I had mentioned before that I was able to get another autograph at the National show a few weekends ago. That auto came via a redemption of sorts with the fine folks at In The Game.
For their redemption program, if you busted a "Special National" version box of ITG: Decades 80s at their booth, you would receive the box loaded multi-player, multi-GU card featuring current, former, and future Blackhawks and an additional 1/1 Show Stamped card based on some numbering system on the boxes (which I will show in a future post). In addition, you were entitled to an autograph ticket for former Olympic Team USA and "Miracle On Ice" team member, Mark Wells.
Wells played collegiately as a forward for Bowling Green back in the late 70s before joining Team USA after college. For those of you that didn't know, I am a graduate of Ball State University, fellow MAC conference and rival school for BG. More on that later.
Mark was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in his sophomore year of college and eventually made the team in Nova Scotia. He put his NHL career on hold so that he could take part in the Olympics which basically doomed his future career. Montreal sold his rights to Detroit, his "hometown" team however he wanted to stay a Canadien. He never quite made it to the NHL roster however and was signed by the Rangers after the 1980 season. He toiled around the minor leagues, playing with New Haven, Flint, Fort Wayne, and also Oklahoma City. Unfortunately, Wells never was able to crack the roster of any NHL team and retired in 1982 without playing in a single NHL game. A pretty sad ending to a career with tons of promise and a Gold medal to boot. I would encourage anyone interested to look up his story. If you can find it, it's very sad testament to the fragile nature of life and how easily things can be taken from us. But, I want to stay positive here so, moving on...
With autograph ticket in hand, we made our way back to the ITG booth at the appropriate time. Much to my surprise, there was anything but a line waiting for Mr. Wells to sign. I didn't have anything for him to autograph as my intentions were not to bother with the in person autographs in the first place. There were dealers with 8x10s and various other memorabilia, I just had no intentions of looking. ITG was very kind to provided a large scale "blow up" of their regular issue autograph cards for Mark to sign for anyone without an item.
As I approached the table, I quickly remembered he was a Bowling Green guy and I just so happened to be wearing one of my Ball State Football shirts. One glance was all it took, "Ball State football, huh?", he said. I said, "Yes, sir. And I know you were a Falcon." He proceeded to ask if I had played football to which I responded with laughter and asked him if "fantasy" counted. We struck up a conversation about watching small conference schools and the competition level between MAC teams vs. bigger conferences. He had asked about whether BSU had a hockey team yet or not. Back when I was a student, an intramural-type team was formed but I was unaware of an actual NCAA sanctioned team. He said that was a shame because more schools need to get programs going, to which I agreed. As I didn't want to take up more of his time, I thanked him for signing and stepped aside so that my collecting pal, Sal could get his 400 cards and photos signed (slight exaggeration; he only had 240).
I heard after talking to some folks at the show that Mark has had some health problems over the years due to a back condition that he has had multiple surgeries for. Mounting financial/medical issues led him to do what most could not and that was sell his medal. Last year it was consigned to Heritage Auctions and sold for over $300,000. Unfortunately, that was the second sale, captained by a private collector that had bought it from Mark some eight/nine years ago when he was in dire straits. Mark had only received a mere fraction of what it was purchased for from auction, something like less than 15% of that auction value. I will say this though...Judging by his spirits and attitude at the show, I couldn't tell that he was probably in some serious pain having to sit in one spot for hours on end, especially on those metal folding chairs.
What a great experience for me though, even if it was only short lived. I now have an Olympic gold medalist's autograph and a member of the symbolic team of heros better known as the Miracle On Ice. I was definitely too young to remember when that all went down but I have seen the video, watched the documentaries, heard the commentary, and even saw the movies (both the 1981 Steve Guttenberg version and the Disney remake with Kurt Russel). Even still, despite knowing the outcome already, the story gives me goosebumps every time, not only because of the excitement of the sport itself, but of the cultural impact the event had and still has to this day. Mark Wells was a part of that little "miracle" and even though he may no longer have the reward for the hard work and effort, no one can ever take away the memories and experience he has with being an Olympic champion. No amount of money can ever buy that.