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Wednesday, April 17
 
Practice makes the perfect signature

By Darren Rovell
ESPN.com

David Carr's signature on his NFL contract should be John Hancock quality. Not because it's on a deal that includes a guaranteed $11 million signing bonus, but because the Fresno State quarterback has signed more than 2,000 times for trading card companies over the past couple of weeks.

David Carr
Packs of Sage trading cards, which include 43 player autographs, came out Wednesday.
Since the trend of inserting autographed cards into packs became standard, future top NFL draftees have made a pretty penny in the days leading up to the draft.

"On a given year, top players can make $30 to $50 per signature," said Brian Edmonds, manager of athlete marketing for Octagon, which arranged card deals for clients Carr, Texas cornerback Quentin Jammer, Hawaii wide receiver Ashley Lelie and others.

The prices are a function of how rich the draft is.

Last year, Edmonds was able to get $50 a signature for Michael Vick, whom the Atlanta Falcons made the first pick of the draft. Vick was able to get that price because every company wanted him in their sets. Typically, a player projected to be a mid to late first-round pick commands about $10 per signature.

Since cards of the players often aren't available before the draft, most players sign stickers provided by the companies. The stickers are eventually placed on the cards after they've been manufactured. The process speeds production and ensures that card sets hit the market soon after the draft.

Even though there's good money in the signing, there are always stories of players whose signatures weren't up to snuff.

Reche Caldwell, a University of Florida wide receiver who is rated fifth among flankers in this weekend's draft, had to re-do 700 of his 3,000 autographs because they were unreadable, said Tom Geideman, president of Sage, a company that has had 43 potential draftees sign for this year's HIT set. Sage is the only card company that releases its product before the draft.

Four years ago, Geideman said one player turned in eight different signatures with three different spellings of his name.

But Geideman said he has been impressed with the penmanship of such players as Sedrick Irvin, who was featured in 1999 draft set, and Antonio Bryant, who appears in this year's set.

"Their signatures were so unbelievably consistent that it looked like they were done by machine," Geideman said. "But there were small differences. I guess they just spent a lot of time in the back of the classroom practicing them."

In the Sage set, which will be released on Wednesday, the signatures of 15 players, including Bryant, are analyzed for personality traits.

Elin Nordegren
The two women in Tiger's life: Kutilda, his mother, and girlfriend Elin Nordegren.
Tiger's Swedheart
Greg Norman writes on his Web site, Shark.com, that the hopes of the nation's top golfers to beat Tiger Woods in the future depend on one factor: Tiger's Swedish girlfriend. "Maybe Tiger Woods will become so head-over-heels in love with his new girlfriend, Elin Nordegren, that he'll want to get married, have children and quit playing golf for a living," Norman says. Internet searches on search engine Google.com for Nordegren during the week of the Masters (April 8-15) were approximately 90 times greater than the number of searches for her name the previous week, Google spokesperson Eileen Rodriguez said. Last week, 46.9 percent of ESPN.com users responding to a Page 2 poll voted Nordegren their favorite nanny.

Best sellers
Top 10
Players
Top 10
Teams
Kobe Bryant Dallas Mavericks
Vince Carter Los Angeles Clippers
Kevin Garnett Los Angeles Lakers
Allen Iverson Minnesota Timberwolves
Michael Jordan New York Knicks
Tracy McGrady Orlando Magic
Darius Miles Philadelphia 76ers
Lamar Odom Sacramento Kings
Shaquille O'Neal Toronto Raptors
Latrell Sprewell Washington Wizards
Listed in alphabetical order
Source: NBA
On the rise
Although they didn't make the playoffs, merchandise of two Los Angeles Clippers -- Lamar Odom and Darius Miles -- are among the 10 best-selling players in the league, and the team is also among the 10 most popular teams in stores this season.

Brisk sales of jerseys of newcomers to the list such as Miles and Odom, combined with the return of Michael Jordan, will help the league increase merchandise sales by 35 percent this year.

Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal has been on the top-10 list for the past 10 seasons, the longest streak among active players.

The Dallas Mavericks, who debuted their new logo this season, made the list. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, however, attributed the team's sales to other reasons. He told ESPN.com it was due to "the charisma of our training staff" and that the "coaches are babe magnets."

Keep on quacking
Celebriducks, yellow rubber ducks that feature the faces of athletes, are gaining momentum. Not only has Celebriduck headquarters been swamped with calls from pro and college teams asking for the promotional item, but the company, which already is the official rubber duck supplier of the NBA, finalized a deal with Major League Baseball on Wednesday. Ichiro Suzuki, Mike Piazza, Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds and Nomar Garciaparra are some of the athletes scheduled to be turned into ducks and sold for about $12 at stores in August, Celebriducks founder Craig Wolfe said. The Cubs are giving away Moises Alou and Sammy Sosa this year at the ballpark, and the Yankees have Jason Giambi and Babe Ruth Celebriduck promotions planned.

Surprising-Leigh absent
As of Wednesday afternoon, the NFL Players Association had received confirmation of agent for 90 to 95 of draft-eligible players, said Doug Finniff, a player's union official. Finniff confirmed that he had yet to receive any standard representation agreements from former superagent Leigh Steinberg. It is possible that Steinberg will file papers after the draft, but it is also possible that Steinberg will not have a client from this year's draft, Finniff said.

Darren Rovell covers sports business for ESPN.com. He can be reached at darren.rovell@espn.com







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