One of the best things about collecting sports memorabilia is that you don’t have to be wealthy to own things that have great stories behind them. Sure, it’s nice to be able to afford a high-grade Mickey Mantle rookie card or one of Ty Cobb’s old bats but even decades-old relics can sometimes be acquired for a pretty modest investment.
If you know sports history, the odds of landing something great tilt even more in your favor.
Long-time San Francisco 49ers collector Martin Jacobs literally wrote the book on the team’s history, so when he saw a 1954 Niners home jersey at Heritage Auctions last month, he zeroed in. While many fans and collectors aren’t familiar with his name because his pro career lasted only two seasons, the man who wore that Size 48 Wilson shirt 64 years ago was no ordinary player…and no ordinary man.
His name was Arnie Galiffa, an All-American and three-year starter at Army in the late 1940s who led them to a 9-0 season in 1949 when Vince Lombardi ran the Cadets’ offense. If you’re a collector of vintage football cards, his name might sound a little familiar. He’s in the 1954 Bowman set.
Galiffa was an incredibly gifted athlete, winning 11 varsity letters at West Point in football, baseball and basketball. Drafted by the Packers in 1950, Galiffa’s career was put on hold when the Korean War started and he became a platoon leader in the Third Infantry.
His throwing arm came in handy when he dropped back and threw a bomb—literally. His grenade heave of about 75 yards took out a North Korean machine gun nest.
Galiffa received the Bronze Star and later served as an aide-de-camp to Supreme Allied Commanders Matthew Ridgeway and Mark Clark. He served three years and then resumed his try at pro football.
The Packers traded Galiffa to the New York Giants in 1953 and he was re-routed again the next year, this time on the other side of the country. When you think of the San Francisco 49ers and number 16, you probably think of Joe Montana. Three decades earlier, though, that was Arnie Galiffa’s number.
College Football Hall of Famer. War hero. The original number 16 for the 49ers. Martin Jacobs quickly fell in love with the page of that auction catalog.
“There’s a lot of historical significance behind the jersey,” says its new owner.
Jacobs won the one-of-a-kind, brilliant red shirt for a measly $1,100.
“I’m thrilled,” he told us. “It’s a keeper for my collection.”
Any 1950s NFL jerseys are rare and even if the player who wore it isn’t considered anything close to an all-time NFL great, it’s one of those items that sports history lovers can appreciate—especially on Veteran’s Day.
Arnie Galiffa has been gone for 40 years but a little piece of him is still around, now in the good hands of someone who can appreciate it. And a pair of good hands is something any old quarterback loves to have on his side.