By Tom Talbot
Most of us go through the same routine every day. There are things we can count on day in and day out. We get up, eat breakfast, read the paper, go to school or work, come home … well, you get the idea. One way to break up a monotonous day is to expand upon a daily occurrence – getting the mail.
If you’re a through-the-mail collector you never know what awaits you behind that metal door. Crack open your mailbox and see what else is in there besides bills and junk mail. Could be that signed mini-helmet or that card you sent out last month. And the best part is, the autograph didn’t cost you a dime.
Through-the-mail collecting has really taken off throughout the last 10 years, with many collectors building a solid collection by merely putting pen to paper. There are many legends out there more than willing to answer their fan mail, even if it has been 20 years since they last hung up the helmet and cleats.
To collect the legends, you first need something to sign. A great start for the beginner is to purchase a set of legends cards. Upper Deck puts out a great Legends product and there are many other manufacturers that have done something similar.
If cards don’t interest you, get creative. Many collectors mail out mini-helmets, which can get a bit pricey but look great displayed on a bookshelf. Sports Illustrated magazines are another option, as there are many legends who have graced the covers and are willing to sign your copy.
Lastly, footballs, jerseys and full-size helmets can also be sent through your nearest post office. It takes a little time to prepare your S.A.S.E. (self-addressed stamped envelope) but it can be worth the time and effort.
After you have your item ready to roll, you need to write your fan letter. Hand write your letter and be sincere. Keep the letter to just a couple of paragraphs and make sure to thank the person for signing.
Lastly, you need a valid address to send your item. Some former stars will sign through their former team’s address, while most will sign through their home address. All of the addresses used in this article came from www.autographchaser.com.
Here are 20 football luminaries that have shown they will graciously sign for free through the mail.
An old-school tough guy from the Philadelphia Eagles, Bednarik laid out his share of devastating hits in his 14-year career. He is best known for his crushing hit on the Giants’ Frank Gifford, who was knocked cold on the play. One of the last two-way players, Bednarik is a quick return through the mail, usually adding his Hall of Fame inscription.
This San Diego Charger gunslinger was pure entertainment for NFL fans. In 15 seasons with the ‘Bolts, Fouts threw for 43,040 yards and 254 touchdowns. Many of these touchdowns were to wide receiver and fellow Hall of Famer Charlie Joiner. Fouts is one of the nicest sports icons you’ll ever meet, signing generously through the mail and in person. Pictured is a signed 1985 card received via his home address.
Another ally to the autograph collector, Joiner will sign pretty much anything you send him. He was one of the best wide receivers of all time, finishing his 18-year career with 750 receptions. He played a key role in one of the greatest games of all time known as “The Epic in Miami.” San Diego beat Miami in that overtime playoff game 41-38 thanks in part to Joiner’s 108 yards receiving.
One of the great rushing quarterbacks, his 35 touchdowns put him in fourth place all time for rushing TDs among NFL quarterbacks. Grogan is a fan favorite and has always been a gracious signer. Pictured is a full-size helmet Grogan signed from his home address.
The legendary quarterback has been hit or miss throughout the years as far as responding to autograph requests via the mail. Lately he’s been a hit. Tarkenton owned nearly every passing record when he retired. But Tarkenton’s game was never one sided. He was also a heck of a scrambler, adding 3,674 yards on the ground. Write to Tarkenton at his home address.
Lavelli was such a great receiver he earned the nickname “Glue Fingers” which he usually adds to his very legible signature. He played on seven championship teams (four in the AAFC in the late 1940s, three in the NFL).
If not for a devastating knee injury suffered in 1984, we may be talking about Billy Sims in the same company as Walter Payton and Barry Sanders. This former Heisman Trophy winner was the first pick of the 1980 draft out of Oklahoma. In his rookie season for the Detroit Lions he ran for more than 1,300 yards. He now runs his three Billy Sims Barbecue restaurants in Oklahoma and is a willing signer from his home.
This 16-year NFL legend played quarterback for the 49ers, Saints and Redskins. Kilmer was a very accurate passer, winning three individual passing titles. A willing signer both through the mail and in person, he can be reached through his home address.
This NFL Hall of Famer followed up his stellar career by entering politics as a member of Congress. He was a seven-time Pro Bowler with the Seattle Seahawks thanks to his soft hands. Largent was hit or miss through the mail when he was in Congress, but has been signing one autograph per request the last few years.
Madden is known as one of the most popular announcers the game has ever seen, but before he grabbed a mic he was also one of the best coaches ever. His .759 regular-season winning percentage is the best ever. In 10 years as head coach for the Raiders he recorded 103 wins, 32 losses and 7 ties. Madden is a great through-the-mail signer, usually sending out a signed picture of him and his beloved “Madden Cruiser.” He signed the pictured Sports Illustrated in less than a month.
This Hall of Fame guard for the Buffalo Bills was known as “Mr. Dependable.” A true “Iron Man” of football, Delamielleure played 185 consecutive games during his 13 years in the NFL. These days “Joe D” is teaming with Mike Ditka in a battle with the NFL Players Union over pensions for the forgotten players of the NFL. He’s a great signer, but you’d better allow for room on your item for his very long last name.
One of the great Notre Dame quarterbacks, Theismann decided to play ball in Canada and starred with the Toronto Argonauts. Three years later he took over as quarterback for the Washington Redskins. He won the Super Bowl in 1982 and followed that up the next year with the NFL’s MVP award. A leg-breaking sack by Lawrence Taylor on Monday Night Football would effectively end Theismann’s career. Theismann goes above and beyond with autograph requests, signing everything that is sent his way. He has a sharp-looking signature to boot.
“Mr. Cowboy” is happy to sign for his fans and is a very interesting legend to speak with. A cat-quick defender, Lilly played in 11 Pro Bowl games. In 1972 he was responsible for a big sack on Dolphins quarterback Bob Griese during the Super Bowl that has played on highlight reels ever since. Write to Lilly at his home address or attend one of his in-person signings. He’s worth the wait in line and the modest price you’ll be required to pay.
Another willing Heisman Trophy winner that is a gracious signer. Walker started his pro career with the New Jersey Generals of the USFL where he won the rushing titles in 1983 and 1985. In 1985 he rushed for an incredible 2,411 yards. He went on to play 12 outstanding NFL seasons. Fans sending requests to his home are rewarded with a very sharp-looking signature.
“The Snake” never disapp oints and is more than willing to sign your autograph request sent to his home. Stabler was the face of the 1970’s Raiders under coach Madden and led the team to its first Super Bowl victory in 1977.
The true definition of an NFL journeyman, DeBerg played for six different teams and didn’t call it quits until he was 44 years old. His best years were with the Kansas City Chiefs, where he led the them to a pair of playoff appearances.
Well worth the wait, which can sometimes take up to a year. There’s nothing like a free autograph from the leader of the only undefeated team in NFL history.
Clarence “Ace” Parker
This 95-year-old Hall of Famer played for the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Yankees, among other teams. No, not the baseball teams, the football teams bearing the same names. Parker excelled at QB in the 1930s and 1940s and, believe it or not, he still signs through the mail. (Many collectors include a $10 donation). For the record, “Ace” also played Major League Baseball for the Philadelphia Athletics.
Spent all 15 years of his NFL career with the Bengals. His best season came in 1981 when he was named the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year and MVP, though his Bengals lost to the 49ers in the Super Bowl. Anderson signs from his home address as well as the Steelers team address (he was recently hired as quarterbacks coach).
Special teams is a very important and often overlooked position in football. No one did it better than the 5-foot-9 Tasker from the Buffalo Bills. He went to seven Pro Bowls and should be enshrined in Canton for doing the job better than anyone else. Tasker is a great signer, both through the mail and in person.
Tom Talbot is a writer and autograph collector. The addresses mentioned in this column can be found at his website: www.autographchaser.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his website.