I think we can all agree that this VCU shirt is among the best of Final Four week. But when the shirt appeared on the Internet Thursday, no one really knew much about. Who had made them? Where could you buy them? And who came up with the idea?
Well, the idea came from Spence Andrews, a 29-year old from Richmond who had been immersed in the Jay Bilas chatter after the ESPN analyst knocked VCU’s inclusion in the NCAA tournament field. After the Rams advanced to the Sweet 16, people in Richmond were still talking Bilas.
“It just kind of hit me at work one day,” he told me. “It just hit me out of the blue. Guys at the office said it would be hilarious, and then I walked outside and called Jeff.”
Jeff would be Jeff Pleasants, a former art student at VCU who now runs his own screen printing shop in Richmond, Fingerprints Apparel. He agreed the Bilas concept was a winner, but he was so busy printing VCU and Richmond shirts for other area businesses that he didn’t have time for a lark.
Finally this week, he designed and printed 120 of the Bilas shirts. The first one was printed late Wednesday night, and he took a picture of it with his cell phone in his garage. That photo was e-mailed around to friends, and John Bowen — another friend who works in the insurance business — sent it to a co-worker, who passed it along to a friend, who put it on Twitter and sent it to me and CNBC’s Darren Rovell, calling it “the best VCU Final Four shirt I’ve seen so far.”
“And then it just kind of took a life of its own at that point,” Jeff told me.
By the time the world finished retweeting that image, 25,000 people had viewed it. That was slightly more than the original run of 120 shirts. So Jeff made 100 more, but they’re still not really for sale or anything; they’ve just been giving them to friends. But they figured they needed to get one to Bilas himself, after he tweeted a link to the shirt while writing “Gotta have me one of these! Love this!! Couldn’t be laughing harder right now!!”
So Bowen — who goes to about a dozen VCU games a year — filled out a form on Bilas’s Web site, saying he knew the shirtmakers and they wanted to send Bilas one. Bilas quickly wrote back with his cell phone number. They arranged to send four shirts to Bilas’s home address, and Bilas has promised to take a photo of his entire family outfitted and then to send it back.
And so, in a week filled with Final Four commerce, there are only 220 copies of the best t-shirt, and four of them are en route to Jay Bilas’s house. But yeah, if the Rams manage to win a national title, the three friends are thinking maybe they should make a few more of these puppies and see what happens.
(The shirt even has its own Twitter account.)