This is the first in an ongoing series of articles written by readers who tell the stories of the sports memorabilia they collect and why.
When some of the most historic college football programs in the nation are being discussed, you usually hear about schools like Notre Dame, Ohio State, USC or Alabama. Very rarely do you hear about a school like NC State when discussing who has a shot to win the National Championship this season.
It is true that NC State has never won a national title. The Wolfpack’s best season was back in 2002, tallying 11 wins and beating Notre Dame in the Tangerine Bowl. The programs overall record is 587-569-55 (.507) and the schools arch nemesis is the North Carolina Tar heels in which UNC leads the series (66-34-6).
NC State has played in plenty of bowl games (16-13-1, .550) and produced several Consensus All-Americans (6). The program has manufactured some of the finest college athletes in the land, many having made it to the National Football League.
But many people don’t realize that:
Lou Holtz coached the Wolfpack to 4 straight bowl appearances in 4 straight seasons during the 1970’s or how Bill Cowher is still the team’s career leader in tackles with 195 in a season or that before becoming a superstar QB in the NFL, Roman Gabriel was a 2x All-American for the Wolfpack in 1960 and 1961 or that future HOF Wide Receiver Torry Holt is the teams career leader in touchdowns and receiving yards or that Philip Rivers is the team leader in passing yards and touchdowns or that Russell Wilson was the first player in ACC history to earn first team all-conference honors at QB as a freshman.
Now, I’m an Italian kid from Long Island, New York. My family and I moved to North Carolina back in the mid 90’s. Other than the sweet tea, southern BBQ and the State Fair, I would say the biggest change was how big college sports was. I think the first major decision I made as a young man was which college sports team I would pledge my allegiance to. All of my friends were NC State fans and I really liked hearing about this Jimmy V fellow. He was from Queens and had coached basketball at Iona College, just north of Midtown Manhattan. Needless to say, I chose NC State. If I wanted the easy way out, I would have chosen UNC or Duke.
You have not lived until you have experienced a college football game at Carter Finley Stadium.
There is nothing like it: tailgating hours before a game with your friends and family, having a couple of cold ones while grilling out during a cool fall day, hearing the howling and roaring in the stands leading up to the opening kickoff or experiencing a game-winning drive against one of your division rivals.
Lots of memories come to mind: Freddie Aughtry-Lindsay’s walk-off pick-six against UCONN, Andre Brown’s game winning rushing touchdown against ECU, Nate Irving and his infamous belly to back suplex style of tackling, Philip Rivers’ record setting performance in his final collegiate game against Kansas in the Tangerine Bowl, Russell Wilson leading the charge to defeat UNC in 2010 and Daniel Evan’s Hail Mary touchdown pass to John Dunlap to defeat Florida State. The list goes on and on.
I attended a game against Duke on the road at Wallace Wade Stadium back in 2001. This was during the Philip Rivers and Coach Chuck Amato era, which some consider the golden age of Wolfpack Football. The pack put up 54 points that day and played marvelously on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball.
That game was one of my all-time favorite experiences at a sporting event. I walked away that day feeling like it was more than just a game. Pack football was more than just rooting for your favorite team. It was something you had a passion for. It gave you a sense of belonging. I wanted to know more. I believe to truly understand and appreciate something in life, you must know where you came from. You must know your history.
Along with growing up collecting sports cards and having a passion for history, I stumbled upon the hobby of collecting game worn sports memorabilia. I approached this unique hobby strictly from a historian and collectors perspective, I appreciate history and I like to think that I’m preserving artifacts of historic warriors that went on to play on the ultimate battlefield, the National Football League. I collect game worn equipment of former NC State football players that went on to play in the NFL. My collection represents the legacy that these players had created wearing the Red and White uniform and the few that went on to play professionally.
Why not? It is a once in a lifetime accomplishment. The NFL is the most popular sport in the country and the odds of making it to the NFL are slim to none. There are more than 1 million high school football players, 6.5 percent of those players make NCAA programs and 1.6 percent of the NCAA pool reaches the NFL. It is one of the biggest accomplishments just to make it to the league and put on the jersey, let alone make a career out of it.
I bought my first game worn jersey back in 2004, it was a Jerricho Cotchery New York Jets jersey that he had worn during his rookie season. It was mind boggling to me that I was holding a piece of history in my hands, a jersey that was worn in battle on the gridiron by my all-time favorite Wolfpack player. Not to mention, I grew up on Long Island, NY and was raised a Jets fan. So it was pretty cool to see Cotch get drafted by the Jets. The reason I had such respect for Cotchery’s game was that he was a tough as nails player. He never was about individual accomplishments and always did whatever it took to give his team a chance to win. Before making big catches in the NFL, he was tearing up the record books alongside fellow Alabama native, Quarterback Philip Rivers. It was my favorite Quarterback/Wide Receiver tandem to watch, college or pro.
Over the last 12 or so years I have obtained items such as a Roman Gabriel Philadelphia Eagles helmet he wore during the 1974 season, a Jim Ritcher Buffalo Bills helmet he wore earlier on in his pro career, a Philip Rivers San Diego Chargers jersey he wore in 2 games during the 2013 NFL playoffs including against Peyton Manning and the Broncos, an Adrian Wilson Arizona Cardinals jersey he wore on 9/11/11 that was in memory of the 9/11 attacks, a Vaughn Johnson Saints helmet he wore during the entire 1991 regular season and Pro Bowl that is inscribed to the late NFL Hofer, Reggie White and was obtained through the Reggie White Estate Sale Collection, both Jerricho Cotchery’s Home and Away jerseys he wore during the 2015 season commemorating the Carolina Panthers’ 20th Anniversary, Koren Robinson’s only Pro Bowl uniform worn in Honolulu in 2006 and Stephen Tulloch’s Tennessee Titans jersey worn against the Patriots in 2009 during what’s now known as “the Greatest Game in Snow” in which the Pats and Tom Brady torched the Titans in a winter blizzard, 59-0. This game was 1 of 16 AFL Legacy Games that were played to celebrate the 50th season for the eight original American Football League teams, the Houston Oilers, now the Tennessee Titans and the Boston Patriots, now the New England Patriots, being two of them.
That’s the thing that I love about collecting game worn memorabilia. Every item has a story, behind it. Whether it was how you uncovered or obtained it or what historic game or play the item was used during. I think that everyone loves a good story, especially when it ties into the history of their favorite childhood memory, team or athlete.
We Wolfpackers love our college football. In my opinion there isn’t a more passionate and loyal fan base out there. Being in this hobby and collecting game used memorabilia from players that played for one of the most historic football programs in all of college football, I consider it an honor and a privilege. My goal one day is to be able to share my collection with not just NC State fans but all fans of college and professional football.
Do you want to tell the story of what you collect and why? From players to teams to complete sets, autographs, game-worn material and anything else that has kept you busy for years, we’d love for you to share your story in your own words and photos. Send us an email: [email protected]