Ted McNamara didn't think twice about what to get his son, Brian, for his 13th birthday.
McNamara brought his son to Rosemont Sunday so he could meet, and get an autograph from, one of the boy's idols -- New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees.
"He's a huge Drew Brees fan -- huge," said McNamara, a Lake Zurich resident. "So when I saw that Brees was going to sign here, I knew this would be a great birthday gift."
The McNamaras were among the thousands of sports fans who attended the 46th annual Sun-Times Sports Collectibles Show at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center over the weekend.
The three-day show featured memorabilia dealers from all over the country and a slew of superstar autograph signers, including Brees, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, former Chicago Cubs pitcher (and baseball Hall of Famer) Bruce Sutter, and former Notre Dame star Manti Te'o, known for his stellar play and for being at the center of a widely publicized online dating hoax.
Brees was one of the first stars to appear Sunday, and the line for his autograph was huge. Other fans, though, visited dozens of memorabilia tables, which included everything from vintage cards to autographed photos.
Brian O'Donnell and Frank Caputo manned the table for AU Sports in Morton Grove, which sold vintage cards, old ticket stubs, football game programs and other items at the show.
"The store sells current cards, but we brought a lot of vintage stuff because that's what the established collector looks for at a show like this," O'Donnell said. "Traffic has been good. Of course, you always want it to be better."
Cliff McDaniel, owner of Naperville-based Safe at Home Sports, had a full selection of vintage and current sports cards for sale. He said Chicago Blackhawks cards were particularly popular.
"I normally don't carry much hockey, but when I put out the Blackhawks cards they went like crazy," McDaniel said. "Now I wish I had more of that stuff."
Safe at Home sells cards at shows only; there's no associated retail store. McDaniel, who's been in the business for about 20 years, said he travels to about 40 shows a year, mostly in the Midwest.
It can be a tough go, McDaniel said. Internet sites like eBay have lured some buyers away from stores and card shows, and the sports-card hobby hasn't caught on with younger fans, he said. Plus, people don't have as much spending money as they used to.
"If you have the right cards, you do OK," McDaniel said. "Vintage baseball is still a pretty strong sell. But it's getting tougher to get that kind of stuff."
Chester Borowski of Schaumburg, a longtime card collector, was there to see if he could add to his collection of cards featuring Cubs legend Ernie Banks. Borowski collected cards as a child in the early 1960s, but then abandoned the hobby until the late 1980s.
"I had to start over from scratch," he said. "Ernie Banks was my favorite player as a kid, so I searched for his cards, but of course they'd gotten real expensive."
Borowski said his main goal was to find a Banks rookie card from 1954 in excellent condition. He's found some examples on eBay, but they usually run well over $1,000.
"This was a lot easier when a pack cost 15 cents," he said with a laugh.