Super bummer: Indy plant churns out Saints T-shirts

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Tamira Adams had just finished showing her Super Bowl XLIV T-shirt off to a reporter and proclaiming her loyalty to the Indianapolis Colts when a dark moan rumbled through the cafeteria.

Dozens of her co-workers at the sports licensed division of Adidas Group threw up their hands in exasperation. Some screamed, “No, no, no!” Adams struggled to peer through the crowd and catch the instant replay on the widescreen TV. Weren’t the Colts in the midst of a patented fourth-quarter, come-from-behind drive?

“Was that a …? What was that? Was that an interception?” Adams asked.

As we now know, the New Orleans Saints’ Tracy Porter returned an errant Peyton Manning pass 74 yards, sealing a Super Bowl win and effectively ending the Colts’ hopes for a second NFL title in four years.

But work was just beginning for Adams and about 300 other employees at the plant on Indianapolis' east side.

Most still attired in Colts caps, jerseys and T-shirts, the workers assumed their positions at screen-printing presses and embroidery stations to start making thousands of official NFL championship T-shirts for the ascendant Saints.

“I’m upset,” said embroidery operator Latesha Hardison, resisting the official call to the manufacturing floor with more than three minutes left on the game clock. “I should be doing these all night,” she said, pointing to her sweatshirt emblazoned with a giant blue horseshoe.

Through its subsidiary Reebok, Germany-based Adidas Group has the license to manufacture, market and sell NFL merchandise for all of the league’s teams. The group’s U.S. sports licensing division is headquartered just west of the intersection of 25th Street and Post Road, where some 1,100 employees manage the business and create designs for a wide variety of official NFL attire.

Despite the employees’ sympathies for the home team, the dirty secret is that the Saints’ victory will do a lot more for the company’s bottom line than a Colts win.

Pre-game orders for Saints apparel, in the event that they won the game, were quadruple those for the Colts, according to Joe Cripe, vice president of operations for the sports licensed division.

“Being Colts fans, we would have a lot more fun printing Colts tonight, but the fact that the Saints have won is great for business. It’s a great way to start our fiscal year, and it’s good for the economy here in Indianapolis,” Cripe said. He declined to specify the number of shirts ordered for the Saints, saying only that they numbered in the “hundreds of thousands.”

For most employees, their workday started just after halftime Sunday. They pulled into the parking lot of the adidas Group facility and headed for the “tailgate party” in the cafeteria, where they could watch the remainder of the game and await instructions.

Optimism for a Colts victory among plant management led to a temporary delay in reaching full production capacity. Prior to the game, about 70 percent of the plant’s 28 screen-printing presses had been preset with designs for the Colts, the rest for the Saints. Once New Orleans won, workers needed to reset the Colts machines with Saints designs.

The plant already had printed thousands of championship T-shirts in advance of the Super Bowl–both for the Colts and the Saints. Some went to Sun Life Stadium in Miami, awaiting the eventual champion. And some went to retailers who wanted to gamble on a particular team winning so they could start selling merchandise immediately after the game.

Retailers with the loser's shirts still would have to pay for them, then arrange for them to be destroyed or sent back to the plant so they could be distributed to charity groups overseas, Cripe said.

At peak efficiency, the Indianapolis plant can produce as many as 7,000 shirts an hour. Although it was the largest screen-printing facility making Saints apparel on Sunday night, it wasn’t the only one churning out championship shirts.

Employees for close to a dozen subcontracting screen printers in the New Orleans area sprinted to work after the game so local retailers in the Big Easy could have shirts to sell ASAP.

“They’re going strong for us tonight,” Cripe said of the subcontractors. Shirts produced in Indianapolis would later arrive by truck and plane to handle extended demand.

Cripe expected to be producing Saints gear nonstop at least until Friday, with rotating 12-hour shifts at the Indianapolis plant.

Although the result of the big game wasn’t ideal for Colts fans, employees tended to take a pragmatic view.

“Darn,” said Debbie Hignight, a 32-year veteran at the plant. “That’s OK, though. I have a job.”

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