Throughout 30 years of covering, researching and writing about this great hobby, I’ve discovered one indisputable truth. The level of penmanship practiced by professional athletes has waned considerably. Is the habit of signing one’s name a lost art? Maybe it’s a societal shift in our schools? Are grade-school teachers moving away from practicing the repetitious act? Or is today’s technology – with every form of communication coming from a computer, smart phone or simply via text – so detached from old-school penmanship that the skill of handwriting has been lost? Perhaps forever.
Just last week, during an on-air segment on the Great American Collectibles Show with co-host and former Boston Red Sox infielder Rico Petrocelli, I asked him that very question. His response: “Nowadays, Terry, forget it. I don’t understand it. If I was a collector, I would want pretty good, legible autographs.” After being complimented on his own signature by fellow show host Tom Zappala, the 75-year-old Petrocelli responded: “Well, the nuns, back in the day, would crack you over the head if it wasn’t good.” I got a good chuckle out of that, but it also drove the point home that today’s athletes may need to be reminded to take a moment and really give a solid effort when they sign. It’s something the fan cherishes, and will no doubt hold on to for a period of time. Perhaps they’ll even pass it on to their next of kin.
All of this leads me to today’s post, which, given the season, I’ve decided to devote to some of the best autographs ever scrawled by five of the NFL’s best. The following quintet of Football Hall of Famers have some of the cleanest, most legible and aesthetically pleasing signatures the hobby has ever seen. I wanted to recognize them for not only their on-field accomplishments that landed them in Canton, but on the fact that their autographs are all Hall of Fame caliber. They are all featured within PSA’s AutographFacts section so don’t be shy about comparing their signatures. As always, autograph authentication by PSA/DNA is recommended.
The MVP of Super Bowls I and II, Bart Starr is the player who turned Green Bay into Titletown, USA. The longtime QB of the Packers teamed with head coach Vince Lombardi to turn the state of Wisconsin into a football mecca. The now 84-year-old icon was drafted in the 17th round of the 1956 NFL Draft (199th overall) and was study in patience and progress out on the field. The same can be said for his autograph, which is undeniably a work of art. When you get a signature from Starr, you know you’re getting quality and, best of all, you know whose it is.
The “Kansas Comet” was a top-flight running back taken by the Chicago Bears with the fourth overall pick in the 1965 NFL Draft. Graceful and elusive out on the field, Gale Sayers set numerous rushing records despite playing just parts of seven NFL seasons. In his rookie year, he scored an NFL record 22 touchdowns and gained 2,272 all-purpose yards, another record for an NFL rookie. Knee injuries forced Sayers into early retirement, but with the same dedication he performed out on the field as well as rehabbing his knee, he mastered one of the most graceful autographs the industry has ever seen. At 75, his signature remains as popular as ever.
“Broadway Joe” is best known for the pregame guarantee that his 14-point underdog New York Jets would, indeed, beat the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. Brash, stylish and not afraid to speak his mind, the 6-foot-2 signal-caller from the Univ. of Alabama was taken by the Jets with the first overall pick in the 1965 AFL Draft. Namath signed his contract and continued to hone his handwriting skills throughout the years. Today, based on his Super Bowl prediction and subsequent 16-7 win, fans continue to line up for the 75-year-old Namath’s sought-after signature at venues across the country including the National Sports Collectors Convention.
An entire generation knows Terry Bradshaw as only a football pundit who shares his opinion on all matters of the gridiron every Sunday on FOX. But well before he became an NFL analyst, Bradshaw set the benchmark for all quarterbacks to come. Taken by the Steelers with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1970 NFL Draft, the perennial Pro Bowler steered Pittsburgh to four Super Bowl titles (IX, X, XIII and XIV) in six years and was named MVP of football’s biggest game twice. His signature mirrors the meticulous way he went about directing the Steelers’ offense for 13 seasons. The spry 70-year-old continues to thrill the masses, only nowadays he’s doing it for fantasy football fanatics who love the game almost as much as he does.
John Elway rocked the NFL during a tumultuous 1983 NFL Draft by demanding that he not be selected by the then-Baltimore Colts with the No. 1 overall pick. The former Stanford standout would eventually settle on a trade to the Denver Broncos and the rest, as they say, is history. Back-to-back Super Bowl titles (XXXII and XXXIII) and a Super Bowl MVP award cemented Elway’s legacy as Denver’s greatest QB in history. Now serving as the team’s President of Football Operations, Elway has had ample of time to finesse his signature by signing plenty of player contracts. Like his passes used to be, his delivery with a pen or marker is precise, fast and tight. Adding his uniform number “7” and “HOF 04” is always a nice touch.