Houston couple to sell Walter Payton/Barry Sanders autograph card in hopes of having a baby


By Susan Lulgjuraj | Beckett Football Editor

Todd and Ula Nelkin have spent years trying to have a child.

When conventional methods didn’t work, the two sought the help of doctors to start a family. But doctor visits, medication and procedures all cost money.

The hopes and disappointments added up.

After two unsuccessful in-vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures, the Houston couple will try one more time.

They are parting with a treasured item in hopes of paying for the $20,000 procedure.

Todd Nelkin, 45, is selling his 1999 Donruss Elite Passing the Torch Autograph card with Walter Payton and Barry Sanders’ signatures, graded a Gem Mint 10 by Beckett Grading Services.

“I know this is going to sound a little sappy,” Todd said, “but this could be the only card in existence that is responsible for a human life. Hopefully, someone will be on this planet because of that card. I think this adds a nice element to the history of that card.”

Nelkin’s history with the card dates back more than a decade, after he pulled a redemption out of a box of Donruss Elite. Since the autographs are on-card, he had to wait months to get the card in the mail.

He decided to grade the card about three years ago, the first time anything in his collection was studied under the microscope in that way.

It came back a 10, the only gem mint among the 29 Payton/Sanders signed cards that Beckett Grading Services has seen.

And the fact that Todd is selling the card hits Ula hard. The autographed card was one of the first things he showed Ula when they began dating.

“When we first started this process, he said we could always try and sell this to help pay for a baby,” Ula said. “The fact that he is doing this is amazing to me.”

Todd thinks the card can sell for a significant amount of money and help his family. He thinks it’s reasonable it will sell for enough to cover the procedure especially since it’s graded a 10.

“I would have loved to have kept it,” Todd said. “But before I let it go, I’ll take a really good computer scan. It won’t be the card, but this seems like the best viable option.”

The Nelkins have been together for six years, married for four. The Houston Rockets season ticket holders were engaged and eventually married at the Toyota Center, the Rockets’ home arena.

Family is important to them. Todd works in the family business HLT&T Sports, repackaging cards and selling them in gift shops and baseball stadiums around the country.

The Nelkins want to build their own family. They’re holding out hope that their third IVF procedure will be successful. The first time the procedure ended in an ectopic pregnancy and Ula needed emergency surgery. The second time nothing happened.

“It’s been pretty tough,” said Ula, 42, who works at a hospital overnight. “I think when you wait so long to find the person you want to be with, your life has been put on hold for so long. Now we have to cram a lot into a little bit of time.”

The Nelkins will sell the card on eBay during the last week October with the username “Nelkinbaby2012.”

Susan Lulgjuraj is an editor of Beckett Football. You can email her here with questions, comments or ideas. Follow her on Twitter here.


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  1. Richard 8 October, 2012 at 12:11

    Well, you might get people to spend a bit more because of the story, but I sincerely doubt it would
    break $5000 let alone $20,000. But, here’s hoping I’m wrong.

  2. JC 8 October, 2012 at 15:33

    A BGS 10 version will DEFINITELY crack $5k, with or without the story. $20k is a long shot, but I hope it brings it! Good luck on the sale and the parenthood!

  3. Randall 8 October, 2012 at 18:49

    Sincerely (not sarcastically), Good Luck. I hope they both get their wish of a child regardless of the card.

  4. RJ 8 October, 2012 at 21:07

    I would get rid of the season tickets first … you can always watch the games on TV. I hope it works out for them.

  5. nineof 10 October, 2012 at 09:36

    Great story. Love seeing cards mixed in with real life. Hope the card brings in a bundle. Good luck Todd and Ula!!!

  6. Jill 15 October, 2012 at 12:38

    Great story. Save the card for college…adopt one or two or three or more of the thousands of children waiting for loving parents! I played this game too and it is heartbreaking when you want a child so much and cannot conceive. In the end, I adopted 3 wonderful children and would not have changed my road to parenting for anything. : )

  7. RAF 15 October, 2012 at 12:51

    I hope they have Twitter accounts, Barry Sanders is offering to send a signed replacement card and help promote this sale. Best of luck on all counts!

  8. Larry 15 October, 2012 at 13:04

    Barry Sanders actually saw, and posted this story on his facebook page “Official Barry Sanders” I hope you 2 saw it, as he’d like to help you guys. Good luck, and God bless with the baby.

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