By TOM TALBOT
—Autograph March 2010
Searching for a sharp looking collectible for your football autographs? Look no further than the mini helmet. My latest signature mission is to secure individually signed mini helmets from each NFL and college team. It can get a little pricey compared to a card or photo, but there’s no comparison on the coolness scale. Many collectors spend a significant amount of money purchasing a standard helmet, taking it to shows or events and paying for the autograph. But I’ve found a much easier (and cheaper) way to assemble your collection. Though awkward, the mini helmet can still be mail friendly, making the autograph free minus the postage. You can also purchase mini helmet in lots so each one doesn’t bury you with its $25 price tag.
Buying the Helmet
Full size helmets are out of the price range of most collectors with replicas costing about $80 and authentics running about $250. If a collector owns one full-size helmet of his favorite team, that’s usually enough. Mini helmets can be purchased individually for $20 but there are surplus auctions online where a seller may have four or five helmets up for bid as one lot. I recently bought a collection of seven college helmets for $30. They were not new, but were close, definitely good enough for an autograph.
Who to Send to?
There are a million different themes you could use for your collection. If you’re a big college fan, you could attempt to get each player that made it to the NFL from your college team, either on a college or pro helmet. How about a USFL collection (they do make all the USFL mini helmets). Some collectors will chase a famous college alumnus to sign the team’s helmet even if they never played football. A lot of legends just don’t sign through the mail, so I wanted to identify a recognizable player from each team.
Mailing the Helmet
You can use the box-inside-a-box method when mailing out a mini helmet and autograph request, but with postage fees going through the roof lately, I prefer using two large bubble envelopes. They weigh much less and achieve the same result. A few collectors have commented that occasionally the helmet will rub up against an envelope and smear the signature, but I’ve never had that happen. I take the package to the automated machine at the post office. After placing the postage on the outside of the envelope, I know how many stamps to place on the SASE (self addressed stamped envelope). I also include a card or two, hoping for a few extra autographs. Seal it up and off she goes!
No helmet design is cleaner or simpler than the stunning gold helmet of the University of Notre Dame. It stands for class and excellence. It used to stand for championships, but those have been hard to come by these days. Still the most revered college football program, and most profitable, despite its lack of recent championships, there are no shortage of fans that want to “cheer, cheer for ol’ Notre Dame” on Saturday afternoons. And it’s usually not too hard to find the game on TV. Last year ND signed a five-year extension with NBC reportedly worth over $9 million a year.
I went to Mr. Automatic when choosing the former legend whose signature I wanted on my Notre Dame mini. The best through-the-mail signer of all time, Joe Theismann returned the helmet in about two weeks with his stylish looping autograph. Theismann led the Irish to a No. 2 and No. 5 ranking while playing for the Blue and Gold. He was the runner up for the Heisman Trophy, coming in second to Jim Plunkett.
New Fin in the Water
The Miami Dolphins have been searching for a franchise quarterback ever since No. 13 hung up his jersey for the last time. Replacing Dan Marino has not been an easy task as the Fins have blown through numerous starting quarterbacks since his departure. This year’s QB is second year Michigan man Chad Henne.
For years I had been holding onto a Michigan mini that I wanted former President Gerald Ford to sign. Ford stopped signing helmets before I could get it out to him so it has been in a drawer ever since. After Henne earned the starting job I mailed him the helmet along with a Michigan card. It was returned in about two weeks. Though I sent him a silver paint pen to sign the dark blue helmet he instead signed the yellow decal with a black sharpie. He also signed the card.
For the Jets mini helmet I really wanted Joe Namath, but that wasn’t going to happen unless I wanted to shell out a couple hundred dollars. So I went with rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez. He signed and returned the helmet in about a month with his unique signature and a “Go Jets!” inscription.
Cleveland and Kosar
The Cleveland Browns’ helmet is a true throwback. They don’t have any cool graphics, numbers or logos, nothing flashy. Just that horrible shade of orange-brown. But for some reason—they are still cool. When Otto Graham was still around, he would sign anything mailed to him. I wish I had sent him a mini helmet to go along with the cards he signed for me.
My choice this time was another former Browns QB, Bernie Kosar. Kosar led the Miami Hurricanes to the National Championship in 1984. Miami wasn’t all roses for Kosar though, as he was on the losing end of the Flutie Hail Mary in 1984. He went on to play in the NFL 11 years; for the Browns, Cowboys and Dolphins.
He signed the entire side of the helmet in his large style. With a blank helmet and no logos to write over, it looks fantastic.