Thursday, May 21, 2009

Auction Gold - Items From the Golden Boy

Two very nice specimens from Paul Hornung's playing days recently hit the auction block. Hornung ought not need an introduction - his list of accomplishments include the 1956 Heisman Trophy, the 1961 NFL MVP, the 1961 Bert Bell Award. He was also named to the NFL's 1960s All-Decade Team, and was a two-time Pro Bowler (1959 and 1960). Hornung is a member of three Halls of Fame: Pro Football, College Football and the Green Bay Packers.

First up is this early 1960s helmet, from Grey Flannel's recently-concluded Summer Games 2009 auction:

Lot #388: Circa 1963 Paul Hornung Green Bay Packers Game-Used Helmet

Paul Hornung was one of the most versatile players ever to play the game, playing Halfback, Quarterback, and Place Kicker for the Green Bay Packers. Not only could he run, he was a excellent passer, receiver, and blocker. Paul Hornung was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame, the Pro Football Hall of Fame, won the 1956 Heisman Trophy and the NFL MVP award in 1961. On the back of this Yellow helmet with green and white center stripes in player number “5” stenciled in black. The inner suspension is fully intact with “RIDDELL” stamped. The facemask and chin strap are fully intact. The helmet shows good game-use with light scuffing to the outer dome and sweat staining inside.

Nice piece. It went for $5,317.20, including Buyer's Premium.

I'm interested in the 1963 attribution. I'm still working on a study of the various forms of the "G" logo, specifically when the Packers moved away from the original incarnation, which its thinner green outline and more pronounced football-shape. It was right about 1963 or 64.

I love the squared-off shape of the Riddell helmet. This one appears to be a JR-6. I'm not sure when the model was introduced, but I had thought it was after 1963.

Here's the six-loop, twelve-point, multi-crown suspension.

Very nice.

Update 6/10/09: I've learned a little bit more about the helmet's history. The very same helmet was sold at auction in 2005 by American Memorabilia. Sure enough, they attributed it at the time as being from no earlier than 1964.

The description from that auction gives us some great identifiers for the helmet style:

1964-66 Paul Hornung Game-Worn Packers Suspension Helmet

Certainly among the choicest game-used helmets ever offered is this mid-1960's Paul Hornung relic. The shell was made by Riddell and it's the RK-4 style that featured the mildly protruding ear contours. Hornung wore this style only sporadically early in his career. In fact, from 1957 through '62, most photos show him wearing the spherical TK-2 model. After a year involuntary 'sabbatical' in 1963, he returned to the Packers, and from 1964 to 1966 his preference was the RK-4 or RK-2 model. During this period, most photos show him wearing this model, although on brief occasions, he can be seen wearing the TK-2 sphere helmet. The outer shell is painted classic Green Bay yellow. The double-layered "G" decals are correct for the decade in terms of font style, mil depth and layered white-on-forest-green lettering. The low positioning of the "G" (well into the protrusion of the mold surrounding the top portion of the ear hole) is correct. As a matter of course, placement was inconsistent on Green Bay's decals and some actually abutted the top edge of the ear hole. The traditional Packer striping - green-white-green - is painted onto the shell, which was standard for the team prior to the middle '60's when bolt-on cages were forbidden, and vinyl striping came into practical use. The striping demonstrates the correct widths and color hues. As should be the case, the bolts located within the center striping were not painted over. The Packers were meticulous about this clean look for all of the exterior bolts, unlike other teams such as the Bears or Lions, who simply painted over them. The interior of the shell sports the RK-4, six-point suspension system (which preceded the twelve-point system) and was exclusive to all helmets prior to 1964. The back left suspension bolt has detached from the shell, and this may have been the reason for the helmet being withdrawn from active play. The leather jaw pads are intact and are vintage early '60's (based on double-sided dark leather), as is the earlier '60's version of the rubber crown donut, which is thicker. The gray snubber is present in the center of the helmet under the front lip; Hornung almost always can be seen wearing the snubber. Another interesting feature is the presence of the heavy-duty cushioned leather headband often worn by players who had large foreheads, or those who were prone to concussions or forehead bruising. Many Packers helmets of the period incorporated this feature, or sponge concussion padding which ringed the entire crown and upper extremities of the inner shell. Hornung was not necessarily concussion prone, but the shape of his forehead and vulnerability as a running back, made his a likely candidate for usage. There is a markered "5" in proper position on the shell's gray interior and remnants of an RK-4 rectangular sticker is still present in the lower back inner shell. There are other features linking this helmet to Hornung. It has the two-bar BD-9 facemask with the cursive "ell" Riddell stamp on its right base (which is standard for the early/mid '60's). Second, the interior boltage, support pad and slotted screws are all original and consistent with this period. As well, the angle of the mask is tilted slightly upward, and this was unique to Hornung. As a matter of policy, the Packers once stenciled a player's uniform number on the lower back of the outer shell. In Hornung's case, his number was a single digit, and it was stenciled only on the center stripe. Numerous photos exist of this placement - sometimes nearer the upper bolt, sometimes nearer the lower bolt; sometimes quite dark, sometimes lighter; but nearly always in black. The helmet is accompanied by a mid-'60's chin strap which is vintage Packers with remnants of green paint on the inside. Overall, an outstanding survivor of the Golden Boy from his glory days with Green Bay. It comes from the collection of a long-time restaurateur who obtained it from the Packers in the early 1970's.

The final bid in the original auction, including premium, was $10,178. Ouch. In three years, the helmet has lost nearly half its value. Of course, a deep recession can severely impact the collectibles market.

It's also interesting to trace the provenance of an item. In this case, we know of at least two owners since the helmet left the team: the original, who held it from "the early 1970s" through 2005, and the person who bought it then, who may or not be the seller in last April's auction.

I'll be watching to see if it surfaces again.

The second Hornung item of interest is this gem from American Memorabilia:

1965-66 Paul Hornung Game-Worn Packers Durene Jersey w/4 Repairs (First Hornung Jersey Auctioned)

Men loved him, women wanted to be with him. Paul Hornung has lived a charmed life. Blessed with signature dimples and that curly hair, he was a Saturday matinée idol at Notre Dame and Sunday delight in Green Bay and was one of football's first heartthrobs. The likes of Jim Brown, Bert Jones, Troy Aikman and Tom Brady made women's knees wobble. But the true original was Paul Hornung.

Green Bay Packers game-worn jerseys from the 1960s are some of the most coveted in the football industry. It was Lombardi's Packers which forged football's first true dynasty and helped put the sport on the map. Hornung was Lombardi's go-to guy. If a yard or touchdown was needed, even an option pass or long field goal, the Golden Boy could be counted on.

This size "46" jersey, the first Hornung Green Bay representation offered on the auction block, was worn by Hornung upon his return from his 1963 suspension. Four team repairs appear on the upper front and back shoulder area. The jersey was secured following a Packers' contest at Wrigley Field against the Bears circa '64-65. Teams didn't go through jerseys like they currently do. Most teams used a home and away set for an entire season and preseason and often carried jerseys over from year to year depending on the condition. There are no alterations whatsoever on the white durene garment which shows significant toning but has aged gracefully i.e. durene is still consistent throughout with minimal nylon fiber surface degradation and still exhibits wonderful sheened qualities.

Of special note is the classic green/gold/green trim (3/4") which surrounds the neckline and the Packers specific red size "46" mini-flag tag within the inner collar line. The numbers are created in single-color forest green tackle twill with diamond-point #5's on front and back and horizontally dominant sleeve numbers featuring "flat top 1's and straight 5's."

The sleeve striping pattern is embedded and correct in color hues, while the width of stripes feature 1/2" gold between three larger 1" green stripes.

Naturally, elliptical elbow reinforcements are present on the standard 3/4 sleeve length. A Sand-Knit period size label is sewn in the lower left tail. There is slight staining on the white durene but it is almost unnoticeable. Score it a 10+ with regards to rarity, beauty and wear -- what else would you expect from pro football's Golden Boy, Paul Hornung.
One of the little things I love about this jersey style is the complimenting (but not identical) number forms. The diamond-point "5" just wouldn't look right on the sleeves. It's the small quirks, the deviation from the norm, that makes the design work, like the Yankees' different cap and jersey logos. It speaks to an old-fashioned design school, created by hand. You'd never see this kind of quirk on a uniform designed on a computer.

The Packers still use the same basic set of number styles today, including the two different "5"s:

The Hornung jersey also gives us a great look at the Sand-Knit tag:

Under a new name (Ripon Athletic), the same plant still produces jerseys for the Packers.

There's still time to get in on this one - the auction ends on 5/28. Current bid is $14,266.

UPDATE 5/29: The jersey auction has concluded. Final price: $22,976 (plus Buyer's Premium).

Monday, May 18, 2009

More on Forged Favre Gamers - Shades of Gray (Flannel)

Chris Nerat's article on forged Favre gamers brought to mind a story from my own collecting history. In 2004, Vintage Authentics offered up for auction an honest-to-goodness 1994 blue and gold home NFL 75th Anniversary throwback Favre gamer. With my love for the throwbacks, I was very interested in making a run at it.

Here's the photo which accompanied the auction page:

Based on that picture, I had some serious doubts about its authenticity. Even though this was years before Mitchell & Ness started making their version of this beauty (and the glut of counterfeits which emerged as a result), there were three dozen known and extremely authentic-looking forgeries out there in the hobby. Top-notch forgeries which had been introduced to the market by... the Green Bay Packers.

In 1998, Grey Flannel Auctions contracted with the Packers for the club to provide custom jerseys for an auction. The Packers took thirty-six unused jerseys supplied to the team by Ripon Athletic, but not actually issued by the team to any player, and "repurposed" them with Favre numbers and nameplates.

Here's another example (click to enlarge):

Because they started out as unworn gamers, each of the dummy Favre jerseys has the sheen of authenticity. Naturally, they feature authentic team tagging. The name and number font, which so often trips up counterfeiters, are 100% authentic and sewn on by the same people who prepared all the actual game-worn jerseys. Many, if not all, of the usual markers that authenticators look for on a gamer are present on these.

In addition, each of the Grey Flannel jerseys came complete with a letter from Packers equipment manager Red Batty explaining its unusual history.

As Batty mentions in his letter, they also manufactured some copies of the road version (it is unclear how many of the thirty-six produced were home or were roads). This one comes up for sale on eBay from time to time, along with its own copy of the letter:

The easiest way to identify the repurposed jerseys is by the size - Favre customarily wore (or "wears," if he comes out of retirement) a 52. The Grey Flannel jerseys, having been issued to multiple other players, may be found in a whole series of sizes. Both of the home blues pictured here are size 46, while the road is a 48.

Frankly, I'm not sure how good an idea this was on the Packers' part. It's not like there wasn't a market in game-used jerseys ten years ago, that they would be unaware of might happen with some of these jerseys. It seems almost inevitable that somebody would try to sell them as authentic Favre gamers, which is exactly what happened with the Vintage Authentics auction.

Then again, if I ever saw a Favre '94 throwback gamer, I'd automatically presume that it came from the 1998 Grey Flannel auction. The numbers just lean that way - presuming Favre's standard two jerseys per game, times four throwback games (three at Lambeau Field, one in Chicago), plus maybe a couple extras for team-issued backups not worn, still equals less than a dozen. Grey Flannel had the Packers prepare three times that many ersatz jerseys.

In any case, it was that "46" tag that really made me question the jersey in the first place, knowing that Favre's usual size is a 52. I can see occassionally wearing a larger size over layers for cold-weather games. But a smaller size? Seemed unlikely to me. When I saw it, I called American Memorabilia to confirm that it was actually game-used and not one of the 36 dummies. The rep with whom I spoke was unaware of the Grey Flannel jerseys, and said they would investigate.

I called again to inquire, and was told that from Grey Flannel they had learned each of the thirty-six was discretely marked in such a way as to alert an authenticator, hopefully preventing an auction house from making an honest mistake and incorrectly attributing it. The jersey in question was quietly removed from the auction.

A shame, because I was more than happy to buy it as a repurposed jersey. Vintage Authentics, no doubt feeling burned by the attempted fraud, wanted no part of it and the jersey disappeared.

The following year, American Memorabilia also fell victim to a scam, when this jersey was offered in their catalogue:

1994 Brett Favre Game-Worn Packers Throwback Jersey
This 'throwback' jersey, was worn by the league's most prolific 'throwback,' Brett Favre. There is not a man who's tougher or more determined to win than the league's only three-time Most Valuable Player. In 1994, the NFL's 75th Anniversary, all teams wore the same style uniforms that were worn in the days when facemasks were faces. This Packers white road 'throwback' jersey was one of the few ever put to use by Favre. Light wear, with underarm pilling, is exhibited on this shirt, with a "75th Anniversary" patch affixed at the left breast and a "Starter" tag in the tail. A unique "44" swatch tag is also showcased on this brilliant shirt, with customized, ribbed sleeves and all sewn-on identifiers.
No mention of Grey Flannel, no accompanying letter, but take a look at the size - 44. The first big clue that Favre never actually "put it to use," light wear and underarm pilling notwithstanding. By this time, however, collectors were getting wise - the jersey opened at $900 but failed to draw even a single bid.

I'd still like to have one in my collection someday. The blue and gold throwbacks are perhaps my favorite Packers uniform to date, and given their relative scarcity I'd settle for one of the repurposed 36 until a real gamer came along. I think there's value in these jerseys based on their lineage, even if they aren't true gamers. But you have to know what you're buying.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Complete Packers Helmet History. More or Less.

The NFL shop is currently selling this long-sleeved tee, which they're styling as the "Reebok Green Bay Packers Helmet History T-Shirt":

The complete Packers helmet history, right there on your chest. Kinda. Well, if you don't count the first four decades.  Or the 1950s white helmets.  But hey, at least they managed to acknowledge something from before the Ice Bowl.

I really hope that's an old product - "87 years of Packers football" and all that. Because if that shirt isn't from 2006, then they're counting from 1921, and we're back to ignoring the pre-NFL days. I thought we had gotten beyond that.

There's an interesting debate brewing on Uni Watch right now over the Detroit Lions version of the shirt, which seems to have some historical inaccuracies (it's not clear if the Lions ever painted their helmets gold, and even if they did that wasn't the year listed).

The Packers version does seem a pretty good review of everything from the post-leather days, but I can't quite make out some of the helmets from this promotional picture, and curiously enough they've included the 1994 throwback helmet but not the 2001 throwback. Guess one-offs don't make the cut.

In any case, I'm pretty sure that satisfying my curiosity isn't worth $21.99. Even if it is "$4.99 Standard Ground Shipping Eligible!" And especially since I'd never actually wear the thing.

Friday, May 15, 2009

ALERT - Forged Brett Favre Gamers

Chris Nerat, of Titletown Nostalgia and the related Collect Green Bay blog, recently posted an article he wrote last year for Sports Collectors Digest. It should be mandatory reading for anyone interested in game-worn Packers jerseys, let alone anybody even thinking about purchasing one.

In short, Chris details the story of Steve Towes, a collector who learned that two of the Brett Favre gamers he owned were forgeries. And not even very good ones. He didn't vet the jerseys very thoroughly, because they came from what he considered an impeccable source - Rick Radke, owner of Radke Sports and, the official supplier of Favre-signed memorabilia.

Not only was the source itself seemingly beyond question, but the jerseys he bought came with plenty of documentation proudly proclaiming their authenticity:

Towes assumed the authenticity of the jerseys was as solid as possible. Both pieces had Favre’s personal authenticity holograms affixed to the tackle twill numerals, Favre’s signature neatly scribed on each jersey’s back No. 4, and inscriptions written in black felt-tip marker assuring the potential buyer that they were “Game Used” — a hobby term that is music to serious collectors’ ears.

In addition, each jersey was accompanied by a “Letter from the Desk of Brett Favre,” which was also signed by the three-time NFL Most Valuable Player, stating that both were used during game play by the Green Bay quarterback. And, each came with a picture of Favre with the jersey.

After payments to Radtke that totalled $13,000, Towes became the owner of both showpieces, which he displayed in his Wausau, Wis., home.

Towes eventually became suspicious, had his jerseys looked at by an authority, who declared them forgeries, intended to deceive.

To his credit, when alerted Radke took back the fakes and refunded Towes' money. Perhaps Radke was himself another victim of the scam.

Now, I'm usually pretty wary about Certificates of Authenticity and all that, given that they rest solely on the credibility of whoever signed them. And most auction houses appear to be more interested in collecting the Buyer's Premium than protecting their reputations. But if I bought from Favre's official supplier directly, I suspect that I'd be comfortable enough to let my guard down.

You have to read this story for yourself.

Click here to read the article (PDF)

It's actually a follow-up to an earlier article Nerat wrote for SCD, which is available on their website.

This is really scary stuff - if I ever did have the money to buy a Favre gamer, I would have bought it through without question.

Along a similar line, I once had a brush with forged Favre jerseys myself.

Remember - Caveat emptor, now and forever. Trust, but Verify. Whatever cliché you want to use, it's good advice.

I hope Nerat, who no longer writes for SCD, is able to do another follow-up. I'd love to learn more about who was behind the scam.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A New Mystery - "Lombardi on the rocks"?

While doing some research on the New York Times website for an upcoming post, I came across this February 4, 1969 article about Vince Lombardi's defection to Washington.

Something in the first sentence struck me:

Not the per capita number of bars in Green Bay; that shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody (especially since Curly Lambeau used the area's lax enforcement of Prohibition as a recruiting tool in the early days), but by the mention of a drink named after Vince Lombardi.

What the heck is a "Lombardi on the rocks"? Anybody come across this one before? Is that anything like a "Milwaukee martini," slang for beer with a Spanish olive? Perhaps a little creative license on Eskenazi's part? Or was there a real local cocktail named in Lombardi's honor?

I really hope it's the latter. If anybody can shed some light (or even better, can supply a recipe), please drop me a line.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

You Don't Look a Day Over Eighty-Nine

Today, the Packers released a logo to commemorate the team's "90th Birthday" (hat tip: Ryan):

From the press release:

Team Turns 90 Aug. 11; Logo, Contests To Mark Occasion

As the story goes, George Calhoun had a chance meeting with Earl 'Curly' Lambeau on a Green Bay street corner in the summer of 1919 and the two discussed starting a football team. A few weeks later, on Aug. 11, the two called a group of young athletes together to organize a team...the gathering marked the beginning of the Green Bay Packers.

This summer will mark the 90th birthday of the Packers, and the organization will celebrate the occasion with a "90 Years" logo, an online trivia contest and other fan activities.

"As the team marks its 90th birthday on Aug. 11, we look forward to celebrating nine decades, 12 world championships and several generations of Packers fans," said Craig Benzel, Packers director of marketing and sales. "We have a number of ways for fans to participate throughout the season."

The online aspect of the birthday celebration will feature a special page on that will greet fans and invite them to participate in a trivia contest with questions that will span the 90 years of the team's history.

This summer's Packers Family Night will help celebrate the occasion with a 90th birthday party theme. The night will feature a special fan giveaway item, birthday-related activities and on-field promotions that incorporate the birthday party theme. More details about Family Night, including the date of the event and ticket sales information, will be announced this month.

Among the other team areas that will feature the logo include game tickets, Curly's Pub and the Packers Hall of Fame. The Packers Pro Shop also will offer a number of items that feature the logo.

More highlights of the team's birthday celebration will be detailed in the coming months.

The article doesn't say, but if they're going to market merchandise with this logo I'm presuming that it will also see service as a jersey patch. We'll see.

There's some real good in this logo. I've long been an advocate of the Packers promoting (heck, acknowledging) 1919 as the date of founding. Few things bother me more than the stupid "Est. 1921" that they put on merchandise. The Packers have a long tradition that pre-dates the NFL; why pretend otherwise? So that does my heart good to see.

On the whole, the design is pretty good. Clean and easy to read, team logo prominent, no superfluous elements. It's not perfect - I'm not a fan of multiple outlines around anything, and three outlines around the numbers is way too much - but it's not bad at all.

Presuming that this will become a patch, it provides us with an excellent excuse to look at the way the Packers have honored other milestones on their uniforms.

The first milestone to make the uniform was the NFL's 50th Anniversary. For the 1969 season, all players wore a commemorative patch on their left shoulders:

A long uniform-patch drought would follow: the next anniversary to be so noted was the Packers' 75th Season, which was celebrated in 1993.

The 75th Anniversary logo was too complicated to embroider, so the jersey patch was a simplified version of the logo, minus the banner:

For the first time, the patch was worn on the left breast (television numbers had moved to the shoulders in the years since 1969, fleeing from the players' arms in advance of the retreating sleeves).

I really like this one. It's simple and elegant (although the Starter-jacket-ish speed lines above the diamond do speak to the era in which it was designed). Again, we wait for details on the 90th Birthday patch. But I'm guessing that the logo was designed to be simple enough to translate on a jersey and won't need another version.

The following season, in 1994, the entire league celebrated its 75th Anniversary. It was commemorated with a patch just slightly less elegant than that of the Packers' diamond anniversary:

This one was also placed on the left chest (click for larger):

I suppose it could have been an attempt to put them over a player's heart, like a soccer team's crest or police officer's badge. Or maybe it could just be the only couple square inches of real estate left on the uniforms.

The NFL 75 patch was also featured during the special League-wide throwback uniform promotion, on my own personal favorite Packer uniform:

Which means, of course, that the patch lives on with throwback jerseys you can buy today:

And after tribute patches in consecutive seasons, that would be it until the NFL added Super Bowl logo patches, beginning with Super Bowl XXXII in San Diego:

About which game I have nothing more to say.

The next commemorative patch would worn for the first two home games of 2003, marking the rededication of Lambeau Field following a three-year, $295-million renovation.

Four years later, in 2007, Lambeau Field celebrated another milestone: its 50th birthday. That inspired another logo:

and another jersey patch:

This time, the patch was only worn on the green home jerseys, not the road whites. When the Packers travelled to Dallas for their Week 13 matchup, the Cowboys elected to wear their own navy throwbacks, meaning the Packers would dress in their road whites (unlike most games in Texas Stadium, when the Cowboys' white home jerseys force visitors to wear their colored jerseys). Had the Packers worn green in that game, the Lambeau Field patches would have been removed and sewn back on for the next game in Green Bay.

We've already discussed the over-the-top Gene Upshaw memorial patch from last season. And that rounds up the list of commemorative patches on Packers uniforms.

If this "90th Birthday" is any indication, it looks like they're sticking with this new honoring scheme, years instead of seasons, which results in nice round numbers (1957-2007, 1919-2009).

Let's hope the Packers have something special planned for 2019.