If you liked the Todd Gurley paid signature story, you’re gonna love this one.
It all started, Panezich will eventually say, with a working road trip: a 12-hour drive from Ohio to Tuscaloosa, Ala., in December 2009. Panezich and Adam Bollinger, a Chick-Fil-A truck driver whom Panezich met while chasing autographs outside of hotels and stadiums across Cleveland, had agreed to split the costs of an expedition to Alabama, where the No. 1–ranked Crimson Tide football team was preparing to play in the BCS National Championship Game against Texas. Panezich’s sole source of income at the time was a legit autograph business on eBay that he called Athletic Connections Sports Memorabilia, and he knew that Tide items were in high demand…
Panezich and Bollinger arrived in Tuscaloosa during winter break, when the football team wasn’t practicing, so finding players required improvisation. The first member of the Crimson Tide they say they encountered—and asked to sign, outside of a dorm—was cornerback Marquis Johnson. The two collectors had 40-odd white-paneled footballs, each emblazoned with Alabama’s logo, laid out in the rear bed of their SUV, and “[Johnson] signed a few,” Panezich says. “[He] talked about getting paid to do the rest. . . . We paid him up front and . . . he recruited everybody else to come and sign. He’d go into the dorm, grab a couple guys—$20, $30, $40, depending on who the player was—and they’d all come sign 40 team items.”
Panezich says Johnson was paid roughly $200, but “not everyone took money. [Defensive tackle] Terrence Cody was probably the biggest. He got paid to sign all the team stuff—and then we heard he was interested in making some more money. So he came out and signed a bunch of mini helmets that he inscribed, like 2x all-american, or 2 blocked fgs against tennessee, very specific stuff.” Panezich recalls that they paid Cody around $400 total. (SI obtained cellphone video from Panezich that shows Johnson, fellow cornerback Rod Woodson and tight end Colin Peek autographing items; Panezich says that Peek, as well as running back Ali Sharrief and QB Greg McElroy, signed but declined compensation in order to comply with NCAA rules. Cody, through his agent, declined to comment. Says Johnson: “I never got paid. I don’t know [Panezich].” Woodson could not be reached for comment. When asked if the school had knowledge of the signings, an Alabama spokesman said, in part, “As part of our comprehensive compliance and education program, we routinely review all situations of potential concern and address matters such as these with all of our student-athletes.”)
Altogether it took Panezich and Bollinger nearly a week to gather the signatures they wanted, and Panezich says they shelled out more than $1,000 to players—but he figured the investment was worth it. He’d seen a team-signed Bama ball sell on eBay for roughly $800 earlier that month. Even if his own fetched just $500 apiece, “we were in pretty good shape,” he says. But once Panezich made it back to Ohio and listed the items on eBay, he says he found a marketplace newly flooded with what he believed to be forgeries—most selling for less than $150.
At least Gurley cut himself a better deal with his buyer.
Wait a minute. 2009. That would mean this happened while Kirby Smart was still in Tuscaloosa. Uhhh… you don’t suppose Greg McGarity would engage in any preemptive sanctioning, do ‘ya? I mean, you never know about those NCAA folks… stay on their good side… just sayin’.