SOUTH PORTLAND — Almost 12 hours after Sunday’s 24-20 come-from-behind New England Patriots’ win against Jacksonville Jaguars, sporting goods retailers across the region had “AFC Championship” gear on the shelves, ready to capitalize on the Patriots’ latest achievement.
But do New England fans, conditioned by years of Belichick-Brady greatness, even want mere conference championship swag?
“I’m not going to buy any conference gear. I’m waiting for the Super Bowl championship gear,” said Rob Landry, 42, of Gorham at Dick’s Sporting Goods on Tuesday afternoon.
Landry’s confidence has merit. This is the Pats’ eighth Super Bowl trip in 17 seasons since quarterback Tom Brady and Coach Bill Belichick joined forces. Five of the previous seven have resulted in Super Bowl championships.
Based on the Patriots’ Twitter feed, Landry isn’t the only one willing to wait.
The team was promoting AFC championship gear an hour after the game ended.
Followers weren’t impressed.
“Nope. Never. #NotDone I wait for SB gear only,” tweeted one user.
Another tweeted, “You guys expect us to buy this?”
“Why wouldn’t I just wait for the Super Bowl shirt?”
“I’ll wait for the Super Bowl gear.”
Fans could be parroting the attitude of the team’s irascible coach. When handed the Lamar Hunt AFC Championship Trophy on Sunday by Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Belichick appeared to have zero interest in holding it before handing it off to Kraft’s son, Jonathan.
But other fans, like Matt Luciano, 31, of New Gloucester, understand each year is unique and should be cherished. In that way, Luciano is more like Brady, who happily donned the AFC championship shirt and raised the trophy with his famously bandaged right hand.
While Brady’s teammates were still milling about on the Gillette Stadium turf, Luciano got an expected call from Florida. His father and his cousin wanted those same hats they saw the players wearing. It was Luciano’s job, as their operative in New England, to get them. Just like last year.
“I went to the (Dick’s in) Topsham on Monday. That’s where I’d gotten the hats last year but they didn’t have them,” Luciano said. “Then I called this store and they didn’t have them yet. So I thought I’d try (Tuesday) on the way home from work.”
When Luciano spotted the hats, made by New Era and costing $34, he grabbed three.
“One’s staying with me in Maine and two are going to Florida,” said Luciano, who also grabbed a dark blue women’s “Super Bowl Patriots” T-shirt in the $25-30 range for his mother.
Moments before Luciano made his purchase, Mark Bulger of Buxton had made his own quick purchase. He too wanted the hat, “because it’s the one they actually wore on the field.” Bulger said he wasn’t surprised the hats had arrived a day late. He’s witnessed the scenario of changing stock in the run-up to the Super Bowl in previous years.
“We have several brands and different styles that are going out to stores,” said Jeff Toler, Dick’s Community Marketing Manager for Maine and New Hampshire.
The South Portland Dick’s store, along with five in New Hampshire, opened at 6 a.m. on Monday expressly because of the arrival of AFC Championship gear. “It boggles my mind every year,” Toler said. “Even with all the past success, we still have people waiting outside those stores early in the morning to get their merchandise. They want it to wear to work, or to get it for their kids so they can wear it to school.”
In the Philadelphia area, the sales started as soon as the Eagles’ NFC championship win against Minnesota ended. A Modell’s in Clifton, Pennsylvania, reported Monday’s sales 1,000 percent higher than the same day in 2017, according a report from the Delaware County News Network.
Of course championships are rarer for Eagles’ fans. Philadelphia has been to two Super Bowls, losing both, most recently in 2004 when they were beaten by the Patriots, 24-21.
The Eagles’ last NFL championship came in 1960 at an Ivy League field (Franklin Field at the University of Pennsylvania) when its star, Chuck Bednarik, played offense and defense.
What would have happened to all those premade Patriots (or Eagles) shirts and hats if the Jaguars (or Vikings) had won?
Toler said Dick’s Sporting Goods has a long-standing arrangement to donate the unused “not a champion” clothing to World Vision, a global Christian humanitarian aid organization, which sends it to countries in need.
On Tuesday at the South Portland’s Dick’s Sporting Goods, there was plenty of merchandise to choose from and few shoppers.
Craig Whiton, 67, of Portland was at Dick’s doing some shopping when he spotted the Patriots display near the front door.
“If I’d been at the game, I would have liked to have had this hat but now it’s ancient history,” Whiton said.
But as Whiton talked about how he would be in Arizona visiting family on Super Bowl Sunday, and how much he respected Brady, he kept holding the AFC Championship hat.
“You know what? Maybe we should bring some Patriots stuff to Arizona,” Whiton said.
A few minutes later, Whiton walked out with his newly purchased hat, another paying member of Patriot Nation.