Retired NFL players in need of financial help will get a boost from phase one of the Gridiron Greats Assistance fund football memorabilia auction. Bidding closed with Mike Ditka’s 1975 NFC Championship ring and a play drawn by Vince Lombardi generating the most attention–some of it from new collectors.
Former Green Bay Packers’ guard Jerry Kramer finally saw the fruits of his labor this week when 50 items, many donated by his former NFL colleagues, brought nearly $100,000 to the Gridiron Greats fund.
The charity started by Kramer to assist financially suffering players from years past got tremendous publicity during Super Bowl week as the plight of the former pros became something of a lightning rod. Several retired players are said to be in dire need due to a lack of adequate disability and pension benefits. Pro Football Hall of Fame members Mike Ditka, Willie Davis, Gale Sayers, Harry Carson, and Joe DeLamielleure are members of the GGAF Board of Directors.
The auction featured professional football memorabilia as well as ‘experiences’. It included a football signed by Dwight Clark with a diagram of "The Catch", a Pro Bowl helmet worn by Lem Barney and plays drawn up by Lombardi. The top selling item was Ditka’s ring, which brought a high bid of $12, 200. Mike Sportelli, 45, a sales representative for a Los Angeles area construction company, made the winning bid.
“Being a big fan of the game and a fan of the players that the fund is assisting, I am more than happy to help,” Sportelli said after winning the ring. “Of course I was excited about the chance to bid on the ring and own such a part of football history, but also after reading about what Jerry Kramer, Coach Ditka and the others are doing, it really made me want to do something to help. It is really sad to hear some of the stories and things these guys have had to go through.” Sportelli told the Associated Press the ring would be the "start" of his sports memorabilia collection.
During the first phase of the auction, many legends donated personal items or celebrity experiences. Some of the items sold during Phase I include: Hand-drawn plays by Vince Lombardi (closed at $7,101), a tennis experience with John McEnroe (closed at $11,250), and a football signed by Archie, Eli and Peyton Manning, which was donated by a player who needs assistance himself, Conrad Dobler (closed at $2,210). Phase I closed at 11:00 PM EST on Tuesday, February 13th. Phase II launched Wednesday and closes on February 20th, 2007. To date, phase I of the auction and donation drive has raised over $120,000. That is more than 900 times the amount of money that some players receive as a monthly pension. Hall Of Fame Player, Herb Adderley, for example, receives only $126.58 per month.
Fans across the country have also made cash donations, and are continuing to do so. Donations can be made at JerryKramer.com or by calling 1-800-708-1078. Some extremely generous fans have sent as much as $10,000. Darrel Wright of California called the GGAF office and donated $10,000 to the cause. "This is a charity that is very near and dear to my heart”, said Wright “When Lamar Lundy was so ill and destitute, my father visited him and helped out financially. Thanks to Jerry and the guys for stepping into the breach and getting this campaign underway. I encourage all fans to donate whatever they can afford to help.”
Phase II of this unique online auction and donation drive starts Wednesday, February 14th at JerryKramer.com and closes on February 20th, 2007. New items will also be added while Phase II of the auction is in progress.
Phase II of the auction features a game worn jersey donated by Brett Favre, a helmet donated by Bart Starr bearing his signature alongside Paul Hornung’s and Jim Taylor’s, a trip to the NFL Network to go behind the scenes and hang out with Rich Eisen, Steve Mariucci, and Deion Sanders, Jim Finks’ 1973 NFC Championship diamond money clip and a day on the Fox NFL studio set with former Raider Howie Long.
“This is a tremendous cause," said Ditka. "I am thrilled that so many players are stepping up to help and that the fans are supporting the cause by making cash donations or bidding on the items. It is important for everyone to remember who the funds that are raised are going to. It’s going to the guys who started football. Not the guys who are making the money off it, the guys who started it. Visit JerryKramer.com, bid on an auction item, or make a donation and help these guys out.”
“It’s amazing how this initiative has taken off,” said Kramer. “The fact that the so many fans and so many NFL legends are working together to provide assistance to some of the retired players who helped build the league into what it is today is just wonderful.”
Jennifer Smith, Executive Director of the GGAF, said, “Over the past few weeks, the number fans and players who have come together to participate in this project has been amazing. Phase II of this project is truly a win-win, it will result in helping to raise additional dollars to assist retried players in dire need, while at the same time, fans and collectors can get a unique and rare piece of memorabilia or a once in a lifetime experience.”
JerryKramer.com will continue to serve as the portal to the auction. New York based Steiner Sports Memorabilia has donated their auction services and expertise, and are facilitating the auction for the GGAF.