It was fascinating to watch the Tom Brady 600th touchdown ball story blow up in real time. Not many sports memorabilia stories overshadow the results of an actual game, but thanks to the woeful Chicago Bears, it became the story of the day in the NFL.
There’s a lot to unpack, too. Memorabilia gone mainstream. Player awareness. Team perspectives and methods. And for fans and collectors, maybe some tips on how to document valuable history should you ever find it in your lap.
You might be thinking you’ve heard enough about it by now, but I think there’s a lot of interesting stuff here that hasn’t been discussed much in the hundreds (at least) of news stories, talk radio segments, podcasts and elsewhere.
The NFL and Memorabilia
CBS knew what was up when Brady completed the pass to Mike Evans, but it was pretty clear that Evans and some teammates didn’t realize the history that had been made. It was also clear that whatever plan was in place to secure the football was pretty low key. That’s unusual in this day and age, when Major League Baseball and some NBA and NHL teams are documenting just about everything used in a game. Certainly, they weren’t expecting it to wind up in the stands, but the Bucs also should have known that Evans gives just about all of his touchdown balls away. Had he tossed it to someone other than a Tampa area doctor who was sitting within easy reach, they might have had a tough time getting it back.
— Byron Kennedy (@yohoitsbo) October 25, 2021
The attention a piece of football memorabilia received went well into Tuesday morning and I don’t recall that ever happening before. Baseball, yes, but it isn’t often that milestone footballs wind up in the stands.
The Team’s Perspective
Game balls belong to the teams and getting #600 back to Brady was nothing more than a goodwill gesture to their star player. While any team would try to do the same, you really can’t blame them for not immediately offering a huge payout of memorabilia, cash, tickets or anything else. As it turned out, both the team and Brady combined to give Dr. Byron Kennedy a pretty nice package of items and tickets–a better haul than a lot of fans have gotten for turning over things like milestone home run balls that were caught in the stands.
Neither side is going to fork over a half million dollars worth of stuff, though. Brady isn’t much of a memorabilia guy and so even though he could drop the money in a heartbeat, it’s not high on his priority list. The Bucs weren’t going to do it either. Teams simply don’t pay market value for things that wind up in the hands of fans. It would be a precedent setting gesture that would likely impact all sports teams and a road they don’t want to go down. Right or not, that’s their stance.
I read that Kennedy should have simply gotten up and hustled out of the stadium after receiving the ball from Evans and then learning of its importance and value. There wasn’t anything preventing him from doing that. The ball was given to him as a gift by a player. To stop and wrestle it away from him as he was leaving would have made the team look really bad.
Some also stated the ball wouldn’t have been worth anything with no team or league documentation.
While “official” authentication is ideal, thanks to smartphones and technology, it’s easy to create your own provenance these days. If you’re ever in that situation, take plenty of pictures. Document the time on the scoreboard. Save your digital ticket (or physical if you happen to have one). Look online for video clips that might show the moment. If you consign the item to auction, you can have it photo-matched by one of the firms that does that sort of thing. You can even ask those sitting around you to verify it in some way through a quick recorded or written statement. None of that is hard to do and the auction company might even assist further. It’s a moot point in this case, but fans who wind up with items that could have value should take notes.
Teams used to let field goals and extra points fly into the stands which led to more game-used souvenirs going home with fans on a regular basis. Our family has had end end zone season tickets at Lambeau Field since they built the place. Section 2, Row 2. Footballs regularly landed nearby in the old days but usually a bit higher up. One pre-season game back in the early 70s, a weak extra point try sailed right toward my dad, who had his glasses knocked off, but made the catch. That ball sits on a shelf here in my office today, complete with the white stripes that once signified a night game (yes, I played with it as a kid).
My uncle caught a ball from Vince Lombardi’s first win in September of 1959. Unfortunately, there’s no way to prove it. Fights over (mostly non-valuable) footballs and some dangerous acrobatic stunts–not to mention the cost savings of keeping more of them–brought nets into play quite a while ago. With memorabilia becoming mainstream and the value of such items so much higher than it was then, you can imagine what we’d see unfold if they weren’t there. The end zone would be a war zone.
Much of the relevant memorabilia from Brady’s career is on display at the New England Patriots’ Hall of Fame. Thanks to a persistent staff member and an accommodating fan, his 600th touchdown football has gone home with him, not likely to be seen again for a long time.
It was a fun story while it lasted.