An Atlanta man and Georgia Tech graduate won the bidding for a most prized piece of college football and school history – what is believed to be the game ball from Tech’s 222-0 win over Cumberland in 1916. His plans for the ball will undoubtedly please Yellow Jackets fans.
“It’s not mine,” said Ryan Schneider, a 46-year-old patent attorney. “It’s for the school.”
Schneider claimed the ball with a bid of $40,388, the 19th bid in the 19-day online auction conducted by SCP Auctions. It squashed the previous high for a football in the auction house’s online records, a football autographed by the 1966 Green Bay Packers, winners of the first Super Bowl, which went for $26,046.
After being informed of Schneider’s plans for the ball, Tech athletic director Mike Bobinski, who said he couldn’t justify using athletic association money after the bidding began to increase, was ecstatic.
“That’s really the outcome we were hoping for all along,” he said.
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Schneider, a married father of three who lives in Buckhead, grew up in Wilmington, Delaware, but has long been acquainted with one of the most famous games in college football history. Monday, he said he remembered at the age of 7 or 8 reading about the game and seeing a picture of the same ball in the Guinness Book of World Records. Years later, he ended up at Tech, following his father Edward’s footsteps. He earned his degree in mechanical engineering before going into law.
“But everything still revolves around what I learned and experienced at Tech,” he said.
Schneider has held season tickets for football and basketball since graduating in 1990, but said he has never done anything quite like pay tens of thousands of dollars for a century-old football.
“I think this is my red car for midlife crisis,” he said.
Schneider kept his plan secret, only obliquely telling his two young sons his plan late in the bidding.
“We’re a pretty open family,” Schneider said. “The kids are rabid Tech fans and everything. It just wasn’t about anybody but me at the time and me giving back to Tech. Frankly, if I had told my wife or kids, they probably would have told me I was completely insane, which they did tell me afterwards.”
Schneider said he made five or six bids altogether, and his heart pounded as the auction drew to a climax. He bid $27,815 Saturday afternoon, which was countered late Saturday night. Schneider upped the $30,597 bid by 10 percent just minutes later, according to the auction house, at $33,657 ($40,388 with the buyer’s premium).
With the identity of other bidders unknown, Schneider said “it killed me” that it was possible he was bidding against other Tech alumni with the same idea of returning the ball to the school, but pushed on, committed to keeping the ball out of rival hands.
With the auction still not complete – the auction only ends when no bids have been made on any item in the auction for 15 minutes – Schneider went to bed around 2 a.m. Sunday, hoping his final bid would hold up. Schneider only learned he’d won after waking up Sunday morning.
The ball was auctioned as a fund-raiser for the LA84 Foundation, a non-profit that funds youth sports in southern California. The foundation inherited it along with a vast collection of sports artifacts from a Los Angeles sports museum opened in the 1930’s, the Helms Athletic Foundation. (The foundation, in fact, retroactively awarded Tech its 1917 and 1928 national championships. John Heisman, who coached the 1916 team and whose role in scheduling the Cumberland game is part of sports lore, was the coach of the 1916 team.)
The ball was donated to the museum by Bill Schroeder, an avid sports collector who was known to acquire items simply by writing to sports figures to ask for them.
As the museum changed locations, the ball was boxed and had been in storage since the early 1980’s, brought out only this year with the LA84 Foundation’s plan to auction it.
Schneider figures the ball will arrive in a couple weeks. He’ll let his father and his children – Lily, Gray and Owen – take a good look at it before donating it to his alma mater.
In an e-mail to Bobinski that Schneider shared with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Schneider wrote that he would “get the ball to its rightful place. Any agreement will leave its presentation and protection in perpetuity in the Institute’s hands. It is the least I could do for what Tech has given me.”