"We've been maligned for selling dirt, but our dirt has been authenticated by Major League Baseball." - Brandon Steiner.
This started out, a few days after the Super Bowl, as a Peyton Manning column, until the discovery of dirt inside small plastic envelopes on a warehouse shelf in downtown New Rochelle. What's the connection between the Colts' quarterback and neatly packaged dirt? Not a whole lot, actually, but try telling that to Brandon Steiner, who owns and packages and sells the dirt and is getting ready to fill his warehouse with anything and everything Eli's big brother will soon be signing.
Let's stay with the dirt for awhile, which was, until recently, being stepped on at Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium, according to Steiner, the man who pays rent on the dirt and 20,000 square feet of one-of-a-kind sports treasures. He tells people the dirt is authenticated. (Does this mean there's a federal tax return out there that reads "John Smith, Dirt Authenticator?")
It looks like genuine dirt, but let's face it, I can't distinguish warning track dirt from pitching mound dirt. If only I could ask Tiger Woods, who makes most of his pennies recognizing and avoiding dirt.
Let's go back to the beginning, which was a week before all those commercials were interrupted by a football game. Steiner and his partner, a memorabilia operation called Dreams Inc., were wrapping up a multi-year collectibles deal with Manning. The announcement was made a day before the game. Money wasn't mentioned but you could start the guessing at seven figures, win or lose.
Win, of course, would be a whole lot better for Steiner. Not that it mattered, he insists. "We were just happy Peyton was going into the game," he said. "And when you saw his level of confidence, you knew he was getting it done."
There are no guarantees, I remind him.
"He's such a big-time quarterback, he has so many records, he'll be around a long time," Steiner insists, intimating that Manning has just started his collection of Super Bowl MVP trophies.
The answer, as Dan Marino well knows, is "Sez who?"
The final score will certainly sell more Manning paraphernalia. (The Super Bowl victory, Steiner reckons, could bring Manning $15 million to $20 million a year until he retires.) But a loss, and he's still the schnook who can't win the big one. Who wants that autograph?
So Steiner must have been a little uncomfortable when the game began with Devin Hester's coast-to-coast touchdown run. "No," Steiner says, "I was more nervous when Peyton threw the interception in the first quarter."
The rest of the game was nothing but calm, which gave Steiner a chance to start thinking about other contracts he might be waving at the winning side. "Tony Dungy, there's an opportunity there," he says. "Maybe he's the next person we try and get."
Steiner has more than 5,000 successful gets, among them Derek Jeter, Marino Rivera, and Hank Aaron, but not just superstars. A profitable part of the business has to do with great moments. So he sells the famous home run photo with autographs from Bobby Thomson and Ralph Branca. The signatures of Bill Buckner and Mookie Wilson on their 1986 Series moment. (When he first started signing, Buckner sometimes added, "Oops,' Bill Buckner," or, " 'My bad,' Bill Buckner.")
Time to get back to the dirt. Steiner has contracts with the Yankees and Mets that allow him to take home game-used uniforms and caps, the bases, home plate, the pitching rubbers, lineup cards. He takes down the padding on the Shea fences, cuts it into squares and sells them. Who knew there was a market for padding?
Well, it turns out that all you have to do is send Steiner the torn ticket of a game you attended - maybe it was your kid's first game - and Steiner will put it under glass with the lineup card from that game, a base, autographed photos and, whether you want it or not, some dirt, authenticated, from that very game. Pick a game, any game, Steiner can make it happen.
But winning a Super Bowl was something Manning had to do on his own. Not that Steiner could lose it all that day. "We have Rex Grossman under contract, too," he says.