion, with his autographs starting at $150 each, and going for as much as $350 for game-used memorabilia, plus $50 for inscriptions.

About 10 minutes after ARod started signing, JLo walked out from behind a draped off area, and sat on his left. Fans quickly brought out their cellphones to capture images of the crossover power-couple. JLo stood repeatedly to snap pics of ARod with her cellphone.

“It was kind of cute that she came (to the National) to support him,” said dealer Lisa Stellato of Never Enough Cards, Inc. “Fans certainly got their money’s worth – paying for his autograph and getting to see both of them together close up.

“Having them together at the National definitely was very unique.”

ARod was joined in the Tristar Autograph Pavilion by such sporting icons as Bobby Knight, Lance Armstrong, “Dr. J” Julius Erving, Cal Ripken Jr., Dennis Rodman, Roberto Duran, Barry Sanders, Lou Holtz and Pete Rose, among others. The autograph slate also included Bobby Hull, Brett Hull, Brian Urlacher, Reggie Jackson, Lou Holtz, Guy LaFleur, Dick Butkus, Marv Levy, Bruce Smith, Jose Canseco, Eddie Murray, Jim Rice, Frank Robinson, Rick Barry and Chris Chelios, among others.

“The show was a tremendous success at all levels (and) we were very pleased with the Autograph Pavilion,” said Tristar Vice-President Bobby Mintz, who noted that this year’s autograph pavilion was “just as strong as previous years.”

Henry Winkler, aka, The Fonz of “Happy Days” fame, was the only other entertainer appearing. “Dancing With The Stars” runner-up and 2016 World Series Champion David Ross of the Chicago Cubs was one of the most sought-after signatures at the five-day event.

“I thought the Tristar Autograph Pavilion was a success,” said collector David Blakley, of Dallas. “It was great having so many players signing on Wednesday. And for Baseball Hall of Fame collectors, Thursday was a jackpot since so many appeared that day before heading to Cooperstown for the induction activities.

“There was a level of uniqueness this year with athletes appearing who I had never seen before, such as ARod and Lance Armstrong.”

Bill Goldberg has some fun with a fan.

Bill Goldberg, too – and the former multi-time wrestling World Heavyweight Champion was, without question, one of the most fan-friendly signers at the National, or at any show, anywhere, anytime.

Goldberg never slights a customer, or even appears to rush to the next autograph-seeker.  He talks about wrestling and his brief NFL career – and certainly his beloved University of Georgia.

One young fan wearing a University of Alabama shirt certainly could and would attest to the jovial Goldberg – and his strength. When asked to pose for a photo, Goldberg instead playfully held the young boy upside-down until he said, “Go Dawgs,” in reference to Georgia, Goldberg’s alma mater.

The boy eventually said, “Go Dawgs,” and all laughed.

Goldberg was one of several National signers who also was an autograph-seeker. He left the show with signed footballs from Barry Sanders and Mike Singletary, plus signed photos of Bobby Hull, Brett Hull and Jeremy Roenick.

Goldberg also went out of his way to talk with some of the signers, such as Lance Armstrong and Brian Urlacher, and Goldberg was quick to thank Brian Schwartz of Schwartz Sports, who assisted the former wrestler/football player with obtaining some autographs.

One of Goldberg’s biggest hugs was for Mandy Fuerst of Tristar Productions, a longtime friend.

Lawrence Taylor greeted Goldberg during his signing session, and the two stood together and talked. Brett Hull then walked over, and Goldberg then took a selfie of the three.

“Goldberg was one of the most engaging signers, interacting with fans and fellow signers. He was terrific, a wonderful guy and someone we look forward to having back again,” at future shows,” Mintz said.

Ron Duguay still has that flowing ‘do … and a flowing signature that, well, seems short of many letters other than the “R.”

Bobby Hull still has one of the most distinctive, ever-flowing signatures.

Troy Smith

Troy Smith showed up at the National wearing a Real Madrid soccer jersey, and admitted that, yes, he is a soccer fan.

When it comes to fine fashion among signers, Mike Rozier and Tommy “Hitman” Hearns are at the top of the list, always. Pete Rose is near the top, too.

Vern Law, at age 87 and 50-years removed from his last Major League Baseball appearance, still has one of the best-looking signatures – and he added Cy Young 1960 to many ‘graphs.

George Rogers just writes 80H, not 80 Heisman. Would be nice if he spelled out the entire word – as Johnny Rodgers, Mike Rozier, Troy Smith, Charles White and Gary Beban did.  There probably were other Heisman-winners at the National too, but I saw photos of those five and each spelled out the word HEISMAN.

Fritz Peterson was wearing a New York Yankees hat and shorts.

Todd Hundley has a distinctive, flowing autograph, but I challenge anyone to make out any letter other than the H in his last name.

Jose Canseco

I’m sure Jose Canseco could still crush a baseball. He still looks like a Bash Brother, sporting a tank-top to the show, to showcase his guns.

Tom Browning came to the National with a Cincinnati Reds’ floppy hat.

Johnny Bench always looks like he’s having fun at signing sessions. Not sure I’d say that about Frank Robinson.

Bob Gibson is still intimidating-looking.

The routine for Cal Ripken Jr., is the same at every signing, including the National. He signs items for, oh, about 20 people, then stops, stands up and takes photos with each of those 20, if they want. Class act that Cal.

Bob Knight is still, Coach.

David Ross was clearly happy to meet his fans. It wasn’t just the fans who were happy to see him. Many commented to him about his appearance on Dancing With The Stars.

Michael Irvin repeatedly asked, “Why is everyone so quiet?”

Why doesn’t Joe Greene add “Mean” before his signature? Am sure most would want it included, and be willing to pay for that inscription.

Is there a worst-looking autograph than Dennis Rodman? Can’t be many.

Roberto Duran was among several non-baseball players who were asked to sign a baseball, which he did. Henry Winkler, too.

Winkler seemed to go out of his way to be extra nice to all show attendees.

I got two autographs at this year’s National that were extra special. First was, a baseball signed by The Famous Chicken, who was a guest at the Panini booth. The Famous Chicken has been entertaining for 43 years, and his autograph has always been one of the prettiest, most legible ‘graphs I’ve ever seen.  

The second autograph was a retro photo of myself, and Mike Hartenstine, who played in the NFL from 1975-87, all but the final season for the Chicago Bears. Hartenstine, who was a defensive end, was the oldest player on the Super Bowl XX-winning Bears after the 1985 season.

One more note about The Famous Chicken, who is always willing to sign autographs or pose for pictures. He gave Panini officials a “chicken foot” – the distinctive, yellow, used and signed souvenir. Panini then gave away the “chicken foot” in a Diamond Kings Baseball box war.  

“That was an awesome item,” said Panini’s Scott Prusha.

Mintz said the top signers at the 2017 National were ARod, Henry Winkler, Dr. J, Lance Armstrong, Michael Irvin and Barry Sanders.

The surprise signers, meaning, athletes who had longer lines than first anticipated were Earl Monroe, Vern Law and Guy LaFleur, Mintz said.

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