Jon English had the right equipment as a high school and college quarterback. Now, the Nashville businessman is ready to showcase his treasure trove of sports equipment.
Jon English Antique Sports & Cards will open Friday in Shelbyville, Tennessee, for a special Labor Day weekend showing. The store will also be open Saturday and on Labor Day. After that, the shop will be open every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. local time, or by appointment.
The store will contain more than 5,000 items in the 3,000-square-foot layout, ranging in price from $1 to $1,000. That includes equipment, vintage and modern era cards, toys and games, football helmets and much more. The store is located 50 miles southeast of Nashville in a city that bills itself as the Walking Horse Capital of the World.
“It’s a tight-knit little community,” English said about Shelbyville. “It’s a pretty happening place.”
English, 59, said he always wanted to find a building in “small town USA.” Shelbyville was perfect.
“It was always in the back of my mind to open a sports antique shop,” he said.
So, when he found two old buildings for sale in downtown Shelbyville, English went to work. In a happy coincidence, it turns out the place had been a sporting goods store years ago.
“It wasn’t really so hard (to fix),” English said. “I love renovating old buildings.
“While the coronavirus shut everything down, we were able to work on it.”
Construction, like sports, is in English’s blood. His father, Wally English, coached football at the college and pro ranks. During the summers, English and his four brothers would help their dad by framing houses.
After moving to Nashville in 1989, English began work as a superintendent for out-of-the-ground, extended-stay hotel projects. Specializing in interior finishing, English co-founded Commercial Industrial Construction, Inc., in 2003 with Tony Williams in Nashville.
English said the Shelbyville shop’s focus will be on sports items “1980 and back — the players you grew up with.”
“It’s going to be a place for young people to come and see the history of sports,” English said.
As a youth, English said he would go to sporting goods stores because “I always liked equipment.”
And collecting. English “always had an affinity” for that.
“I started with coins,” he said. “Then I had a small gun collection, but my parents didn’t like that, so I had to get rid of them.”
English said he did not start collecting sports antiques until his playing days were over. The first item he secured was a 1940s-style All-American jersey.
“Red, white and blue — I loved it,” English said.
English would travel around looking for sports antiques and would go online to see what was selling.
“I’d come back with all of this stuff,” English said. “I was always out hunting for things I thought were cool.”
“The thrill is in the hunt. It’s easier to find the money than the stuff.”
English said he had an area in the basement of his Nashville home to keep his sports antiques. His son called it the “Gold Mine.”
“He’d say to me, ‘Go down to the Gold Mine and get me through college,’” English laughed.
Because English grew up around sports, autographs or specific game-used memorabilia never appealed to him.
“I was always around it,” English said.
But he is ready to share what he has found with the store in Shelbyville.
“I know what it takes to be a good athlete,” English said. “You can apply that to business.
“You can be decent, but you’ve got to work at it to be great.”
“Great” was applied to English during the late 1970s when he was one of the nation’s top high school quarterbacks.
At Brother Rice High School in Birmingham, Michigan, English led his squad to a state title in 1977 and to the state semifinals the following year; as a senior he completed 62% of his passes for 1,167 yards and 13 touchdowns.
The accolades rolled in: English was a two-time all-state selection by United Press International and was named UPI’s Michigan player of the year in 1978. As a senior, he was named to the Detroit Free Press’ All-State team and was selected for the Catholic High School All-American team along with two guys named Dan Marino and John Elway. English also was one of 10 quarterbacks, along with Marino and Elway, to be named to Parade Magazine’s All-American team. There is a neat video of Marino and English showing their passing techniques when both were college players, aiming for a target at Pittsburgh Stadium in 1980.
Wally English, by the way, was an assistant at the University of Pittsburgh and coached Marino. He also tutored Marc Wilson and Jim McMahon when he was at Brigham Young University. He also had stops as an assistant at Nebraska, Arkansas and Virginia Tech and at Kentucky, his alma mater, where he also coached the freshman team. In the NFL he worked as the offensive backfield coach for the Detroit Lions (1974-75, 1977). He was quarterbacks and wide receivers coach for Miami in 1981-82, overseeing the “Woodstrock” quarterback combination of David Woodley and Don Strock that took Miami to Super Bowl XVII. He also was an assistant head coach for the Richmond Roadrunners of the Atlantic Coast Football League in 1969. In 1992, Wally English was the assistant head coach and offensive coordinator for the Ohio Glory of the World League of American Football.
“I lived in 10 to 20 places by the time I was 20,” English said. For his senior year at Brother Rice High School, English stayed in Birmingham while his father took another job.
It would be inevitable that Jon English would have learned some quarterbacking skills from his father.
English signed with Michigan State but left after a year and attended Allegheny Junior College in Pennsylvania for one season. Then English spent two years (1981-82) at Iowa State. Disappointed that he only threw 21 passes in two seasons with the Cyclones, English transferred to Delgado Junior College in New Orleans.
In 1983, English left Delgado and went across town to Tulane, where his father was beginning his first season as head coach. English became embroiled in a legal battle with the NCAA, which ruled the quarterback had broken the organization’s student transfer rule. English sued and obtained an injunction, which allowed him to play six games for the Green Wave, but the courts ruled against him. The case, English v. NCAA, went all the way to the Supreme Court, which turned down an emergency appeal.
Typically, English took it in stride.
“Well, it’s not as if someone died,” the fifth-year senior told The Associated Press in September 1983 after losing his first court case.
English contended he had fulfilled the wording of the NCAA rule when he sat out a year after leaving Michigan State. The NCAA claimed the intent of the rule had been broken.
The AP noted wryly that the NCAA had “a hard time with simple English in writing rules.” In a dissenting opinion during the Louisiana 4th Court of Appeals case, one judge noted that “The NCAA goofed on the English language (no pun intended).”
Des Moines Register columnist Marc Hansen referred to English as the “Charles Kuralt of college football.”
English himself even tosses off a play on his surname. He said he originally majored in psychology at Tulane but was “terrible in English, even though my name was English.” He switched majors and earned his degree in general studies from Tulane.
But during those six games at Tulane, English excelled. He threw for 1,258 yards and seven touchdowns, and in his first start, connected for 16 of 29 passes for 210 yards and engineered four second-half scoring drives as the Green Wave upset No. 9 Florida State, 34-28.
That was later reversed when the NCAA, in part because of the transferring flap, forfeited Tulane’s victories, causing the Miami Herald to note in a pun-inspired subhead for a 1990 notes column that, “Improper use of English costs Tulane.”
English tried the pro route after college, signing with the New York Jets as a free agent in May 1984 but getting cut two months later. He latched on with the Minnesota Vikings in 1987 but was also released. English said he also played in a summer football league in Birmingham, England.
“I was a journeyman until I was 28,” he said.
But once an athlete, always an athlete.
“I can still throw it,” said English, whose ball of choice these days is a golf ball. “But I can’t move.”
English has moved with enthusiasm and passion to make his sports antique shop come to life. Although he is a businessman and would like to see his shop do well, he simply gets a kick out of showcasing sports antiques and providing a casual atmosphere.
“A relaxed place,” English said. “Sit down, relax, let’s talk.”
“I don’t care if I don’t sell anything,” English said. “I bought everything because I liked them.
“When you see leather helmets in the boxes and you see laced-up basketballs, well, it’s pretty cool,” English said. “I found a Spalding 1910 bat rack in Michigan and high-top baseball cleats.
“Turn-of-the-century stuff is the best and hardest to find. You wish that stuff could talk.
“The history, and where we’ve come from is important.”
English said he would try to “do everything old school” for the shop. That includes an old neon sporting goods sign English found for the store. “I’m proud of restoring this building.”
And English is proud to display the treasures he has found through the years.
“Now, to have a shop that is organized, that is cool. Instead of having things in bins in my basement.”
At least the Gold Mine is cleared out, right?
“I’ve only made a small dent in the Gold Mine,” English laughs. “I’m kind of a pack rat.”