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Throwback Thursday: Interview with a Gopher Jersey Collector

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I caught up with Shawn from www.GopherJerseys.com to talk about his collection of Gopher football memorabilia and to see if he had any tips for aspiring collectors.

CUPITOOOOO! His 2002 jersey from the Music City Bowl
CUPITOOOOO! His 2002 jersey from the Music City Bowl
GopherJerseys.com

Thanks to Shawn for being so cool to take time to talk to me about his website. Go check it out! www.GopherJerseys.com

Ryan: So I assume you wear these vintage jerseys, helmets, rings, etc around your house? Because that would cool as hell.

Shawn: We have favorite jerseys that we usually wear to the games.  I like the Mason era jerseys because the fit and look the best.  The two I wear are home Eli Ward, and away Rhys Lloyd, both some of my favorite modern players.  We don't wear any of the old, or valuable stuff out.

Ryan: When you're not wearing them how do you take care of them? Do your jerseys from the 1940s &1950s hang in the closet next to your work shirts?

Shawn: Some of our oldest jerseys are in special jersey cases.  A few are on hangers due to lack of space in our sports rooms.

Ryan: What was the first gopher item you guys collected?

Shawn: My best friend Matt got a game worn home jersey from his dad for Christmas about 30+ years ago from Steichen's Sporting Goods in St. Paul.  They later gave me one for my birthday and we were both hooked.  From there, we bought a few more with money we saved (we were around 10), then after a few years, they offered helmets, that's when we were really hooked.  Matt's younger brother Andy started collecting with us around this time.

Ryan: The site describes the collection being a "co-op of sorts" with 3 of you sharing the collection, how does that work? Who gets the 1992 Apex Omar Douglas jersey?

Shawn: Our collection is at all of our homes.  We each have our own collection of game used gear, but as best friends, and family (Matt and Andy), we consider it "our" collection.  I've sold some of my pieces to Matt and Andy at times, and Andy has sold some of his to me and Matt, and Matt, I don't think he's ever sold anything.  Just because something is in one of our collections today, doesn't mean it won't be in one of the other two's tomorrow.  Rarely do items leave the three of us.

Ryan: I've gotta know what's the story behind the car full of gopher helmets? 

Shawn: We made a bulk purchase from Tom Zimmer, former owner of Gridiron Ghosts.  He did the decals for the 2006 throwback helmets for the Gophers and developed a good relationship with the equipment staff.  They were looking to get rid of a bunch of old helmets, so he bought them all, 4 full packing crates full.  I found out he had them, so we drove to Madison in sub-zero weather in January and spent two hours outdoors in his storage shed literally wading through the boxes finding the best helmets, filling up our rented mini-van.  I think at least two of us had frost bite.

Ryan: What's your favorite item?

Shawn: That's a tough, tough question.  I don't know that I have one favorite item.  I like different items for different reasons.  Some were from special games, other are from favorite players, and others because of rarity.  Matt's favorite would probably be his Sandy Stephens 1962 Rose Bowl game worn jersey.  Andy would probably say his late 50's Bobby Cox jersey or his Chris Darkins' Apex M&M jersey.  A few of mine would be Tyrone Carter's San Diego Chargers jersey.  It's special to me because it was from his last year in the NFL, and because I bought it from him while we lived in Florida.  We've since become friends.  I'd also say my late 1940's Gophers football helmet is up there too.

Ryan: Are there fans of other teams out there collecting their vintage jerseys? I'm imagining a community of dudes out there on the internet collecting cool stuff like this.

Shawn: Yes, there are.  The number of collectors of college teams has grown in recent years, and many of those started by collecting their NFL jerseys because of the ease of availability.  I know quite a few of the big college collectors out there, especially the Big Ten guys or other regional teams.  We communicate quite often and give each other a heads up if we find something we think one of the other would like.  It's a fun community of like collectors.  There are only a handful of other Gopher collectors out there though that we are aware of.

Ryan: What's the holy grail of Gopher jerseys you are hoping to someday get?

Shawn: Probably something absurd like a Bruce Smith jersey.  I'd settle for a Carl Eller or Bobby Bell Gopher jersey, or a game worn jersey from one of the early National Championship teams.

Ryan: Is there anything Gopher related you won't collect?

Shawn: Yes, no wrestling singlets please, well, unless worn by Brock Lesnar.

Ryan: Is most of the stuff you find on ebay and online auctions? Any other good places to look for vintage Gopher stuff?

Shawn: No.  I don't find much on Ebay.  The quality on Ebay is usually bad.  There are a ton of fakes or mislisted items.  I usually find most of my quality gear from the major sports auction houses, or for the recent stuff, from the U of M semi-annual garage sales.  As mentioned earlier, our network of collecting friends is another valuable source.  We buy about half of our gear from former players too.

Ryan: Do you ever get worried about buying forgeries?

Shawn: No, not really.  As long as we do our research, we feel good about what we buy.  If we aren't 100% sure it's real, we won't buy it.  We also buy a lot of our game worn gear directly from former players, so we know what we are getting.

Ryan: What advice would you give someone who is just starting out collecting?

Shawn: Do your research!  Our website is a great reference for those just starting to collect.  You can match the manufacturer with the time period worn, and make sure the player wore it during that era if you're aware of the player.  Also, do NOT trust letters of authenticity.  Even buying directly from a team or NFL doesn't guarantee it's legit.  I've been issued LOAs from the NFL that gave the wrong year, and even the wrong player before.  Buyer beware.

So do you own anything, or are you interested in starting your own collection?

I wish I had enough funds to stay dipped in historic Gopher stuff.