Gil LeBreton

What’s the big deal about Dak Prescott using an autopen?

Long before there was fake news, there were fake autographs.

No less than the third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, employed a device that would automatically duplicate his signature on an adjoining document.

More recently, President Obama used a so-called “autopen” to affix his signature on both the Patriot Act extension and the fiscal cliff bill.

And now, it seems, Dak Prescott, quarterback and hero of the Dallas Cowboys, has sparked headlines by allegedly automatically autographing a few football trading cards.

Oh, the humanity. Prescott’s heretofore choir boy image is being assailed as “tarnished.”

Real Al Capone stuff.

The Dak-O-Matic accusation began making the rounds Wednesday in a story on the ESPN website by Darren Rovell. He added a photo on Twitter of four of the cards, all with suspiciously identical Prescott autographs.

This is not the Zapruder film, ladies and gentlemen. But you know the Cowboys — if they aren’t out clubbing and cannabis-ing, they’re counterfeiting. That’s the national media’s go-to take.

Not for a minute am I trying to infer that Dak Prescott has done anything illegal or immoral. I don’t see him quarterbacking that Longest Yard football team this fall.

Get it straight. Prescott isn’t forging Jerry Jones’ signature to checks. Rather, a machine is being accused of duplicating Dak’s autograph.

(Questionable “autographs” in the sports memorabilia business? I’m shocked! Shocked to find such fakery going on in there!)

Sports collecting has had an authentication problem as far back as the 1909 Honus Wagner card. A brief visit to your local sports memorabilia shop or eBay will attest to that.

Are those really Nolan Ryan’s and Robin Ventura’s autographs on a framed and matted glossy of their infamous 1993 brawl? Did Eli Manning really wear that autographed helmet?

Caveat collectorus. Let the collector beware.

As HBO’s Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel profiled in January 2006, many so-called “certificates of authenticity” (COAs) aren’t worth the parchment they’re printed on.

The HBO report told the story of Greg Marino, the Michelangelo of autograph forgers. Marino’s counterfeit signature racket took off in the frenzy of the 1998 Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run race, and it escalated to where Marino was regularly forging the autographs of Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra and Mother Teresa.

“He was a genius,” says “Eddie,” a co-conspirator whose face was concealed in the TV story.

Many of Marino’s forgeries were “authenticated” by real-life forensic expert Donald Frangipani, who later sued HBO unsuccessfully, claiming his career had been ruined.

COAs, according to Eddie, are “a scam like no other.”

Neither Prescott nor the Cowboys have responded publicly to the ESPN story, and they may well not. It’s entirely possible Dak didn’t even know somebody had mechanically signed some football cards for him.

But consider the source of the story, Beckett Media, based in Dallas. What better way to call attention to its newly formed Beckett Authentication Services than to have one of its two top authenticators, Steve Grad, blow an easy whistle on the Cowboys quarterback?

In the Prescott case, nobody is claiming anybody counterfeited anything. The whistle being blown smacks of Beckett grandstanding at Prescott’s expense.

Movie stars, rock stars and, yes, even presidents have used an autopen to reproduce their signatures. If you’re an autograph collector, you probably already know that.

Half the fun of owning a player’s autograph, though, is getting it from the player himself — seeing him or her up close, signing your scorebook or whatever, with your own Sharpie.

I’ll wager that Dak Prescott would gladly do that for you, if you see him in person.

In the meantime, you know the Cowboys, Al Capone’s team.

Gil LeBreton: @gilebreton

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