After the New England Patriots’ triumphant overtime win against the Atlanta Falcons in February’s Super Bowl 51 in Houston, quarterback Tom Brady got some bad news: The jersey he wore in the historic win had gone missing.
Dan Patrick put the Texas Rangers on the case. Internet sleuths began suspecting random fans who photographed themselves with Brady jerseys—the kind that anyone with $125 can buy. And the Houston Police Department estimated the value of the game-worn jersey at a whopping $500,000. As true crime sagas go, it fell short of the first season of Serial, but was nonetheless a compelling story, especially given the paucity of details. Since we knew nothing about the jersey besides the fact that it was missing, we could imagine any number of Ocean’s Eleven-style schemes in which it had been lifted, perhaps by amped-up Boston sports fans looking for the ultimate souvenir, or maybe be an international ring of surreptitious jersey thieves.
The jersey has finally been recovered, and though the reports about what happened are still developing, it certainly appears that the actual story of how the jersey disappeared actually does involve an international ring of sports memorabilia thieves.
Implicated in the heist is Mauricio Ortega, a former executive with Honduras newspaper Diario La Prensa, according to Ian Rappoport of the NFL Network. Ortega had press credentials that granted him access to the Patriots locker room, and—stunningly—the search for the jersey (conducted as a joint operation by the FBI, the Patriots’ security team, the Houston Police Department, and the NFL) turned up not just Brady’s Super Bowl 51 jersey, but also his Super Bowl 49 jersey, and a Denver Broncos helmet that may have belonged to a player in that team’s victorious appearance in Super Bowl 50.
Curiously, the existence of a stolen Super Bowl 49 jersey wasn’t much in the news despite claims that Brady brought it up in interviews following the theft (if he did, we haven’t seen them). It also raises questions about other jerseys worn by other players in the big game. It’s possible that Ortega, or whoever is ultimately found responsible for the theft, is just a massive Tom Brady fan who targets the quarterback exclusively. But it’s also possible that other players have lost their jerseys, helmets, or other memorabilia and simply not spoken up about it.
In any case, the fact that the missing Brady jersey was recovered is remarkable, and the story that we’ll learn as the case makes its way through the legal system is likely to be extremely compelling. In the meantime, it seems, Tom Brady has scored yet another unlikely win.