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Eric Carr is a seemingly mild-mannered, unassuming 52-year old mostly retired corrections officer for a Sheriff's Department in upstate New York. He’s married, with two daughters and a young granddaughter living in the heart of Buffalo Bills country. So close to the Bills, Eric used to provide security at night at the players’ dormitories at training camp.
A lot of Steeler fans don’t know that Eric Carr.
The Eric Carr they know is a rabid, devoted Pittsburgh Steelers fan who has one of the craziest collections of memorabilia gathered under one roof. Eric, who regularly displays his favorite collectibles on Instagram under the handle steelersgamer36_, has an unbelievable collection of game-used items, including 56 different game-worn jerseys dating as far back as 1964, helmets, pants, shoulder pads, gloves and shoes. But, that’s not all — in fact, it’s not even close to all.
Packed into two rooms of his house are photos, prints, cards, bobbleheads, figurines and more, all related to the Steelers and the team’s players. How much more? How about a life-sized Terry Bradshaw head used in a toupee marketing effort back in the day? Yes, they exist — Eric has one. He mounted his on a full-sized mannequin.
Of course, Eric couldn’t have a Terry Bradshaw mannequin just standing by itself. So, made another mannequin into Jack Lambert to keep Terry company. He says he’s going to build up a TJ Watt mannequin next.
Heck, Eric even has copies of Terry Bradshaw’s country music albums, including a copy on eight-track tape. Eric is clearly not a typical fan or a typical collector. So, he’s exactly the guy I wanted to speak with.
Eric was generous enough to share some of his time with me on a recent video call, and I thought others might be interested in some of what we talked about.
When did you start following the Steelers? What’s one of your first memories of the Steelers?
Eric Carr: “I became a fan when I was little, in the heyday of the Steelers. I was a young kid just beginning to find out and take notice of the NFL, and the Steelers were at the top of the league. I like the colors, the Black and Gold, and I knew they were the best.
“I was a sports card collector, and I remember the Topps Super Bowl card from the Steelers Super Bowl win.
“I’ve stuck with the team ever since, even through some of the dark years in the 1980s. Since 1995, I’ve gone to training camp nearly every summer. I also make the trip to Pittsburgh each season for a couple of home games, and every time they travel to Buffalo for a game with the Bills, I go there too.
“I’ve probably seen them play in person 75-80 times. I’ve seen them play every other NFL team at least once, and I’ve seen them defeat every NFL team except for the Cowboys, Saints and Raiders.
“At camp and at games, I like to get my picture taken with Steelers players. I would so much rather have a picture than an autograph. I have an album with hundreds of pictures with players and coaches.”
If you had to name one, who's your favorite Steelers player of all time?
EC: “Related to the theme of your book, it’s too hard to choose one of the players from the 70s. The team was just loaded with players who would become legends.
“From then on, it’s easy for me to pick my favorite. Jerome Bettis, the Bus, number 36. He’s so much my favorite player that ‘bus’ and ‘36’ are somewhere in all my social handles and email addresses.
“I liked Bettis even before he became a Steelers, when he played for the Rams. I loved his style of playing running back, big and physical. A runner who would rather run over you instead of around you. Players like Larry Csonka, John Riggins and Earl Campbell.
“I was ecstatic on Draft Day in 1996 when the Steelers traded for him. I was like a kid on Christmas morning. My favorite player was joining my favorite team. And, the two together didn’t disappoint!”
What got you started collecting memorabilia, and how long have you been collecting?
EC: “I’ve gone through two phases of collecting. The first phase was as a kid, and like a lot of kids, I collected sports trading cards. I also had a decent amount of Steelers memorabilia, but nothing on the high-end side.
“I sold all of that first collection in my late teens so that I could get money to buy a car. And, for years afterward, I did collect anything. Eventually, I got interested again, but first with basketball.
“My second phase of collecting, the one I’m still in, began in 1992 when the Steelers hired Bill Cowher as head coach. The team did awesome, and I got back into collecting big time.
“I started with trading cards again, and this was before ebay, so I went to card shops and card shows. Those have now largely gone away. But, at those shows and stores, I would buy more and more, and it just snowballed into bigger stuff.”
What was your first big piece?
EC: “Remember the old Superstars TV show on ABC, where athletes competed in a collection of events? My first-ever ebay purchase was Lynn Swann’s signed uniform from the 1975 SuperTeams version of the Superstars.
“In the late 90s or early 2000s, I connected with a guy in Pittsburgh, about a five-hour drive from my home, who owned Sports World Specialties, at the original location, I think it was on Liberty.
“I bought a single game worn shoe, signed by Levon Kirkland. I bought seats from Three Rivers Stadium. Of course, I have cleats from Bettis.
“One of my favorite items is Dermontti Dawson’s playbook from the 2000 season. It doesn’t have all the individual gameplans, but it does have his spiral notebook with all his handwritten notes.
“I also connected with George Ryden, the owner of a card store on Brownsville Road, and I got a lot of items from him too.”
What's your most special piece?
EC: “Oh man, I don’t know. Dawson’s playbook is up there. Anything from Bettis too, including two pairs of game-used gloves, his shoes, a couple of practice jerseys, and his elbow pads.
“Rod Woodson is perhaps my second-favorite Steeler of all time, and I have cleats and four pairs of gloves from him.
“Then there’s items from the '70's guys, like Mel Blount’s turf shoes, and a single cleat from Franco Harris. And, I can’t forget cleats and Pro Bowl practice shorts from Donnie Shell that I bought directly from him.
“But, out of everything, I have to say my favorite piece is one of TJ Watt’s gloves that he wore in his first game as a Steeler.”
Where do you keep all this - do you have the ultimate Steelers fan cave?
EC: “I wish I could say I had an incredible man cave. Maybe one day I’ll build an addition to the house. Right now, I have a “Steeler room.” There’s also a second room, our family room, that I’ve sort of taken over.
“Both rooms look like a hoarder lives there. My wife is a saint.
I have two big CURIO cabinets that are just filled. There’s all the game worn stuff that I show on Instagram, but I have a ton of other stuff. I have a lot of pictures, some framed, that are just stacked up because I don’t have room to hang them.
“I also like collecting figurines. So much so that I get these incredibly detailed, custom-made figurines from four different artists, one of whom lives in England.”
What types of collectibles tend to catch your eye?
EC: “As you can tell, I rarely say no to an item! I particularly like game worn stuff, and I really like older game worn stuff because it has way more wear.
“Newer game worn items are changed out often, sometimes during a game. The older items would get repaired and worn for the entire season. The more wear on a game worn item, the better.
“Wear on an item, like a jersey, can be used to match with photos to see if it's authentic. Of course, the stuff you get from the team comes with certificates, but other stuff you have to look at carefully. I use Getty Images a lot to match items up with repairs and other wear marks on items.”
What's the Holy Grail for you to acquire for your collection?
EC: “I’m not even going to say game worn items from Bradshaw or Lambert. I’m just realistic about my budget.
“One thing I wish I had is something from Ben Roethlisberger. When he was playing, a single glove was $500. Now that he’s retired, those items are just going to get more expensive.
“But, yeah, gloves or cleats from Big Ben would be great. I kick myself for having passed up on a few chances three or four years ago.”