Move Over L.L. Bean, Here Comes the NFL

Eddie Bauer had better keep his helmet fastened. Ditto for the folks at L.L. Bean, J. Crew, and Lands' End. My name evidently has been added to a special mailing list, and now catalogs such as The Ultimate Football Shop and From the Sidelines are arriving regularly in my mailbox.

These up-and-coming mail-order companies want to knock the front-line veterans flat on the turf. They offer a simple solution to my wardrobe needs: Surrender to the glamour and expertise of the National Football League.

Their strategy is to combine style with team spirit. You can look sharp and display loyalty in a variety of lightweight polo shirts, cotton sweaters, classic denim jackets, flannel pajamas, and terry cloth bathrobes decorated with team colors and logos.

And don't overlook the Home Collection. It features all manner of household gear to compliment the clothing line. Why not spend the winter snuggled under a 49ers Polartec throw?

The NFL isn't the only contender. Once football season ends, you can look forward to seeing all the garments the National Basketball Association has to offer. And spring, which annually marks a fashion change, should bring a host of choices from Major League Baseball. There is bound to be plenty of chatter when next season's double knits hit the runway.

If you can't find a current team that catches your fancy, Ebbets Field Flannels offers replicas of caps, jackets, and other memorabilia from baseball's earlier years. I'm particularly interested in a 1935 home jersey worn by the Homestead Grays of the Negro National League. It costs $160, but setting a trend does not come cheap, and I'd definitely be the talk of the neighborhood.

For the most part, team fashions focus on casual wear, but there is no reason to think that they won't test other areas of the fashion field. Imagine that sleek Armani suit in a cool electric blue with the bold equine logo of the Denver Broncos emblazoned across the back.

And let's not forget that it is women who drive fashion. Think what the National Hockey League could do teamed up with Victoria's Secret. The possibilities are dazzling.

These fashion statements are part of the never-ending expansion process. Professional sports are a growth industry, and they fit right in with the idea of a global economy, especially since America's star athletes are better known in foreign countries than are its political leaders. Madeleine Albright delighted delegates to the UN by performing the macarena. The woman knows how to score the extra point for diplomacy, so don't choke on your hot dog if she appears at an official ceremony sporting a Chicago Bulls jersey with Michael Jordan's name on it.

Go ahead and laugh, but save room in your closet. Professional sports are part of the fabric of our lives.

* Jeffrey Shaffer, a freelance writer from Portland, does commentary for Oregon Public Radio.

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