EDISON - Quarterback Eli Manning and the New York Giants are being accused of creating fake "game-worn" jerseys and equipment to be sold to the public, according to an explosive lawsuit filed in Bergen County.
The lawsuit, filed by memorabilia collector and reseller Eric Inselberg claims Eli Manning instructed Giants equipment manager Joe Skiba to take unused jerseys and helmets and make the items appear to have been worn during games so he could keep the originals. Among the alleged fakes are a helmet supposedly worn by Manning during his 2008 Super Bowl victory, which is currently on display in Canton. Inselberg's attorney, Brian Brook, claims his client owns the real helmet. He also accuses the Giants of distributing fake "game-worn" helmets from Manning's second Super Bowl victory in 2012 and his rookie season in 2004.
The fakes were so commonplace that Skiba discussed them on his official Giants email account, the lawsuit claims. It includes a copy of one email in which Inselberg asks Skiba: "My buddy was offered an Eli game used helmet and jersey. Are these the BS ones Eli asked you to make up because he didn't want to give up the real stuff?" Skiba replies: "BS ones, you are correct."
The Giants call the suit "without merit" and say they will "defend it vigorously."
Regardless of the outcome, the lawsuit is likely to send shockwaves through the sports memorabilia market, where game-worn jerseys can sell for thousands of dollars. "It should only be expensive because it's absolutely real," says Barry Meisel, president of the MeiGray Group, a Branchburg company that specializes in authenticating and reselling game-worn jerseys. The company handles all jerseys from the National Hockey League and also represents two NFL teams. Meisel says his company never takes a team's word that an item was worn in a game, and compares everything it receives to game footage and photographs.
"If a collector is going to spend the kind of money it takes to buy that item, he has to be 100 percent sure and we have to be 100 percent sure," Meisel says.