Panini America and Broadway Joe create a memory-making experience

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By Chris Olds | Beckett Sports Card Monthly Editor | Commentary

CLEVELAND | I went to the National Sports Collectors Convention seeking something memorable, but what I got on Saturday night was priceless.

It was better then any autographed photo from any guest in attendance at the Panini America VIP Party. It wasn’t anything found in a coveted two-card NSCC promo pack being shredded en masse by those in attendance inside the home of the Cleveland Browns hoping for something rare, something pricey.

What I got was a moment I’ll never forget — and a moment where, honestly, I can’t even remember all the details. It was a whirlwind of emotion, surprise and the surreal.

Joe Namath handed me his Super Bowl ring.


It wasn’t the first time I met Joe Willie Namath. Years ago — 5,005 days before to be exact — at the 2000 Iron Bowl, I met him in the typical hobby fashion while still a student at the University of Alabama. I got his autograph by hounding during a miserable day for football — a bitter and windy rain-filled Saturday that ended with a 9-0 loss to Auburn. During the game I passed up chance after chance to get one of many Crimson Tide legends’ autographs as I knew I truly wanted just one. I got Namath’s signature on the only mini-helmet I had, and I was one of only a few people who could make that claim on that given day as I witnessed his quick, security-escorted arrival at Bryant-Denny Stadium as well as his exit.

My experience Saturday night at FirstEnergy Stadium was nothing like that. In fact, because Panini America’s VIP guests were able to greet fans in attendance and then hand them an personally signed photo after that interaction — a move to be commended in today’s sometimes assembly-line-inspired memory-making autograph system — my moment happened.

My phone was handed off to someone else for a series of snapshots as I stepped forward, but I knew what I wanted to say as I interacted with greatness beyond the stroke of a pen and a handshake. I introduced myself saying I, too, was an Alabama grad. His immediate response? He looked me dead in the eyes and said “Roll Tide” with his unique Pennsylvanian-and-Southern drawl.

I’m sure I smiled, but I don’t remember a thing about my reply and I’m still not sure my feet were touching the floor. I’m sure I extolled his greatness — something I’m sure he hears daily — as I turned toward my camera for a first image after he asked my name. Then, before my moment ended, I asked whether he was wearing his ring and glanced down at his right hand that once famously waggled running off the field after Super Bowl III.

It wasn’t there, but just as fast as I could finish my thought he had reached into his left pocket and dropped his priceless piece of history into my right palm. I wasn’t shaking, I wasn’t nervous — but I also didn’t touch it other than to slightly spin it to see a side panel and a hint of some green striping on its face.

While it was surely just seconds, it all seemed like slow-motion with Namath speaking about how special his ring was to him along with a ring from his time with another legend he simply, respectfully, called “Coach Bryant.” Again, all he said were things now a bit lost to me as I marveled at what I was holding, shocked that it was all happening.

Just how special it was truly sunk in when my iPhone was returned to me with a few photos documenting it all. All I could think was “wow.”

As I enter what is the final day of this year’s NSCC today, I have one goal for my remaining hours left on the floor. It’s a goal I have had before, too — find a single special item to add to my collection, a piece that evokes memories of this particular event years from now.

I’ll walk into the IX Center today fully knowing that I already have that memory-inducing piece, and that’s honestly a hard thing to do at a National convention. I know that I won’t find a thing — baseball or otherwise — that can trump my photograph seen above, but I’ll do my best to seek it out.

I guarantee it.

Chris Olds is the editor of Beckett Baseball and Beckett Sports Card Monthly magazines. Have a comment, question or idea? Send an email to him at Follow him on Twitter by clicking here.

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  1. MICHAEL RUNYON 3 August, 2014 at 05:53

    Great story. It is really cool to see that those within the hobby we all enjoy are also fans. Sometimes as a collector you get the feeling that the powers that be do not get it. That is never the case with you you Chris.

    Your fandom and enjoyment for the hobby has always shown through. I have mentioned it before I started reading your stuff when you were in orlando. I can not remember how but I came across an article of yours on the internet and researched more.

    Your story reminds me of the first time I met David Pearson. I know most people on this site have no clue who that is but he is and will probably always be my michael jordan. He is the driver i have been a fan of since I was a little kid.

    Thanks again for a great article and reminding us that for you this isnt just a job but a passion

  2. Cory Furlong 3 August, 2014 at 07:41

    The Panini America team knows how to treat its customers as I was able to see via Twitter last night. I think everyone that was able to attend the VIP show will echo your sentiments.

  3. Brian Blankenburg 3 August, 2014 at 20:34


    What a great story, and what great memories you’ll have for a long, long time. Reminds me of my memory seeing and holding Paul Molitor’s world series ring. You wrote a great story, congratulations.

  4. Charlie DiPietro 4 August, 2014 at 16:02

    Great story. I really enjoy reading your account of meeting Mr. Namath for the second time. All the special guests at the VIP Party were an honor and pleasure to meet. They all made me feel good in the time it took to make conversation and shake hands. However, my 60 seconds with Mr. Namath was also my most memorable.

    I have been a Colts fan since 1958. I watched the 1958 NFL World Championship Game on TV and got hooked on the NFL and the Colts. That game is credited in making Football, America’s second pastime. On January 12th, 1969 Joe Namath made good on his “guarantee” of victory in Super Bowl III and The Super Bowl truly became a SUPER GAME. Until that time, no AFL team appeared to be a match for the NFL Championship winner. Going into Super Bowl III, almost everyone felt the NFL Championship Game was The Football Championship Game.

    Mr. Namath (much like Johnny Football) was colorful off the field and quite a lady’s man. The media was always in Mr. Namath’s face (much like Johnny) hoping for a controversial comment. The first two Super Bowls were lopsided in favor of the NFL. Everyone expected Super Bowl III to be no different. When asked how he felt about going against a superior team with no chance to win, Mr Namath said something like, ” When I go into a game, I expect to win.” The reporter responded with “Do you really think you will win?” Joe, getting tired of hearing everyone say The Jets had no chance, then said “I guarantee it.” Suddenly the Super Bowl became interesting. And ever since, The Super Bowl was the game to watch for all of America.

    While I have always been a Colts fan, and Joe humbled my Colts in 1969, I became a Joe Namath fan that day. Meeting Mr Namath at the VIP Party was also an honor for me and he exceeded anything I could have expected. He was nice to everyone and starting a warm and friendly conversation. As he left the room I saw him approach several people to say hi and shake their hand. My respect for Mr. Namath is even higher than ever.

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