“That’s probably the coolest jersey I’ve ever seen in my life,” Chris Nerat, Heritage’s consignment director, said. “I need to talk to you about that.”
The jersey in question was a red long-sleeved sweater with a four-button crotch piece, black and gold trim, an Indian head logo on the front and the No. 28 applied in yellow felt on the back. It once belonged to offensive lineman George Hurley, who played two seasons in the NFL, including in 1933 for owner George Preston Marshall’s newly named Boston franchise.
“As far as we know, it’s the only surviving jersey from the first year of the Boston Redskins,” Chris Ivy, the director of sports for Heritage Auctions, said in a phone interview. Jason Aikens, curator of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, said the museum does not have a 1933 Boston jersey in its collection.
With most estate sales and flea markets in the Bay Area shut down during the coronavirus pandemic, Teller, 40, has relied on friends and business associates across the country to contact him when they come across items they think he might be interested in acquiring for his Afterlife Boutique store. So it was in late November that a friend texted Teller photos of the jersey as well as a Washington State letterman’s sweater that he had purchased from a man who paid $5 for both pieces at a storage locker sale in Southern California.
The name “G. Hurley” was stitched on the inside neck tag of the crimson letterman’s sweater, which featured a gray block W on the front. A quick Google search revealed that a George Hurley who attended Washington State played for Boston’s NFL franchise in 1932 and 1933 and wore No. 28. The jersey must have been his, too. Teller offered his friend $800 for the pair of items, and his friend agreed with the understanding that if either piece of clothing ended up selling for significantly more, Teller would compensate him further.
“I thought maybe I’d break even or maybe that it was worth two or three thousand” dollars, Teller said in a phone interview.
Upon receiving the jersey and sweater, Teller was surprised to find both items in pristine condition, unlike most of the garments he has come across from that era. Teller researched a bit more about Marshall’s franchise, which played its inaugural 1932 season in the NFL as the Boston Braves and changed its name the following year to avoid confusion with Boston’s National League baseball team. In 1937, citing poor attendance, Marshall moved his team to Washington, D.C., where it kept the Redskins name and a similar logo to the one introduced on the front of the 1933 jerseys until the name, which many consider to be offensive and a slur to Native Americans, was retired after decades of controversy in July.
Teller contacted Heritage, which convinced him to consign the items for its February auction. As of Friday, bidding for the jersey and sweater, which is open until Feb. 27, was at $11,000. The listing includes a guide value estimate of $20,000 or more.
“Without any direct comparables, it’s an educated guess based on the scarcity and the desirability of other jerseys and the condition, which plays a big factor in it,” Ivy said. “For unique or esoteric items such as this, our estimates can get blown out of the water. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this sell for $15,000, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it sell for $50,000.”
The jersey and sweater rank among Teller’s most memorable finds, which include a 1950s Abercrombie & Fitch parka made for an Antarctic expedition involving Sir Edmund Hillary and a 1957 Brooklyn Dodgers jersey. Several years ago, at an Arizona flea market, Teller paid $10 for a pair of red, white and blue “Dream Team” shoes worn by Chris Mullin at the 1992 Summer Olympics.
Teller, whose store features handmade jewelry, vintage concert T-shirts and various other clothing from classic brands, said digging into the history of the items he acquires is one of his favorite aspects of the business. In 2019, he bought a pair of Kansas football jerseys and helmets at a local flea market and discovered they belonged to former Jayhawks defensive end Greg Tyree, who died unexpectedly in 2016. Teller was moved to contact Tyree’s father on Facebook and offered to mail him the items for no charge.
“He was super grateful,” Teller said. “There’s always a story behind this stuff. Sometimes you can unearth it, sometimes you can’t.”
George Frank Hurley’s story began in San Francisco in 1909. After three standout years at Washington State, where his teammates voted him most inspirational, Hurley signed to play with Boston. When his playing career was over, Hurley returned to the Bay Area and spent 37 years in the Palo Alto Unified School District as a coach, teacher and driving instructor. The Palo Alto Weekly reported that he was known by students for his expression “humpta-ditty,” meaning “get to it,” which is inscribed on the sign at the Palo Alto High baseball field named in his honor. Hurley died in 1995 at age 86.
In the item description for Hurley’s former sweater and jersey, Heritage says it takes “no official position” on the Washington Football Team’s former name. Ivy said it’s hard to say whether last year’s name change, which came amid pressure from major corporate sponsors, will affect the market for the franchise’s memorabilia.
“They’re the Washington Football Team now, their history is as the Redskins, and there are a lot of collectors who are huge fans of the Redskins,” Ivy said. “… I think at the end of the day this is going to go to an early NFL collector or a Washington Football Team/Washington Redskins die-hard collector.”
For Teller, who was forced to close his store for about three months and lay off multiple employees last year, the timing of his latest big find was fortunate.
“We’ll see if we make it through this mess, because it’s been pretty tough, to be honest,” he said. “We could use the money, and as long as two people are into it, it could still go for [40,000] or 50,000. I just feel like whatever it goes for, it will still be undervalued.”