Extensive threads: One student’s story told through his collection

Each morning Mike Kennedy faces a choice familiar to many.

What do I wear today?

He opens his closet and is faced with hundreds of clothes hangers packed so tightly that it’s impossible to see what each one is. They aren’t shirts though. Kennedy’s two closets are dominated by about 200 sports jerseys. He wears them almost every day. 

Getting ready for class in the morning, Kennedy, a 25-year-old UF journalism senior, grabs a Boston Celtics Rajon Rondo jersey. He owns 48 Celtics jerseys, ranging from All Star jerseys to Christmas Day jerseys to a Larry Bird warm-up jacket worn to win the 1988 three-point contest. The jacket is one of Kennedy’s more prized possessions.

The sheer weight of all his jerseys once broke the bar holding them, and his collection overflows into his mother’s closet. The closets are sorted by team, then by jersey number. At a whim, Kennedy can find any jersey — a testament to his collector roots.

Sports jerseys are on his Mount Rushmore of fandoms, as he calls it. Football, basketball, Star Wars, and Kingdom Hearts. His apartment off of Archer Road overflows with various collectables from each. 

Star Wars books, figure models of famous quarterbacks and almost every Kevin Durant Nike shoe stretch most of the square footage of his two bedroom apartment he shares with his mother. 

As Kennedy walks out of his home and heads to class, he’s greeted by his two small dogs Boba and Trooper — named after Star Wars characters. The cramped apartment filled to the brim with collectables transforms into the open landscape of UF’s campus as Kennedy starts his day. While his collections remain at home, a piece follows him wherever he goes. The jerseys represent not only a passion for sports, but also a passion for his collection.

His whole life surrounds his collecting hobby. These tendencies trace back to his upbringing, where seeds of passion grew from childhood memories. 

A native of Niles, Ohio, Kennedy’s love for collecting started with a jersey he wore himself. At Niles McKinley High School, he played football as a wide receiver. Kennedy donned 84 on his jersey, the same number as his favorite player Antonio Brown. Of any single athlete, Brown occupies the most real estate in Kennedy’s closet. 

“He’s who I emulated my game after,” he said.

Both Brown and Kennedy stand less than six feet tall, smaller than the prototypical wide receiver. The two were both shifty with good hands to catch the ball. Scrapy, and hard working — a testament to his mid-west roots.

Following domestic violence lawsuits and multiple dramatic episodes with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Kennedy refuses to wear his favorite player’s jersey ever again. Brown, who now plays in Tampa Bay, will never see a Buccaneers jersey in Kennedy’s extensive collection.

“I’m still a little heartbroken by it,” he said.

One of Kennedy’s earliest sports memories was a game he and his mother attended in 2016. On Christmas Day, they travelled to Pittsburgh for a game between the Steelers and the Ravens. 

A back and forth struggle, the teams traded blows until the very end. With nine seconds left, the Steelers had an opportunity to score and win the game. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Rothlesberger dropped back and threw a short pass to none other than Antonio Brown. Brown dove for the end zone and scored the game winning touchdown. 

It was an ideal ending for Kennedy’s Christmas gift that year. He witnessed his favorite player make the winning play for his favorite team. To date, he’s only been to one other Steelers game.

Now, Kennedy gives jerseys as gifts to his mother for Christmas.

Nicole Kennedy finds it easy to shop at Christmas for her son. She has him hand-pick his gifts, which always includes something to add to the collections. 

When Kennedy moved to UF for college, Nicole followed him from Ohio. The two live together in the small apartment home off of Archer Road.

Mother, son and his collections. She doesn’t mind though. Even though her son’s collection of jerseys infiltrates her closet, she finds enough space.

“l just came home from work one day and they started showing up in my closet,” she said. “I was like ‘Well ok then, I can make it work.’”

When Nicole moved south from Ohio, Kennedy had already been at UF for his first summer semester. He couldn’t bring all of his collections initially, but he had a plan.

Before leaving for college, he packed his collections in boxes. Alphabetically, chronologically, by team, by color. Whatever order was most appropriate for each collection. He left his mother specific instructions on how to move things. 

Careful with the red box — it’s fragile. Keep the blue one face up. The green one has books so it should go on the bottom

Nicole isn’t sure where her son’s organizational skills came from. She said it definitely didn’t come from her.

While she may not have passed on the organizing gene, she did sow the seed in her son that grew a love for collecting. 

Following his Christmas trip to a Steelers game, Kennedy began accumulating jerseys. It started with just Steelers jerseys, but soon expanded into other teams and sports. 

There’s a method to his madness, however. Kennedy has a criteria, and each jersey has a story behind why it hangs in his esteemed closet. 

He doesn’t buy the jerseys of people born after him. He can’t bring himself to do it, it feels odd to idolize someone younger than him. 

When Kennedy sees an athlete he thinks will be a star, he tries to buy in early. He wants to be first to represent the player before they become mainstream. 

When Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson entered the NFL in 2012, Kennedy saw his potential before many others did. Naturally, he needed to purchase a Wilson jersey to add to his collection. 

Browsing his extensive, yet incomplete spreadsheet of the jerseys in his closet, jerseys from across decades and sports can be found. 

A rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo Milwaukee Bucks jersey, a New York Mets Tim Tebow jersey, and an Indianapolis Colts Peyton Manning Super Bowl jersey. 

The Manning jersey was hard to track down, he said. It cost him almost $200, but it was worth every penny.

“Greatest of all time, had to say it,” Kennedy said.

After football jerseys, basketball jerseys are his favorite. They’re easier to wear because of their tank-top-like build, and they’re lighter than football jerseys. The designs also change more often than football jerseys. 

NBA teams offer a unique “city edition” jersey each season. These jerseys contain characteristics of the team’s home city. Orlando’s, for example, is orange because of Orange County. New Orleans’ jerseys have the fleur de lis. Each jersey has a story, just like Kennedy’s collection.

So naturally, Kennedy owns some of these jerseys. A Ricky Rubio Utah Jazz jersey and an Anthony Davis New Orleans Pelicans jersey are among the slew of sorted threads squished in the closet.

Kennedy hails from Ohio but is not a fan of LeBron James. The disdain is rooted in Kennedy’s Celtics fandom, a team who was the victim of James’ playoff wrath in the late 2010s. James, the prodigal son of the state, is not present among the collection. 

While his jersey collection grew quickly, it’s slowed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kennedy worked at Target for a short time, which helped fund the expensive hobby. Since leaving his job for school, he’s added to the collection in small spurts through holidays and birthdays.

Two-wide, reinforced and packed to the brim. The jerseys in his closet continue to tell his story.

As the years go on and his collection slows, his love for sports endures. The years, the memories and the mementos of them in his closet. 

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