The Latin phrase for “buyer beware” has never been more apt in the sports memorabilia hobby than right now. And it starts with Tom Brady.
When the star quarterback officially announced his retirement on Feb. 1 after 22 seasons in the NFL, authentic Brady autographs inundated eBay as well as other online marketplaces and social media. But fake autographs also were thrown in the mix.
Top autograph authenticators in the hobby have a stern warning to anyone looking to acquire autographed Brady pieces: buyer beware.
Just a few hours after Brady retired, Steve Grad, the principal authenticator at Beckett Authentication Services (BAS), logged onto eBay and quickly spotted a handful of fake Brady autographs in a matter of minutes. On his public Facebook page, Grad made a post to his followers about being vigilant when it comes to Brady items.
“Somebody put through our signature review, I want to say eight [Brady autographs], and I did them yesterday morning. I said, ‘God, these are horrible,’” Grad told Sports Collectors Digest on Feb. 2. “I was going through them and I said, ‘You know what, I’ve got to write something. I have to.’ That’s why I did it. I was just so appalled.”
SPECIAL REPORT: Fakes and forgeries the biggest threat to industry
TRISTAR Productions owner Jeff Rosenberg has also watched demand for autographed Brady pieces explode.
“Right now, Brady signed items are very, very high,” Rosenberg said on Feb. 3. “I’ve been selling his stuff for 20 years, exclusively for 18 ½, so we’ve seen a lot of cycles. Of course, after Super Bowl LI was big and LIII, LV. What we’ve just seen the last week or so has been a tremendous spike in our sales of Brady items. But, unfortunately, it’s the same thing as the forgeries spike as well.”
TRISTAR had an exclusive contract with Brady for autographed memorabilia from 2001 until right after he signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020. Fanatics inked Brady to an exclusive deal in October 2020.
Also See: FORGERY: The bane of the hobby
When TRISTAR held the exclusive rights, it policed items on eBay that had Brady signatures. If a Brady signature wasn’t real, TRISTAR notified eBay and the post was taken down generally within one business day.
“I’ve seen a flood [of fakes] since TRISTAR doesn’t have that exclusive contract anymore,” Rosenberg said. “Nobody’s out policing it and since the retirement, it’s just gotten worse, unfortunately. We were policing it on eBay; there’s the eBay VeRO (Verified Rights Owner) program we were using. Now that that’s not going on, it’s unfortunate because a lot of people are getting taken advantage, of course.”
GETTING A REAL AUTOGRAPH
Neither Grad nor Rosenberg want to see people get duped with fake Brady autographs.
What’s the best way then for someone to hopefully avoid that happening?
“The first thing is, if you want to buy a Buccaneers item, it has to be a true Fanatics piece,” Grad said. “Here’s the thing, Fanatics did certified letters. They had a notary there for the Brady stuff and I think it was for the helmets and the jerseys. I don’t know if they did it for the photos. But they have a pretty good database on that stuff.
“I would watch out for too-good-to-be-true offers. If you’re buying a Pro Line helmet for $1,200, you’re probably not buying the right thing. I see so much of that. People believe any damn story they hear, too. ‘Oh, this is from training camp.’ It’s not from training camp. It’s fake. That’s what I hear all the time, too. ‘Hey, I met him in this city.’ No. It’s fake.”
Rosenberg agrees that the price of a Brady item is certainly a big sign. However, Rosenberg said some fake Brady items are selling for comparable prices to the real pieces, so watch out.
“The most important thing with Brady is to work with somebody and the experts in the industry who know,” Rosenberg said. “So, the best place to buy Tom Brady right now is either through the direct company Fanatics or one of their distributors, of which TRISTAR is — that’s if you want something new and signed in the last two years. … If you’re trying to buy something that’s been in the market, your best bet is to go with one of the top three authenticators: Beckett, PSA, JSA. The challenge there is the forgers have forged those companies and other companies, they’ve forged their holograms. It happens very little. You don’t see much of that.”
Both Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) with its QuickOpinion and BAS and its signature review allow for an item to be looked at quickly by an authenticator to give the submitter a pretty good idea if it’s real or not. Both companies charge $10 for that service.
“For a very small amount of money, it’s not a guarantee, but it’s a really good idea,” Rosenberg said.
Rosenberg noted that potential buyers should keep in mind that when Brady has signed for TRISTAR and Fanatics, those companies had eye witnesses at the event. If a buyer opts to go with an item that’s been authenticated by PSA, BAS and JSA (James Spence Authentication), those are third-party companies just offering their opinion.
“I think the more questions you ask, the more research you do, the best chance you have of buying a real one,” Rosenberg said. “You see a helmet come up for $500 — is it possible that it’s real? Yes. Anything’s possible, but highly unlikely.”
Grad, who was an autograph chaser back in the 1980s and early ’90s, still knows guys who engage in that type of activity. “Graphers,” as they are called, have told Grad that Brady hasn’t signed outside of private events since around 2006-07.
“You’re not talking about a guy that really did much signing,” Grad said. “When he was at Michigan, he signed like one apiece. And he was a backup quarterback to Drew Henson. So, he wasn’t really a good signer then, either. I think quite truthfully, he’s never been a great signer throughout his career. Has he done it? Yeah. Like at training camp, he’ll just sign one day or two days and sign like really sloppy and terrible. That’s just how he is.”
Grad said Brady’s autograph is important to him as an athlete and he cares about the authenticity of something with his name on it. Grad certainly respects that.
But Brady has never been a player who willingly gives out his autograph, he said.
“I’ll tell you the truth, and you’re welcome to print this, his on-field persona, the guy that’s doing stuff for kids with cancer and doing all this nice stuff which I’ve seen, that really doesn’t reflect his off-the-field persona, which is, he’s a pretty nasty guy,” Grad said. “He’s not really that nice of a person. I guess people might say, that’s a skewed opinion coming from an in-person autograph guy, whatever. He’s not that nice. He’s not nice to his fans, and he never has been. Nor does he give two s---s, to be honest with you. He doesn’t really care.”
These days, Brady only signs a couple times per year “at the most,” Rosenberg said.
“Brady’s one of the toughest autographs of any modern player,” he added.
FINDING REAL AUTOGRAPHS
If someone looks at enough Brady autographs, they can start to decipher which are real and which are fake. However, it has gotten tricky as the fakes have improved.
“You’re like, ‘wait a minute, these things look actually pretty good,’” Grad said. “They do a great job, man. The stuff that they’re doing now is really tough to tell. It’s really on par.
“I’m not going to give it away, but they screw up a few things with Brady that we’ve caught, too. Like Russell Wilson — they did like two things with Russell that he really didn’t do. They got into his mode doing his autograph, and that’s kind of what they stuck with. But Russell still did things a little different, and same with Brady. He does like two things different within his signature that really good forgers aren’t getting.”
Looking at some exemplars while talking on the phone, Grad wanted to see how Brady’s signature style has changed during his time in the NFL.
“When he started at Michigan, it was kind of sloppy, but it was nicer,” Grad said. “I’ve seen some decent ones. But for the most part, through his Patriots career, it just pretty much was a T line or a T like a little M and a very sloppy B with a Y connected to it and a drop down. It’s still pretty much like that. His B’s a pinch different now, but I’d say his B’s a little more taller. But he pretty much still signs the same way.”
Grad believes that there is a small percentage of people who post fake Brady autographs on marketplaces who aren’t aware that they’re fake.
“But overall, I think the guys that are really selling the fake stuff, they really know it’s fake,” he said. “There’s a company [in Los Angeles], their stuff has absolutely flooded eBay and it’s all garbage. They’re all over eBay — Jordan and Brady and anybody you can think of. They can’t stop them from selling. I’m sure it’s some monster-type operation, but it’s supposedly out of Los Angeles and they are just pumping those things out like they’re out of style. It’s like a never-ending supply of them.”
With so many fake autographs on the market right after Brady announced his retirement, Grad wishes eBay would have used a surge feature in its settings where it pulls everything off the site that isn’t certified by BAS, PSA, JSA, TRISTAR and Fanatics. That way it would help weed out some of the bad items.
Either way, fakes are going to be out in cyberspace.
“Buyer beware and be careful,” Grad said. “Don’t get caught up in the hype. Just wait for it to die down. His price is going to come back down.”