Tim Brennan, a 6-foot-5 senior at Sandia High School who plays forward on the varsity basketball team and is a football wide receiver, last saw his letterman jacket on a chilly day in September.
He was getting some pizza at San Mateo and Montgomery with members of the football team before heading down to Milne Stadium to scout their next opponent and he left his jacket in the back seat of his Jeep. He also left the windows cracked because his Jeep reeked due to an unfortunate incident involving a skunk the previous evening in his family’s garage.
Brennan had gotten the jacket in the fall of his freshman year when he made varsity in basketball. Over the years, it has become covered in letters in Matador red and blue: All-District, All-State, All-District Academic, DECA.
He wore the jacket constantly during the school year – because it was warm and because he was proud of it.
“All my accomplishments in high school,” Brennan says.
When the guys got down to Milne and piled out of the Jeep in their jackets, Brennan looked for his and realized that the back window had been forced down and his jacket was gone.
He went back to the pizza place. He drove around the parking lot looking for someone wearing his coat. And he got mad. You can’t just go out and buy another letter jacket and reacquire four years’ worth of honor patches.
Brennan’s proud mother, Laurie Ross-Brennan, was distraught. She put ads in the Journal and on Craigslist: $100 reward, no questions asked. And she began praying daily to St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost and stolen articles.
As September turned into October, then November and then the Christmas tree went up, the Brennan family came to the sad understanding that they would never see the jacket again.
Brennan bought a new winter coat and hoped his letterman jacket was at least keeping someone warm.
“By Christmas, I figured it was gone,” Ross-Brennan says. “And I gave St. Anthony a rest.”
Several weeks ago, Anthony Chavez, who works in transit enforcement for the city of Albuquerque, was nearing the end of his shift at the Alvarado Transportation Center in Downtown.
“I saw an individual walk in wearing a Sandia letterman jacket,” Chavez says. “It was really decorated with awards. I’m an avid basketball fan, so I went over to get a closer look.”
The name on the back of the jacket was Brennan. The year was 2014.
“I recognized the name, because I watch a lot of high school basketball,” Chavez says. “I’ve seen Tim Brennan play. He’s a stud.”
The Tim Brennan whom Chavez saw play was about 6-foot-5 and a high school senior. And the guy wearing the jacket? He was about 5-foot-8 and about 30 years old. He had tattoos on his neck. The jacket was hanging off him.
Chavez thought that was strange, but he wondered if Brennan might have given his jacket away to Goodwill or another charity.
But that didn’t make sense. Chavez graduated from Valley High School in 1994. He played basketball. And he had a letter jacket.
“I know exactly where it is. I have it wrapped up,” Chavez says. “That thing still means a lot to me.”
So Chavez engaged the guy.
“Excuse me, sir? Can I ask you where you got that letterman’s jacket?” Chavez asked.
He got the brush-off, so he tried again.
The guy, employing a four-letter word, asked him why he cared whose jacket it was.
To keep him talking, Chavez told a white lie. He said it was his nephew’s jacket and that it had been stolen. At that point, the guy remembered he’d bought it off another guy for 20 bucks.
“I just put two and two together and said, that’s not right,” Chavez said. “I told him we can do this the easy way or the hard way. I said he could hand over the jacket, or we could call the police and let them sort it out.”
Just like that, Chavez had the jacket.
Chavez is friends with Nate Tapia, whose son, Bobby, plays with Brennan. He called Tapia and Tapia called the Matador coaches.
After a basketball practice in late February, Brennan decided to stick around the gym and lift some weights and shoot some more baskets. When he picked up his phone to go home, he had three missed calls – from his coach, his assistant coach and his mom.
“So I figured something big was up,” he says.
Bobby Tapia took the jacket to school the next morning. It was filthy and one of the patches was hanging off, but that was nothing a dry cleaner couldn’t fix.
The Brennans couldn’t believe their luck – that their own St. Anthony had spotted the jacket, known about Tim and stepped in to help.
“We are so thankful for him,” Ross-Brennan says. “What are the odds?”
Chavez says he deals with some tough characters Downtown, so talking a guy out of a stolen letter jacket wasn’t a big deal.
“But,” he says, “it was really rewarding. I felt good for a week.”