Super Bowl close to home for Patriots collector

Seminole's Paul Shimkonis is wild about the Patriots, so much in fact that he built a special display room in his home for thousands of Pats collectibles.

Published February 5, 2005

SEMINOLE - Twelve years ago, Paul Shimkonis' collection of football memorabilia consisted of precisely one item. It was a Drew Bledsoe Classic Draft Picks card he purchased on a whim for a buck at the Wagon Wheel Flea Market.

So it's hard not to drop your jaw when you step into the display room Shimkonis personally built onto his home six years ago.

It is a mini museum overflowing with Patriots collectibles in the many thousands, large and small. The 20-by-20 space with a sports bar theme is packed with authentic New England helmets, footballs, banners, gold coins, playoff pins, jackets, T-shirts, figurines, toy cars with team logos, framed jerseys, plates and glassware. The assortment of Pats paraphernalia is so vast, and filled with so many mint-condition goodies, it earned Shimkonis the 2000 Supercollector of the Year Award from Beckett Football Card Monthly magazine, the bible of football card appraising. Naturally the room has added meaning this week as the Patriots prepare to defend their Super Bowl title Sunday in Jacksonville against the Eagles.

How much is it all worth? "Put it this way: My 6-year-old daughter's tuition could easily be paid for at a nice New England college," said Shimkonis, 45.

The one twist to the collection is its heavy emphasis on the player who got Shimkonis rolling, former Pats quarterback Bledsoe.

Shimkonis was seriously bummed when Bledsoe was traded three seasons ago to the Bills. "It was devastating," he said. But the move didn't deter him from his mission. He seeks memorabilia with Bledsoe in a Bills uniform with equal vigor. Five handmade wooden cases, with locked tempered glass doors, hold more than 1,500 framed Bledsoe cards. He has another 4,500 Bledsoe cards in a closet filled with collectibles.

But there's also the lighted McDonald's sign featuring a rookie Bledsoe, autographed Bledsoe Wheaties boxes, a life-size cutout of Bledsoe as a Bill, even a signed copy of Bledsoe's high school yearbook. Most of the autographs have been authenticated by the star with a forgery-proof hologram and snapshot of him signing the item.

Shimkonis realizes the focus on Bledsoe sounds a tad extreme. "But I'm not doing it because I'm psycho," he said. "I've never even written him - I'm just a collector. I collect not just because of what he does on the field, but because he's a great guy. He does so much off the field to help people."

Shimkonis has become a fan of the man who unseated Bledsoe, Tom Brady. And he's as crazy as ever for the team he began following as a child in Methuen, Mass.

Meanwhile, his wife, of eight years, Erin, gives a thumbs-up to the collection ("as long as he keeps it in that one room") and daughter Haley has become a Bledsoe fan.

Shimkonis admits his collection is missing something: "The only thing that would complete this would be a picture of me with Drew in this room, shaking hands. That would just be the bomb."