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Ex-NFL stars conduct auction for charity

February 01, 2007|Greg Johnson | Times Staff Writer

Mike Ditka is donating a 1975 NFC championship ring that he earned while playing for the Dallas Cowboys. Joe DeLamielleure is contributing an inscribed bracelet that O.J. Simpson presented to him and other members of the Buffalo Bills fabled "Electric Company." Merlin Olsen is volunteering to serve as a fishing guide during a two-day trip into the Hells Canyon region on the border between Idaho and Oregon.

The auction items being offered by the three Pro Football Hall of Fame members are among dozens of NFL-related merchandise and services to be put on the block starting today by the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund. Ditka, DeLamielleure, Willie Davis, Gale Sayers and Harry Carson will serve as board members for the non-profit organization created recently to assist professional football players who have fallen upon hard times.

"I think the Super Bowl is a perfect time to do this," said former Green Bay Packers star Jerry Kramer, who jump-started the fund-raising effort that fans and collectors can access at jerrykramer.com.

Former NFL players are raiding their treasure troves and using their big league connections to solicit one-of-a-kind donations for the auction that will run through Feb. 13 and hope to raise $500,000. Auction items include Lem Barney's 1967 Pro Bowl helmet, a football with Dwight Clark's autograph and a diagram of his famous "Catch" play in the 1982 NFC championship game. Vince Lombardi's son has donated a hand-drawn play from the Packers' celebrated coach who won the first Super Bowl. And John McEnroe has offered up a day's worth of tennis.

Auction organizers will hold a news conference to announce the auction today at the Super Bowl XLI media center in Miami.

The relief effort is being driven by mounting frustration among many NFL veterans who've watched former teammates and opponents lose their health, homes and dignity, Kramer said.

"There are lots of guys in dire need," Ditka said. "Guys like [Hall of Famer members] John Mackey, Doug Atkins, Joe Perry and Pete Pihos. A lot of guys have Alzheimer's. Doug Atkins rarely comes out of his house, and Willie Wood needed financial help to move into an assisted-living facility.

"These guys were the foundation of the NFL. The league and players are making millions of dollars and all we're saying is that some of the guys who started it have health problems, mental problems. We should be helping them out."

Kramer said the auction will need to be repeated because so many former players need financial and medical assistance.

"I'm looking at this as a five-year project," Kramer said. "I'm hoping it will create an outcry among people who want to donate, and that other players will get involved."

Organizers are hoping that the Super Bowl will drive interest in the auction. But the New York auction house that has volunteered its services believes that the one-of-a-kind nature of auction items will drive up prices.

"Each item will come with a letter that attests to its authenticity," said Jared Weiss, president of Steiner Sports. "Nothing matches Mike Ditka saying 'It's my ring.' "

Auctioneers have high hopes for many items on the block, including DeLamielleure's gold bracelet, one of several that Simpson presented to his offensive linemen after becoming the first NFL running back to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season.

greg.johnson@latimes.com

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