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OPINION | DOUG SZENHER: Something special

That object is prized by someone by DOUG SZENHER SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE | October 25, 2021 at 2:55 a.m.

With football season well underway, speculation is again running rampant about who will win this year's Heisman Trophy. Since 1935, the award has been bestowed annually to recognize the nation's best college football player. Past winners form a tightly knit fraternity.

According to Heisman lore, in 1949, Les Horvath, the 1944 winner, moved to Los Angeles with his new bride. Already living there were two other Heisman winners, Tom Harmon (1940), and Glenn Davis (1946). Both of them learned of the move via the Heisman grapevine, and quickly invited the Horvaths to dinner in their respective homes on successive nights.

After the second dinner, the newlyweds finally started unpacking and setting up their home. Horvath heard a loud thud and turned to see that his wife had dropped his 45-pound Heisman Trophy. Fortunately, it didn't break--or land on her foot.

"Please be careful with that," he admonished her.

"Why?" She asked. "Is it something important?"

A former flight attendant, she knew little--and cared even less--about sports. He told her what it was, explained its significance, and proudly noted that only a handful of men possessed one.

"It can't be that special," she sniffed. "This is a really big city. So far, we've only visited two houses here, and both of them had one of these on the mantel."

Despite Mrs. Horvath's indifference, there are, indeed, many rare objects--both famous and obscure--in the sports memorabilia universe. Most of them are prized by at least one person, whether for sentimental or monetary reasons--or both. I was once privileged to hold what undoubtedly is such an item; although one not nearly as renowned as a Heisman Trophy.

A few years before I retired from state government, our agency hired a new fiscal officer, Dave. After a couple of days, I introduced myself, He became an instant friend before I even shook his hand, as I immediately saw his office was bedecked with all sorts of St. Louis Cardinals collectibles: photos, posters, bobbleheads, and, naturally, autographed baseballs.

During his time at the agency, we alternated between exulting and grousing over the Cardinals' performance. We even found topics besides baseball to discuss.

One day I was walking past Dave's office and he excitedly motioned me inside to show me something. He handed me a baseball autographed by Stan "The Man" Musial, who, Dave knew, was my favorite Cardinal of all time.

OK; I thought to myself--not wanting to say anything to dampen Dave's enthusiasm--this is nice, but not exactly ultra-special. Stan had probably autographed thousands of baseballs. Dave already had several; heck, even I was the proud owner of one.

Dave could read the look on my face, and said, "Turn it around." When I did, I immediately recognized a scrawl I'd seen often on official documents during the 1980s. I suddenly realized I was holding something that was not so common after all. Dave chuckled, and told me the story behind it.

He'd recently gone to an event where Stan would also be in attendance. Knowing his reputation for almost never refusing an autograph request, Dave took along a new baseball, and, sure enough, he got the opportunity to ask Stan to sign it.

Just then, another luminary swept into the room: none other than a certain former president of the United States--also a huge Cardinals fan.

Bill Clinton made a beeline for Stan and Dave, and--being Bill Clinton--naturally assumed that Dave would also like to have his autograph on that same ball that Stan had just signed. Before Stan could hand it back, Clinton intercepted it and Dave's pen, and--without asking--signed the ball before returning both items to Dave.

At first, Dave said, he was silently miffed about Clinton's interruption, but, upon reflection, he realized an ex-president's signature alongside Stan's made the ball quite unusual; maybe even unique.

I agreed, and said I seriously doubted there were very many baseballs in existence with those two autographs--especially any signed by both men within mere seconds of each other. I'm willing to bet big money there are a lot fewer of them floating around than the 87 Heisman Trophies awarded so far.

Maybe even Mrs. Horvath would have been impressed.


Doug Szenher lives in Little Rock.

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