When the Hall of Fame running back learned that a Houston couple desperate to have a baby was auctioning off one of his most rare cards to fund one last attempt at in vitro fertilization, he was stunned.
Now the former Detroit Lions star is helping spread the word about the sale of the card signed by both he and Walter Payton so Todd and Ula Nelkin can raise $20,000. It's hard for Sanders to imagine one of his cards helping bring a child into the world.
"It would be very, very special," Sanders said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I'm not sure that I even have the words, but it will be very special if I were able to help. Obviously we know there are no guarantees, but I will do as much as I can."
The 1999 Donruss card has a picture of Sanders and his signature on one side and Payton, who died in November 1999, is seen on the other side with his autograph. It is the only one of its kind rated a 10 by the Beckett grading service.
The Nelkins are auctioning it off this week on eBay.
"I would love to keep the card, but I would rather have a kid," Todd said. "It's a wonderful card. You daydream that maybe 30, 40 years from now, our son or daughter will find out where the card is and what happened to it."
The Nelkins are huge sports fans and own a sports memorabilia shop in Houston. The met on an online dating site and had their first date at a Houston Rockets game before being married at another one.
"We're two big kids at heart," Ula said. "Whenever we go to an outing, whether it be a movie or a symphony or a musical we think: 'We just can't wait to bring our little one to this.'"
They've both always wanted kids, but the 45-year-old Todd and the 42-year-old Ula met later in life and when they decided to have children they learned her eggs were no longer viable. They've been trying to have a child for about three years and already spent about $40,000 on IVF with donor eggs, only to have both rounds end in heartbreak.
Ula had to have emergency surgery after the first try resulted in an ectopic pregnancy. On the next round she never became pregnant. They say their credit cards are maxed out, so they started thinking about their next step. The Nelkins, who are also looking into adoption, say they're financially stable but don't have another $20,000 for when the doctor says Ula is ready for the next procedure.
They hope their intention to use the proceeds of the sale of the card to have a baby will make it more valuable.
"That adds something to the legacy of the card," Ula said. "Maybe this card will be known as the baby maker."
The couple, who donned Lions shirts while talking about the auction, couldn't believe it when Sanders reached out to them on Twitter. They've since texted with and spoke to Sanders by telephone.
"That's a scream-in-your-closet type of thing," Todd said of Sanders' offering to help.
Sanders said he has his "fingers crossed" that the Nelkins are able to raise enough money for the procedure and that it's successful this time. Their story touched him because of the joy his children have brought him.
"Part of why I was willing to get involved is because it is a real unique privilege and something that's very important and precious and like nothing else you'll ever do," he said of parenthood. "So the fact that I can maybe lend a small hand to a couple in this way, is a very unique privilege that I don't take lightly. I certainly feel for them. I know how much my kids mean to me, and I know that sometimes couples have problems with that, so I just wanted to do what I could to help them."
Ula gets emotional when talking about the failed IVF attempts, and that prompts Todd to interrupt her to provide encouragement.
"She would be a wonderful mother," he says, patting her hand.
Todd's parents and Ula's mother are all elderly and they hope to give them a grandchild before it's too late.
"This is our last shot," Ula said.Suggest a correction