When Paul Henderson scored the most famous goal in Canadian history, 11-year-old Mitchell Goldhar knew that his world had changed forever.
What he couldn't have known is that decades later, he'd spend $1.2-million in a frantic late-night auction to buy the sweater Mr. Henderson wore as he tucked the puck behind Soviet goalie Vladislav Tretiak to win the 1972 Summit Series for Team Canada.
"This is not just any sweater," he said Wednesday. "This transcends sports. … It affected our mythology about ourselves, it ultimately made us better, brought us into the world at large. … I was pretty determined to get this."
The sweater was put up for auction by an anonymous American owner a month ago, setting off a wave of nationalism as companies such as Canadian Tire, the Forzani Group Ltd., Molson and the Jim Pattison Group lobbied to have it returned to Canada.
The bidding started at $10,000, and seemed to sputter out around $200,000 late last week. The deadline was 9 p.m. Tuesday, but would-be buyers were allowed to keep bidding by phone and Internet until all action had stopped for 10 minutes. Mr. Goldhar said he didn't put in his first bid of about $350,000 until three minutes before the 9 p.m. deadline.
Every time a bid was topped, the 18 potential buyers were notified by phone and e-mail that they had fallen out of contention. Each new bid had to be 10 per cent higher than the last. For several hours of overtime, deep-pocketed bidders kept driving the price higher.
Mr. Goldhar put in his final bid at about 1 a.m., then fell asleep. He didn't find out he'd won until he was awakened by a media telephone call at 6:30 a.m., having slept through the official notification that came by e-mail at 5:33 a.m.
"I was absolutely astounded how things picked up near the deadline," said Marc Juteau of Montreal-based Classic Auctions. "You just never know at an auction – things are only worth what someone will pay. And it seemed near the end everyone wanted to pay."
Mr. Henderson received constant updates via telephone as he sat in his living room with his grandson on Tuesday night. He was pulling for the Pattison bid, hoping the company would place the jersey in Canada's Sports Hall of Fame. But he was relieved a Canadian buyer won.
"It was an amazing process at the end, nobody seemed willing to back off," Mr. Henderson said. "It's amazing how things work out and we'll see where it ends up. Mr. Goldhar is aware of my wishes and I really hope that people will get a chance to see it and relive the moment."
He'll get his wish, at least initially. The 48-year-old Mr. Goldhar plans to launch a national tour that will include museums, community centres, the Hockey Hall of Fame and his own shopping centres, many of which are anchored by Wal-Mart stores.
"This sweater is owned by 33 million people," said Mr. Goldhar, a lifelong hockey fan who still skates in a weekly pickup game and runs the SmartCentres real-estate empire from Vaughan, Ont. "I'm bringing it back. I made my living in Canada. I'm applying some of that good fortune to bringing it back. In spirit, it's owned by everybody in Canada and that's how I'm going to treat it."
It's been a long road back to Canada for the No. 19 jersey. Mr. Henderson gave the sweater to the team's trainer shortly after the historic victory at Moscow's Luzhniki Ice Palace, and it eventually made its way into the hands of an American owner. Mr. Henderson offered the owner $25,000 for it a decade ago, but was rebuffed.
The owner reportedly has cancer, however, and decided to hold an auction and donate some of the proceeds to charity. Montreal-based auction house Classic Auctions said the million-dollar price tag smashes the previous $191,200 record for a hockey jersey, set by a Bobby Orr rookie jersey.
There's no doubting the sweater's authenticity, according to the Classic Auctions description provided prior to the sale. "The game wear is obvious, with a handful of stick marks and scuffs … best is the two bullet-style team repairs that appear at the right elbow, which are showing on action photos from the games in Moscow and the photo-matched black marks on the hem, which are also showing up on a number of photos, including Henderson's series-clincher goal."
The price tag "flabbergasted" Mr. Henderson, who said that he couldn't have sold the sweater for $100 in 1972. The sports memorabilia market has exploded since then, however, and he can only laugh as he considers what he could have earned had he kept it.
"Life is about sharing," he said. "And look, if I still owned it I wouldn't be selling it for any price. It should be on display somewhere, and I hope we'll work something out."
Both the Hockey Hall of Fame and the Canada's Sports Hall of Fame said they would welcome the sweater into their collections if it were offered, even temporarily, but neither had been approached.
"[Mr. Goldhar]is probably surprised to win and will need some time to figure things out," said Sheryn Posen, chief operating officer of Canada's Sports Hall of Fame. "We've reached out to him, and would welcome any ideas he may have."