As auctions of baubles that celebrities have touched or owned go, the Lelands’ month-long auction of Tom Brady’s now-famous “last-touchdown” game ball that ended on March 12 pretty much as expected, raking in $518,000 and change. Ordinarily, the ballpark, so to speak, for a random game ball handled by Brady would be something like one-tenth of that, which is still a considerable amount of money. But for this regulation-black Wilson NFL ball — meaning, for the seller, the buyer and for the house — the provenance and lineup of events around the object were just too good: The GQAT “greatest quarterback of all time,” his ballyhooed retirement after a spectacularly valiant attempt to unseat the eventual Super Bowl champions, and the 55-yarder TD pass within that lost game to Evans with that ball to seal his career — that’s what drove the thing into the outer reaches for an NFL game. All sides in the arrangement were satisfied with that formidable value.
For approximately 24 hours.
When, in the cold light of March 13, Brady clearly emerged from a midnight crise du coeur after his fateful, and blindingly well-known, retirement tweet to announce that he had reconsidered. The delightful fallout of this re-think by the Brady family on the Buccaneers, on the NFL, and on America generally, has been immense, and we’ll let the sports desk parse that for us. But the devil is in the details. Peskily, for all participants in the auction of the “last TD” ball, the Brady re-think had an equally drastic, opposite effect, namely, it was mercilessly devalued.
In fact, although not one molecule of the object had changed, Brady’s announcement had made it a different ball. Basically, whatever Brady’s and the Buccaneers’ newly-intertwined fates are this fall and winter, it’s very much to be expected that the quarterback will, definitely, score another aerial touchdown with a different game ball. The technical provenance of the auctioned item being the tool with which the world-famous quarterback scored his “last TD” had been instantly erased. Ergo: Although it was the same ball, it wasn’t that ball anymore. Its market value was sliced to a tenth of its previous (stratospheric, one-time) height. If that.
Put another way: Cue the lawyers! The anonymous buyer had not yet paid the auction house for the thing, but he had, according to his lawyer Jeffrey Lichtman, striven to return the ball since the moment Brady reversed his retirement. Lichtman said, “At the time, (Lelands’ catalog copy) was an honest description. But the way they described it, it was definitive.”
In accepting the storied football’s return, Lichtman added, “Lelands did the right thing.”
For its part, after the deal for the return of the ball was cut, Lelands issued the following statement: “Following Tom Brady’s unretirement, and after discussions with both the buyer and consignor, we have mutually agreed to void the sale of the football,” The ball has not been returned to the consignor, and the plan now is for Lelands to sell it privately as per the seller’s wishes. There are multiple parties interested in purchasing the football.”
A narrow escape for that anonymous buyer, in other words. But in the topsy-turvy world of auctions, this roller-coaster affair has one other timely lesson, and it is, for Mr. Brady in particular, that a new auction value has been set.
Quick note to Mr. Brady: Tom, we suspect you know this, but you’re the GQAT! So, whenever you really feel like it might be time to announce your retirement, tell your last receiver to bring the ball back to the bench after his TD. That’s a half-million bucks that dude would be tossing into the stands.