Monday, May 18, 2009

More on Forged Favre Gamers - Shades of Gray (Flannel)

Chris Nerat's article on forged Favre gamers brought to mind a story from my own collecting history. In 2004, Vintage Authentics offered up for auction an honest-to-goodness 1994 blue and gold home NFL 75th Anniversary throwback Favre gamer. With my love for the throwbacks, I was very interested in making a run at it.

Here's the photo which accompanied the auction page:

Based on that picture, I had some serious doubts about its authenticity. Even though this was years before Mitchell & Ness started making their version of this beauty (and the glut of counterfeits which emerged as a result), there were three dozen known and extremely authentic-looking forgeries out there in the hobby. Top-notch forgeries which had been introduced to the market by... the Green Bay Packers.

In 1998, Grey Flannel Auctions contracted with the Packers for the club to provide custom jerseys for an auction. The Packers took thirty-six unused jerseys supplied to the team by Ripon Athletic, but not actually issued by the team to any player, and "repurposed" them with Favre numbers and nameplates.

Here's another example (click to enlarge):

Because they started out as unworn gamers, each of the dummy Favre jerseys has the sheen of authenticity. Naturally, they feature authentic team tagging. The name and number font, which so often trips up counterfeiters, are 100% authentic and sewn on by the same people who prepared all the actual game-worn jerseys. Many, if not all, of the usual markers that authenticators look for on a gamer are present on these.

In addition, each of the Grey Flannel jerseys came complete with a letter from Packers equipment manager Red Batty explaining its unusual history.

As Batty mentions in his letter, they also manufactured some copies of the road version (it is unclear how many of the thirty-six produced were home or were roads). This one comes up for sale on eBay from time to time, along with its own copy of the letter:

The easiest way to identify the repurposed jerseys is by the size - Favre customarily wore (or "wears," if he comes out of retirement) a 52. The Grey Flannel jerseys, having been issued to multiple other players, may be found in a whole series of sizes. Both of the home blues pictured here are size 46, while the road is a 48.

Frankly, I'm not sure how good an idea this was on the Packers' part. It's not like there wasn't a market in game-used jerseys ten years ago, that they would be unaware of might happen with some of these jerseys. It seems almost inevitable that somebody would try to sell them as authentic Favre gamers, which is exactly what happened with the Vintage Authentics auction.

Then again, if I ever saw a Favre '94 throwback gamer, I'd automatically presume that it came from the 1998 Grey Flannel auction. The numbers just lean that way - presuming Favre's standard two jerseys per game, times four throwback games (three at Lambeau Field, one in Chicago), plus maybe a couple extras for team-issued backups not worn, still equals less than a dozen. Grey Flannel had the Packers prepare three times that many ersatz jerseys.

In any case, it was that "46" tag that really made me question the jersey in the first place, knowing that Favre's usual size is a 52. I can see occassionally wearing a larger size over layers for cold-weather games. But a smaller size? Seemed unlikely to me. When I saw it, I called American Memorabilia to confirm that it was actually game-used and not one of the 36 dummies. The rep with whom I spoke was unaware of the Grey Flannel jerseys, and said they would investigate.

I called again to inquire, and was told that from Grey Flannel they had learned each of the thirty-six was discretely marked in such a way as to alert an authenticator, hopefully preventing an auction house from making an honest mistake and incorrectly attributing it. The jersey in question was quietly removed from the auction.

A shame, because I was more than happy to buy it as a repurposed jersey. Vintage Authentics, no doubt feeling burned by the attempted fraud, wanted no part of it and the jersey disappeared.

The following year, American Memorabilia also fell victim to a scam, when this jersey was offered in their catalogue:

1994 Brett Favre Game-Worn Packers Throwback Jersey
This 'throwback' jersey, was worn by the league's most prolific 'throwback,' Brett Favre. There is not a man who's tougher or more determined to win than the league's only three-time Most Valuable Player. In 1994, the NFL's 75th Anniversary, all teams wore the same style uniforms that were worn in the days when facemasks were faces. This Packers white road 'throwback' jersey was one of the few ever put to use by Favre. Light wear, with underarm pilling, is exhibited on this shirt, with a "75th Anniversary" patch affixed at the left breast and a "Starter" tag in the tail. A unique "44" swatch tag is also showcased on this brilliant shirt, with customized, ribbed sleeves and all sewn-on identifiers.
No mention of Grey Flannel, no accompanying letter, but take a look at the size - 44. The first big clue that Favre never actually "put it to use," light wear and underarm pilling notwithstanding. By this time, however, collectors were getting wise - the jersey opened at $900 but failed to draw even a single bid.

I'd still like to have one in my collection someday. The blue and gold throwbacks are perhaps my favorite Packers uniform to date, and given their relative scarcity I'd settle for one of the repurposed 36 until a real gamer came along. I think there's value in these jerseys based on their lineage, even if they aren't true gamers. But you have to know what you're buying.


Packerfan4ever said...

I bought one of these beautiful jerseys in 1999; a blue/gold, size 48.
This is the only one I've ever seen. I did see a supposed "game used" home jersey #84 at the SB XXXII NFL Experience but I didn't inspect it because they wanted $1,200.
When I bought the jersey, I was specifically told that this jersey was never worn by Brett, but was team issued.
I've worn the jersey to Lambeau on many occassions and have always gotten compliments on it; in fact, offers to purchase well above what I paid.
In your article, you mention that these jerseys were "discreetly tagged" in order to alert authenticators.
Do you know how they tagged them? I retired the jersey when Brett left the Packers. I hope to have him sign it someday (if he ever retires).
Thanks for the great blog,
Chad from Madison

Chance Michaels said...

I don't know how they tagged them. But I do know someone who might.

I'll ask around, but if I learn anything I'll ask you to contact me directly - we have to be careful not to aid the counterfeiters.