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1961 Ernie Davis Game Worn Jersey, Heisman Trophy Season....

2009 April Signature Vintage Sports Memorabilia Auction #714

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Auction Ended On: Apr 24, 2009
Item Activity: 14 Internet/mail/phone bidders
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Heritage Auctions
3500 Maple Avenue
Dallas, TX 75219

1961 Ernie Davis Game Worn Jersey, Heisman Trophy Season. The 2008 feature film "The Express" brought about a resurgence in interest for this tragic superstar, but for those who remember his heroics both on and off the field, his star never faded. Born into the gritty steel belt of western Pennsylvania which has served as the training grounds for many of the gridiron's greatest stars, Davis would find more than fifty college scholarships waiting for him upon his high school graduation. He would follow in the footsteps of his own football idol, the great Jim Brown, choosing Syracuse University, and even going so far as to request the number "44" jersey that Brown had worn with such distinction. Only Davis could have done those digits justice.

Fresh to the collecting hobby, and consigned directly by the fan who secretly acquired it from the Syracuse equipment manager, this remarkable Orangemen shirt is Davis' own number "44" gamer, worn during his 1961 senior year season in which he became the first African-American recipient of the Heisman Trophy. The white thin cotton gamer was retired after it had served its intended "tear away" purpose during a September 30th meeting with West Virginia at Syracuse's Archbold Stadium, with a major rip on the verso freeing the galloping Davis from a tackler's grasp but rendering the shirt unsuitable for future use. Our consignor explained to us that the equipment manager was directed to incinerate all damaged jerseys, but due to a family connection (the equipment manager was the cousin of the consignor's mother) he was able to convince him to sneak the shirt to him in a rolled up towel. The excited new owner neatly repaired the jagged tear but otherwise left it in its original state, never even laundering the jersey.

The shirt exhibits tremendous game use, most notably in the meandering repaired tear on the back that snakes from the left number "4" to the right side seam, and down to the lower hem at the base of the buttoned crotch piece. Scattered staining and toning is likely a function of both game use and age, and some smaller holes in the shirt might well be the result of post-game elements. The jersey is far from pristine, though condition problems must be forgiven in light of the tremendous rarity and desirability. Remnants of orange paint on the shoulders are likely the result of collisions with helmets and/or turf paint.

The dark navy "44" is slightly smaller on chest than on verso, though each is identically affixed with heavy orange stitching. A distinctive triple band of navy striping rings each sleeve. The buttoned crotch piece survives fully intact, with all six buttons remaining, and the proper "Wilson" and size "48" labels affixed with straight stitching. In short, the shirt matches all period Syracuse exemplars to the letter. Note that the adjacent lots featuring another Syracuse jersey and a signed Ernie Davis snapshot are consigned by the same source, who will provide a letter of provenance. LOA from Lou Lampson.

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