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Inside Bucs’ Cameron Brate’s unique NFL jersey collection

Tampa Bay tight end Cam Brate’s swap shop of jerseys is more than a numbers game.
Cameron Brate's collection of jerseys features teammates current and former and those of other players who probably have more in common with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end who went undrafted out of Harvard. [Photo provided by Cameron Brate]
Cameron Brate's collection of jerseys features teammates current and former and those of other players who probably have more in common with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end who went undrafted out of Harvard. [Photo provided by Cameron Brate]
Published Dec. 6, 2019
Updated Dec. 8, 2019

TAMPA — Cameron Brate is the kind of guy who is willing to give another player the shirt off his back.

But he’s afraid to ask for theirs.

“I feel like unless you know someone, you don’t want to put somebody in the position where they feel like they have to say yes,’’ said Brate, the Bucs 28-year-old tight end.

“If someone asked for mine, I would give it to them. But aside from guys in the locker room, no one has come up to me and asked that I don’t know.’’

NFL players exchange jerseys at the end of games with as much regularity as phone numbers. The swap meet usually is the result of players who went to the same high school or college or are former teammates that have moved on in the league.

It’s a relatively common phenomenon that started in the NFL several years ago and originated from European futbol players who have been exchanging jerseys for decades.

But uniformity has never really been Brate’s thing. He’s one of less than a dozen current players in the NFL from Harvard.

So instead of pursuing the jerseys of NFL stars such as Odell Beckham, Jr., he sticks mostly to current or former Bucs teammates, guys who played from the Crimson or just tight ends he has admired from afar.

His framed collection, which covers at least two walls of his bonus room at his home in Tampa, has exceeded two dozen.

It’s not the biggest or the most glamorous gathering of jerseys, but it may be one of the most eclectic.

“I just added three more,’’ Brate said. “I’ve got one in my locker from Tyler Ott, he’s a long-snapper from the Seahawks. “He was a teammate of mine at Harvard.’’

But Brate also is fond of jerseys from guys who grew up near his hometown of Naperville, Ill., such as Jaguars tight end James O’Shaughnessy, who was drafted by the Chiefs in the fifth round in 2015.

There’s even another Cameron — Cameron Meredith — who played for St. Joseph High School in Westchester, Ill., another suburb of Chicago. Brate got Meredith’s Chicago Bears jersey. Undrafted out of Illinois St., Meredith was the victim of a prank call by a person claiming to be Patriots coach Bill Belichick stating the team would be selecting him 97th overall. The Patriots took defensive end Geneo Grissom instead.

The irony is that after three seasons with the Bears and one with the Saints, Meredith was briefly a with the Patriots as a member of their practice squad. That off-the-wall story is represented on Brate’s wall.

“Those were my first couple and then I started playing with the Harvard guys,’’ Brate said. “I would say probably half the jerseys though are Bucs.’’

The thing about swapping jerseys in the NFL is that it is an expensive hobby. In fact, generally teams discourage the practice by charging an exorbitant about of money for having to make a new one.

Most teams only have one extra jersey for each player, so you may want to give the equipment guys a heads up.

The Jaguars have known to ask players to order extra jerseys before the start of the season so they have plenty of inventory to distribute.

“Yeah it sucks,’’ Brate said. “That’s the worst part of it. So you kind of have to be selective. You just can’t go willy nilly.’’

When Brate arrived as an undrafted free agent to the Bucs, the cost for making a new jersey was $300. Now it’s $500. He hears some teams charge $1,000.

“I think they try to discourage it,’’ Brate said. “Because it’s like probably a lot of work for someone, whether it’s a seamstress or somebody like that to get the jerseys ready, because we play every single week.

“My first couple years, it was kind of expensive. But when you play at a smaller school, you don’t know anybody. Shoot, O.J. (Howard) can trade jerseys with multiple Alabama people every week whereas for me, I have a small amount of people I know that play.’’

Former teammates – or in the case of Adam Humphries, roommates – have been eager to exchange jerseys with Brate.

“I got a Ryan Fitzpatrick Jets one,’’ Brate said proudly. “It’s a weird thing. They sent him a jersey. I don’t know why and he doesn’t know why. Two years ago, he said, “You want this?’

“It’s kind of the same thing with (Adam) Hump(ries). I have a Hump jersey. But I don’t have a Titans one yet. Do I need another one? It’s a different team. So it’s an internal debate. I would love another Fitz jersey because Fitz is the man.’’

Fitzpatrick, perhaps Harvard’s most famous NFL alum, could wallpaper a house just with the jerseys from teams he’s actually played for. That list includes the Rams, Bengals, Bills, Titans, Texans, Jets, Bucs and Dolphins.

Brate’s Bucs teammates have been eager to exchange. “I have a color rush Jameis Winston,’’ Brate said proudly.

He also has those worn by Lavonte David, William Gholston, Mike Evans, Howard, Ryan Griffin, Anthony Auclair, Brandon Myers and Russell Sheppard.

There’s the obscure, like Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson, and the obvious, like Vikings center Nick Easton, a Harvard grad.

In fact, collecting jerseys has become a family affair. His girlfriend, Brooke Skelley, who used to work for the Bucs but is now the director of communications and marketing for the Super Bowl LV host committee, has a few framed jerseys in the couple’s office of players she has worked closely with in Carolina and Tampa such as Josh Norman, Thomas Davis and Jason Pierre-Paul.

Brate admits he would like to conjure up the courage to ask some of the NFL’s best tight ends for their sewn digits.

“If I could have one or two tight ends around the league who are currently playing, I would love to have Travis Kelce or Greg Olson,’’ Brate said. “I know George Kittle a little bit.’’

In fact, Sunday’s against Indianapolis may present another early Christmas present for Brate.

“The thing is, I really like (tight end) Jack Doyle from the Colts,’’ Brate said. “So I may say, “Dude, I’m a big fan of your game.’’

Contact Rick Stroud at rstroud@tampabay.com. Follow @NFLStroud

• • •

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