Monday, July 7, 2014

Jessie Hester Autographed Card

When I was a kid, and also during my teenage years, I spent a lot of time in Florida in the summer, at least a couple of weeks per year. I was mostly a baseball fan in the summer (I have always been all-hockey in winter) and took the opportunity to buy a lot of baseball cards, such as Topps, Score and Donruss, because in Canada at the time, all I had access to were from the O-Pee-Chee brand.

I knew a bit about (American) football, I watched the Super Bowl and was a huge Joe Montana and San Francisco 49ers fan, but didn't know much about the other teams. But because he always made it back to his native Belle Glade in the off-season and always had a soft spot for trying to help kids out of the ghetto, my path crossed that of Jessie Hester in 1993 or 1994, as he had come to a shopping mall near my usual quarters near Fort Lauderdale (an hour's drive south-east from Belle Glade) to give some sort of conference/clinic about the importance of education and not just escaping the 'hood, but trying to improve it from within by going back while successful and giving the rest of the community a sense of hope, and people to look up to other than gangs.

When you're 14 or 15, any public figure - and especially athletes and musicians, your heroes - can strike you with an important message; Hester may not have impressed me as much as Tom Draper, but he became one of my favourite wide receivers nonetheless because he showed us the Man behind the athlete that day.

Hester may not be Hall Of Fame material, but he was a first-round pick of the Los Angeles Raiders in 1985, with whom he had two 600-plus-yard seasons to begin his career in 1985 and 1986; he would have five more from 1990 to 1994, including a career-high 924 for the Indianapolis Colts in 1990, and would finish with 5830 in a 10-year career, along with 29 touchdowns, three in each of his final seasons as played for the Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams (the team moved between his two seasons with them).

When he retired, he moved back to his home town on a permanent basis, and he coached his alma mater for three seasons before getting fired in 2010. You can read about the impact he had on the individual kids he coached in this excerpt from Bryan Mealer's Muck City: Winning and Losing in Football's Forgotten Town.

I didn't have a card on me when I attended Hester's speech, but one guy was selling them at a buck apiece, so I grabbed this one from Fleer's 1992 Fleer set (card #165), showing him in the Colts' white (away) uniform, which he signed in thick blue sharpie, with his uniform number (84) tagged at the end:

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