Autograph hounds descend on 'Super Bowl Boulevard'
Tourist-packed Times Square is a place locals often avoid, if they can. Not now, though, with so many coveted autographs up for grabs.
A midtown stretch of Broadway has morphed into Super Bowl Boulevard, a celebration of all things football that has drawn legions of fans.
With NFL stars past and present making themselves available, it's also a magnet for autograph hunters from Long Island and New York City.
"I'm all over the place," said Andy Graubart, 49, of Farmingdale, who has amassed a "huge" collection of sports star autographs.
Intent on scoring a few more, the furniture salesman took the week off. He intends to be a fixture on Super Bowl Boulevard.
"I don't have to pay for airfare, hotels and rooms," he said Wednesday.
A couple dozen gridiron players and legends were scheduled to sit and sign autographs, including Hall of Fame running backs Marshall Faulk and Jim Brown. But there was also the tantalizing prospect of catching stars simply passing through the crowd.
Further improving the odds, Super Bowl Boulevard, which opened to fans Wednesday, stays open through tomorrow night.
"You'll never see another event with this number of players around," said Brandon Steiner, CEO of Steiner Sports, a major New York memorabilia seller.
"It really is an autograph dream," he said. "So many former players come in, a lot of the Super Bowl MVPs, Eli Manning, Joe Montana, they'll be at a lot of the parties this week. All your Hall of Famers are around, and this way it's easier to get anybody's autograph."
In the crowd was a mix of autograph hounds, including high school students finished with midterms for the day, and fathers who vowed to not return home empty-handed.
Peter Blond, 41, of Woodbury, aimed to snare autographs for his kids from either DeSean Jackson of the Philadelphia Eagles or the Chicago Bears' Matt Forte. Both players were scheduled to appear and sign autographs for free, but the line of fans was long.
"I'm hoping the line works itself out, and the people in front of me are gone by the time the guy I want is there," Blond said.
Paul Langis, 18, a senior at H. Frank Carey High School in Franklin Square, said Super Bowl Boulevard has made it easy to add to his collection. "You're guaranteed an autograph," he said.
Longtime collectors say a passion for autograph-hunting sometimes runs through families for generations, with parents introducing the hobby to their kids.
Joel Dennett, owner of Cow Over The Moon in Huntington, which sells sports memorabilia, calls it "a collecting gene."
Those are the people, he said, who feel a tingle of electricity when they hold something autographed by a sports legend. "I can't believe I'm touching this; it's from that person."
Gary Oventhal, 55, of Levittown, came to midtown armed with blank autograph cards that he intends to get signed and later adorn with each player's picture.
Oventhal, whose office is near one of the autograph signing areas at 40th Street and Broadway, joined the line during a lunch break Wednesday.
"This is phenomenal," he said. "You're getting players here . . . you never see."
The stargazing, though, had its limits.
"I have to get back to work for a conference call at 1," he said.