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U of I merchandise selling well ahead of Rose Bowl

BLOOMINGTON -- Jim and Michele Lehman are confident that the University of Illinois Rose Bowl tickets sweatshirt they bought for their brother-in-law will be the perfect Christmas gift.

“That’s what he wanted. It’s the only thing he wants for Christmas,” Michele Lehman said. “That’s going to be his best gift.”

The Eureka couple bought the orange sweatshirt that commemorates the university football team’s upcoming New Year's Day game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., from Urbana-based Brownfield Sports’ kiosk at Bloomington’s Eastland Mall. Area retailers have ordered extra Illini t-shirts, sweatshirts and other novelties to meet demand from fans who are excited to see the team play in its first Rose Bowl since 1984.

Sales at Brownfield Sports’ Bloomington outlet have been “awesome,” especially since sports officials last week announced Illinois would play University of Southern California in the Rose Bowl, said Ann Kelly of Bloomington, who is running the mall booth.

“It’s flying off our shelves,” Kelly said.

The Lehmans bought the sweatshirt for Jim Lehman’s sister’s husband, Darel Walker, of Valparaiso, Ind., who graduated from the University of Illinois in 1984 and earned his master's degree there in 1990. They hope their gift will replace his only other Illinois sweatshirt, a worn-out souvenir from the 1990 Florida Citrus Bowl.

“It’s old. He needs a new one,” Jim Lehman said.

From the looks of business at Eastland Mall’s MC Sports, a lot of Illinois football fans might receive Rose Bowl merchandise as Christmas presents, said store manager Wayne Grant.

Instead of the typical male shopper, Grant has seen a lot of women buying the navy and orange youth and adult Rose Bowl t-shirts as gifts. The sports store received three shipments just last week and expects to expand its selection closer to game day, Grant said.

Though the business for football merchandise doesn’t compare to the run on items when Illinois’ basketball team is doing well, regular Illini football clothing still is selling well, too, Grant said.

“It’s been a good year, obviously. They’re in a bowl,” he said.

The time fans have had to wait to see the University of Illinois receive a Pasadena berth again may have something to do with the initial rush and expected demand for Rose Bowl items, Grant said.

“You may never see it for another 20 so years again,” Grant said.

People didn’t really expect Illinois would make a bowl game like the Rose Bowl, said Marvin Ford, store manager at Clinton’s Wal-Mart. The team’s success this year will drive the many area Illini fans into the Clinton store to pick up their Rose Bowl gear as the store receives its shipments, Ford said.

Wal-Mart usually has one University of Illinois apparel rack, but it will have two or three racks once new merchandise arrives this week, Ford said.

“U of I is a local school. When they do something well, there’s a lot of support for it,” Ford said.








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