Sports shop smells like a winner

On Tuesday during football season it smells like a locker room at J.O. Sports Co., one of those sports memorabilia shops one sometimes sees in strip malls or near stadiums and ballparks, at Boca Park — a strip mall, albeit a fancy one, near the Suncoast.

Tuesday is the day the boxes arrive.

It’s the stuff inside the boxes that smells.

They arrive from New York and Chicago and Buffalo and Baltimore and Washington and Kansas City and Cincinnati and Denver and San Diego and Oakland and Minnesota and from Brett Favre’s house and Michael Vick’s house and DeSean Jackson’s house.

Inside the boxes is game-worn football equipment — mostly jerseys, sometimes helmets, sometimes cleats, sometimes those towels that quarterbacks wear when the weather is wet or those giant sideline parkas that kicking teams wear when the tundra is frozen.

Jarrod Oldridge and Ron Futrell don’t mind the smell. To them, it doesn’t smell like the inside of a locker room, or the inside of the Bears’ huddle on a steamy day in Jacksonville. It smells like money.

Oldridge, a former pitcher at Emporia State in Kansas, is the J.O. in J.O. Sports. Futrell, the former dean of Las Vegas sportscasters, is the R.F. in J.O. Sports, although people don’t call him that. They call him CMO — chief marketing officer. He’s the guy who gets the Jets and the Bears and the Bills and Brett Favre on the phone to ask a price of their game-worn jerseys and helmets and cleats and towels and giant sideline parkas so J.O. Sports can ask an even higher price of the collectors and fans who pine for them.

Collecting game-worn sports equipment is the new collecting baseball cards, with a couple of zeros tacked on. Or several zeros.

Remember the helmet Favre wore against the Bears on “Monday Night Football” at the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium after the Metrodome roof collapsed? The one that Chicago defensive end Corey Wootten slammed to the frozen tundra/FieldTurf in the second quarter with Favre’s head still inside? J.O. Sports sold it for $30,000. There were still FieldTurf particles in the face mask.

If you missed out, or don’t have $30,000 in loose change between the sofa cushions, not to worry. J.O. Sports has two more Favre helmets in its upstairs storeroom waiting to be processed, along with the football that Jackson tossed into the stands on Dec. 19 after returning it 65 yards for a touchdown against the Giants on the last play of the game. My guess: There will probably be a couple of zeros tacked on the end of that one, too.

Although J.O. Sports considers itself the industry leader, it was not able to obtain the play list that Giants coach Tom Coughlin slammed to the turf after Jackson tossed that football into the stands.

It has, however, acquired a faded blue-and-gold Rams helmet worn by the great Norm Van Brocklin in 1952. I’ve got my eye on that one, for when my rich uncle dies. It doesn’t have a face mask or much padding but offers just enough protection to see one through Spaghetti Bowl traffic during rush hour.

Oldridge, 36, said the idea for reselling game-worn jerseys sprouted five years ago from a personal collection of memorabilia he had acquired from NFL Hall of Famers. He now has 10 full-time employees, and a new way to watch football.

“I cheer for the equipment,” he says.

“I don’t want FieldTurf. I want grass. I want rain and mud, but not so much rain that it washes out the wear.”

Oldridge said his favorite piece of equipment was one of Wilt Chamberlain’s old jerseys, and one can only imagine the DNA that it contained. And yet, he sold it, for $175,000.

Everything in the store has a price tag, at least after Oldridge and Futrell are through trying it on late at night when nobody’s around.

Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.

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