116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Brett Favre may not be wearing the Minnesota Vikings' purple and gold this season, but that doesn't mean that particular jersey isn't worth owning.
Just ask Tim Zillig, 49, of Hiawatha, a sports memorabilia collector who happens to have an interest in all things Favre.
“I have every jersey Favre ever wore, including his high school jersey, which is number 10,” Zillig said. “I even have Favre Viking jerseys, which as long as he doesn't actually play for the Vikings I wear to antagonize Viking fans. They are great for having strangers come up to me and start conversations.”
There are many allures to collecting keepsakes from the sports world. Zillig focuses on fandom of specific teams. He has one room in his house reserved as a Packers shrine - complete with green carpet and gold walls - and another room dedicated to the Chicago Cubs. In those rooms are a variety of items, including such a vast number of autographed jerseys that he would “have to get a bigger house” to hang them all up.
For sports fans in Iowa, a state with no major professional sports teams, collecting items from specific teams can help create a connection to their favorites.
“I collect only 49ers memorabilia because it's a way for me to help get a little more out of being just a fan; it gets me a little closer to the team in a way,” said Jason Rule, 26, of Ely, who has a collection exceeding 300 items. “Living in Iowa, I rarely get to see the games on TV so having this extra hobby gives me that thrill of the hunt so to speak.”
Collecting pieces of memorabilia - by meeting an athlete, getting autographs through the mail or purchasing them elsewhere - can provide fans with more than just a strong connection with their favorite team. It can help connect a person with history.
“I love sports, and I love meeting these old athletes that I used to watch as a kid, or even the younger ones who I have watched recently,” said Kevin Reynolds, 49, of Coralville, who started collecting in the 1970s. “I also love history, and feel that these athletes, like (Muhammad) Ali, or Hank Aaron, or Reggie Jackson, are major figures in American sports history, and to meet them and have them sign a piece of memorabilia is very cool to me.”
Some people would immediately think of value, turning to eBay or elsewhere to try to profit from signatures of athletes. Others never see the dollar signs. They are the die-hards.
“I like to own what I consider to be pieces of history,” Zillig said. “Also, I am old school when it comes to sports and really love the older players' items.
“A lot of my items are most likely great investments, but considering I would probably never sell any of them, I may never know.”
Having rooms and houses full of sports memorabilia too valuable to sell is one thing. Feeling connected to favorite teams, athletes or history is another.
But there is one more piece missing in explaining why collectors do what they do - a sense of pride.
“I think the satisfaction of being able to show off your team spirit and loyalty through collecting is one of the biggest things I look forward to when I share my collection,” Rule said.
That pride can be personal as well.
When The Gazette sports section put out the call for sports memorabilia, W.L. Mayfield, 91, of Marion, mailed in a news clipping from 1939 that chronicled his winning six medals in an independent basketball tournament at Glenwood, including outstanding player in the tournament. He won more than twice as many medals as any other player that year and the most in the history of the long-standing tournament.
Mayfield still has the medals and sent along a photocopy. They're cherished mementos of a memorable athletic performance. That's memorabilia personified.
By Brian Heinemann