ESC's Beginner's Guide to

The information provided below contains general information that is provided for the purpose of introducing collectors to the genre of collecting game-used jerseys and includes the following topics:

What Are Game-Used Jerseys?

These are authentic pieces of apparel that a player wore during an actual game during his professional career.

Jerseys may or may not be autographed by the player. If signed, these items will often command a higher price. Many collectors, however, prefer to have unsigned pieces, feeling that the visible autograph detracts from the authentic just-off-the-field appearance. If a jersey is to be autographed, most collectors prefer that the signature appears on the back of the jersey as they are most often displayed with the nameplate showing so as to identify the player. Further, in order to highlight the autograph, the player's signature is usually affixed on the uniform number with a permanent marker of a contrasting color.


Why Collect Game-Used Jerseys?

Game-used jerseys and equipment is considered by many to be the pinnacle in sports memorabilia collecting. While other types of game-used items reside in many football collections, jerseys are by far the most popular item. This is especially true amongst player-specific collectors who relate owning such a piece with having a more personal connection to his or her favorite player. Additionally, every piece of game-used equipment, jerseys or other items, has a place in sports history.

Interest in this type of memorabilia is also driven by the relative scarcity of these items. In years past, players were often issued only two jerseys each year (home and road) and in some cases, players wore the same jerseys for more that one year. It is not unfathomable, that for certain players who had short playing careers, only a couple of authentic jerseys may exist.


What Should I Collect?

Collect what you enjoy. Although everyone would like to own a John Elway or a vintage AFL-era jersey, the cost of either may be prohibitive. If a person collects what he or she is most passionate about without regard to its value, the collector will ultimately derive maximum enjoyment from each acquisition, and that satisfaction will be repeated each time the collection is reviewed or shared with others.


How Do I Know If It's Authentic?

The question is inevitable: "How do I know if it's authentic?" Aside from physically removing the jersey from the player on the field, novice collectors are wise to approach a potential purchase cautiously armed with a healthy dose of skepticism. As experience is gained over time, a collector will develop a trained eye and an understanding of the hobby. There are several items to be taken into consideration when attempting to determine the authenticity of a jersey. In the following section, we have highlighted the most crucial elements regarding authenticity.

The Ten Commandments of Buying Game-Used Jerseys

1. If there is any doubt in your mind, don’t buy it. It is no accident that this item is listed first. It is the one rule to which there should be no exceptions. No one else’s opinion matters if, for any reason, you are not completely comfortable with the piece. When all is said and done, you and you alone are the one who will have to sleep at night with having made the purchase decision.

2. Do your research. Most collectors of game-used jerseys have a reasonably well defined "niche" interest. This range of interest can be of a single player, a particular team, or any other topical grouping of ones’ choice. Before spending hundreds or thousands of dollars, one should endeavor to become knowledgeable in their area of interest.
Determining what level of expertise is appropriate is up to the individual as this goes back to being able to feel comfortable in making an acquisition. Further, an educated collector may possibly have more leverage in negotiating a better deal for a purchase.
There are three areas in which a collector should have at least a basic knowledge: 1) Familiarity with the physical specifications of the item in question; 2) Familiarity with what constitutes evidence of game wear; and 3) Familiarity with the marketplace.

3. Always inquire as to the item’s provenance. With many vintage pieces and even some that are less traveled, the story attached to the jersey’s travels from the back of the original wearer to the hands of the seller offering it to you can often be well documented. The fewer hands through which it has passed make the chain of custody reasonably uncomplicated to establish. A jersey obtained directly from the player may often be one of the more reliable indicators of authenticity. Additionally, a few teams and the league itself have begun to market their own game-used jerseys, either directly or through third parties. Pieces obtained in such a manner are often accompanied by, what is considered, solid documentation of provenance.
More often than not, however, most pieces will have traveled through the hands of a number of dealers and/or collectors before you have the opportunity to add the item to your collection. In this case, and as is often the case with newer jerseys, the specifics of the item’s provenance will be unknown.
When considering a purchase, make it a point to ask the seller the story behind the item. If this story reveals additional details about the item’s history, ask the seller to put this in writing and have it included it with the piece. Also, if the seller notes any documentation regarding the items' provenance, insist that this be included with the sale as well.

4. Don’t bet the bank on Letters of Authentication/Opinion. Generally these can be categorized into two distinct types: 1) Those of reputable sellers who are pinning their reputation on this document, and; 2) Those of the less honest seller for which the piece of paper is as worthless as a the item that they’re attempting to market. While the latter sort needs no further explanation, even documentation of the first sort should be taken for what it’s worth. No matter the source of the letter, no matter the detail contained, these letters are still nothing more than the documented opinion of the authenticator. No letter, no matter how eloquently worded will ever make a bad piece good. These authentications are only as good as their expertise, and while some are better than others, I know of none who have not made their fair share of mistakes. While it is obviously preferable to possess the knowledge to be able to self-authenticate each purchase, if having the opinion of a 3rd-party is the only alternative which allows you reasonable peace of mind, then there is no reason that this service should not be undertaken (Note: ESC provides independent authentication services for Broncos jerseys. For further information see our Authentication page ).

5. If the price is too good to be true.... The general guideline to remember here is that you normally get what you pay for. While bargains can be had, the Internet and broad access to the market make these ever rarer. Knowledge of the market can help you determine the difference between a good deal and an unrealistically low price. Here again, I again refer back to rule #2 and the importance of doing your research. A component of your knowledge as an informed collector should include knowing what the approximate market value is for the piece that your are considering purchasing.
Part of our research consists of reviewing auction results summaries for sales of game-used jerseys. Maintaining an accurate record of these transactions allows us to establish the data necessary to estimate the market value of any other comparable pieces on the market. This sales data Endzone Sports has collected is available at our Broncos Jersey Sales Data Archive (xls), which includes price guide data compiled from purchase and sales transactions of Broncos jerseys over the past nine years.
Further, a buyer must have a basic understanding of elements that affect the value. For the most part, this includes, but is not necessarily limited to the following:

6. Don’t be pressured into a quick buy. This is the one rule where, if unheeded, can often lead to a profound, and often incurable case of "buyer’s remorse." It is also the one rule which is easiest to ignore. When a collector comes across a find that has plagued his/her want-list for ages, the sense of elation will often overpower the application of common sense (the basis on which these rules are founded). Too often, collectors want so much for the item to be authentic that emotions can easily overpower good judgment.

7. Ask other dealers or collectors for references for the person or firm with whom you are dealing. A reputable seller will have no qualms about giving you a list of customers with whom they’ve done business since a satisfied customer is a powerful advertising tool. Dealers who specialize in this area of the memorabilia field also do business amongst themselves and thus can sometimes provide professional references as well. Another source of reference to consider is the trade publication in which they advertise. Many such publications will keep a record of any complaints filed against their advertisers. If they cannot or will not provide references, you might want to ask yourself why they would not want to do so.

8. If you find a source you trust, stick with them. The easiest way to avoid getting burned is to deal with people you trust. Such a trust can begin to be established via references, but will only become fully entrenched once you have established a first-hand relationship with them yourself. While I will not use this as a forum for specific endorsements, I will make an example of one such dealer.... Having completed a number of transactions over the years, I have found them to be knowledgeable of their inventory, honest and forthcoming with their information, and fair in their pricing. I can’t think of anything else that I could ask for and would not hesitate to do business with them in the future or recommend them to others. This is the type of relationship that one could only hope to establish with a dealer.

9. Know your rights as a consumer. For the most part, the vast majority today's transactions are accomplished via the Internet, phone and mail. While most of these "sight-unseen" deals are transacted without a hitch, problems can and do at times arise due to lack of detail, misunderstanding, and/or misinformation in the communication process. If and when this occurs, the buyer can usually return an item that they are not satisfied with, but must be aware of the policies that govern such a return. Specific items to take note of include the time frame during which an item can be returned, any fees that a buyer may incur due to a return, and allowances for third-party examination and/or authentication.

10. In the absence of any other considerations, refer back to rule #1.


Glossary of "Game-Used" Terminology

Altered - Having undergone physical modifications from its original condition. Alterations may include: (1) Customization to accommodate a player’s preference (i.e. tapering of the body, cutting/venting or tapering of the sleeves, etc.); (2) name/number changes; (3) restoration with the intent of restoring it to a state of being historically accurate (such as sewing a new nameplate on a jersey where the original plate had been removed (See "NOBR").
Authentic - Refers to NFL ProLine Authentic jerseys-- retail jerseys manufactured to the specifications of those worn by NFL teams. Jerseys of this type are nearly, if not, in some cases identical to the jerseys worn by the players during games. These are available to the general public through retail and direct mail-order outlets.
Burn- Sections of melted nylon resulting from forceful contact with artificial turf.
Doctored - A piece which has been modified with fraudulent intent. i.e. distressing a new or team-issued item to appear as if game-used/worn or replacement of name and #s on a common player's game used jersey to appear as if worn by another player.
Dureen - A nylon and cotton blend knit fabric used in the manufacture of jerseys from the early 1960s through the early to mid-1970s (or as late as the early-1980s by some other teams).
Game-Ready - An authentic piece of apparel made completely ready for the player’s use in game action, but not worn or used. These pieces will have received player-requested alterations and may have been part of a player's uniform rotation, but for one reason or another, never saw game action.
Game-Worn (GW) - An authentic piece of apparel that a player wore during a game during his professional career. Often used interchangeably with the term game-used (see below).
Game-Used (GU) - An authentic piece of equipment or apparel that a player used or wore during play in an actual game during his professional career. Often used interchangeably with the term game-worn (See above).
Gathering - Puckering of lettering, numbers, and patches as a result of repeated laundering. Letter of Opinion (LOO) - Document provided by seller or independent individual/firm, attesting, in varying degrees of detail, to the authenticity of an item, which is usually stated in the form of the professional opinion of the authenticator. Also referred to as a “Letter of Authenticity” (LOA).
Micro-Mesh - 100% nylon mesh fabric used for jerseys since the early 1970s.
Name/Number Change - An alteration made by the team to make the jersey available for another player or season.
NOB - Common abbreviation for "Name on back" which refers to player’s name affixed to the back of jersey, most often on a sewn-on nameplate.
NOBR - Common abbreviation for "Name on back removed" which refers to a jersey whose lettering and/or nameplate had been removed.
NNOB - "No Name On Back." Refers to a jersey that does not feature the players name or the jersey's back.
Patches - Generally an embroidered patch affixed to jersey's breast or sleeve and of a commemorative or memorial nature.
Pilling - Formation of small balls of material resembling pills that is the result of friction from repetitive motion, impact, etc. It is most commonly found on spandex panels, under sleeves, inside of cowls and tails, and on the satin-like shoulder material used on many jerseys.
Repair - To restore to sound condition after damage; differing an alteration in that nothing has been changed. This includes sewing of holes or tears, resewing of loose lettering or numbering, etc.
Restoration - Returning a jersey to as close to its original condition, which may include reapplying a nameplate, number(s), or patch. Restoration differs from alterations and repairs in that it is no not vintage to the period.
Screened or Screened-on - Process of applying a heat-cured, rubberized vinyl material used for striping and/or numbering of jerseys. Manufacturer’s use a variety of proprietary names such as "RussCote" (Russell Athletic) and "Vi-Screen" (Wilson Sporting Goods Co.). This term is also sometimes used, though inaccurately, for the process of applying heat-transferred pre-cut vinyl lettering onto nameplates.
Tackle Twill - Hard finish nylon-based fabric utilized for sewn-on numbering and/or lettering on some jerseys. Also referred to as "Pro Twill" and other like terms by some manufacturers.
Tagging or Tags - Refers to any manufacturer or team applied tags affixed to the jersey and may include: Team-Issued - A jersey ordered by the team and intended for game use, but not worn or used. Generally these are "stock" jerseys and may not have had player's name applied and will not have any custom alterations. Sometimes referred to as "game-issued".
Use or Wear - Visible evidence which indicate that a particular piece was used or worn for game play. Usually described in general and subjective terms of varying degrees (i.e. Light use, heavy wear, etc.). Evidence of use or wear may include, custom alterations, scuffs, stains, tears, and repairs.

(Thanks in part to Jon Nakasone for "Collecting Tips" contributions)

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last revised January 2, 2009
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