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Autograph tip: manners matter

Being polite, organized may convince increasingly wary athletes to sign.

By JAMAL THALJI

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 22, 2001


TAMPA -- Autograph hounds beware: Getting an NFL star to sign memorabilia already is difficult enough.

Super Bowl XXXV may not make it any easier.

"It's getting harder, and it never used to be that way," said Richard Willett, owner and operator of My Dad's Sports Cards on South Dale Mabry.

That's because athletes are wary of people profiting from their signatures. Just because the Super Bowl is in town this week won't make autograph-hunting easier.

But it will make for a target-rich environment.

The easiest thing to do is attend the autograph sessions at the NFL Experience in the north lot of Raymond James Stadium. Call (888) 635-2273 daily to get a list of times past and present NFL stars will be available at the Super Bowl XXXV card show. Admission is $15.

For those hoping to land autographs from Baltimore and New York players, or any other players they may run into, here are some tips:

Rule No. 1: Be polite. Very polite. If you spy a player outside an official venue, ask nicely. Remember the word "sir?" Don't yell. Don't call out his name repeatedly. Do not, under any circumstances, approach an athlete with his mouth full.

"You don't want to approach them when they're eating," Willett said. "Most of the time, if you wait until they're done, they'll sign for you."

Both teams' hotels will be secured, but autograph-seekers are welcome. The Giants' hotel, the Wyndham Westshore, 4860 W. Kennedy Blvd., will allow autograph-seekers in the lobby, but it will be up to the players if they want to sign anything. The ropes will go up if the crowd gets too large.

The Ravens' hotel, the Hyatt Westshore, 6200 Courtney Campbell Parkway, will not allow autograph-seekers inside but will allow them to line up behind ropes outside. Again, it's up to the players.

When rebuffed, accept it with grace. Do not, under any circumstances, approach an athlete at a disreputable establishment (but tell all your friends about it, and give us a call, too).

Rule No. 2: Get the right equipment. The Sharpie permanent pen and marker is preferred by experienced collectors. (There's even a Sharpie autograph pen.) Black, blue and silver are the best colors.

Use a plastic sleeve to protect cards and photos. Fan the items, allowing them to dry, before placing them in plastic, lest they smudge.

Rule No. 3: Use official NFL merchandise. Players are reluctant to sign as it is but may feel more comfortable if they see that certified silver emblem. Don't bring knock-offs.

Rule No. 4: Be organized. Busy superstar athletes don't have time to wait for you to figure out which pen, card, and photo you want them to use.

Rule No. 5: Understand where the athletes are coming from. Many are loathe to sign memorabilia they believe will be auctioned off.

"That's what a lot of them think," Willett said. "I was talking to a little kid the other day, and he tried to get an autograph from Warren Sapp, and Sapp just told him, 'What are you going to do, sell it on eBay?'

"Why should they care? The kids just want the autograph."

So, in honor of the aforementioned Buccaneer, we offer the "Sapp Method:"

"Please sign this Mr. ________. I pledge on my honor as a fan, sir, that I will not sell it on eBay."

Try it. If it works, give us a call.

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