When Notre Dame and Pro Football Hall of Famer Paul Hornung’s circa 1954-1955 Fighting Irish football jersey comes up for auction on April 23, it will represent the culmination of collector John Shaw’s simple hunch that turned into one of the football finds of a lifetime.
Heritage Sports Collectibles will offer the jersey in its spring catalog sale.
“The thought of a long shot is exactly what collectors all over use to motivate themselves,” said Heritage Sports' Chris Ivy. “Just like John Shaw did when he took a detour during a cross-country trip to an old Kentucky sports bar."
The bar is one Shaw frequented during his days working as a racing stable employee at nearby Churchill Downs.
It was in the 1980s when sports fan and budding jersey collector Shaw remembered his old haunt as having displayed some impressive pieces of sports memorabilia. Acting on the strength of that memory, Shaw wasn't exactly sure what – if anything – he would find when he set out to pay the old place a visit.
Arriving at the bar, which had indeed since gone out of business, he found the owner. Shaw inquired about those old jerseys he recommended and the bar owner produced a deep emerald green jersey. It was one that Louisville native Hornung had worn while playing for the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. A deal was struck and the jersey went home with Shaw.
“We all dream of exactly this scenario,” said Ivy. According to Shaw, the jersey was given to the bar owner because of his friendship with the Hornung family.
The jersey could fetch $30-50,000 according to pre-sale auction estimates.
Heritage says it has used "extensive imagery analysis" to prove that it was a jersey worn by Hornung during his Notre Dame years. Dark green in color, the durene jersey features the white sewn-on tackle twill numerals, which Heritage says it has photo-matched to images during Hornung's collegiate career.
Hornung lettered at Bishop Benedict Joseph Flaget High School in Louisville all four years in football, basketball and baseball before committing to play in South Bend. In addition, during his final year at Notre Dame – the same season this jersey is thought to date to – he led his team offensively in passing, rushing, scoring, kickoff and punt returns and punting. He won the 1956 Heisman trophy--the only Heisman winner who played for a losing team.
As a pro, Hornung led the Green Bay Packers as an All-Pro half back and, for several seasons, as a field goal kicker. In 1960, the last season with just 12 games, he set an all-time NFL record by scoring 176 points.