JOE ANGELL/For The Times
Jessica Bahl, packaging manager at Mirror Image in Pawtucket, shows off one of the Patriots AGC championship T-shirts the company began printing just as the game was ending Sunday.
By DOUGLAS HADDEN
Times staff reporter
The New England Patriots were the stars on TV screens across the region Sunday, including the giant screens surrounded by hundreds of fans watching the AFC title game against Pittsburgh at Tort's Bar & Grill in Seekonk.
And a screen process of another sort got started when Tebucky Jones late in the fourth quarter picked off a Kordell Stewart pass to seal the 24-17 win.
That's when, back in Pawtucket, Rick Roth gave the go-ahead at his Mirror Image T-shirt printing facility: Start the presses.
"That's much better than the feeling I had in '97," said Roth, "when that guy for Green Bay (Desmond Howard) ran back a kick for a touchdown," effectively killing the Patriots' championship hopes and Roth's lucrative chance to print the team's name as Super Bowl winners on thousands of T-shirts.
Mirror Image, a top-quality screen printer which moved into the former John Little & Co. Printers building on Exchange Street two years ago, got a congratulatory visit Sunday from Mayor James E. Doyle as the initial batch of an estimated 15,000-plus "locker room" T-shirts piled up ready to be packed off for Sears, J.C. Penny and Bob's Stores.
Printing was scheduled to wind up at 4 o'clock this morning. If you watched what Pats coach Bill Belichick or quarterback Drew Bledsoe wore during post-game comments, it's the same design printed by Mirror Image, on both black and blue backgrounds.
Doyle said he preferred the blue -- "team colors," he noted -- but added, "The good thing is they're both made in Pawtucket."
Roth since last week had refused to have the design photographed, with team players and officials fearing it would jinx Sunday's game against the Steelers.
Mirror Image is printing as subcontractor for VF Corp. of Tampa, Fla., said VF's special events director, Ralph Galera. He said the Tampa facility itself has 24 printing machines, and with subcontractors at the AFC and NFC playoff sites and elsewhere, "there's going to be hundreds of thousands of Patriots' fans happy."
Tort's was a frenzy of Patriots' supporters, though not without dissenters.
Lifelong Steelers fan Andrew Henneous of Providence wasn't afraid ("it's only a game") to cheer his team in the largest local crossroads of Pats' country, but late in the third quarter scored his club for "not sticking to their game plan, that's their problem.
"They're relying too much on (Jerome) Bettis instead of sticking to the two guys (other running backs) who got them here," compounded by "not enough pressure on the quarterback."
Bob Burns of Pawtucket pressed into the front bar area and its 6 screens fresh off 18 holes of golf, at adjacent Firefly Country Club with friend John Pellegrino of Providence in Sunday's balmy temperatures.
"We could hear them yelling on the golf course," he related. "We figured a really loud yell was a touchdown, a moderate yell was a field goal."
With the Patriots at that point clinging to a 21-17 lead, Michelle Murphy of Smithfield, at Tort's among a half-dozen friends, kept one eye on the giant screen in the back room and the other on her 4-year-old son Mitchell.
"He's a big fan," she smiled. "We're teaching him how to say, 'Go Patriots!' I'm going to have him dressed head to toe (in Pats gear) if they go to the Super Bowl. This," she added, "is an incredible game."
As the fourth quarter started, the bar -- which co-owner Michael Tortolani said hosted about 300 fans Sunday, including outdoors on a rear deck -- erupted on a Pats first-down scamper and began cheering every running yard gained and every catch.
"It's crazy," said waitress and Pats fan Melissa Keegler as she hustled to keep up with patrons' orders. "It's hard, but you just keep going in circles. If they score a touchdown, they usually order a round."
And if the Pats get to the Super Bowl, "I would expect total chaos, absolutely," she laughed. "But we'll keep up with it. Piece of cake."
A 44-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal gave Pats fans some breathing room at 24-17 with 8:20 left, but a near-interception of a Drew Bledsoe pass caused momentary shivers and another Vinatieri try sailed just wide left.
Finally the interception by Jones sealed the Steelers' fate, sparking an ear-splitting communal roar, clasped hands, high-fives, ear-piercing whistling and hearty pats on the back.
Enjoying every up-and-down minute of it were George Leroy, 67, of Hanover, Mass., his 33-year-old son Keith, friend John Butler, 68, of Brockton and Keith's fellow ACI guard Chris Dawson.
"My Dad raised me the right way," boasted Keith as he showed off a Patriots Minuteman logo tattooed on his right calf. As for whether the Pats this year are a team of destiny, "you know it," he said. "Where's Melissa?" he then inquired, moments before Keegler plopped down a pitcher.
As New England safely tucked the game away, George Leroy called Bledsoe's pinch role for the injured Tom Brady "like a Hollywood script" but was already looking ahead. "We've gotta do this another week. Imagine that!" he exclaimed.
"You can believe it now," his son said. "This team is on a roll."
ŠThe Pawtucket Times 2002