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Late Hit from a Con Artist
Rick Reilly
March 08, 2004
You know who you are.
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March 08, 2004

Late Hit From A Con Artist

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You know who you are.

You know what you did.

You ripped off a down-on-his-luck, Alzheimer's-spun Hall of Fame football player.

You went to Philadelphia Eagles great Pete Pihos's house, made nice with the ex-wife he lives with and took nearly every piece of football memorabilia he had, leaving Pete and Donna with $30,000 in bogus checks and a stack of bills they still can't pay.

You had to know—once you saw that emptiness in Pete's 80-year-old eyes—that the only reason they were selling his stuff was to pay for his care. Maybe you didn't know that Donna is also staring into the teeth of a $6,000 dental bill for Pete and that prescriptions run $625 a month, all on a high school librarian's salary. But you knew you were digging them a nice, deep hole.

You said you were a New York pediatrician, "Dr. James Hart," and you were starting a "museum." A month ago you went to their home in Winston-Salem, N.C., and took Pete's last two jerseys-ones he wore in Pro Bowls during the 1950s. You took his original leather pads. You took a near-priceless football that was signed by 25 Hall of Famers, including Night Train Lane and Bulldog Turner. Yeah, you took all that, and you took their hope too.

Hey, it's what you do. You look for Hall of Famers who are either punch-drunk or suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's. You contacted Ernie Stautner, the Pittsburgh Steelers great who has Alzheimer's, about paying him to sign autographs and to buy memorabilia. Calling yourself "Dr. James Hart," you spoke to his wife, Jill, who agreed to a meeting in Dallas but not at their home and only if you paid in cash. You never came.

You also set up a meeting with Baltimore Colts great John Mackey, who cannot remember what he had for breakfast today. This time you said you were "Dr. James Hart," psychologist. But you never showed, leaving Mackey and his wife, Sylvia, waiting at a Baltimore hotel for three hours.

Which NFL legend will you try to steal from next? Jim Ringo, the Green Bay Packers center? Steve Van Buren, the Eagles' coal train of a halfback? John Henry Johnson, the Steelers' workhorse? They've all got Alzheimer's. Otto Graham had it, too, and Tom Fears died from it. The AMA hasn't quite proved the link between all those years of taking forearms to the head and Alzheimer's, but you know. And you're using it to line your pockets.

For Pihos, it started creeping up a few years ago. "What are we going to do tonight?" he'd ask Donna 10 to 20 times a day. She'd find frozen TV dinners in his closet. Over and over he'd pull two Advils out of his pocket and say, "What are these for?"

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