The football that Tom Brady threw to complete his first touchdown pass in the NFL is going up for auction with Lelands on Sunday.
The seller grew up in Rhode Island and has gone to Patriots games since the late 1970s with his family. He and three of his high school friends first bought season tickets in 1992 as college students and have kept the tickets to this day.
He's a loyal fan of the Patriots and jokes that his wife almost divorced him 100 times because of how devoted he was to the Sunday games and tailgates with friends.
In the beginning, the tailgates were what the group of friends looked forward to as the Patriots went 2-14 in 1992 and 5-11 in 1993. The team had improved by the 2001 season, but the 25 to 30 friends still enjoyed the tailgate.
On that fall day in October, the seller made his way to Lot 11 right when the parking lot opened in the morning. Eventually, they dispersed to their respective seats and the seller made his way down near the field in the south end zone.
"Looking from the 50-yard line to the south end zone, the left field goal post, I sat to the left of that," the seller said. "[Place-kicker] Scott Sisson, we called him Missin' Sisson. I caught a lot of balls in that stadium because he would miss field goals."
The game was only the third one Brady started after Drew Bledsoe was injured in the second game of the season against the New York Jets, so most Patriots fans didn't have high expectations for Brady. From the moment Bledsoe was injured, however, the seller tried to convince his friends Brady was going to be the guy going forward, although he met with much resistance from his audience.
Brady had gone two games without throwing a touchdown as the starter, and there was now 4:01 left in the second quarter with New England and San Diego tied at 3 apiece.
The Patriots were driving at the San Diego 21-yard line when Brady took the snap, looked for Terry Glenn the whole play and threw a dart to him in the front of the end zone. Glenn threw his arms in the air and celebrated with his teammates. He then made his way near the back of the end zone and threw the ball into the crowd.
"It was a melee. I stood up on my seat, I pushed my buddy to my left," the seller said. "The other two guys, I handed them my beer in a gentle way. I jumped up, tussled with a group of other fans around me and I came down with the ball."
At the time, it was just another football. He was excited he had caught the ball and proud to see that, at age 29, he still had hands from his high school football days.
It wasn't until he went to the postgame tailgate, when he opened his trunk to show the football off to his friends, that one of them reminded him it was Brady's first touchdown.
He kept the ball in a safe place in his house and even played a very careful game of catch with the football in the backyard. It wasn't until the end of the 2003 season, when New England beat the Carolina Panthers in the Super Bowl, that the seller knew he had something special.
Immediately after that game, he put the ball in a safety deposit box at his local bank. There it stayed, rarely brought out of its safekeeping. The ball became something of a superstition for the seller and his friends, as he would take it out the Saturday before each Super Bowl the Patriots appeared in, take a picture of it and send it to his friends.
The Patriots have lost the Super Bowl only once when the seller took a picture of the ball, and they were 0-2 in the two games when he didn't.
"I was out of town for the Philly game [in 2017], and I just missed the bank closing for the Giants game [in 2007]," the seller said. "I had kids' sports and just couldn't get there before the bank closed. That's what caused the David Tyree helmet catch, because I couldn't take a picture of the ball."
As time passed, and with neither of the seller's kids expressing interest in keeping the ball in the family, they decided it was time to move on and allow someone else to enjoy this piece of sports history.
Lelands has photo-verified the football based on markings and writing on the football that was specific to the Patriots at the time. As Glenn celebrated in the end zone, a photographer captured the moment with Glenn holding the football with the laces out and the markings clearly shown. There are four main points that were identified on the ball. The Patriots wrote "PATS" in marker on one side of the ball near the laces, two dots on the end of the laces, the letters "L" and "N" on one side and a two-digit number on the other side identifying which game ball it was for that day.
"You can see the exact marks where the writing on the ball in the photo matches the ball that we are about to offer," Lelands director of acquisitions Jordan Gilroy said. "It's incredible that there was a photographer that close to him at that moment in time. Everything in that scenario was perfect, and we definitely did our due diligence to make sure it is the one."
Lelands previously sold the infamous football from the Patriots' AFC Championship Game defeat of the Colts in 2014, after which New England was accused of deflating footballs to gain an advantage. That ball sold in July 2015 for $43,740.
Gilroy and the seller don't have a realistic gauge for the amount this ball could bring in, but he says it isn't in the same conversation as the Deflategate ball.
The timing is right to get top dollar for this type of item as the sports card and memorabilia hobby has exploded in the past year. Lelands sold an autographed Tom Brady Panini Playoff Contenders Championship Ticket rookie card for $2.25 million in April, which broke the record for the highest-selling football card.
That card was graded as an 8.5, and the auction house now has the same card graded as a 9 up for auction on Sunday as well. There are only seven of these cards graded as a 9, so the expectation is that this card will eclipse the $2.25 million price tag from April.
As rare as that card is, this football is a true one of one and can't be replicated or re-created.
"For Tom Brady's football to be available and owned by an average fan is incredible," Gilroy said. "It's a piece of football history, and I think 10, 20, 30 years from now and Brady's legacy is remembered even more, like Michael Jordan is now, it's just going to increase in value. The fact that this ball is probably going into a private collection and might not see the light of day again, it might be the last time it ever sells."
The seller hasn't thought much about what would happen if Brady called him to try to put the ball into his personal collection, and he doesn't have an expectation for what the ball could bring at auction when it ends on June 4.
Because he is a loyal Patriots fan and the ball means so much to him, the seller wishes only that it will go to the right fan.
"Somebody that has a place that can put it on their mantel, tell the story of how they got the ball," the seller said. "My entire goal is to get it in the right fan's hands that will enjoy telling their family and friends that they have the ball. It's a piece of history you never see, but some of these great pieces of history need to be in the fans' hands, so I want to get it to the right person that will enjoy it the way I have."