“Tom Brady is my retirement”

In January, as news of Tom Brady’s retirement sent shockwaves through the NFL community, one question began dominating social media: Where were you when Brady was drafted in April 2000? The responses were astounding. There was a flurry of middle-aged dads sharing photos from their college days on NFL Twitter, and well-established sportswriters posting photos of themselves as kids. A whole generation of adult fans was too young to remember. An NFL with Brady as its face is all they had known.

But one British fan, who resides in the sleepy Midlands countryside, knew exactly where he was, and he has the physical evidence to prove it.

In a bank safe in Manchester, England, next to a will and title deed is a souvenir card of rookie Tom Brady. It is owned by Phil Jones, a 66-year-old NFL fanatic and co-chairman of the BucsUK fan club. An avid collector, he was in Florida during the 1999 Orange Bowl and watched from a hotel room as Brady capped his Michigan college career by throwing four touchdowns in a dramatic win over Alabama. He took a liking to quarterback. Months later, when his American friend sent him a recording of that 2000 NFL Draft, he checked where Brady had been taken.

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So the following season, when he came across four Brady rookie cards at a memorabilia event in the run-up to Super Bowl XXXV, Jones asked what the salesman wanted for them. The sixth-round rookie didn’t ask for much. Jones bought the cards for $6.

Included in the pack was an unnumbered 2000 Playoff Contenders Tom Brady RC rookie card. A similar card fetched almost $50,000 online in October, but the high returns for cards that aren’t graduated or numbered are an anomaly.

The sports memorabilia market has exploded during the pandemic, in what has become something of a gold rush. Even as the US economy was battered, sports cards began breaking all known records. Brady’s memorabilia is no exception. A high-quality numbered version (Mint-9) of the card sold for $3.107 million last June, the highest sum ever paid for a football card at public auction. The previous record, for the same card, had been set two months earlier.

Jones can’t insure his card – he tried – so it stays in the safe. “I find it quite sad. I love taking them out and watching them,” he says.

The first thing to know about Jones is that he is an NFL fanatic. He appeared in 12 Super Bowls – first in 1990 for Super Bowl XXVII, then from 1994 to 2003. He stopped after that, when his Tampa Bay Buccaneers won their first Lombardi Trophy – except once from more, to Super Bowl 50. in 2016. He keeps all of his tickets from those games together in a card binder.

He also has stories to tell, like the time Green Bay Packers legend Bart Starr and his wife, Cherry, sat next to him for breakfast. Or when, at Super Bowl XXIX in 1995, Joe Namath was waiting at a taxi rank for a ride back to downtown San Francisco. “We were going the same direction. So I said ‘Do you want to share a taxi?’ And he did,” Jones said. They rolled together, talking about Alabama and Bear Bryant, arguably the greatest college football coach of all time. By this time, Jones was saving all year, spending around $3,000 each time, arriving to soak up Americana.

“Oh the stories I have,” he said.

Jones is also a collector. His office is a sanctuary for his memories. A commemorative rug, which features New Orleans’ famed Café du Monde, a jazz trio and the iconic Super Bowl XXXVI American flag logo, hangs alongside a small collection of autographed helmets and framed photos.

His wife calls him “the worst magpie in the world”. Among other things, he has a particular fondness for Brady memorabilia.

“The Tom Brady thing, I just found his whole story… My better half was like, ‘Why? Why Tom Brady? And I told him the whole story [about the card,]” he says.

Jones began collecting football cards as a Manchester United fan at the age of six, and the hobby carried him through his life. He always had a sense of what was valuable. As a teenager, he worked as a cleaner in a cinema, and one day he peeled the poster for the James Bond film “Dr. No” off the wall. He wanted it as a keepsake. Years later he sold the poster for £1,500 and used the money to go to the Super Bowl.

His collection today is a testament to his years of Tampa Bay and United fandom. One of his most prized possessions is a book with the signatures of over 700 United players. He personally collected nearly every signature, from George Best to teenage David Beckham – whom he asked to autograph it while the footballer waited for his father, Ted, to pick him up outside Old Trafford – at the club’s new young hero. Marcus Rashford. He plans to pass it on to his son. He keeps his collection not on display, but rather in boxes in his house.

This is the heart of why Jones collects cards. They are keepsakes, memories, paper and certifiable proof of who he is and where he has been. He is an avid United fan, a Bucs follower, a former teenage movie theater employee. In a way, Jones epitomizes why sports memorabilia exists. He collects for fun, for the visual reminders of his time at the Super Bowl. A year after buying the Brady card, he sat behind the posts as Adam Vinatieri scored the winning basket, giving Brady his first-ever league title. He remembers St. Louis Rams fans, who rang bells for hours during the game, leaving despondent, and crowded New Orleans streets in hazy, drunken aftermath. The Brady map is a direct link to this moment.

“Some of my cards are worth a lot of money, but I buy them because I like them, or because I think ‘I remember him, he scored that or did that’ so I’ll take a card from him,” Jones said.

“It might not be worth anything, but it’s just for me.”

There’s a reason he’s not going to the Super Bowl anymore: he can’t afford it. Ticket prices, like your favorite quarterback’s rookie cards, have skyrocketed in recent years. He loved being able to walk around a city before the game and rub shoulders with his NFL heroes. But that, as sponsorships and corporate events have boomed, has become increasingly rare.

He found the same problem with trading cards. He’s still buying rookie cards, but he says there’s a problem. A few years ago, he spent about $110 on two signed rookie cards from new Cincinnati Bengals sensation Joe Burrow. He says he checked the price recently and found they were worth twice as much.

“I feel pretty sad about it in a funny way, even though I might be a beneficiary of it, because the kids can’t get them back anymore. They’re for investors, not kids. It’s not like that’s what I started,” he said. .

People asked what he would do with the Brady Card. He brainstormed a few scenarios. Maybe he will need it in case of a rainy day. “Brady is my pension,” he jokes. Or maybe he will pass them on to his two adult children.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do with them,” Jones says. “These are my memories.”

For now, they sit in a bank in Manchester, a forever reminder of Brady’s Hall of Fame career, and a UK fan that followed.