You don't know what that meant to me as a kid. To this day it's hard for me to keep back tears thinking about the example of integrity Ty Detmer set for me at such a teachable time of my life. Before this experience Ty was already my role model, but after this experience he was a role model worth having. —Nate Steineckert
Fans like them. Athletes endure them. Professional brokers use them to make a living.
College athletes do them all the time, but it is an NCAA violation to receive money for doing them. That’s at the crux of the controversy swirling around the game’s best player in 2012, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.
It may be a dumb rule, but it could cost Manziel his eligibility as an Aggie if the NCAA can prove he did it. So far, three autograph brokers have come forward saying Johnny Football signed memorabilia for them. If a money trail is found, he’s sacked. NCAA bylaw 18.104.22.168 prohibits student-athletes from accepting money for promotion or sale of a product or service.
One can understand the temptation. Schools make money off players, so do conferences and the actual NCAA. Why not let a player make a pile of cash?
I’m reminded of another Heisman Trophy winner, Ty Detmer. Like Manziel, the demand for Detmer's autograph mushroomed during his college career and the years that followed. Almost every day of his final college days, he’d go to the football office or sports information office and sign footballs, promotional ties, posters, photographs and anything else the school put in front of him. For the rest of his life, he’s done this, sometimes to help charities. Since his eligibility expired, it's highly likely he has been paid to sign stuff.
There are many differences between Manziel and Detmer and their approach to signing autographs. Both are Texas high school legends, but the Mercedes-driving Manziel, a rich kid from Tyler, Texas, whose family comes from oil money, could take notes from Detmer on this signing thing.
It’s been 23 years since Detmer won the Heisman and he’s never changed how he sees his place in the game.
I got an email the other day from Nate Steineckert. Thinking about Johnny Football’s troubles, he remembered back in the day when he attended a BYU football camp during the summer of 1991. He was 13. A receiver, he hooked up with a quarterback at camp who was from Texas and they developed a chemistry. The passer had come to the camp because he heard Ty Detmer would be there.
“This QB and I were going through drills when we noticed that Ty was over on the sidelines watching and talking to a few of the coaches. We were the only two who recognized Ty. We quit what we were doing and ran over to Ty asking him for his autograph. He told us that he didn't have time then, but he would meet us in the football offices at lunch and sign whatever we had for him,” said Steineckert.
“We were both super excited. So at lunch we ran over to the office and were a little early. We told the secretary why we were there and she told us that we could sit and wait. We waited and waited. I think we felt like we had been ditched when Ty didn't show up on the exact time of our scheduled appointment.
“It must of only been five or 10 minutes when the phone rang and the secretary answered, looked up at us smiling and said, 'Yes they are here,' talked for a minute and hung up. It was Ty calling to say that he was very sorry and could not make it but that he would make it up to us.”
Detmer told the secretary to ask for the addresses of Steineckert and his QB. They gave them and headed back to camp.
“It was no more than a week later that I was sent a gift package filled with autographed photos, posters and magazines and a personal note from Ty." Stieneckert, who is now a 36-year-old freelance marketing strategist in Boise, Idaho, still remembers that the package included four 8-by-10 photographs, copies of Cougar Illustrated (game programs) and some rubber band paper ties. All were signed by Detmer, a Heisman Trophy winner. No charge.
“You don't know what that meant to me as a kid. To this day it's hard for me to keep back tears thinking about the example of integrity Ty Detmer set for me at such a teachable time of my life. Before this experience Ty was already my role model, but after this experience he was a role model worth having.”
There are autographs.
Then there are autographs.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.