- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 9, 2003

Bruce Smith wrapped up the New York Giants’ Jesse Palmer for his 199th career sack Sunday. Now he’s speed-rushing for the wallets of Redskins fans.

Within hours after Smith registered his sack Sunday, a blitz of commemorative coins, cards, jerseys adorned with one of two newly designed sack logos, and T-shirts denoting the feat were available in stores and on the Internet.

Such haste from accomplishment to store shelves is not uncommon in the business of “hot market” sports retail. But in this case, Redskins officials and Smith representatives quietly have been preparing the sack record merchandising for months. Production of the coins and T-shirts in particular, both costing $19.99 each, began in the late summer while Smith and the team waited month after agonizing month for the record-setting takedown to occur.

“There has been a combined effort under way,” between Smith’s advisors and the Redskins, said Leigh Steinberg, Smith’s agent. “There are very few monumental records that get set now in the NFL. This is one of them, and it is really staggering in terms of consequence. We’ve just seen history made. Given the state of today’s NFL, it defies imagination that this will be broken again.”

The Smith sack record merchandising, however, arrives with plenty of baggage. It has been three years since the 40-year-old was a true force in the league. And this year, as Smith’s mobility, production and playing time diminished sharply, he openly criticized Redskins coaches. Smith even took his case to owner Dan Snyder in search of more playing time so he could secure the sack record. The move, in the middle of yet another lost season for the Redskins, blunted his popularity with many fans.

“I’m not going to sit up here and say, ‘I, I, I, me, me, me,’” Smith said two weeks ago. “But I think I need to be on the field a little more.”

Smith, given a day off yesterday with the rest of the team, was not available for additional comment.

Those 199 career sacks place him above such stars as Reggie White and Lawrence Taylor. The relatively recent acknowledgement of the sack as an official statistic — the NFL began counting it in 1982 — ignores Hall of Famers such as Deacon Jones, Bob Lilly and Alan Page.

“We attempted to be very careful to de-emphasize the record and keep the proper focus on team goals,” said Steinberg, though many Redskins fans would disagree. “But he was so close, it was inevitable this record was going to come.”

The Smith merchandising will be aided by Pro Access Inc., a Miami-based company that produced similar gear after Emmitt Smith set the NFL career rushing record last year and Barry Bonds set baseball’s single-season home run record in 2001.

The Smith sack record merchandising is not limited to just the lineman’s camp or the Redskins. The NFL is selling a Reebok-made sack record T-shirt on its Web site, nflshop.com, on both pages for both the Redskins and Buffalo Bills, where Smith played for 15 seasons.

Some commemorative Smith jerseys and T-shirts even will be available in Bills colors.

On EBay, several ticket stubs from Sunday’s game at Giants Stadium were up for auction, with a handful of bidders entering the fray at $10.

The commemorative coins, sold as a set with a Smith football card, are limited to a run of 1,200, yielding a total potential revenue stream of $24,000. The T-shirts and jerseys, predictably, will be a much more open-ended situation.

The Redskins also will honor Smith at FedEx Field during the team’s season finale Dec.27 against Philadelphia, said team vice president Karl Swanson.

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