Vintage football cards stolen in Florida burglary found in Twin Cities

Bronko Nagurski football card 1935
This 1935 National Chicle football card featuring University of Minnesota and Chicago Bears player Bronko Nagurski was part of a set stolen in Florida.
Photo via Professional Sports Authenticator

An investigator with a suburban Twin Cities police department recovered two dozen rare football cards that are part of a collection stolen from a Florida man during a January burglary of his Winter Park house.

After the victim found a Facebook post in a sports memorabilia group that listed some of his cards for sale, Inver Grove Heights Police Officer Jacob Johnson requested permission from a Dakota County judge to search an Inver Grove Heights home where Johnson suspected that some of the cards had been stashed.

Many of the stolen items date to the early decades of professional football. All include inventory numbers from Professional Sports Authenticator, a company that certifies and grades collectibles.

Among the items that the burglars stole in Florida was a set of three dozen trading cards produced by the National Chicle gum company in 1935. One features Bronko Nagurski, who got his start at the University of Minnesota in the 1920s, went on to play fullback for the Chicago Bears and was among the first players inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The card, despite its poor condition, sold on eBay in 2020 for nearly $5,000.

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The Nagurski card was not recovered in the Feb. 28 Inver Grove Heights search, but many other less valuable cards from the set were, including those featuring Bernie Masterson, Dale Burnett, Phil Sorboe, and Tom Hupke.

MPR News is not naming the 18-year-old man whose home was searched because prosecutors have not filed criminal charges against him. Winter Park Deputy Chief Lisa Suepat wrote in an email that she could not comment on the case because the investigation is active.

The search warrant affidavit does not give any indication of who may have burglarized the Florida home or who is suspected of bringing the cards to Minnesota. But it does offer other details about the investigation.

The teen spoke with Winter Park Detective Justina Lopez via Zoom on Feb. 20 and allegedly told her that he withdrew cash from his bank account a week earlier and, according to the warrant, “met with a male suspect at the Mall of America” to purchase the full National Chicle set as well as a 1965 Topps Joe Namath rookie card for $10,500.

The teen showed Lopez a video that he took at the time of the purchase “where the card names and certification numbers were clearly visible.”

According to the warrant, the teen added that he and a friend met the same seller the next day on W. Broadway Ave. in Minneapolis to buy more cards. He also allegedly admitted selling some items, including a Super Bowl XXV ticket stub.

Mark Hochstaetter, who owns Papa Hawk Sports and Collectibles in Golden Valley, reviewed the items listed in the warrant for MPR News and said they are not something he often sees at his store.

He said stolen items appear frequently at sports memorabilia shows, but thieves typically steer clear of hobby shops. Hochstaetter said he’d like to know how the stolen Florida collection got to Minnesota.

“It’s amazing to me how they tracked up here. That’s what I’m trying to figure out.”