Exclusive Bluenatic Investigative Report: Whose Signature is That?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008 |

Long before the days of Fatheads and customized laptop skins, enthusiastic young partisans of professional football franchises had no choice but to collect trading cards, cut photographs out of glossy sports magazines, and hang posters of their favorite players on their bedroom walls to show their allegiance to "the cause."

For myself and countless other young fans, there were no more prized posters than the white-bordered works of art released by Sports Illustrated in the late 70s and early 80s.  And though I had several of them adorning the walls of my sports shrine of a bedroom (Giorgio Chinaglia, Dwight Gooden, Billy Smith), it was the poster of New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms to the left that held (and still holds) the top spot in my sports-addicted heart of hearts.

In 1982 my old man, by that time already a long-suffering Giants season ticket holder, took me to my first game at Giants Stadium. I was seven years old at the time and I don’t remember all that much about that day beyond a feeling that the Astroturf field laid out before me was the greenest thing I had ever seen, and being rather awed by the whole dramatic spectacle. I also remember my father repeatedly telling me to "watch number 56," yet not being able to take my eyes off of number 53.

Shortly after that game, my father purchased for me the poster of quarterback Phil Simms seen here. It instantly got thumb-tacked to my bedroom wall and remained there until the day, some ten years later, that I left for college. 

After that, the poster graced the walls of an otherwise unremarkable dormitory room at the University of Michigan, several rooms in the dilapidated fraternity house I called home for two years, a bedroom in an Ann Arbor apartment located above a popular pizza joint, and finally, for eight years, the bedroom of the Manhattan apartment I moved into shortly after graduation. It wasn't until 2006, when I moved with my now wife into a small, East Village one bedroom, that I finally rolled it up and retired it to my parents' basement out on Long Island.

If you're keeping score at home, that's 25 years of Phil.

Now that the Giants are back in the big game, and are once again led by an "aw shucks," country boy quarterback, I've been thinking a lot about Phil Simms lately. And when I think of Phil Simms and his unbelievable performance in Super Bowl XXI, I can't help but think about this poster as well.

The first thing you'll notice when examining the poster is the Giants old uniforms, with the too-deep V-neck, longish, striped sleeves, and white pants. You may even also notice that Phil is wearing cleats manufactured by Pony, a brand you don't see on the feet of pro athletes much these days, and that there is some sort of sartorially splendid gentleman (military, perhaps? Security?) taking in the game from the sideline. But a closer examination reveals two startling facts: 

1) Phil's first name is misspelled.
2) His signature is forged (and misspelled).

When you're the quarterback of the New York Giants and the former 7th overall pick in the NFL Draft, it's reasonable to expect people, especially people employed by the country's leading sports magazine, to spell your name correctly. But there it is, clear as day. Phil with two Ls. Phill.
And then there's the issue of the "autograph," which I always considered a great value add to these Sports Illustrated posters. I use quotation marks around the word autograph because this is clearly not Phil Simms' signature. The first dead giveaway is that whoever signed the poster spelled Phil with two Ls, which Phil himself never does. But perhaps more egregious is how the autograph bears no resemblance whatsoever to the one Phil has been using on footballs, mini-helmets, jerseys, trading cards and lithographs for years and which I've cropped out of this unforgettable magazine cover and posted here to the left.

For further evidence of the consistency of this autograph, I present to you Exhibit A and Exhibit B. Let's not even discuss the absurd flourish the forger added to the second S in Simms.

The funniest thing about this, from my perspective, is that I didn't even notice the forged signature until 1991, when my father and I attended a day of training camp at Fairleigh Dickinson University and Phil, along with several other players, signed a football we'd brought with us. When Phil handed the ball back to me I thought it looked odd, but I didn't really know what the score was until I got home and compared the signatures. 
At first, my inclination was to believe that most of the posters of this era contained forged signatures, and that Phil had not been unfairly discriminated against. Years later, however, when a friend managed to sneak me into a press conference and I had the great fortune to meet former Cosmos/Lazio star Giorgio Chinaglia (a story for another time), this belief was shattered. I brought my S.I. poster with me and had him sign it that day, right alongside the original, printed signature. And guess what? The autographs matched more or less perfectly. 


So now the only question is, who was responsible for the Simms forgery and what, after nearly thirty years, can be done about it now?

The answer, unfortunately, is unlikely to come from a representative of Sports Illustrated, though I have made a formal written inquiry. I seriously doubt I'll get a letter back. But if I ever happen to see Phil on the street or elsewhere, and I don't mentally revert back to the seven year old boy who used to pray to his poster around Hanukkah time (Intellivision games, pleeeeease!), I'll be sure to ask him myself. I'm fairly certain he'll think I'm a lunatic, but that's just the risk I'm gonna have to take.

After all these years, I don't think I have much of a choice. Worse comes to worst, though, there's always the Phil Fathead. Nice.


RobCarpenter26 said...

I had completely forgotten that poster until I saw it here. I had that on my wall for a few years, although if you read on you'll wonder why.

I turned 14 early in Phil Simms rookie year and to be honest I was not impressed. I yelled loudly at the TV (Channel 2) and the radio (WNEW) to get that waste of a first round draft pick off the field. If your name was Scott Brunner, Jeff Rutledge or later, Jeff Hostetler, I was your biggest fan. The football I played catch with as a youth had Jim Hart's autograph on it and I was even begging for him to become a Giant.

I didn't begin to come around until 1984. 5 years of merciless booing at him through my TV and radio later he finally convinced me of his worth by throwing a seemingly unatainable 22 TDs. 2 years later he had the best Super Bowl a QB had ever had. I'm sure others felt the same way I did and I'm glad George Young never listened to any of us.