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Wednesday, October 23, 2002
Updated: October 24, 10:17 PM ET
History awaits Smith, memorabilia collectors

By Darren Rovell
ESPN.com

When Emmitt Smith breaks Walter Payton's career rushing record, it will trigger the largest memorabilia and collectibles sale of an active athlete in sports history.

Through an extensive deal with the NFL, NFL Players Association, the Dallas Cowboys and Smith's marketing representatives, as many as 400,000 pieces of merchandise relating to his "Run with History" will be produced. Some of it will be available the moment Smith breaks Payton's record on the field.

Emmitt Smith
Emmitt Smith has been the focus of attention as he approaches Walter Payton's career rushing record.
"When he breaks the record, Emmitt and all the players are going to put on the T-shirts and the caps," said Bill Priakos, the Cowboys' vice president of merchandising. "This will be exactly what it would look like if we had won the Super Bowl."

If Smith breaks the record at Texas Stadium, the celebration will happen after the game. If the event happens on the road, the celebration likely will take place during halftime of the next home game, Dallas Cowboys spokesman Rich Dalrymple said.

Priocos said he believes there will be a demand for the collectibles and predicts the team will sell out of the 50,000 caps within three days. The team has arranged for Smith to sign 1,100 items, each containing a microchip produced by autograph authenticator WeTrak. Among them will be 22 sterling silver helmets, which will sell for $10,000 apiece. Authentic game helmets signed by Smith will cost at least $500, while limited-edition bobblehead dolls -- only 16,727 will be made -- will be available at $19.95. The team also plans to have Smith, who currently makes up 85 percent of team player sales, sign pictures of his record-breaking run after the game.

Smith, who has collected his own game-used memorabilia over the years, plans to auction off the majority of his collection. The first of four auctions, which will be conducted online, over the phone, through the mail or in person by Chicago-based Mastronet during the second week of December, will feature some of the footballs he has scored touchdowns with -- he has kept all 149 of them -- as well as game-used items from his record-breaking game.

Payton's payoff
While Emmitt Smith looks to surpass Walter Payton's all-time rushing record, memorabilia sales of "Sweetness," who passed away after a battle with cancer almost three years ago, are skyrocketing. Payton's jersey is the second best-selling replica on NFLshop.com, behind current Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher.

Until this year, Payton jerseys have been out of production for about five years. "That pent up demand combined with all the talk about the record has contributed to his popularity," said Perry Cooper, director of database marketing for the NFL.

Game Time Promotions, a licensee of the Walter and Connie Payton Foundation, has done most of the work in getting Payton memorabilia to market. Two years ago, the company started selling commemorative footballs engraved with Payton's name and number (34). The company already has produced 20,000 replicas of Payton's 1985 jerseys for sale this year.

"I believe this would have happened regardless of what Emmitt Smith was doing on the field," said Roger Stanton, president and owner of Game Time Promotions. "Walter Payton is Walter Payton."

Replica jerseys sell for $79.99, while the authentic variety costs $299.99. Other popular Payton items include signed photos ($129.99) and a bobblehead doll ($19.99). Walter Payton headbands might be the next item to hit the market, Stanton said.

Proceeds from Payton merchandise go to the Payton estate and the Walter Payton Cancer Fund.

-- Darren Rovell
"This will probably be the most extensive sale of a current player's collection," said Michael Barnes of Barnes Sports Group, a consultant on the sale of Smith's collectibles. Barnes previously had helped coordinate the sales of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa's home run balls from their record-breaking 1998 season, and Barry Bonds' home run balls from last season.

"So few players have had the foresight to save all of this, from every single touchdown ball that was bagged, tagged and hand-painted to the shoulder pads from his first eight seasons," Barnes said. "And what makes this stuff so unique is that, unlike baseballs, these items just don't get out into the hands of the general public."

Smith also will auction game-used items from his record-breaking 2002 season. Smith has been wearing a WeTrak microchip in his shoes, pants, helmet and jersey. Other unique gear relating to the record will be available online at www.emmittzone.com.

Much of the proceeds from the 500 to 1,000 game-used items will go to or be distributed by the Open Doors Foundation, which helps underserved youth nationwide.

"Emmitt is a great performer on the field and an aspiring businessman off the field," said Werner Scott, president of AMG, who along with Pro Access negotiated the licensing and marketing deals. "But he spends more time thinking about how he can make an impact on others instead of the dollars and cents that are coming to him from an accomplishment like this."

Smith has endorsement deals with Motorola, long distance carrier 10-10-220, Visa, Blockbuster Video and Reebok. Motorola and 10-10-220 plan congratulatory ads for Smith, while Wheaties will put him on its cereal boxes. Scott said Smith has received five to 10 requests for speaking engagements every day over the past two months.

The Cowboys can limit the production of the items at their discretion because, beginning this season, they are the only team in the NFL that opted to handle their own distribution of merchandise and apparel. In exchange for guaranteeing the NFL a royalty, the Cowboys have the right to sign exclusive deals with merchants and licensees and determine where Cowboys items are sold. Emmitt Smith commemorative items, for example, only will be sold at 137 JC Penney's in five states, at the 25 Dallas Cowboys pro shops and on DallasCowboys.com.

"You won't find Cowboys gear in gas stations or Target anymore," said Priakos, noting that the selective distribution likely will push the Cowboys out of the top five in league merchandise sales. The Cowboys have ranked among the league's top two in merchandising sales in 13 out of the past 30 years. "We want our merchandise to be more like memorabilia, so that when a fan buys something it's almost as if they feel the equipment manager checked it out to them."

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at darren.rovell@espn3.com