A collector who spent 23 years getting a helmet signed by all 22 players who played on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ four 1970s Super Bowl championships, has turned his quest into a book.
That journey first started in 1994 with linebacker Jack Ham, an autograph he secured during a shopping mall autograph session. With some help from family and friends, he had all but one signature on the helmet about six years later. That last autograph was a little more challenging, however.
“I don’t specifically remember when the decision was made to turn this into a quest to find all the players who were members of the Steelers Super Bowl championship teams in the 1970s,” Shaffer told Sports Collectors Daily. “However, as we added each new signature, it became a mission to try to complete our project.”
Adding many of the autographs was fairly easy thanks to card shows and other appearances by former players, but some were far more challenging. His mother tracked Terry Bradshaw down at his office. Shaffer paid a visit to Chuck Noll several years before the legendary coach passed away, but shook the paint pen too hard and ink sprayed onto the helmet, nearly ruining it. He managed to acquire signatures of two players who died not long after he received them. The last signature, linebacker Loren Toews, took the longest to acquire, but became a long-awaited happy ending to the project.
The stories behind his long-running effort to connect with the players he needed caught the attention of the Pittsburgh Tribune last year. Shaffer then heard from several people who thought he might have the ingredients for a book.
“My father said that even if I don’t write a book, it would be neat to write down how this whole project came together. I thought that was a good idea, and after I jotted some of my ideas down, there seemed to be more there than I originally thought. There were so many great, funny and wonderful stories, and the more I wrote, the more fun it was.
“However, before I got too far along, I wanted to see if there would be any interest in the story for a book. I sent out some feelers to a few publishers and Sunbury Press showed interest right from the start. When I finished the manuscript, I submitted it and they made an offer to publish. They have been truly wonderful to work with.”
In addition to chronicling the effort to obtain the signatures, the book also includes biographies of each of the players’ athletic careers in high school, college, and the NFL. At 96 pages, it’s an easy read but one that should resonate with both Steelers fans and collectors who know the feeling of the chase to complete a favorite project.
“The 1970s Steelers brought so much joy to me and my family, and it became a labor of love to create something special to honor them. The best thing about this quest was sharing it with my wife and all of the special people who played a role in helping us complete our project. And, obviously, the men who signed our helmet are very special, and they mean a lot to me.”
“We don’t like to take it out too often for fear of it being damaged. There are a couple of funny stories in the book about the helmet’s travels to Texas and California, and the concern for its safety. It would neat if the Pittsburgh Steelers organization would want to see it. We would love for them to see it.”
The helmet might be the most memorable item in his collection, but Shaffer is no stranger to the hobby.
“I have been collecting sports memorabilia since I I was 4 or 5 years old,” he told us. “Like many of your readers, I have more items that I can ever display. The main focus of my collection is the Steelers, but I love all sports, and have a pretty big collection spanning football, baseball, basketball, hockey, boxing, auto racing, horse racing, soccer, tennis, Olympics and entertainment. While a part of my collection is sports cards, I have focused more on autographs over the years. As the hobby has changed over the years, authentication has become a necessity with collecting autographs. There is an entire chapter in the book about authenticating the signatures on our helmet that fellow collectors will find humorous. My wife loves the hobby too, but she has made it clear; no more projects!”
A Super Steelers Journey is $9.99 and can be ordered here.
List of those who signed Merrill Shaffer’s Steelers helmet.
1. Rocky Bleier
2. Mel Blount
3. Terry Bradshaw
4. Larry Brown
5. Sam Davis
6. Steve Furness
7. Joe Greene
8. L.C. Greenwood
9. Randy Grossman
10. Jack Ham
11. Franco Harris
12. Jon Kolb
13. Jack Lambert
14. Gerry Mullins
15. Chuck Noll
16. Donnie Shell
17. John Stallworth
18. Lynn Swann
19. J.T. Thomas
20. Loren Toews
21. Mike Wagner
22. Mike Webster
23. Dwight White