The limited collection of copper and gold throwback jerseys and helmets worn by the University of Montana Grizzly football team during last weekend's cross-state rivalry game grew slightly bigger on Friday.
The throwback jerseys, in colors not worn since 1995, sold out online before the athletes even knew the gear was for sale. By the time many of the football players expressed interest in purchasing the items, it was too late.
"We underestimated the emotion these pieces of equipment would stir within the players who wore them - and the desire they would have to purchase them," wrote Greg Sundberg, executive director of the Grizzly Athletic Association, to Griz fans who purchased the gear last weekend. The equipment sold out in about 20 minutes.
As a compromise, UM on Wednesday asked the hundred or so Griz fans who bought jerseys and helmets if they'd be willing to opt out of their purchase, thus allowing athletes to buy the equipment instead and offered them in return replica jerseys at a reduced price.
The jerseys worn by the athletes sold for $200 and the helmets for $350.
"We think we are doing right by trying to do right by our student-athletes," Sundberg said. "We hope these boosters and fans would understand, and thus far they have. It was a mistake on our side."
So far, of the 40 or so replies UM has received, an overwhelming number have agreed to give back the jersey or helmet they purchased.
"It's still going to be very rare and very unique," said Sundberg of the collection, pointing out that, if all goes well, the game-worn jerseys will go only to athletes who played in the game, and those people who participated in last Sunday's online sale will be the only ones allowed to purchase a replica copper and gold jersey in whatever size and number they desire. The sale is not open to the general public.
"It is a win-win for our players and our supporters," he said.
There was no way of predicting the popularity and demand for these limited-edition sports items, Sundberg said. Not even the players knew that they'd be wearing the old colors at the Montana-Montana State game until two hours before kickoff.
The players warmed up in the normal maroon and silver jerseys, but then ran onto the field sporting the copper and gold colors retired back in 1995.
Typically, athletes don't have the option of purchasing their jerseys - even the maroon and silver ones, said Athletic Director Jim O'Day. NCAA regulations allow universities to "gift" athletes up to a certain amount, but that money typically goes toward purchasing conference rings, he said.
There are many reasons these jerseys mean so much to the players.
"There's a lot of emotion that runs in the Griz-Cat game," Sundberg said. "(The athletes) are very aware of our history and tradition. They were victorious. They were proud to wear them. They want a piece of the history they made. It capitalizes on an 11-1 season. And retro is something this generation is very interested in."
It cost UM about $35,000 to buy the old-school jerseys. The money came from a portion of the royalties paid by 200 or so retailers who sell Griz gear, said Vice President Jim Foley.
The equipment sold online last Sunday at noon was a way for the university to recoup some of its costs of the purchase.
The university broke about even on the original sale, Foley said.
Nike, however, has agreed to oblige the university's request for additional copper and gold jerseys. UM is offering the select group of fans who opted out of their purchased jerseys a replica one for $150 and helmets for $300. Fans get to choose their size and number.
So far, the most requested number is 37 - a number with great statewide significance as it's passed down year to year to a Griz defensive player from Montana.
The Grizzly Athletic Association may actually profit from the sale of these additional items, Sundberg said. That money would then go toward scholarships for all student-athletes.