By JOSH BOARD
—Autograph March 2010
When I was a kid, sports autographs were my favorite. But for the last 20 years, it’s been musicians. That doesn’t mean I say no when offered press passes for an event with a few NFL players.
Sports Lunch 2008
It was funny standing behind Dan Fouts in the buffet line and watching people approach him with helmets, jerseys, and photos. I had a few football cards, but figured I’d wait until he didn’t have a plate in his hand. I asked Fouts what the weirdest thing he’s ever signed was and he said “I haven’t been asked to sign a lot of weird items. I’d have to say T-shirts. It’s hard to write on them, because they curl up. And the signature is so messy on them, I know they’ll have trouble reading it.”
Legendary San Diego Chargers coach Don Coryell and a few former players signed my program, but I was most excited to meet Brian Sipe. He’s the former All-Pro quarterback of the Cleveland Browns. After he signed my program, I arranged to interview him for a story I was doing for a local paper.
Between traffic and getting lost, I was an hour late to the interview. Sipe couldn’t have been nicer.
A Few Autograph-related Questions
After asking a number of questions about his playing career, I slipped in a few autograph related questions. At that time, he was coaching a high school team and seemed surprised that fans had tracked down his work address. He told me, “It’s so strange, because I’ll get a few autograph requests a day in the mail at school. I try to get to those, but they pile up so fast. And I’m busy working. It’s really time consuming.”
He added, “I can tell when someone isn’t really a fan, or if they plan to sell the items. Sometimes they enclose 20 photos and tell me to make one out ‘To Steve,’ but the rest they just want me to sign my name on. That makes it obvious. Other people send really sweet letters, or mention a specific game they were at in detail. There are so many autograph requests I just haven’t had the time to fill.”
And then Sipe told me what is perhaps the best autograph story I’ve ever heard.
“When I was playing, car dealerships would give the players cars. They’d let you have them for a year, but you had to make a few appearances at their lots. I wasn’t interested in doing that. I was really shy. Sometimes after games I’d talk to fans and sign autographs, but I kept my helmet on.
One dealership kept bugging me. They finally said that they’d give me a car and I didn’t have to make any appearances. So I accepted the offer. Half way through the season, I was talking to a trainer. I mentioned how surprised I was that they didn’t hound me to make appearances. He laughed and said ‘They tried a few times. They contacted me, but I told them you were too busy.’
“When the time came for me to return the car, they asked if I could bring it back one Saturday afternoon at a certain time. I agreed. When I drove up, I saw signs saying ‘Meet Brian Sipe’ and a long line of people. I was so mad. I was about to turn around and drive away, but I figured the fans would be mad at me. So I bit the bullet and just did the autograph signing. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. After hours of doing that, the owner of the dealership asked me to come into his office. He wanted a few items signed for his family—a football and a few pictures.”
At this point, I’m thinking Sipe is going to tell me that he’s so mad he got tricked he told the guy to jump off a bridge.
He smiled as he continued the story. “On the wall behind his desk, there was a huge poster of me. It was personalized: ‘To Bob, You have a wonderful car dealership, Brian Sipe.’ I never signed, or even saw, that poster. And the signature looked nothing like mine. He caught me looking at it and said ‘I bugged [the team owner] to get that thing signed forever. He finally got you to sign it for me.’ I wasn’t about to tell him I hadn’t signed it.
“I looked down at the football he’d handed me to sign and just as I was about to autograph it, I realized the signature would look nothing like the poster he had on his wall. So as I’m bent over signing the football, I keep glancing up at the poster. I did this with all the items I signed for him, making sure to sign slow so my autograph matched the one that was forged on his wall.”
I asked Sipe if he’d mind signing a few cards for me. As he signed them he said, “If you ever want anything signed, don’t hesitate to ask.”
Very sweet of him, but probably not something you want to say to an autograph collector.