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How much would you pay for one of the most memorable footballs in Patriots’ history?

In Tom Brady's third start after Drew Bledsoe. left, was injured, he threw his first touchdown pass as a Patriot.
In Tom Brady's third start after Drew Bledsoe. left, was injured, he threw his first touchdown pass as a Patriot.JIM DAVIS

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One of the great mysteries of Patriots’ history has been answered.

On Oct. 14, 2001, Tom Brady threw his first career touchdown pass, a strike to wide receiver Terry Glenn in a 29-26 win over the Chargers. Glenn tossed the ball into the stands in celebration.

No one would know at the time, but the football would stand as a milestone to the start of what would be a remarkable career. The quarterback has since thrown 580 more regular-season touchdowns, good enough for first place on the all-time list. 

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At the same time, the fact that Glenn flung the ball into the crowd instead of holding on to it — or presenting it to Brady, for that matter — meant that a very notable piece of New England sports history could be lost to the ages. 

But now, the ball has been unearthed, thanks to Lelands Auctions. The fan who caught the football and had it at home for the last 20 years has put it up for sale.

Tom Brady replaced an injured Drew Bledsoe in the fourth quarter of a Week 2 loss to the Jets in 2001.
Tom Brady replaced an injured Drew Bledsoe in the fourth quarter of a Week 2 loss to the Jets in 2001.Davis, Jim Globe Staff

The seller, who was made available anonymously through Lelands, is a 48-year-old small business owner from Rhode Island who has had season tickets since 1992 — he started going to games while he was in college, and planned his wedding and honeymoon around the Patriots’ preseason schedule years ago.

”I’m the guy who goes to Stop & Shop and preps the food for the tailgate, organizes where everyone is going to meet, gets the firewood for the barrels. The whole nine,” he said with a laugh. “I didn’t miss a game for 25 years.”

Back in 2001, he said it was fairly routine to see footballs coming toward him and his buddies, as his Section 12 seat at Foxboro Stadium -- six rows up -- was a good spot for catching wayward field-goal attempts. So he wasn’t all that surprised when Glenn, after making the catch late in the second quarter, made his way to the back of the end zone and tossed the ball into the stands. 

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“It was surreal at the time. We didn’t have a clue just how special it might have been until I got back to the car after the game, after the tailgate was done. But I remember I caught seven balls at the old stadium, and that was the only one that made it out.”

He’s had the ball in his possession for the last 20 years and wrestled with what to do with it. But after Brady won his seventh Super Bowl last February with the Buccaneers, it was settled: While he acknowledged there was “some financial gain” in selling the ball, he believed the time had come to tell his story.

Tom Brady's first start for the Patriots came on Sept. 30, 2001.
Tom Brady's first start for the Patriots came on Sept. 30, 2001.JIM DAVIS

Lelands said they were contacted in March.

“At the time when we were contacted, we were selling one of Tom Brady’s rookie cards, which ended up going for $2.25 million,” said Jordan Gilroy, Lelands Director of Acquisitions.

“It was the middle of March and the card was almost at $2 million, which was blowing everyone’s mind — and apparently, the [seller’s] mind too. I think that’s one of the reasons why he contacted us.

”That auction closed at $2.25 million,” said Gilroy of the card, which broke the record for the highest-selling football card of all time. “So he put his trust in us, and it ended up being a smart move. Now, the ball is blowing up.”

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As of Sunday night, the top bid was $110,809, but it’s expected to climb.

”We know that one of a kind pieces of this type, to put an estimate on it, it’s up to what the buyers want to pay. A million or more? It could just depend on the two that want to battle it out,” said Gilroy. “I have to imagine this won’t be a flipping situation — this ball will go to a collector who cherishes it and loves Brady. Who knows if they will donate it or what? What we want to do is stress the importance of this once-in-a-lifetime piece.”

Leland’s has experience selling Brady-related footballs: it had previously sold a ball from the 2014 AFC Championship Game, the contest where the Patriots were accused of deflating footballs. That ball sold in July 2015 for $43,740.

After verifying that it was indeed the football — a painstaking process that included matching several individual markings, including the word “PATS” located on a very specific spot on the football, as well as checking the credentials of the seller — Leland went ahead and placed it into bidding.

The auction will run through June 4 at 11 p.m. That will be followed by an “extended bidding” process, which means, the ball will remain open until no one bids for 30 minutes straight.

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The market for Brady-related merchandise is extremely lucrative right now, noted Gilroy.

”His most important football and most important card are up for sale at the same time.”


Christopher Price can be reached at christopher.price@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at cpriceglobe.