Are you in one of those moods that make you want to knock off
every hat you see? Drop stones in blind men's cups? Answer every
"Good morning!" with a "Says who?"
Well, mister, you're about to open a can of feel-good.
Two weeks ago, you read here about a Hall of Famer named Pete
Pihos, a great receiver who helped the Philadelphia Eagles win
two NFL titles. Pete has Alzheimer's, and his poor ex-wife,
Donna, who took him back so she could tend to him, was facing a
$6,000 dental bill and many times that much for adult day care
for him. Hurting for cash, Donna decided to part with some
valuable gifts Pete had given her years before: two Pro Bowl
jerseys, Pete's old leather pads, and a football signed by Night
Train Lane and 24 other Hall of Famers. A man who said he was
from upstate New York came to Donna's house in Winston-Salem,
N.C., to buy the stuff. He looked only about 25 but called
himself Dr. James Hart. He took Donna's memorabilia and left her
with $30,000 in rubber checks and a phone number to nowhere.
Turns out this "Dr. Hart" hairball got around. Not long after
meeting with Donna, he wrote another bad check, this one for
$5,000, and made off with signed photos of 77-year-old Hall of
Fame lineman Lou Creekmur, who helped the Detroit Lions to three
NFL titles and suffers from the early stages of dementia. "I'd
love to beat the crap out of the guy," says Creekmur. "Thank God,
I didn't let him near my memorabilia."
March 22, 2004
"Dr. Hart" also set up meetings with the Pittsburgh Steelers'
great defensive lineman Ernie Stautner, who has Alzheimer's, and
legendary New York Giants lineman Rosey Brown, but he no-showed.
Donna Pihos was left with nothing but her tears. Pete had no clue
what was going on. The football world was beside itself. The Hall
of Fame Players Association put up a $5,000 reward for
information leading to an arrest and conviction in the case.
Readers were left with nothing but rage. "I'd love the chance to
give this guy 'knee-moan-ia' with a 34-ounce Louisville Slugger,"
Sal Miccio wrote to me from New York.
Suggested Mark Rodriguez of Florida, "Let's make him the only
urinal at the World Cup!"
Money, help and expressions of support for Pihos poured in. An SI
reader named Bill Jacobs, of New York, is sending $5,000 to the
Hall of Famers' association. About 20 other checks are on the
way. A memorabilia dealer named Hal Jarvis, of Georgia, is
planning a monster one-day signing to benefit Pete. Cops from all
over wrote and said, in effect, Any chance this guy did anything
in my state? 'Cuz I'd love a crack at the sonofabitch!
In Richmond a collector named Jeff Whitmore was already on his
way to cracking the case. Whitmore thought, This smells like the
work of Shawn Stevens--a 26-year-old autograph dealer from
upstate New York. You read the feedback from people who have
dealt with Stevens on signingshotline.com, a sports autograph
website, and it becomes clear that he is to memorabilia what
Harold Hill is to marching bands.
Then SI got lucky. "Dr. Hart" had made an appointment with
Baltimore Colts heroes John Mackey and Lenny Moore and then
no-showed. But he screwed up: He left an address at the hotel
where they were supposed to meet: 66 Montgomery Street, Fonda,
Next came an amazing twist. The week my column ran, a birth
announcement appeared in The Leader-Herald of Gloversville, N.Y.,
near Fonda. It read, "Shawn and Juliette Stevens of 66 Montgomery
St., Gloversville, are the parents of twin daughters." Look what
the stork brought! Federal agents!
SI reporter Luis Fernando Llosa went to that address. A woman
insisted that nobody named Stevens lived there. Llosa thanked her
and left. On the way to his car he noted two mailboxes marked
stevens and an SUV with the plates 4stevens.
Meanwhile, a Gloversville memorabilia dealer named Mike Hauser
remembered a photo he'd taken of Stevens at a show two years
earlier. He sent it to Donna Pihos and to Lou Creekmur with the
question, "Is this Dr. Hart?"
"It is him!!!!" Donna e-mailed back. "I am sure of it ... the
eyes are his!!!!" Lou and his wife, Caroline, also I.D.'d
All this was handed over to the Winston-Salem police, who, with
help from U.S. postal inspectors, the Secret Service and the U.S.
attorney in Greensboro, were talking with Stevens's lawyer about
charges and recovering the memorabilia. (Stevens did not return
calls from SI.) "James Hart has been identified as Shawn
Stevens," Detective T.J. Taylor said. "We expect an arrest soon."
Memo to Stevens's lawyer: Get paid in cash.
As for the reward money, it's going to be split between
Whitmore--who plans to give his half to Pihos--and Hauser, who
hopes to invest the money in a show to benefit Pete. So Donna is
still crying but only because she can't believe the good news.
The dental bills are covered, and a good chunk of the day-care
bills will be too. "Oh, my heavens," she says, "I'm overwhelmed
by the kindness of people." And Pete? "I don't think he grasps
what's going on," she says, "but I tell him, 'There are so many
people who love and care about you.' And he's so happy to hear
Now, don't you feel better?
Pete Pihos has a lot of new friends, all lined up to help undo
the damage done by the rat who ripped him off.
If you have a comment for Rick Reilly, send it to