Earlier this year in a southern California storage facility, an aged leather football was pulled out of a box and handed to auction-house officials. Handling the dimpled leather, they immediately recognized the ball’s inscription and its significance.
“GA. TECH. 222 CUMBERLAND U 0.”
“I don’t know if ‘shivers up my spine’ is the right description,” said Terry Melia, a spokesman for California-based SCP Auctions, “but certainly goosebumps to know that I was holding a piece of history” that was once owned by John Heisman, the Tech coaching great.
On Wednesday, the ball believed to be used in Tech’s historic 1916 rout of Cumberland will go up for bidding on the auction house’s website until Aug. 23. Bidding will start at $5,000.
The ball belongs to the LA84 Foundation, a non-profit that funds youth sports in southern California and studies the role of sports in society. The foundation inherited it as part of a vast collection of artifacts from a sports museum opened in the 1930s — the Helms Athletic Foundation — by a man named Bill Schroeder. His collection reportedly included boxing gloves worn by Jack Dempsey, a uniform worn by Babe Ruth and a bat used by Ty Cobb.
When the museum moved locations in the early 1980s, boxes of items went into storage, including the 222-0 ball. They had remained there until June, Melia said, when the LA84 Foundation decided to put them up for auction as a fundraiser. Other items from the collection include a 1906 World Series game ball, gloves worn by Dempsey and a pair of football cleats worn by Jim Thorpe in the filming of a movie about his life.
The LA84 Foundation does not have information about how Schroeder, who died in 1987, came to possess the ball. In an e-mail, foundation spokesman Wayne Wilson wrote that inventory records indicate that Schroeder donated the ball to the museum.
“His usual way of acquiring an item was simply to write to someone and ask him to send something,” Wilson wrote. “It is likely that he wrote to John Heisman and asked for an autographed game ball, but we have no way to confirm that.”
Melia noted that Schroeder collected at a time when there was no financial incentive to fabricate memorabilia. The vastness of his collection, too, would seem to lend credence to the ball’s authenticity. The ball also comes with a letter of provenance from both the Helms Athletic Foundation/LA84 Collection.
Save a couple of photographs, Tech does not have any mementoes from the game, nor does the College Football Hall of Fame, which will open in Atlanta on Aug. 23. Hall of Fame historian and curator Kent Stephens said the Hall of Fame does not purchase items.
Presumably, with a one-of-a-kind ball up on the market, someone else will.