By Ross Forman
Bobby Mintz vividly recalls those few cold days back in early 1980 when he was living in Dallas. He was inside, glued to his television, as was the rest of the country.
On Feb. 22, 1980, the upstart U.S. Olympic hockey team took the ice in Lake Placid, N.Y., against the powerhouse Soviet Union squad that featured team captain Boris Mikhailov and seemingly unbeatable goalie Vladislav Tretiak.
Miracles happened right before Mintz’s eyes, and the millions of Americans watching and listening to the broadcast of Al Michaels. The U.S. shocked the Soviet Union, 4-3.
Two days later, at the same Olympic Fieldhouse, the Americans skated past Finland, 4-2, to capture the gold medal.
“I remember where I was during those Olympics … I was (wearing) my footie-pajamas, watching the games on TV, hoping one day that I’d meet the team,” Mintz said, 35 years later. “I remember that so vividly, like I was watching it yesterday. I was so excited, so happy; everyone in America was so excited, so happy.”
Mintz, vice president at Tristar, laughed when asked if he still has those footie-pajamas with Olympic memories.
“I remember jumping up and down on my parents’ kitchen floor while wearing those footie-pajamas, and slipping and falling because they had plastic on the bottom of the foot.”
Mintz gets his chance to rub elbows with star center Mark Johnson, goalie Jim Craig, team captain Mike Eruzione and others at the 36th annual National Sports Collectors Convention, running July 29-Aug. 2 at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Ill.
Eighteen members of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team will be reunited at The National, which is expected to draw about 30,000 collectors for its five-day run as the Super Bowl of sports collectibles shows. This is the 10th time that The National has been held in the Chicago area – the most of any city that has hosted The National. It was first held in Chicago in 1983, at the fourth-ever National, and this is the sixth time The National has been held in Chicago since 2002. It was last held in Chicago in 2011 and 2013.
The National was held in Cleveland last year and is scheduled to return to Atlantic City in 2016. The National was held in Atlantic City in 2003 and 1988. The first-ever National was held in Los Angeles in 1980 – months after the golden American moment.
“It’s real exciting to get the 1980 Olympic Team together at The National,” said Mintz, who admitted he plans to get a team-signed item for his personal collection.
The team will be signing autographs on Thursday, July 30.
Houston-based Tristar Productions, which is producing the Autograph Pavilion at The National (as it has since 2005), is offering two Super Tickets for the 1980 Team: $399 for a regular item (any flat item), with one autograph from all 18 members; or $449 for a premium item (all other items), also with one autograph of all players.
“What an opportunity for hockey fans,” said David Blakley, 51, who is making the trek to Chicago for The National from his home in Livermore, Calif., for the 13th or 14th National that he has attended, including about 10 in a row. Blakley first attended The National in 1996.
Largest group to date
This year’s Autograph Pavilion at The National promises to be the best, and certainly the largest ever. More than 120 athletes are scheduled to appear, sign autographs and pose for photos with collectors. Sure, there are plenty of the usual show-signers set to appear, such as Reggie Jackson, Fergie Jenkins, Jim Kelly, Wade Boggs and Randy White, among others. But this year also features a hefty dose of “wow” names, such as Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl and Allen Iverson, to name a few.
“We’re extremely excited; we think it’s going to be a wonderful show, with an amazing Autograph Pavilion,” Mintz said. “There are a lot of athletes appearing for a lot of different people in the Autograph Pavilion.
“It’s going to be a busy five days, a very, very busy five days – and I think that’s what the fans and exhibitors want.”
Tristar, as usual, offers collectors the opportunity to purchase autograph tickets in advance online, as well as memorabilia to be signed.
This year’s National features autograph appearances by:
– 38 Baseball Hall of Famers
– 26 Pro Football Hall of Famers
– 5 Hockey Hall of Famers
– 6 Basketball Hall of Famers
– 1 Boxing Hall of Famer
– 2 International Tennis Hall of Famers
– 3 members of the WWE Hall of Fame (Hogan, Flair and Pete Rose).
“There are a lot of guys who I am excited to meet,” said Mintz, who noted the list of future Hall of Famers also is very solid.
Take, for instance, Iverson, who was the 1997 NBA Rookie of the Year, an 11-time All-Star, a two-time NBA All-Star Game MVP and a four-time NBA scoring champion. Paul Konerko also falls into that category, as he was a six-time All-Star, the 2005 American League Championship Series MVP and a 2005 World Series champion whose uniform number (14) has been retired by the White Sox.
“Allen Iverson appearing at The National is very unique,” Blakley said. “He’s not normally part of the show circuit, so this really is a rare chance to get an autograph from him.”
Konerko has appeared at a past Tristar show, but that was when he was a Los Angeles Dodgers rising star, playing in Class Double-A.
“He did his first autograph signing for us years ago in Pomona, Calif.,” Mintz said. “I remember telling him at that Pomona show, the next time I see him, I was going to be paying him a lot more money because his career was going to take off.
“And yes, we will be paying him way more than we did in Pomona.”
Tennis legends Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl will likely draw large crowds. Others who likely will have long lines are Barry Larkin, Manny Sanguillen and Mike Tyson, among others.
“I’m convinced this will be the best Autograph Pavilion ever at the National Sports Collectors Convention,” Mintz said.
Blakley has his eyes set on signatures from members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, such as Greg Maddux. Blakley wants the former right-hander to pen his name on a pitching rubber, which other stars have already signed, as well as a new official MLB ball – on the sweet spot, of course, with the “HOF 2014” inscription.
Many collectors will also get items signed by Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, reflecting on the 1990s when the trio led the dominant Atlanta Braves pitching staff.
By the Numbers
Here are some fun facts regarding the Autograph Pavilion at The National
– Estimated number of 8-by-10 photos signed: 35,000
– Estimated number of items signed: 100,000
– Number of Sharpies used: 1,000
– Estimated number of baseballs signed: 25,000
– Number of ballpoint pens used: 500.
A Sign of the Times
Here are the predicted Top 20 signers (in no particular order) of those athletes currently schedule to appear at the National Sports Collectors Convention July 29-Aug. 2 in Rosemont, Ill.: Allen Iverson, Paul Konerko, Craig Biggio, Roger Clemens, Jim Craig, Mike Eruzione, Barry Larkin, Manny Ramirez, Randy Johnson, Emmitt Smith, Jimmy Connors, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Mike Tyson, Frank Kaminsky, Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Chris Chelios, Tim Raines and Tony La Russa.
Five signers who likely will draw more than some might first expect: Dontrelle Willis, Mark Johnson, Neal Broten, Manny Sanguillen and Nate Archibald.
I’ll sign for you, you sign for me
Five signers who likely will ask for autographs from other stars: Reggie Jackson, Randy Johnson, Carlton Fisk, Rod Carew and Roger Clemens.
Top 5 guests at the Tristar Photo Booth (where fans can have their photo taken alongside the athlete, and the photo is then printed immediately): Mike Tyson, Allen Iverson, Dennis Rodman, Manny Ramirez and Dominique Wilkins.
For more information on the Autograph Pavilion at The National, visit www.tristarproductions.com/National/tickets.html or call (713) 666-9595.
Ross Forman is a freelance contributor to SCD. He can be reached at Rossco814@aol.com.