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Published: Wednesday, 5/4/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Smack talkin': T-shirts poke fun at Tressel

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
The back (left) and front (right) of a new T-shirt for sale by Smack Apparel takes a jab at Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel and his involvement  with lying about knowing his players were trading team memorabilia for tattoos and jewelry. It's one of many shirts that are becoming big sellers in Big Ten cities. The back (left) and front (right) of a new T-shirt for sale by Smack Apparel takes a jab at Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel and his involvement with lying about knowing his players were trading team memorabilia for tattoos and jewelry. It's one of many shirts that are becoming big sellers in Big Ten cities.
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Michigan fans probably feel like they deserve this moment. As they are reminded far too often for comfort, it has been 2,720 days since the Wolverines last got the better of despised rival Ohio State.

Well, maybe not. It might be time to ask for a recount.

Although Michigan has not beaten the Buckeyes on the football field since 2003, when gas was $1.50 a gallon and Sammy Sosa hit his 500th home run, the Wolverines appear to be dancing a celebratory jig right now, at the expense of embattled Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel.

Tressel, who has beaten Michigan seven straight times and in nine of his 10 games against the Wolverines, is under investigation by the NCAA and has formally been charged with lying to that ruling body of college athletics. While he awaits the verdict and his fate, Michigan and others around the Big Ten are having some fun, completely at Tressel's expense.

A large billboard on I-94 between Detroit and Ann Arbor proclaims: "Liar, Liar, Vest on Fire!", taking a direct shot at Tressel and his affinity for scarlet sweater vests.

To this point, the perpetrator behind the scathing rhyme remains anonymous.

One T-shirt company has taken the Big Ten's new division names -- Legends and Leaders -- and made a play off that. The front of their shirt says "Legends" and displays a pair of heavy-framed glasses like those worn by Penn State's octogenarian head coach Joe Paterno. The back says "Liars" and shows Tressel's trademark red vest.

One of the sharpest darts thrown Tressel's way during this very public drama came from a business in Tampa that specializes in T-shirts with clever, edgy graphics. Appropriately named Smack Apparel, the company's "Tressel's Tattoo and Pawn" shirt is a brisk seller at the home of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and in other college football hotbeds.

"They have been selling the heck out of that shirt," said Wayne Curtiss, Smack Apparel's owner. "We knew that Michigan fans would eat it up, and they have."

The shirt spells Tressel with dollar signs, and proclaims he has been "turning a blind eye since 2001" -- the year he took over as head coach at OSU. The image on the back is that of a torso covered in official Tressel-issue shirt and tie, and scarlet vest, with exposed forearms covered in tattoos. Under the image is the punch line: "What happens in Columbus, stays in Columbus (Err ... unless the NCAA finds out)."

Fremont resident and diehard Michigan fan Rick Kusmer said the shirt draws a good laugh and a positive reaction from both sides of the fence, but he takes no joy in what is going on in Columbus.

"I don't like piling it on. I didn't like it when Michigan broke the rules and I don't like it now with OSU," Kusmer said.

Smack Apparel's Curtiss said many retailers located around the Big Ten schools stocked up on the "Tressel Tattoo and Pawn" shirts before their recent spring football games and found the shirts to be a much in-demand item. "Some of the stores sold every piece they had," Curtiss said.

The "Tressel Tattoo and Pawn" shirt is being carried by outlets around the Penn State campus, as well as in Wisconsin, Nebraska, and near Purdue.

Curtiss said stores close to the campus of the University of Miami, which hosts Ohio State in the third game of the 2011 season, have sold out and reordered the Tressel shirt three times.

"People see it as something that's fun and something that's funny. We just take a situation that has fans talking, and then try to have some fun with it," Curtiss said. "We hope people can laugh and take it the right way."

Contact Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6510.



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