For KC pawn shop owner, an actual Lombardi Trophy is just the start of his inventory
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — It’s awkward to grip and slick to the touch, seven pounds of pure silver, each turn reflecting the lights above with an almost holy glow. And then you laugh, quietly. In a larger man’s hands, you think, the Lombardi Trophy could be swung like Thor’s hammer.
"Anything that’s old, neat and cool," Don Budd says proudly, "I do."
Mickey Mantle smiles down from one wall; Pamela Anderson and Steven Tyler wink back from another. Henry Marshall’s Hula Bowl shirt is draped over a chair.
Gold records. A letter signed by J. Edgar Hoover. A movie poster — weathered, browned — of Joe E. Browne as "Alibi Ike." A map of Wyandotte County from 1869 overlooks a pile of old beer crates.
Budd’s office, a loft above Central Pawn in downtown Kansas City, Kan., is the ultimate man-cave, a treasure chest of dude culture. The adjectives "neat" and "cool" feel as quaint as the memorabilia they describe.
But they feel like understatements, too, especially when you turn to the conversation piece resting on the desk, Steve Young’s pride and joy. The engraving — SUPER BOWL XXIX — says it is the trophy the Hall of Fame quarterback so famously and lovingly cradled in his arms almost exactly 20 years earlier, this month, down in South Florida. Budd assures you it is authentic.
"I know for a fact it’s from the Niners," he says.
Like many of the mementos in the room, this one has a story. And like those other items, that story will remain untold — at least on Budd’s end. Further details are confidential, he says, the particulars vague, other than it was acquired, directly or indirectly, the way many of his treasures were obtained: A wealthy man — in this case, ex-49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. — hit a rough patch.
"Anonymity, obviously, has been something that I’ve stuck to since Day One," Budd says. "I don’t talk about the player or anything else unless they say it’s OK."
Budd’s Lombardi Trophy — he’s believed to be one of the few individuals in the world to have one in his possession, if not the only individual — does the occasional celebrity tour locally, usually during Super Bowl week, and almost always at a party during Super Bowl Sunday.
"There’s always somebody standing next to it," Budd says, "to make sure it doesn’t disappear."
And the double takes. Oh, the double takes. There are two known Lombardis in the metro: The Kansas City Chiefs’ treasured keepsake from Super Bowl IV in 1970 — and the one Budd sometimes sticks next to the guacamole dip.
"You’ll go some place and know two people out of 20 there," Budd says. "I’ll say, ‘Just put it on the bar, put it on the kitchen table.’ The responses you get, you need a camera when that happens. It’s pretty unique."
He’s had them all in his possession, at one point or another: Grammys. Oscars. Personal limos. Rolls-Royces. Ferraris. Central Pawn, a family business Budd opened in 1988, is headquartered in an old bank building, and the most valuable ducats — dozens of Super Bowl rings — are kept in a giant vault on the ground floor.
The first ring in his stable came from ex-Oakland Raiders cornerback Skip Thomas, the Kansas City native charmingly referred to as "Dr. Death," more than 25 years ago. Thomas, who died in 2011, had hit one of those aforementioned rough patches, too.
"Now, almost 30 years ago, the NFL and all the major sports were different then," Budd explains. "They didn’t have people that would sit you down and really talk to you about financial planning or things like that. Well, the guy went from being a superstar in grade school to a big stud in high school and college, going right into the pros. And they didn’t want for much.
"And then all of a sudden, one day, it’s over. And the guy (goes) from whatever he was making to zero. And then that lifestyle is difficult to change for them."
The agreement is standard: Budd keeps the ring for a period in exchange for a loan up front. There’s a monthly fee, and the player has a set amount of months in which he can buy the ring back, plus interest.
"I would rather (do that) than sell it," Budd says, "I truly would.
"The one thing you learn throughout this whole process: You’ve got to take the emotional part out of it. Because if you don’t, people are just going to look across and lie to each other. And that’s what’s going to happen; that’s just the way it goes."
Budd is a businessman first, and there is a waiting list for the Super Bowl memorabilia — especially the rings — with the longest lines items tied to the Raiders, Cowboys and Packers. Authentic rings command anywhere from $35,000 to $50,000, Budd says, depending on the player; one he sold went for $45,000.
No names, though. That’s the rule. He won’t reveal the player. Or the buyer.
Word spread, as word often does from pro athlete to pro athlete, friend to friend. Budd was discreet and on the level, but the former was especially prized. Before long, a little shop in the Great Plains had built up a network of former superstars.
"Everybody has their own difficulties," Budd says. "I think it was more luck than anything else, at first. Now it’s just something (where) they call. They just do."
And sometimes, teams call to try to reclaim their wares, too. Over the years, Budd found an audience with the late Raiders godfather Al Davis, the Chiefs’ Lex Luthor.
"They portrayed him as a hard-ass; he probably was at what he did," Budd says. "But I can tell you, there were many times that he helped his players. I know that for a fact.
"The thing is, and I told him this one time, I said, ‘Well, your players are on their last 1,000 chances, aren’t they?’ Sometimes, it would get a little bit paternal, I suppose."
Thomas’ ring was in and out of Budd’s store for years before Dr. Death finally said to hell with it.
"How I ended up with it, ultimately, was (that) he came to me," Budd recalls. "He said, ‘Can I get more if I just sell it to you? Because at this point, this is where I’m at.’"
Another personal favorite is a silver bowl presented to Thomas, bestowed by the city of Oakland to Raiders players after winning Super Bowl XI, removable from a heavy black base. Dr. Death even signed the side of the thing.
Budd offers up Sam Lacey’s Final Four ring with New Mexico State in 1970, then slips it on; Lacey, who died last March, played 12 seasons with the NBA’s Royals/Kings, a double-double machine during the franchise’s earliest days in Kansas City and Omaha. A pair of 2014 World Series passes rest on a nearby counter.
"Believe it or not, the local guys will typically go somewhere else (to pawn), because they’re worried about the word getting out because we’re local," Budd says. "I’ve had Royals rings show up in California and a (dealer) says, ‘Well, I’ve ended up with an ’85 World Series ring.’ You understand what I’m saying? They think that if they’re getting out of town, it’s going to get a little bit more secretive."
It’s harder to keep secrets, especially in the memorabilia trade. The Worldwide Web has been to Budd’s business as it has to many others: The best and worst thing ever invented, all in the same breath. Thanks to platforms such as eBay and Craigslist, the collectible trade has never been more mainstream: Any memento or relic you can imagine is a click and a credit card away from your front porch.
"In 1988, when I first started, people couldn’t even spell ‘Internet,’" Budd says. "Now you’ve got a guy that’s selling his Super Bowl ring on eBay … and there are so many fakes. They’ll case the ring and sell them as real. So it has changed so, so much since I first started.
"But 99.9 percent of the time, when I deal with buying a trophy or a ring or dealing with a piece of memorabilia I buy, I’m dealing with players, I’m dealing with the player’s family, and that’s the only way I’ll do it."
"I have dealt with a lot of wives," Budd says, chuckling.
So many stories. So few loose lips. Budd has thought about putting pen to paper, pondered a book about acquiring the fruits of so many celebrities’ sweat and toil.
"I’ve been in some situations where there’s been divorce involved, and a lot of different things," he says. "And I tell everybody up front: I’m just very up front with this kind of thing, I say, ‘OK, you’re going to sell me this Packers thing, and your husband played for the Packers.’
"And I say, ‘Give me your husband’s number and I’ll call him and make sure it’s OK that I’m selling his Packers ring.’ So we’ve been pretty fortunate that way. We’ve never really had anything that got really ugly."
Ugly, no. Sordid, a bit.
"A long time ago, we had a Mets World Series ring; I forget how I bought it," Budd recalls. "And it ended up where a guy had to trade it to a young lady in a hotel room for her ‘services.’"
"And, of course, then he reports it stolen after (it) happens. And that was about as messy as it got."
If only those walls could talk.