Sports memorabilia’s true worth—or anything’s worth, really—can be determined by one simple question: How much is someone willing to pay for it? But when that piece of sports memorabilia isn’t for sale—let’s just say because it was stolen from a Super Bowl-winning quarterback—the answer to that question, apparently, is half a million bucks.
That’s one way to read the Houston Police Department’s estimate of the value of Tom Brady’s stolen jersey, which went missing from the quarterback’s holdall bag after the Super Bowl. Dan Patrick unleashed the Texas Rangers to try to find the memento of Brady’s historic fifth win, but it’s up to the local police to create the report on the crime (which they believe occurred between 9:25 p.m. and 10:15 p.m. the night of the game). As part of that report, HPD was tasked with estimating the value of the jersey, which they put at $500,000.
That $500,000 figure is a substantial one. Certainly, Brady’s jersey is a unique piece of memorabilia—there’s only one game-worn jersey from the star of the greatest Super Bowl of all time, after all—but half a million bucks is the sort of value that very few pieces of sports history have ever come close to.
For comparison, here’s a home run ball from the 1944 World Series, with a letter of authenticity, signed by Joe DiMaggio. That’s quite a thing! It’s listed on eBay for $3,999. So though Brady’s jersey is a fascinating piece of sports history, is it really 125x more fascinating than DiMaggio’s ball? It’s hard to say that it is.
The most expensive piece of American sports memorabilia in history is a 1920 jersey worn by Babe Ruth that sold for $4.4 million at auction in 2012. That’s a remarkable artifact of not just one of the most famous athletes in history, but also something that’s intact almost a century later. (It surpassed the original rules for basketball, authored by Dr. James Naismith in 1891, which sold for $4.33 million.) The third most-expensive item on that list—Mark McGwire’s seventieth homer baseball, which sold for $3 million back in 1999, is definitely not worth that amount now: the ball that surpassed it, Barry Bonds’ seventy-third homer from 2003, went for only $450,000, and that was to the owner of McGwire’s ball, who likely paid a premium to protect the original asset.
All of which is to say that it’s very unlikely that, should the Brady jersey go to auction somehow, anyone would actually pay what the Houston Police Department estimates as its value. So where did that $500,000 figure come from? After the jersey was stolen, Bloomberg interviewed the owner of a New Jersey auction house, who gave them that figure as the high end of the range. (He said he’d start the bidding at $300,000.) That’s an expert source, but it’s also one worth taking with a grain of salt: someone who runs professional sports memorabilia auctions for a living has, by definition, a vested interest in said memorabilia being valued as highly as possible. A better comparison might be the game-worn Brady jersey from October 12, 2014, which sold at auction for $50,000 in Houston during the Super Bowl weekend. That’s a pretty penny, certainly, and the Super Bowl jersey would certainly fetch a higher price—but it’s still unlikely that it’d go for ten times what the 2014 jersey did.
It’s possible, we suppose, that HPD overestimated the value intentionally, in order to perhaps draw the thief out by filling their eyes with dollar signs. Alternately, it could be that, given the fanfare and attention drawn to this jersey because of the high-profile theft, whoever ends up possessing it has a piece of memorabilia with an even more incredible story than just the fact that Brady wore it when he won his fifth Super Bowl.
Of course, in order for that estimate to come true, somebody’s gotta find the dang thing. And if they do so really dramatically, that could maybe float the value of the jersey in the half a million dollar range. But most likely, that’s a made-up figure unconnected to the real value of the jersey, so if you saw the number and thought “half a million bucks, holy cow,” and immediately began planning a heist at the next Super Bowl, we’d urge you to calm down.