By Leila Dunbar
Depending on which article you read or media report you watch, the missing Tom Brady Super Bowl jersey (will it be on a milk carton soon?) from the New England Patriots’ Super Bowl LI victory is worth anywhere from $200,000 to 1 million dollars.
So, which price is right? Well, all of them could be, actually.
Most people think appraisers — whether they’re valuing a Warhol painting, a Stickley sideboard, a Beatles lunchbox, or a Tom Brady Super Bowl jersey — use a roulette wheel, Ouija board, or Magic 8 ball (“Is it worth $500,000? It is decidedly so!”) to determine values. Not true — although it would be much faster and easier.
Valuations are opinions developed through analysis of past sales and the current market. So while it may sound like “alternative facts” could be involved in arriving at fair market value, the auction houses and appraisers being consulted about Brady’s missing jersey are using their own knowledge and experience to determine what they think it could sell for on the open market — or even on the black market. So there is no set-in-stone number (until it is actually sold).
Sports appraisal secrets
Professional appraisers look at a variety of factors in formulating value. These include the relative historic importance and enduring legacy of the player, team, and/or event; rarity; desirability; condition; provenance; and authenticity.
After reviewing past known transactions of similar items, an appraiser typically compares those sales to the item being valued, and then forms an estimate of where the particular appraised piece falls in.
Think of it as a (multi-million dollar) pyramid. The most common and available items — such as autographed items of living players (which typically sell from $25-$1,000), manufactured collectibles, and most contemporary sports cards) are on the bottom. Game-used items and awards owned by the greatest players or related to iconic moments in sports history reside at the top, selling from tens of thousands of dollars into the millions.
In coming up with estimates of Tom Brady’s missing Super Bowl jersey, let’s first look at sales of some of the most iconic jerseys that have ever sold at auction.
Babe Ruth’s 1920 Yankee Jersey: When it sold for $4.4 million at SCP Auctions in 2012, this Ruth treasure set the record for a jersey.
The Bambino is the most sought-after of all athletes, and his game-used bats and jerseys regularly sell in the hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars. And although not rare, his signed baseballs sell in the low thousands up to $388,000 — the price paid for a baseball from his last signing in 1948.
While this particular jersey wasn’t used in a historic series or iconic moment, its $4.4 million price establishes the current ceiling of the market. Contributing greatly to its appeal: It’s the earliest known Babe Ruth jersey that exists.
Paul Henderson’s 1972 Russian Cup Game 8 Goal-Winning Jersey: For hockey fans, this is the ultimate; it brought $1.068 million at Classic Auctions in 2010. The relatively obscure Henderson, a right-winger, played in the NHL and WHA from 1963–1980. His shining moment was scoring the winning goal in decisive Game 8 to beat the Russians in 1972. (Canada won the series 4-3-1.)
The buyer of Henderson’s jersey was Mitchell Goldhar, a billionaire Canadian who recalled in a 2010 interview that in 1972 he was an 11-year-old in a Toronto elementary school gym watching the telecast of the decisive game between Canada and Russia: “I can almost place myself in that gym when that goal was scored… we all went crazy.” When he saw the jersey go up for sale at Classic Auctions, he said he knew he had to have it. Someone else did as well, pushing it to the million-dollar mark.
Bill Mazeroski’s Pittsburgh Pirates Game-Used Uniform from Game 7 of the 1960 World Series: This treasure sold for $632,500 at Hunt Auctions in 2013. In 1960 the Pirates upset the heavily favored Yankees (who had won seven World Series titles in the prior 11 seasons). Going into Game 7 in 1960, the Yankees had scored more than twice as many runs as the Pirates (55-27), winning three games by scores of 16-3, 10-0, and 12-0, while the Pirates won their three games by 6-4, 3-2, and 5-2 margins.
In Game 7, the lead see-sawed until the Yankees tied it in the top of the 9th inning. In the bottom of the 9th, Mazeroski was the first hitter up against Ralph Terry. On a count of 1-0, he sent a long drive over the left-field wall, beating the mighty Bombers and cementing his place in World Series history. (Yogi Berra’s post-game comment: “We made too many wrong mistakes.”) Mazeroski’s is still the only Game 7 walk-off home run in World Series history, and it helped propel him into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Collector, Batman producer, and part Pittsburgh Steelers owner Tommy Tull bought the Maz jersey. He also purchased the bat, for $322,000, that Mazeroski used to hit his home run.
Don Larsen’s Uniform from Game 4 of the 1956 World Series: The jersey Larsen wore in throwing the only perfect game in World Series history sold for $756,000 via Steiner Sports in 2012. Yogi Berra’s jersey attributed to that game sold for $565,000 in 2010 at Grey Flannel Auctions. Berra caught Larsen’s perfect game, and after pinch-hitter Dale Mitchell struck out to end the game, the catcher jumped into Larsen’s arms, producing an unforgettable moment captured in an iconic photograph.
Larsen’s perfect game was even more improbable than Henderson’s goal and Mazeroski’s home run. There have been only 23 perfect games — and only one World Series perfect game — in MLB history.
Larsen was a journeyman pitcher (81-91 lifetime MLB record) on one of the great dynasties of all time, the Yankees. Yet in 1956, it wasn’t Hall of Famers Berra, Mickey Mantle, or Whitey Ford who made history in the World Series, but rather Larsen, with his 2-0 perfect game: 27 up, 27 down. The 1956 season was his best; he had an 11-5 record just two years removed from a horrendous 3-21 pitching season with the Baltimore Orioles.
The closest anyone has come to Larsen’s feat has been Roy Halladay, who in 2010 threw a no-hitter against the Reds in the NL playoffs.
1980 Mike Eruzione “Miracle on Ice” Game-Worn Olympic Jersey: Representing one of the greatest sports upsets of all time, this jersey sold for $657,250 at Heritage Auctions in 2013.
In 1980, the geo-political climate and the frosty relations between the United States and Russia (six months before President Jimmy Carter chose to have the U.S. team boycott the Summer Olympic games) laid out one storyline. The other was that the Russians were seasoned pro hockey players while the U.S. team featured amateur college players, the youngest team in the tournament and in U.S. history. In pool play, the Russians had outscored their opponents 51-11. Two weeks prior, they had beaten the Americans 10-3 at Madison Square Garden, and in the previous year had beaten the NHL All-Stars 6-0 at the 1979 Challenge Cup.
When they met in what was actually the semi-final game (a fact often forgotten), both teams were undefeated. Yet no one gave the Americans a chance — except for Herb Brooks, who before the game read to the team some thoughts he had written down. Among them: “You were meant to be here. The moment is yours.”
It looked like the Soviets were going to dominate early, going up 2-1, but Mark Johnson scored with one second left in the first period, and for some reason the Soviet coach replaced their star goalie. It didn’t seem to matter, as the Americans were down 3-2 in the third period.
At 6:47, though, the U.S. got a rare power play and Johnson scored his second goal at 8:39. With 10 minutes remaining, U.S. captain Eruzione came onto the ice, took a pass from Mark Pavelich, and rifled a shot past the replacement goalie Myshkin, who was screened. The U.S. now led 4-3. The Soviets frantically attacked, but the Americans continued to play their game. The USSR never pulled its goalie to gain a 6 on 5 advantage, and the U.S. held on to win and advance to the gold medal game.
This upset was never supposed to happen, but, as announcer Al Michaels asked, “Do you believe in Miracles?”
Kirk Gibson’s 1988 World Series Game 1 Los Angeles Dodgers Jersey: This is the jersey that Gibson wore when he pinch-hit in Game 1 against future Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley and blasted a walk off home run, setting the tone for the series. The Dodgers were up against the highly favored A’s, who featured the “Bash Brothers,” Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco, plus Eckersley, a converted starter who led the league in saves that season with 45.
Gibson had injured both of his legs in the National League Championship Series and could barely run, but was available to pinch-hit. With two outs and Mike Davis on base and the A’s holding a one-run lead in the bottom of the 9th inning, Lasorda sent Gibson up to hit. He battled to a 3-2 count and remembered the scouting report that Eckersley liked to throw a backdoor slider in this situation. That pitch came in and quickly went out as Gibson slugged it over the right field fence, giving the Dodgers a 5-4 win. It was Gibson’s only plate appearance, but the underdog Dodgers took down the A’s in five games. Vin Scully’s call of Gibson’s homer is indelible: “High fly ball into right field, she iiis gone! In a year that has been so improbable… the impossible has happened.”
Kirk Gibson’s game-worn World Series jersey sold for $303,277 at SCP Auctions in 2010.
Brady’s missing Super Bowl jersey
So how does Brady’s Super Bowl LI jersey stack up to the items above? Let’s start by putting it into context.
Brady is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, a sure Pro Football Hall of Famer and the most dominant QB in the Super Bowl era. He’s on his way to owning most of the single-season, career, and Super Bowl passing records.
With his fifth win in Super Bowl LI, Brady passed four-time winners Joe Montana — his idol growing up — and Terry Bradshaw. Only Pro Football Hall Of Famer DE Charles Haley has five Super Bowl rings, which he won with Dallas and San Francisco. (The only quarterback with as many championships is Bart Starr, who won three NFL titles in pre-Super Bowl days and then won the first two Super Bowls.)
Brady’s career accomplishments easily win out over those of Henderson, Eruzione, Larsen, Mazeroski, and Gibson. And Super Bowl LI was icing on the cake. The game itself featured one of the greatest comebacks in sports history.
In fighting back from a 25-point deficit in the third quarter to set up James White’s overtime touchdown, the Patriots’ win is now the game by which all other Super Bowls will be measured in terms of drama, excitement, and sheer improbability. Brady led the charge from halfway through the third quarter on, hitting White and Danny Amendola for TD passes and converting a pair of two-point conversions — all of which were needed to tie the score.
Julian Edelman’s hot-potato catch to keep a 4th-quarter drive alive is the game’s iconic offensive moment. But Brady’s 91-yard drive with under 3 minutes to play and his subsequent winning drive in overtime are what made him the MVP, even with White’s three touchdowns. It was a Hall of Fame performance.
As for the No. 12 jersey Brady wore in orchestrating the Pats’ Super Bowl LI win, it’s a unique item — the only one Brady wore in this game. Judging by screen and photograph views, the condition of Brady’s jersey appeared to be excellent after the game, other than the fingerprints of Grady Jarrett and Dwight Freeney and a few grass stains (which is what collectors want, to show use).
What drives demand?
On first glance, the desirability of Brady’s jersey is off the charts, as the “Golden Boy” (as PTI’s Mike Wilbon calls him) is now a combination of Babe Ruth, Elvis, Marilyn, and Lady Gaga in the pantheon of sports figures. And it may not be too much to say that Brady has passed Bobby Orr and David Ortiz as the greatest and most beloved Boston athlete of all time. (It’s close, New Englanders know; after all, it’s hard to forget the image of Orr in the air in the 1970 Stanley Cup Finals and Big Papi’s 2013 post-Boston Marathon bombing speech and playoff heroics.)
Patriots fans and many collectors, not to mention the Pro Football Hall of Fame, all want the “shine” (as the late Carrie Fisher calls it) of this, the most special of all of Brady’s jerseys. Therefore, it’s easy to conclude that there would be no shortage of willing buyers if Brady’s missing Super Bowl jersey were to show up in an auction setting.
Other factors than can affect value
Does Deflategate have an effect on value? For Pats fans, Brady’s four-game suspension to start the 2016 season will not take any of the “shine” off of Brady’s legacy (as they consider the Super Bowl win vindication). And it certainly won’t stop him from Hall of Fame immortality.
Another segment of football fans (maybe most of the rest of the country) may respect Brady’s accomplishments, but some might consider him — and the Patriots — cheaters and won’t want anything to do with owning this jersey, which could have an impact on desirability.
Given that, as of January 2017 Brady’s jersey is the number one seller at nflshop.com (and that has to be the case after the Super Bowl) as well. It appears that the lingering effects of Deflategate are lessening in light of this latest championship.
Another possible impact on value is that Brady has been too successful. What happens if he wins another one next year, making it six championships, going beyond the Lombardi/Bart Starr (NFL/Super Bowl) era?
Given the notoriety of this record comeback as well as its record setting history, this particular Super Bowl jersey will likely always be the most desirable of all, unless the Pats or another team come back from 35, or 40 or 50 points in the Super Bowl. It has been reported that Patriots Super Bowl LI memorabilia is far outselling Super Bowl LIX memorabilia, another dramatic win by the Patriots, one eclipsed only by the improbability of the LI win.
In this appraiser’s opinion, the level of Brady’s accomplishment is roughly equal to Larsen’s perfect game and the Miracle on Ice, one step above Mazeroski’s Game 7 walk-off home run, and another step above Gibson’s Game 1 walk-off home run. Brady as a player is above all the others, as none of them achieved what Brady has in his career. The possible dilution from the scars of Deflategate and five (and counting) championships should be minimal.
As can be seen from the examples given, iconic game-used items can be found in a variety of sports today. Traditionally, baseball has been the sport setting the most sale records, but through major sales of collections and single items from the careers of such iconic athletes as Julius Erving, Jesse Owens, Sam Snead, Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr, and Muhammad Ali, plus the Original Rules of Basketball by Dr. James Naismith ($4.38 million), important pieces have sold in the tens of thousands into the low millions.
It should be noted that top football prices in general have lagged ever so slightly behind other sports, with no million dollar items thus far. The current football auction record belongs to University of Minnesota halfback Bruce Smith’s 1941 Heisman Trophy, sold by Leland’s in 2005 for $395,000. The football jersey record is the sale of Jim Thorpe’s Canton Bulldogs jersey, which brought $284,350 in 2004 and would very likely sell for substantially more in today’s market. However, some segments of the football memorabilia market are catching up quickly. In 2016, a Jim Brown PSA Mint 9 1958 Topps Rookie card sold for $358,500.
Where does Brady’s Super Bowl LI jersey slot in?
There are different values for different purposes. With insurance coverage and claims, for example, most companies use retail replacement value, which is generally interpreted as the top of the market for potential sale by auction or dealer, as it is compensating for a loss. For estate settlement and for non-cash charitable donation, fair market value is used, which is generally considered the median of the market as determined by a “willing buyer and willing seller.”
Note that for unique items, fair market values and retail replacement values often can be close or the same, as there is only one example to be sold.
In this case, I think the fair market value and retail replacement differ given the auction sales of the other jerseys and the potential impact of Deflategate.
Therefore, in my opinion, the fair market value for the Brady Super Bowl LI jersey is at the high end of the jerseys sold, given the added historic importance of Brady as a player and equal/greater importance of the event itself to the others and taking into account Deflategate as a slight negative taking a few potential buyers out of the market.
The bottom line
Given the analysis of the prior sales and all of the valuation factors I’ve mentioned above, I would estimate that the fair market value of Tom Brady’s Super Bowl LI game-worn jersey would be approximately $1 million and the retail replacement value at approximately $1.5 million.
The other kind of valuation, which is better known to the public, involves auction estimates. Auction houses use estimate value ranges as a guideline for bidders, and they’re usually lower than fair market value and retail replacement values. This is because auction businesses try to use “reasonable” often below market numbers for pre-sale estimates. The psychology is to entice bidders to engage, and then let the flow of competitive juices determine the final selling price — as opposed to arbitrarily setting a price, which can turn off prospective buyers.
If Brady’s missing Super Bowl jersey were going up for auction directly from the quarterback or the NFL for the first time, I would think — given the discussed prior sales — that an auction estimate would fall into the $300,000–$500,000 range… or maybe as high as $500,000–$700,000, depending on how aggressive the seller and/or auction house wants to be.
So, how much will the Brady Super Bowl LI jersey sell for at auction?
Who knows? It could be $250,000, $500,000, $1 million, or more. Emotion, passion, and the depth of the bidders’ pockets all factor into the end result, which brings us back to using roulette wheel, Ouija board, and Magic 8 ball for valuations.
Because the Brady jersey at this writing is still missing, there is a chance it could sell on the shadowy black market. As with paintings and art (and also other markets, such as post 1950-Oscar awards, which are forbidden for sale by the Academy of Arts & Sciences), there is indeed activity — albeit illegal activity — involving pilfered pieces. The selling price of Brady’s jersey on the black market, however, would likely be a fraction of its real value.
It has been mentioned by some that Brady’s Super Bowl LI jersey needs to be sold now — with the game still fresh in the minds of fans and collectors — in order for it to draw top value. That may be true, but on the other hand, the sales of the other jerseys mentioned above happened decades after each event. In the case of Mazeroski’s jersey, it sold some five decades after his 1960 World Series Game 7 home run (and would have sold for far less than $600K in 1960). Diehard fan emotions can stay with them for life.
Besides, in 20 or 30 years, it’s conceivable that there will be a trillionaire who was 11 years old when he/she saw the greatest Super Bowl game ever — and would pay well more than $1 million-$1.5 million for Brady’s game-used jersey. u
Leila Dunbar is the president of Leila Dunbar Appraisals in Washington DC, which has valued hundreds of millions of dollars in pop culture appraisals for insurance, donation and estate settlement. A 21-year veteran of the PBS “Antiques Roadshow” Series, projects include work for the Smithsonian, Library Of Congress Baseball, Pro Football, Rock And Roll and Country Music Halls of Fame, the New York Yankee, Motown and Grammy Museums and numerous private clients.