Ernie Davis, football’s first black Heisman Trophy winner, was diagnosed with leukemia as he prepared to play what would have been his final college game in the summer of 1962 as a member of the College All-Stars. Now, the jersey that the late running back would have worn in that game is being cut up for use in Panini trading card products.
The Davis jersey sold for over $29,000 in a major catalog auction last April. It had been consigned by a member of Davis’ surviving family and was accompanied by a letter of authenticity. Panini apparently purchased the jersey in order to cut it up and offer the first game-worn memorabilia from Davis’ brief but brilliant athletic career. The jersey is believed to be one-of-a-kind.
Selected by the Washington Redskins in the 1962 draft, Davis was traded to the Cleveland Browns who believed he could overcome the disease and return to the field. He died, however, in 1963 before playing in the NFL. He appears in the 1962 Topps set.
According to Panini, “less than 100″ swatches of the jersey have been used to create Davis “game worn” memorabilia cards for use in 2010 Leaf Certified football, which was released Wednesday. Actually, the Davis jersey was never worn in the All-Stars game with the defending NFL champion Green Bay Packers because of his newly discovered condition.
It is still a rare and desirable piece of football history, worthy of a museum even if a significant number of younger collectors of modern trading cards don’t know much about Davis. The ongoing question collectors, fans and historians ask when historic pieces are cut up, though, is whether it’s right to essentially destroy it.
Panini’s Tracy Hackler showed off the remaining portion of the jersey in the video below.
A few have already popped up on eBay.