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Know These Red Sox Fans? The 'SI King' Needs Your Help04:14
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Scott Smith is on a mission. His goal? To get every Sports Illustrated magazine autographed by whoever's featured on the cover.

"Everyone in the hobby has always called me the SI King," the collector said in an interview. "Including the extras that I have in my collection, I have about 19,000 autographed Sports Illustrateds right now, back to '54."

The "SI King" Scott Smith is hoping to find the fans seen in this 1990 cover. (Courtesy of Jacqueline Duvoisin/Sports Illustrated)
The "SI King" Scott Smith is hoping to find the fans seen in this 1990 cover. (Courtesy of Jacqueline Duvoisin/Sports Illustrated)

Smith estimates he's got autographs on about 95 percent of the covers printed since the magazine was first produced. He says he's become friendly with superstar athletes, met former President Ronald Reagan (twice), and sat down with boxing great Muhammad Ali for a marathon signing session in his hotel room.

But some are easier to get than others. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady recently hid autographs in buckets of candy for kids, but Smith says collectors have to pay $4 to $500 per autograph -- and Brady's appeared on a lot of Sports Illustrated covers.

"He's on about 16 or 17 different Sports Illustrated covers, by my count," he said, "and I might have the first 10 to 12 of them signed, but I still need four to five, and it's a big nut to swallow, you have to shell out $1,500 or $2,000 for four autographs."

But there are some autographs that can't be purchased, no matter how much money you're willing to spend.

"There are a few covers from the '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s of just random photographs," Smith said.

Random photographs of random people. Like the cheering section at an Ohio State basketball game. They could be sports fans like you. Or me.

"I would assume that they, along with their family, are the only ones that know that they're on the cover, and maybe the only ones that care that they're on the cover," Smith said. "It's not as if they appeared on the cover because they were famous for doing something. It's just a random shot and [they're] lucky that they made it."

Lucky for the people who appear in those magazines, but not lucky for Smith. Because although the Internet is very good at telling him where he can find famous people — at a hotel or charity function or even sometimes at their homes — the Internet is not good at helping him find people like the five young Red Sox fans who appeared on the cover in August of 1990.

"It was just one of a few hundred pictures I'm sure this photographer shot one day and it ended up on the cover of Sports Illustrated with five kids, all wearing Red Sox hats," Smith said, detailing the cover image.

Smith believes the kids were photographed in Fenway Park in June or July of that year. And they're engaged in an activity Smith knows intimately.

"In the front row, on the railing, leaning over, yelling and screaming for autographs," he said.

Given their apparent age in the photo, the fans would be in their late 30s or early 40s by now.

"There's one young girl on the cover who we understand, we found out that she had passed away a few years ago from a brain aneurysm," he said. "It's pretty sad, but there are four boys on the cover, two of which look like they could be brothers. So I'm doing everything I can to get the word out and see if someone can identify them for me."

Smith recently caught a break. An article in The Boston Globe last month led to one of the men in the picture. Smith mailed him a bunch of magazines to sign and is waiting to get them back.

But he's still holding out hope that he'll be able to find the other three.

"Even though these kids aren't famous, it's just been a gigantic, like a puzzle piece that's missing, that's under your sofa and you didn't find it for 25 years, and it's missing one little piece?" Smith said. "Hopefully once I have a name, it's just a matter of doing some research and finding them."

And, hopefully, they'll sign the magazines too.

A different version of this story will appear on the WBUR and NPR sports program Only A Game, where Karen is a producer. 

This segment aired on November 13, 2015.

Karen Given Twitter Executive Producer/Interim Host, Only A Game
Karen is the executive producer for WBUR's Only A Game.

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