December 20, 2005

eBay story takes another amazing twist

Two hours left. That's all that Steve Johnson could think about Saturday morning.

After a handful of sleepless nights and countless hours of staring at his computer screen, that's all that stood between the longtime Tennessee football fan and the money that would pay for a year's worth of therapy for his 6-year-old, autistic child.

Then, eBay ended the dream. At least, that's how it appeared.

The world's largest auction web site removed Steve's listing, which was selling his "fan loyalty," with a little more than 100 minutes left to bid, citing a handful of violations and an "improper heading."

"With just three hours left I got an email from eBay saying I was in violation," Steve said. "It didn't say anything about shutting everything down, but I'm sure I had a lot of enemies out there and plenty of Vols fans were pointing me out."

Five days earlier, Steve created a post selling his allegiance to another team. It was entitled "Buy my football fan loyalty, I'm tired of the Vols." He planned to root for anyone's team for the rest of this season and all of next, even promising to take pictures of himself in that team's gear and posting it on the net.

It was all meant as a harmless joke, but nobody could have predicted what would follow. The post quickly gained popularity on college football message boards, driving thousands of people to the listing. Some scrutinized, others just laughed.

Dozens of bids began to roll in and by Wednesday, Steve, who was being contacted by national media for interviews, was looking at an amount of money that he never intended to be involved with. He never dreamed that the whole idea could help his son.

By Saturday morning, the frenzy had reached outrageous heights. The highest bid was $1,400 and the web page had more than 130,000 hits.

It turned out that eBay can't stop that kind of phenomenon.

Soon after the post was deleted, Steve informed the highest bidder, Mike Moity, a lawyer from Louisiana and a diehard LSU fan. Moity was disappointed with the news, but quickly insisted the he "honor the bid."

"I told Mike it was too much money and he didn't have to do it," said Steve, who has been frustrated by the lack of Vols' fan support this season and the recent rehiring of offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe. "But he kept insisting that he give up the money. Still, we are a paycheck-to-paycheck family and it just felt too awkward so I couldn't accept."

"Instead of handing over the lump sum, the two SEC fans decided to use the money to start the "Loyalty Foundation," which will collect funds for the medical treatment of autistic children. It is designed specially for families in similar situations as the Johnsons.

"We are going to start a web site on (the domain name Steve originally purchased to show pictures of himself supporting his new team) and list all the people that donate money," Moity said. "We will explain where all the proceeds are going. The funds won't be used for medical research. We want to make sure it goes towards making their lives more comfortable."

Moity didn't stop there. He also added an all-expenses paid road trip, insisting he fly Steve and his son William to the Peach Bowl, which pits No. 9 Miami and No. 10 LSU against one another Dec. 30 in Atlanta. He is even purchasing LSU jerseys for the father and son with their names on the back.

Moity first contacted Johnson soon after making his first bid in the $500-range, explaining how furious his wife was when she found out the news. Johnson said he could cancel the bid, but when Moity refused, he explained his plans for the money.

That hooked Moity, who is particularly empathetic to children afflicted with serious illnesses. His nephew has Angelman Syndrome, which causes symptoms similar to cerebral palsy.

"I've watched my sister and brother-in-law and all the difficulties they face," Moity said. "They have to put rubber bands on the doorknobs and keep watch over their child at all times. It is incredibly tough."

Moity and Johnson ended up striking a friendship, talking over the phone as the bids built up. Moity talked about bringing him down to Baton Rouge for an LSU game and he kept all his LSU friends informed of the latest developments by giving them updates on the message boards.

Moity and Johnson both remain upset with eBay, which did pay Johnson back the 85 cents it cost to originally make the post. But, they have a bigger problem to deal with at the moment: An angry wife.

"If anyone has ideas on how to calm down my wife please email me ([email protected])," Moity said. "I'm looking for the least expensive way to soothe her over."

Taking away Moity's eBay privileges might be the first step.

  • Frustrated UT fan sparks eBay craze (12/15/05)

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