A one-man hockey museum
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Hockey wasn't always the most important thing in the universe. Why, there was a time, long ago, when the winners of the Stanley Cup weren't automatically invited to the White House to meet the president.
"The first President Bush, he really didn't know anything about hockey, and I don't think they had any intention of inviting the Penguins," said Timothy Kelley of Findlay, who was working in federal law enforcement in Washington, D.C.
"A friend of mine, who was a Secret Service agent, was a Penguins fan like me, and we were badgering the visitors' office to invite them," he said. "One day, I was there, and he actually dialed the Penguins' [front office] number and handed the phone to one of the secretaries."
Next thing he knew, there were Penguins on the White House lawn.
Team Captain Mario Lemieux presented Mr. Bush with a miniature of the cup and a jersey. Mr. Bush shook the young man's hand and said, "And you are?"
It was a magic moment.
Today, Mr. Kelley, 46, works for the Department of Homeland Security. And he has a few Penguins souvenirs of his own:
About 200 game-worn jerseys, including 1991 Stanley Cup Final sweaters bearing the names Lemieux, Jagr, Francis, Recchi and Pietrangelo. There's also the jersey Petr Nedved was wearing when he scored the game-winning goal in the fourth overtime in the 1996 playoffs and the jersey Darius Kasparaitis was sporting when he knocked Eric Lindros out in '97.
They share closet space in his home with numerous programs, posters, pucks, sticks and banners. There's the cap Jaromir Jagr was wearing in the Pens' locker room when they won the first cup and the black helmet Mr. Lemieux wore during his first seven seasons, from his first game until they won their first cup.
He even has the home jersey Sidney Crosby wore in his rookie year, when he first had the "A" for "alternate captain" sewn onto it.
"I guess it all harkens back to the Mean Joe Greene Coca-Cola commercial," Mr. Kelley said. "I didn't know this hobby even existed. It's just that I was a Penguin fan for so long, through all the hard times. And then when they won the cup, it meant so much to me. And I remember thinking, 'Wow, I'd love to have the jersey Mario was wearing that night.' But I had no idea you could get those things."
Well, some people can. You have to be plugged into the world of collectibles. And you have to be willing to spend some money.
But once you have it, you have a piece of Penguins history.
"Players go through a couple sets of jerseys a year," Mr. Kelley said. "Hockey jerseys get worn out. They take a lot of abuse. Watch how hard they play. Hitting, falling to the ice, crashing into the boards, getting slashed, fighting, yanking on the collars. Blood and stick marks."
Most of Mr. Kelley's jerseys have been acquired through auctions or Internet sales involving reputable, authorized dealers. But some of his stuff has come from friends who know of his passion.
"I had a friend who worked the visitors' locker room for the Minnesota North Stars," he said. "So when the Penguins won the cup there, he managed to procure me a few items. He actually got two champagne bottles, and he got them autographed by a couple of the players. One of them is autographed by Tom Barrasso, and he actually noted Stanley Cup '91 on it. The other one is Jaromir Jagr and Paul Coffey."
Another friend, who used to work for the city, hooked him up with one of the Penguins banners that the city hung from street posts. But it's the jerseys that are most special to him.
The first piece of his collection was a Ron Francis 1995-96 Pens regular-season white jersey. But he no longer has it.
"His Stanley Cup jersey became available," Mr. Kelley said, "so I sold it and put the money I made toward the more expensive Stanley Cup jersey. ... It's like giving up your skinny first girlfriend for your Playboy model second girlfriend."
The older goods were harder to obtain. Much of it was lost as teams didn't appreciate the value of sweaty pieces of clothing.
All of Mr. Kelley's paraphernalia is Penguins-related, and he doesn't wear anything from his collection. He has other store-bought Pens jerseys for that.
And he isn't big on autographs. Most collectors, he said, forego the scribbling of athletes, preferring to have the jerseys in the condition in which they were worn.
The prize of his collection is Mr. Lemieux's black Stanley Cup jersey from Game 4 in 1991. It's the only jersey he has framed.
His dream piece, he said, would be the home black jersey Mr. Crosby wore in the Game 3 victory Wednesday night, when he scored two goals. Of course, that isn't on the market yet.
Asked what he will do with his collection, Mr. Kelley -- who has no wife or children -- said he doesn't know.
"If I sold it all, I wouldn't have a house payment or a car payment. But it isn't about money, it really isn't," he said. "It's about the Penguins. That's my team. I live and die with them."
The collection says a lot about the Penguins. And the fact that Mr. Kelley has been able to acquire so much of it also is telling.
"As I got into the hobby, I realized the Penguins never really had a sense of their own history, unlike the Steelers and the Pirates," he said. "They had so many financial problems, ownership problems, bankruptcy. They never really took care of their own history."
Fortunately, someone out in Findlay has been doing it for them.
First Published May 31, 2008 12:00 am