- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

PITTSBURGH (AP) - To be honest, it’s not a particularly attractive lamp.

But with a base crafted from Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw’s helmet and a shade signed by the entire 1978 Super Bowl champion Steelers team, it’s definitely a valuable one.

It illuminates Dawn D’Alessandro’s basement game room and is only one of several collectors’ items the 45-year-old nurse’s aide has in her Pittsburgh home. Helmets from Hall of Fame Steelers linebackers Jack Lambert and Jack Ham perch atop her china cabinet in the dining room, a hutch across from it holds team-signed footballs from each of the first four Steelers Super Bowl wins and personalized autographed photos from Steelers players adorn the walls.

There’s more memorabilia scattered throughout the house, including a closet full of more signed photos, but it pales in comparison with only two months ago, when garbage bag upon garbage bag of game-used helmets, footballs, jerseys, cleats, Pirates baseballs and more sat shoved under D’Alessandro’s bed.

Most of those National Football League items will be exhibited and auctioned by Hunt Auctions at the upcoming Super Bowl in Phoenix - estimated to net at least $100,000, probably more. The baseball memorabilia, including a ball signed by Hall of Fame Pirates right fielder Roberto Clemente, will most likely be auctioned at the Major League Baseball All-Star game.

D’Alessandro’s step-grandfather, Mike Cupon, spent years collecting these vintage treasures when he was the visiting team locker room equipment manager for the Steelers and Pirates back in the Forbes Field and Three Rivers Stadium days.

From 1952 to 1984, Cupon stowed away keepsakes - the crown jewel of which is a game-worn jersey from Jim Brown, the Hall of Fame Cleveland Browns running back.

Fewer than five are known to exist, and its estimated worth is between $50,000 and $75,000. It makes Hall of Fame Steelers defensive tackle Ernie Stautner’s jersey - worth $10,000 to $20,000 - and Hall of Fame Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Sonny Jurgensen’s jersey - worth $5,000 to $10,000 - look like chump change.

Not bad for languishing in a garbage bag.

“There was nowhere to display everything,” D’Alessandro said. “Nobody could appreciate them.”

D’Alessandro is doing sports history a favor. When he died in 1996 at age 80, Cupon passed the collection down to D’Alessandro’s father, and her father passed it on to her before he died.

Her mother was ready to toss it all in the trash. But D’Alessandro saved it, choosing to auction off the items without sentimental value when it wouldn’t all fit in her house.

When the president of Hunt Auctions, Dave Hunt, was in town for PirateFest, he stopped by to appraise the collection. What he found, he called “undiscovered” and “unprecedented.”

“I was speechless on a lot of the items,” Hunt said. “Especially when you pick up a jersey, and for somebody like myself who does this on an everyday basis, you know that it’s Jim Brown’s jersey as soon as you’re holding it. It’s pretty exciting.”

Hunt said the collection was unique not only for its dollar value but also for the breadth of memorabilia.

“Aside from what they’re worth, it’s important,” he said. “These are pieces of history that, once they’re gone, you can’t replace them. So it’s nice they did preserve them, and we can bring some light to who Mike Cupon was.”

Cupon emigrated from Croatia before settling in Pittsburgh. Having played football all his life, he picked up the side gig as an equipment manager to supplement his salary from his day job at J&L; Steel.

He earned the nickname Tarzan in his South Side neighborhood after falling off a friend’s roof while fixing it and emerging with only a missing chunk of his little finger. The Steelers nicknamed him Cement Head and Iron Mike, because “he must have had a hard head,” D’Alessandro said.

He was someone everyone knew and everyone loved, D’Alessandro said. He was friends with all the players, especially Mr. Lambert, who even attended his funeral.

But his granddaughter mostly remembers him from watching games and seeing him on the field.

D’Alessandro said she was shocked to discover the value of her grandfather’s collection, but she won’t be following the auction online with bated breath.

Although she plans to use the proceeds from the sale, after some percentages go to NFL charities and Hunt Auctions, to upgrade her house before putting them away, it’s not about the money for her.

“I’m just glad to see (it appreciated),” she said. “My grandpap and my father were, I mean they were just major sports fans. That was their lives. Somebody would walk into my dad’s house and see the collection, and you would see somebody’s face just light up. That didn’t do it justice under my bed.”

There is one thing, however, that everyone wants, but D’Alessandro refuses to part with: that Terry Bradshaw helmet lamp.

It, along with the rest of the Steelers memorabilia she kept, will be passed down to her kids - just as it was passed down to her.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1xXmTkZ

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Information from: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, http://www.post-gazette.com

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