I’ve collected for decades — both cardboard and beyond with plenty of autographs and game-used memorabilia in my stash — but my biggest Black Friday find this year was one that I couldn’t have topped if I had tried.
(Well, at least on my budget.)
It’s my first full game-used NFL item and it comes with a pretty strong story but without my having to pay a premium price to go with it. How? It all came down to doing some research.
For a few months now I had been obsessing about finding a game-used NFL football for the heck of it — a whim, really — simply finding any ball on the cheap yet with some semblance of ironclad authentication. Better than that would be a ball with those attributes and also with some type of tie to what I collect, which really isn’t any one particular NFL team or player but instead my school and many of its recent stars, the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Thanks to Fanatics‘ business deal with its hometown Jacksonville Jaguars, the ball you see above is a reality in my collection and it came on the cheap for what it really is. That’s thanks in part to the Getty Images app that anyone can download on their phone — it’s a free tool that any game-used memorabilia collector must have.
While the ball I bought above was simply sold by Fanatics as a general game-used ball from the Jaguars’ game against the Colts on Oct. 22 in Indianapolis — one of only two from the game that I saw offered by the company as they go fast — thanks to some unique markings on the ball, I can pinpoint an exact play where it was used.
It’s a ball that former Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon carried as he scored a 58-yard touchdown during the third quarter of his team’s 27-0 victory. It’s a career-long touchdown that came as part of a career-high 122-yard day that came on just nine carries. It was his first game of the year, too, as he was activated when Leonard Fournette inactive due to an ankle injury.
The photo above is by photographer Zach Bollinger, who shot the game for Getty, and you can see a closer view of the 12 on the ball if you use the phone app to search and view images. (Click the image at right for a closer view at the zoomed version.) The ink appears to be a little more worn from handling in the last five weeks, but it’s definitely the one.
Per the NFL rules for footballs these days (thanks in part to you, Tom Brady), each team’s footballs have their own logo on them and each are numbered and then inspected and marked by an official before the game. Each team provides 12 footballs to be used — and then 12 more backups — and this particular ball is No. 12 and it is marked above the Jags’ logo with a 42 that has part of the 4 touching the logo slightly. (You can compare the ball photo and the other images in the gallery below.) The official for this game marked all Jags balls with a 42 above the logo, and, using the Getty app, you can see this pattern with other photos from the game. The 42 in this case is the uniform number of referee Jeff Triplette, a 22-year NFL officiating veteran. (I’ll stop short of checking photos to see if I can ref-match — but one website out there says he was assigned to that game that week.)
This may just be a casual observation, but it would seem that a lot of NFL game-used footballs, at least those for touchdowns, may not make it to team shops or companies like Fanatics these days as many times you’ll see a player give the ball to a fan in the stands — at least when it’s a home team scoring. That, to me, makes it seem like this unlikely find may be an even bigger rarity — how many NFL touchdown balls are out there with ironclad documentation or exact photo-matched evidence?
This particular touchdown ended with a dive into the end zone where, as you can see in the video above (final play in the sequence), the ball goes bouncing away after the play. From there, the ball was retrieved and put back into the equipment manager’s stash for the rest of the quarter and game. Then it went into my stash — for less than a box of high-end football card brands.
Fanatics Authentic stickers and records all info of the balls it sells into a database while also offering a letter of authenticity from both the company and a team official, so there are no real worries if you’re just wanting a certified authentic game-used football from the NFL — but, again, they go fast, especially this time of year. But you’ll need the Getty Images app and a whole lot of luck to land a ball that you can truly see in action.
I found it — and there’s a chance that you can, too.
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