magnified-footstepsTom Brady’s Super Bowl jersey, worn as he carried the New England Patriots to a stunning victory in Houston last Sunday, has gone missing.  Brady says he put it in his bag after the game, turned around, and the next minute it was gone. No one knows where.

Press conferences have been held, statements have been issued, and the Texas Rangers (responsible for major incident crime investigations in the state) have now been put on the case.

One could be forgiven for thinking that this is something of a palaver over a few square metres of sweat-soaked material.  Yet not only is Brady’s shirt possibly the most valuable NFL collectible in existence, (worth in the region of $500,000, according to some estimates) but it also carries significant historical and sentimental value. Indeed, Dan Patrick, Texas’ lieutenant governor, confirmed in a statement on Monday:

“In Texas we place a very high value on hospitality and football. Tom Brady’s jersey has great historical value… It will likely go into the Hall of Fame one day.  It is important that history does not record that it was stolen in Texas.

Patrick even graciously put aside his own allegiances –

“I’m a Texans and Cowboys fan first but the unquestionable success of the Super Bowl in Houston last night was a big win for our entire state and I don’t want anything to mar that victory.  Whoever took this jersey should turn it in. The Texas rangers are on the trail.”

Items such as trophies, jerseys, medals and rings carry substantial financial and sentimental value not only to the athletes who wear and win them but also to the tournaments and governing bodies to which they attach.  Such items are inevitably coveted by fans, many of whom are willing to dig deep into their pockets to acquire them, thereby creating ample opportunity for an illegitimate market.  It is no surprise, therefore, that sports memorabilia has been the subject of a number of (in)famous sporting mysteries and legends over the years.  Here are just a few examples of the trials and tribulations experienced by athletes, governing bodies, officials, and clubs trying to protect their valued possessions:

  • 1911: The “first world cup” is stolen. Sometimes referred to as the “first world cup”, the Sir Thomas Lipton trophy was offered as the prize in an international football competition initiated by tea merchant Sir Thomas Lipton between teams from Switzerland, Germany, Italy, and England.  England’s team was the amateur side West Auckland (consisting predominantly of coal miners). It is not known why the FA did not send a professional team (one theory is that it was an administrative error, resulting from West Auckland sharing the same initials as Woolwich Arsenal).  In true underdog form, West Auckland went on to win the cup twice (in 1909 and 1911), entitling them to keep the trophy in perpetuity.  The trophy was reportedly lost during the celebrations which followed, but later handed in to West Auckland police.  Over seventy years later, in 1994, the trophy was sadly stolen again (this time from West Auckland Working Men’s club) and has never been recovered.
  • 1939-42: Jules Rimet narrowly escapes Nazi capture. Following Italy’s 1938 World Cup victory, the prize 30cm statuette of Nike was kept in a bank in Rome.  Following the breakout of World War 2, according to Lorenzo Garzella’s document “Rimet Trophy”, in an attempt to keep it safe from the Nazis, the trophy was moved to the apartment of Italian football official, Ottorino Barassi.  The Nazis reportedly searched Barassi’s apartment for the trophy but came away empty-handed, having missed an apparently innocent old shoebox under Barassi’s bed in which the trophy was hidden.
  • 1958: Jules Rimet switched? – By the mid 1950s, the Rimet trophy had relocated to Frankfurt, following West Germany’s 1954 success. Photojournalist Joe Coyle has since claimed that the trophy handed over to Sweden in 1958 was in fact a replica, pointing to a number of apparent discrepancies between photographs of the trophy in 1954 and in 1958.
  • 1966: Jules Rimet is stolen… and found. 1966 saw England host the World Cup and the Rimet trophy was famously stolen from an exhibition in London, only to be found by Pickles the dog a week later in a garden in West Norwood. To add to the controversy, the FA had commissioned jeweller George Bird to make a replica for display purposes.  When the Bird replica was auctioned off following his death in 1995, it sold for £254,500 to an anonymous bidder (which turned out to be FIFA), raising a number of eyebrows and adding fervour to rumours that it was in fact the original.  In fact, the replica turned out to be just that.
  • 1983: Jules Rimet is stolen (again). Perhaps the most famous, and final, theft of the Jules Rimet trophy occurred in Rio, Brazil in 1983. It has not been seen since.  Legend has it the trophy was melted down into gold bars, though, given it was not made of solid gold, this seems improbable.  For now, the missing Jules Rimet remains probably the greatest unsolved sporting mystery…
  • 2004: A flawless diamond goes missing in a F1 crash. More than just car parts were damaged when Austrian driver Christian Klein crashed in the opening lap of the 2004 Monaco Grand Prix.  Embedded in the nose of his car was a flawless £140,000 “button-sized” diamond, part of a promotion for the upcoming release of the Hollywood film Ocean’s 12.  Having been lifted off the track, the car sat for two hours before a mechanic realised the diamond was nowhere to be seen.  To date, its fate remains a mystery.
  • 2005: Putin borrows Robert Kraft’s Super Bowl ring. Following a meeting between Robert Kraft (owner of the New England Patriots) and Vladimir Putin in 2005, Putin reportedly left with Kraft’s Super Bowl ring. Kraft has since said this was not intended as a gift and that he hopes one day to retrieve the ring, which now sits in the Kremlin library.
  • 2014: The first Brady jersey goes missing. Tom Brady’s Super Bowl jersey isn’t the first of his shirts to go missing.  A silver alternate jersey worn by Brady in a 2004 game against the Cincinnati Bengals mysteriously turned up at an auction in 2014.  The Patriots acted quickly to obtain an injunction preventing its sale and the jersey was recovered.

Only time will tell where Brady’s Super Bowl jersey might sit in this list. But, given the lengths people have gone to in the past to acquire these sporting treasures, and their potential value (sentimental, cultural and financial), it is unsurprising that their owners continue to go to such lengths, including through criminal and civil legal processes, to protect them.