One of the more pressing concerns for collectors who are looking to invest in this year's crop of NFL playoff stars is whether or not they will have any staying power that will cause their collectibles to increase in value.
In this most unusual NFL season that has seen the elite of the league fall into the basement and the previous cellar dwellers ascend to the league's penthouse, it is an important issue.
After all, collectors didn't worry about whether a Joe Montana or John Elway would disappear after they won their Super Bowl rings. If anything, their successes in the playoffs dramatically increased the worth of their autographs and merchandise.
But as last year's playoff experiences will tell you, fame can be fleeting. Randall Cunningham was considered a hot item for collectors after his playoff run that fell short of the Super Bowl. Three games into the1999 season, he was replaced and will be released by Minnesota April 1. Terrell Davis of Denver and Jamal Anderson of Atlanta were also hot after the Super Bowl last season, but quickly faded this past season when they were felled by injuries.
No player is hotter for collectors at the present time than Kurt Warner, the NFL MVP who rose from obscurity in the Arena Football League to bring the Rams the best record in the NFC and an impressive playoff win last week.
Warner only got his chance to play when St. Louis' expected regular No. 1 quarterback, Trent Green, was hurt in the Rams' third playoff game. Green was lured from Washington with a lucrative contract and Warner was only signed to be a backup. The Rams this week gave an extra $500,000 in cap money to add to Warner's deal and it is presumed he will be the starting quarterback next season for the Rams.
Still, Green is being paid more than a million dollars to sit on the bench and collectors should be warned how fickle quarterbacks can be. Warner was spurned by most NFL teams who thought him to be too slow and immobile out of the pocket, elements that didn't seem to affect his Arena Football career. But, what the Rams scouts saw that others didn't was his quick release. That, teamed with a fleet group of young receivers, were the ingredients for the potent St. Louis' offensive fireworks this year.
Can Warner, who played for unheralded Northern Iowa during his college career, throw 41 touchdowns next year? Doubtful. Still, he remains the NFL cover boy for now. Warner was the league's most valuable player and has made the Rams the most watchable team in the NFL in recent years.
Of more lasting power is likely to be his teammate, Marshall Faulk, who emerged this season to be the league's premier all-purpose running back. Faulk had played six nondescript seasons in the league before the Rams acquired him from the Colts during the off-season. A former all-American from San Diego State, Faulk has finally fulfilled the promise he had coming out of college.
Barring injury, Faulk is going to be an all-pro for several more seasons to come under the Rams' wide open offense. He also has been rewarded with a lucrative long-term contract-, which means that the chances of him being a holdout (like Anderson was this past season) have about vanished.
Like Warner, Mark Brunnell of the Jacksonville Jaguars came into the league with little fanfare from the University of Washington. He was selected by Green Bay to provide insurance for Brett Farve, who was considered the quarterback of the future for the Packers. Brunnell languished on the bench behind Brunnell before he was traded to the expansion Jaguars.
The southpaw not only capitalized on his opportunity, but he lifted the expansion Jaguars to instant respectability and to the playoffs in his second season. At age 29, Brunnell is likely to be the quarterback of the future in the AFC, particularly because of his ability to win big playoff games. He may not have the arm of a Drew Bledsoe or the athleticism of a Steve McNair but he, like Montana, is a winner in clutch situations.
Unlike Warner, Brunnell is mobile--too mobile some say. His recklessness and willingness to run out of the pocket have some saying that he is asking for an injury that would sideline him for more than the couple of games he missed this past season.
The other player who is likely to benefit the most from this year's media blitz of the playoffs is Titans' running back Eddie George. Like Faulk, George came out of college with high expectations. He was a first round draft choice out of Ohio State in 1996 by the then Houston Oilers, who had planned to build their offense around his talents.
George put together good numbers from his rookie season on, but the Titans were nothing more than a .500 team. What has allowed George to emerge into the elite of NFL running backs is the Tennessee defense. Jeff Fisher, the Titans' coach, learned the blueprint for victory in the playoffs when he was in the defense of Mike Ditka and the Bears in the '80s. Run the ball, control the clock, and have a great defense. Ditka did it with Walter Payton; Fisher is doing it with George.
Again, the wildcard is health. The average length of the career of a running back is four years, due mostly to the beating they take.
Both George and Faulk have shown the ability to play through injuries and as a result, are considered good long term investments for collectors. Quarterbacks are always chancy items; when they succeed, they succeed big time. Check out Elway and Montana. When they fall, they fall quickly.