When Neil O’Donnell was dragging down the Jets in the mid-’90s, my buddy Geoff and I were roommates in Boston. We had spent two solid seasons imitating O’Donnell’s thick New York accent from the news conference after he signed with them (“I was brought here to win games I’m a winn-ah ”) every time he screwed up for them. It just never got old.
For Christmas in ’97, Geoff gave me an autographed O’Donnell football he won in a charity auction. This was an authentic NFL football, exactly like the one they used during games, only Geoff landed it for $50. In other words, O’Donnell’s signature had devalued the football by almost half. This brought us endless amounts of joy. We went outside and played catch in a parking lot, with no regard for the wear and tear on O’Donnell’s signature. If anything, we were intentionally trying to scuff the ball up to make it go away. Now that, my friends, is a great NFL-related Christmas gift.
SPORTS GAL’S PICKS
GB -1.5, Det +17.5, Cin +7, Atl -2.5, SG +6.5, NYJ -8.5, Ten -3, Bal -2.5, Den +7.5, Sea -2.5, Min +3, NE -7. SD -5.5, NYG +2.5, Cle +14
This Week: 0-0-1
Last Week: 5-11
The flip side to that coin: In last week’s column, I linked to Aaron Brooks’ Raiders jersey (on sale for just $99.99) and wondered if it made for a more depressing Christmas gift than Laurence Maroney’s New England jersey (going for full price: $249.95). Then I made the mistake of asking readers to send me the most depressing NFL-related gifts they could find. Roughly 10 trillion e-mails later, we were able to narrow down that list to a top 50. What scared me was how addictive the process was. I spent two solid mornings searching for horrible NFL gifts and another day compiling them into the list you’re about to see. In a way, it was like Nic Cage delving into the world of hard-core porn in “8MM” — I saw some things I just couldn’t unsee. I was in too deep. I couldn’t step away. I had to keep looking and looking. I always felt the elusive “Worst NFL Christmas Gift” was just one click away.
Don’t consider this a final be-all-and-end-all list; the simple fact is I ran out of time. This was the best I could do. The rankings were weighted by the following factors:
A. The absurdity of the price.
B. Complete lack of any semblance of appeal.
C. Any inherent comedy that could be involved.
D. Any time I found myself staring at the gift and trying to figure out any possible circumstance in which someone would purchase that gift, then coming up empty.
E. The ability of the gift to elicit an extreme reaction from anyone who opened it — either confusion, reprehension or laughter.
F. Any residual “This would be overpriced if the economy wasn’t in the tank right now, but with the country in a financial swoon, how could this be the price????” anger that the gift brings to the table.
G. The name “Bernard Pollard” could not be included in any way.
One important note: For every reader’s suggestion we used, we ran their explanation as well. I included my thoughts afterward in parentheses with a “BS” tag. Without further ado
50. Neal Cope in Nashville: “Check out the Vince Young trash-talk shirt, “conVINCEd yet?” The people of Nashville have a pretty good idea about VY now, but I doubt it is the intention of the shirt. We are indeed ‘conVINCEd’ that the Titans should have drafted Jay Cutler.”
(BS: This would have been higher on the list if the price of $8.97 didn’t make it such an enticing joke gift. By the way, the fact that Vince appears four times in the top 10 clearance items in Tennessee’s pro shop isn’t a good sign for the VY era. I’m just saying.)
49. For the low, low, low price of just $69, you can own this signed picture of the immortal Art Shell Face! Just think, you could frame it with captions like, “What down is it again?” “What’s the name of our quarterback again?” “I’m not moving until I finish peeing on myself” “How long before people start catching on that my headset isn’t turned on?” and “I’d throw the challenge flag if I wasn’t flat-lining right now.”
48. Joel K. in Houston: “As a lifelong Vikings fan, the fact that this replica Tarvaris Jackson jersey continues to exist, AT ANY PRICE, is profoundly depressing. Like one of your readers pointed out to you after the Patriots’ Super Bowl loss, Vikings fans feel that depressed every day. And the occupant of this jersey will ensure that continues.”
(BS: I’m a little more partial to this action poster of Tarvaris for only $34.99. Look at that throwing motion — you can see the line drive grounder coming right at you! It’s too bad we couldn’t get this baby framed and signed for $250.)
47. Although this official NFL football with the inscription “Best Wishes, Matt Millen” seems a little overpriced at $59.99 and might provoke an Artest-like melee at any family Christmas gift exchange in Michigan, think of my O’Donnell example above and how much fun it would be for Lions fans to whip a Matt Millen football against walls, pavement, trees, parked cars, an overflowed toilet
46. Gordon in Cleveland: “Yes, it’s the Derek Anderson ’08 Pro Bowl jersey. Too bad it’s only a replica, because nothing says ‘God I hate myself’ more than the authentic jersey of the poor man’s Tim Couch.”
(BS: Note to everyone ready to pay $45-50 million for Matt Cassel this winter — read the previous e-mail VERY carefully.)
45. Here’s a gift that combines Wisconsin’s two favorite things: The Packers and eating. It’s a Packers soup helmet for the jaw-dropping price of $39.95. I can’t decide if that’s high or low. But we can all agree that the thought of a 425-pound Packers fan rejoicing as he opens a Packers soup helmet is pretty damned depressing.
(BS: Just for kicks, I typed in “NFL XXXXXXL” in Google’s shopping search. The first result that came up? That’s right, the Green Bay Packers. This has nothing to do with the column; I just wanted to ask one last time how the hell did CC Sabathia turn the Brewers down????? It was destiny, CC! You can’t run from your destiny!!!!)
44. This goofy Tommy Maddox-signed photo (on sale for $43.99) received a baffling “Popular Gift!” tag from the Web site that is selling it. Really? The goofy Tommy Maddox-signed photos are selling like hot cakes right now?
43. Ryan in Los Angeles: “You asked for it it’s the 2007 AFC Champs T-shirt for the Pats. On sale for just five bucks!”
(BS: I mean, at this point, shouldn’t these NFL merchandise sites just create a “JOKE GIFTS” category? What other reason would there be to purchase that shirt? FYI: We’re now heading into the realm of “just plain miserable and bewildering,” starting now.)
42. For the how-could-you-resist price of $15, it’s a signed photo of Andy Reid staring at his play chart and deciding which horrible play to send in next! Third-and-1 should I roll Donovan to the right and have him throw an off-balance pass that L.J. Smith can drop? Or should I run a third-string running back behind my two worst blockers? Hmmmmmm. Since offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is handling play-calling duties for Philly now, I’d go so far as to call this a collector’s item. Unless you’re a Philly fan.
41. Tyson in Ottawa: “How about this for worst gift … a $44.95 framed picture of Braylon Edwards dropping a catch? Could they have found just one pic of him catching one? Apparently not.”
(BS: This got me thinking of an idea for next season — what if the Browns saved every game ball that Edwards dropped during the ’08 season and auctioned them afterward as a collector’s set? Would it go for $1,500, $3,000, $4,500? Imagine a sports bar buying it and building a special shelf behind the bar to accommodate 27 dropped footballs from Braylon? The Browns fans would go there just to stare at it the same way people stare at the Grand Canyon. I would strongly consider this idea for next season.)
40. Did you know you can purchase an autographed copy of Troy Aikman’s book, “Mind, Body & Soul” — on sale for a scant $199? Hell, why spend for Salinger or Updike when you can get Aikman? By the way, I’m severely disappointed this book wasn’t called either “I Forgot I Wrote This Book” or “You’re Exactly Right, Joe.”
39. Bruce in Houston: “Try opening a framed David Carr Texans rookie card for Christmas if you’re a Texans fan. This would make Mike Gundy cry even though he is a man and 40.”
38. How ’bout this signed Super Bowl XLII football by Antonio Pierce for $269.99 that reads, “If you ever shoot yourself with this ball, I will hide it for you!” OK, I made that last part up. But $270 for a Pierce football? If you could get Cheddar Plax’s signature on that baby, THAT would be worth $270.
37. Skip in Chicago: “I’m sure I won’t be the first or last to send a link to this $270 autographed Cade McNown football to you.”
(BS: And you weren’t. But did you know that, for an extra $99, you can jump over to eBay for an autographed mini-helmet with Luke McCown’s signature and a signed Lions football from Josh McCown and bang out the finest selection of McCown/McNown memorabilia for less than $370? Money well spent!)
36. If you’re dressing your infant daughter like a Lions cheerleader this winter, you’re basically announcing, “I want my little girl to grow up with no self-esteem whatsoever and eventually go into porn.”
35. Sean in Fall River, Mass.: “More depressing than anything else currently occurring with the Patriots is the stellar play of Deltha O’Neal, as you pointed out. I nominate his $79.99 Bengals jersey as THE single most depressing jersey available on NFL Shop because no Bengals fan would want it and, quite simply, it brings Patriots Nation great sadness any time one thinks about how a few games would’ve gone had he just remained in Cincinnati.”
(BS: Great point there. Any time you can bum out anyone from TWO fan bases, that’s a pretty depressing Christmas gift. Speaking of the Bengals )
34. Check out this Bengals flask for 37 bucks. Such a thoughtful gift for Bengals fans. No, seriously. What’s funny is that the prices of the flasks differ depending on the team. Shouldn’t they be charging triple for the Lions flask?
33. Kevin P. in Cleveland: “To whom would you even give this $150 autographed Tim Couch football?!?! A Kentucky fan? I might buy it for my dad (a die-hard Browns fan) just to see the look on his face! I think he would fight me.”
(BS: This won’t come as a major surprise, but Cleveland, Buffalo and Detroit fans were responsible for 75 percent of the depressing gift suggestions from the past week. What’s strange is the Bengals fans were serenely quiet. Are we sure they’re still alive? Was there a Jim Jones/Flavor-Aid situation that hasn’t come out yet? Let’s send some National Guardsmen down to Cincy just to make sure.)
32. Remember the Raiders’ big free-agent receiver they signed in the summer of 2008, Javon Walker? His jersey is already on sale for 60 percent off. Their other big free-agent signing, cornerback DeAngelo Hall, is nowhere to be seen. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2008 Oakland Raiders!
(BS: Speaking of Hall, I enjoyed his toddler’s Atlanta jersey for a couple of reasons. First, there’s no better way to get your son into the NFL by purchasing him a jersey of an unpopular player who has been on two teams since he left the Falcons. Even better, it’s on sale from $39.99 to $38.99. So wait, knocking that dollar off didn’t drive up interest? Maybe they should lower it to $37.50?)
31. If you learn anything from this column other than this country is messed up, I hope it’s this: Apparently, Al Davis’ signature is the hardest autograph to find of Hall of Famers, living or dead. (And in Al’s case, both words apply.) How hard? you ask. Well, this Davis-signed payroll check from 1977 is selling on eBay right now for a whopping $449. In fact, the going rate for Davis’ signature seems to be somewhere between $200 and $300. None of this makes sense until you remember there’s a slight chance he might be a sea monster. Anyway, it seems crazy to me that anything signed by Al Davis would be worth $449, and unless you were a die-hard collector, you’d be completely confused if someone gave you a 1977 payroll check signed by Davis as a Christmas gift. So I’m sticking it at No. 31 to be safe.
30. Jay Perry in Westport, Mass.: “This Ryan Leaf beano is easily the most vile gift you could give a football fan. Santa Claus wouldn’t even allow that on his sleigh. He’d FedEx to the poor sucker who was unfortunate enough to receive it on Xmas.”
(BS: Congrats to Ryan Leaf for winning the “most different depressing Christmas gifts related to one player” award over the past week. We’re not even done with him yet.)
29. Note to the Cardinals: You might want to start discounting that $260 Edge James jersey. No, seriously. Give it a whirl. Any time now.
28. John in Hoboken, N.J.: “A $250 Laurence Maroney jersey can be worn for warmth. What are you going to do with a $250 game-used football from one of the most pathetic games this season: Bengals 13, Eagles 13? Eat it for sustenance? What’s more scary, the fact the Eagles are selling balls from this game, or that these balls are on back order?”
(BS: I’m not as down on this memento because it comes from one of the worst football games ever played, as well as the game that led to Donovan McNabb revealing he didn’t know you could have ties during the regular season. That’s a decent conversation piece. Would the conversation be worth $250? Of course not.)
27. Here’s a signed Tiki Barber photo of the last time he jogged out of the tunnel at Giants Stadium for the staggering price of $152.99. How did they arrive at that specific price? Did they think $159.99 was too greedy? Were they thinking Giants fans would be torn between asking for this photo or an iPod? Don’t they know Giants fans turned on Tiki about three minutes after he retired? My brow is permanently furrowed.
26. I tried to think of even one reason why someone would spend $209.99 on an Ashley Lelie-autographed football and here’s what I came up with: If you won the “Madden Nation” Super Bowl with Denver thanks to a “Hail Mary” pass to Lelie, so you wanted a little memento to remember what happened. That’s it. There are no other reasons.
25. Frank in La Jolla, Calif.: “This Ryan Leaf jersey is slowly dropping into joke-gift territory — from $390 to $186. In 10 years, we might really have something.”
(BS: Leaf is becoming the Michael Phelps of this column. He might go for the “depressing gift” equivalent of eight gold medals by the time everything is said and done.)
THE B.S. REPORT
Bill Simmons did three podcasts this week:
Also, if you’re bored and want to sift through 7½ years of Simmons columns, the S.G. Subject Archive has been updated through December 2008.
24. Relive the Shaun Alexander era with an autographed Seahawks jersey on sale for just $481!!!!! Should I make the “he signed this thing, walked three yards and fell down” joke? Nahhhhhhh.
23. Jake in Hermosa Beach, Calif.: “You asked for a depressing NFL Shop gift how about if this nice wooden frame actually came with a $269 Mike Williams jersey in it? Oh, wait.”
22. We’ve linked to this before but couldn’t leave it out: It’s your very own St. Louis Rams doormat for just $61! This doubles as their 2008 team picture so you’re really getting two gifts for the price of one.
21. Can you think of a worse ex-football player to delve into the barbecue business than Tony Siragusa? Me neither. When I look at the Goose, I don’t think about tasty food I think about somebody coming out of my guest bathroom with an “I wouldn’t go in there” face. And I don’t think I’m alone. No matter. For nearly $100, you can order the Goose’s special BBQ pulled pork and baby back BBQ ribs for any friend who loves cooking and he will ultimately hate you for giving him that gift.
20. Tom Mertin in Buffalo: “Quick announcement: If anyone gets me a gift from the Bills/Toronto shop, I will burn their Christmas tree and pee on the ashes.”
(BS: In last week’s column, I predicted Toronto fans would lift the Bills for three hours like an unmarried cougar throwing themselves at a married guy in the office. What I didn’t realize was that somebody would spike the cougar’s drink. Good God. Has there ever been a worse crowd in NFL history? I thought the Toronto fans were going to start “We don’t want you!” and “Thanks anyway, we’re all set!” chants.)
19. You’re not gonna believe this, but sportsmemorabilia.com is having a gigantic sale on Plaxico Burress items. My personal favorite: Plax’s Super Bowl XLII bobblehead is on sale for $24.95. I might buy one, drill a hole in his right leg, color in some fake blood and put it in my office just to ease the pain from 2/4/08. And it won’t work.
18. Chad in Gainesville, Va.: “Those Maroney and Brooks jerseys were great finds but cannot be better than these authentic, game-worn socks by none other than Tank Johnson! And not just one game, but he wore them in two! You can spend hours on this site making fun of the ridiculous prices on ridiculous items.”
(BS: You mean, like this autographed Freddie Mitchell picture that’s $100 off and selling for $49.99 with a “Five or less left!” tag next to it? Does that qualify as ridiculous?)
17. I was really disappointed that I never snapped up a $400 Kordell Stewart-signed Steelers jersey for half price. They ran out. Fortunately, they have plenty of $280 Bears helmets left that were autographed by Kordell himself! Also, you can get an autographed gold-panel football from Kordell for just $87.99, then head outside on Christmas Day and overthrow members of your family for two hours.
16. Derek in Fostoria, Ohio: “First of all, if I get anything from anybody that has anything to do with the Lions, I will assume they are making fun of me and I will punch them in the face (I already informed grandma of this). After I get done assaulting said gift-giver, and I notice the gift is this Eddie Drummond jersey, I would probably have the same look Ralphie has on his face when he gets the bunny outfit from his aunt. I know that person would be trying to humiliate me. It’d be worse than saying that person slept with my mom, even if it was true! I had to Google Drummond to see if he was even on ANY NFL roster, and sure enough, he isn’t! How can they get away with asking $30 for this thing? The guy who takes these orders has to be laughing his butt off the whole shift.”
15. You only have $139 to spend on a Christmas gift. Do you go with an autographed Sports Illustrated cover of Ryan Leaf or one of Art Schlichter? I mean, that’s like choosing between Wilt and Russell.
14. Brandon in Newton, Mass.: “What Bears fan wouldn’t get excited over this signed Rex Grossman action photo for $178.99? Check out that beautiful short-arm throw! I wonder which team caught that beauty.”
13. Warning to Buffalo Bills fans: Do not click on this link. Or this one. You can click on this one though: It’s an autographed Thurman Thomas helmet on sale for just $367.90. You could bring it to parties, then joke about how you can’t remember where you put it. What, too soon? Come on, it’s been almost 20 years!
Packers (-1.5) over JAGUARS
This Week: 0-0-1
12. Zach in Dallas: “Check out this ‘Memories’ Quincy Carter-signed jersey for $500. You mean the memories I have of throwing my remote at the TV?”
11. Just think, you’re $200 away from waking up every morning and making fresh orange juice with your O.J. Simpson “The Juice” Juice Extractor. What are you waiting for? Buy this for your wife already! She won’t read any hidden meaning into it at all. Just trust me.
10. Joe in Winthrop, Mass.: “Check out this Alex Smith jersey for $240. How many of those do you think they have leftover?”
(BS: Instead of dropping $240 on the Smith jersey, I’d much rather see you get an autographed Dave Wannstedt Dolphins football, a Joe Buck-signed football and a signed Ron Dayne mini-helmet for about the same combined price.)
9. Here’s an idea for ESPN’s next reality show: Let’s scour the country and find the one Cowboys fan who would drop $499 on a Cowboys helmet signed by Jerry Jones. I think we’d have a better chance of finding Bigfoot.
8. Matt in Iowa: “The priceless jersey that Daunte Culpepper wore to lead the Vikings to a SHOCKING 0-2 start during the 2005 season? You know, an opening-day loss to Tampa Bay and a shellacking courtesy of the Bengals? Yeah, gimme that guy’s jersey for $1,500. The product description warns us to ‘expect rips, tears and scuffs as this product is fresh from the battle of the gridiron!’ Two weeks later, Culpepper relaxes on Lake Minnetonka with some teammates.”
(BS: If you do a Google shopping search for Culpepper merchandise between $100 and $1,200, 273 items come up. I’m going out on a limb and saying the Culpepper market is a little flooded.)
7. True or false: Herm Edwards wrote a book three years ago called “You Play To Win The Game: Leadership Lessons On and Off the Field?” I’ll give you a second to mull it over.
(You’re leaning towards false, right? I mean, that seems like a title I would have made up.)
You probably said false. And you were wrong. Because that book happened. You can even purchase a first-edition, signed copy for $89.99 right here. What cracks me up is that, had I spent 20 minutes coming up with joke titles for a Herm Edwards book, “You Play To Win The Game” absolutely would have cracked the top four along with, “We Can Build On This!”, “Hold Your Head Up, We Almost Won” and “Every Football Game Lasts For 60 Minutes (Unless There’s Overtime).”
6. Grant in Seattle: “This game-used Steve Hutchinson jersey (yours if you want to top the current $421 bid) reminds any Seattle sports follower of when s— hit the fan. Hutch leaves and the Seahawks suck, the ‘team that shall not be mentioned’ was set into motion and Bill Bavasi decided he wanted to be more hated than Scott Boras. It all started with the day this jersey died.”
5. Laura in Boston: “Growing up in San Diego, I would have to say that this autographed Ryan Leaf jersey takes the cake (talk about a disappointment my poor father). I really can’t think of anything that anyone would want to get less than this for Christmas. And it’s $500! This would only be a gift appropriate if your child was a total failure and you were trying to send a message.”
4. Not to make light of the Rae Carruth saga, but what kind of country are we living in when (A) his autographed photo goes for $20 and (B) the description for the photo reads, “1997 Leaf Signature 8×10 photo card with certified autograph of former Carolina Panthers and Colorado Buffaloes receiver Rae Carruth, now serving prison time for conspiracy to commit murder.” Were the last nine words thrown in there to entice buyers or something? You know, I was on the fence, but now that I know that he’s in jail for conspiracy to commit murder, I’m in! If you have a felon-memorabilia fetish, don’t forget to splurge for Nate Newton’s signed football for $99. And any time you can get a signed Bam Morris photo for $55, you have to step in.
3. Here’s a Chiefs helmet signed by Priest Holmes and Trent Green, the perfect gift for anyone who wants to play a fun game of tackle football in a helmet blessed by two guys whose careers were plagued by concussions and vertebrae injuries. It’s like buying a haunted house. And get this, it’s only $899 dollars! I’m gonna wager that this item will be going on sale soon.
2. This nearly made the No. 1 slot and probably should have: It’s a throwback Jim Brown Cleveland jersey, only it’s part of the “women’s premier” collection, which means it’s a jersey specifically designed for women to wear. Can you think of a more appalling gift for a girlfriend or wife than the throwback jersey of Jim Brown, the guy with a history of domestic abuse charges and making demeaning comments against women? I certainly can’t. No wonder it’s on sale. Too bad they can’t sell this with an “Ike Turner’s Greatest Hits” CD.
1. How could anyone else grab the No. 1 spot but Michael Vick? For some incredible reason, his autographed jersey hasn’t felt the effects of the economy: It’s only seen a 50 percent drop from $639 to $306. Meanwhile, you can bid on the exact same signed jersey on eBay for $60 plus shipping. The question remains: Who would buy Vick’s Falcons jersey right now? Is there a single person you can think of other than someone who’s married to a die-hard PETA member and wants to spur a divorce? Beyond that, would this even make for a funny joke gift? Wouldn’t it lead to an awkward silence at any family gift-opening gathering? It’s because of these questions that I’m nominating Vick’s $306 signed Falcons jersey as the single most depressing NFL-related gift for 2008.
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. For every Simmons column, as well as podcasts, videos, favorite links and more, check out the revamped Sports Guy’s World.