BUTCH ADAMS/The Times
In the company's production room Thursday, Jessica Bahl and Rick Roth display T-shirts Mirror Image screen-printed after the Patriots won the AFC championship in 1996-97. Bahl is packaging manager of the Pawtucket firm; Roth is its president.
By WILLIAM HAMILTON
Times staff reporter
PAWTUCKET -- Rick Roth has a lot riding on the Patriots-Steelers game Sunday, and it has nothing to do with point spreads and bookmakers.
If the New England Patriots win, Roth's screen-printing company, Mirror Image on Exchange Street, has been tapped to print thousands of NFL-licensed shirts touting the Pats as AFC champions.
If the Pittsburgh Steelers win, he won't be printing anything.
Roth, who moved the business here from Cambridge, Mass., two years ago, counts himself a Patriots fan, but acknowledges they aren't his favorite sports team.
"They'll be my favorite if they win -- cha-ching," he says, mimicking the sound of a cash register.
If the underdog Patriots pull off the upset in Pittsburgh Sunday, the presses at Mirror Image will start turning as soon as the last seconds tick off the game clock.
That's so the shirts can make it to the racks and shelves at Sears, Bob's Stores and J.C. Penney outlets around New England by Monday morning.
The T-shirts and sweatshirts will be of the same design as those worn by the players in the locker room after the game, if the Pats win.
Roth has already received a prototype of the Patriots shirt he may or may not be printing Sunday night, but he was told not to allow photos of it.
It could jinx the Patriots to have an AFC champions T-shirt appear in the newspaper before the game, Roth was told.
This is not the first time Mirror Image has been rooting for the Patriots in more way than one.
The company was based in Cambridge in 1996 when the Patriots won the AFC title and played in Super Bowl XXXI.
Mirror Image churned out thousands of shirts continuously for 24 hours after the AFC championship game, and was ready to do the same if the Patriots won the Super Bowl.
It wasn't to be.
The Green Bay Packers won, and the outcome wasn't even in doubt near the end of the game.
"I sent them home after a Green Bay guy ran one back for a touchdown," Roth says.
It's been an annual ritual in recent years that Roth has signed an agreement with NFL apparel license holder VF Corp. of Greensboro, N.C. -- one of many contracts that VF Corp. enters into in the fall when the outcome of the season is still unclear.
Roth says VF Corp. needs companies close to winning teams to ensure the products reach the stores quickly. Playing safe, the corporation signs with companies to cover every team, even those with little chance of winning.
The same process is used for Major League Baseball apparel. Mirror Image has agreed in recent years to print Red Sox shirts if they make to the World Series.
Roth said he received the Patriots contract about mid-season, while they were a long shot, but still a possibility, for post-season play.
"I didn't laugh as hard as I do when the Red Sox contract comes in," Roth recalls.
No one would talk specifics about the contract Thursday -- details such as how much Mirror Image is paid or the number of shirts to be produced.
"They selected us because we can do a lot of shirts fast at the high quality they're looking for," Roth said.
Now he finds himself assembling a game plan for Sunday like Bill Belichick drawing up a playbook.
On Thursday afternoon, Roth cut a phone conversation short because he was heading into a meeting to discuss inks and shirts and the readiness of the company's 20 employees.
Roth even has the maintenance man's phone number at the ready, just in case.
"We've got to be ready to go 24 hours straight if they want that," Roth says. "I feel confident."
Now it's up to the New England Patriots.
ŠThe Pawtucket Times 2002