Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes
PHOENIX — Jed Mottley played varsity football 28 years ago at Chaparral High School in Scottsdale, Arizona, when nothing screamed ultimate pride in your sport and school like a letterman jacket — but Mottley didn't have one.
"I went down to the store that year and picked everything out," Mottley told CNN. "You had to kind of design the jacket yourself ... but I never saw the final product."
When it came time to pick it up, Mottley's mother told him they didn't have the money to buy it.
"She was one of the greatest mothers you could ever ask for," Mottley said, "and she really did the best that she could. I mean, there were Christmases where there was IOUs under the Christmas tree, and if you've (never) had an IOU during Christmas ... you don't know what that feels like. We definitely had it rough, and she just always made it OK, but she was so loving."
But Mottley's older brother Josh happened to be in the right place at the right time on Nov. 3. He found Jed's letterman jacket hanging on the rack of a thrift shop in Pinetop, almost 180 miles away from his high school, for $25 — a stark difference from its original $300 price tag, Mottley estimated.
'The price was right, 28 years later'
"My mom was one of the most religious people I knew and she always said, 'I'm going to give you guys a sign from the other side,'" Jed said. "She passed away in 2012 but we never got that sign."
Josh Mottley moved to Pinetop a few years ago after touring the country as a musician. He was walking around Veterans Village Thrift Store in the area when he spotted the bright red jacket, he told CNN affiliate KNXV.
The jacket had the name "Jed" stitched under the left pocket, "94" stitched under the right pocket, and a football, the letters "WR" and the number 1 stitched on the right arm. "Chaparral" was stitched inside a big letter "C" on the top left part of the jacket.
"We were just like, in this moment on the phone," Jed said. "The price was right, 28 years later."
Jed, also a musician, lives in Los Angeles and flew to Arizona just so Josh could hand over the extraordinary find in person, he said, making this the first time the brothers had seen one another in years.
Based on the condition of the jacket, Jed said, he doesn't think anyone ever wore it. The "inspected by" tag was still in its pocket.
"It feels like my mom's been with me this entire week," he said. "It's just given me this natural high that I hope never goes away."
After a two-week visit to Arizona, Jed returned home to Los Angeles on Wednesday and said he's been wearing the jacket every chance he gets, including on stage at some of his shows with his band, Feed The Kitty.
"As a musician, I just love making people happy and it seems in this past week or two it's just been nothing but happiness," Jed said. "People are crying tears of joy. ... They're just so happy for me. It's made me shed some tears."
Since the discovery, some of Jed's former football teammates have reached out asking why he didn't tell them his mother couldn't afford to buy the jacket.
"I was embarrassed," he said. "I felt like we grew up with a lot of money around Scottsdale and I came from a broken family. ... It was nice because I got to borrow their clothes, ride in their nice cars and hang out at their houses, but you know, (at home) it was just a little bit different."
From one shop to another
The jackets were donated by a man from Mesa, 174 miles from Pinetop — less than 20 miles from Chaparral High School, Maggie Heath with Veterans Village told CNN.
"His wife passed and because of COVID he could not keep his shop opened," she said. "He drove a trailer of jackets and patches to donate to our Veterans Village Thrift Store. We have sold hundreds before we realized the jackets with names and numbers were not just samples."
When Josh came in and saw Jed's name and number on the jacket, Heath said, he "flipped out."
"It is wonderful to learn that one of our grads is now in possession of the letterman jacket that was intended for him so many years ago," Nancy Norman with the Scottsdale Unified School District told CNN. "Such items are of great sentimental value, and we hope that his having the jacket now brings back happy memories of his days as a Chaparral Firebird."
Norman said it's unclear what happened to the jacket after Jed was unable to pick it up.
As for the remaining jackets, Heath said, the shop is offering them to others who may be in search of a long-lost jacket. Since the discovery, Heath said, she's been inundated with calls and emails and plans to spend a whole day sorting jackets and patches.