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champion$hips: AU, UA lead recovery

Hibbett Sports
Hibbett Sports Assistant Coach Manager Wes Seaton holds up jerseys of the last two Heisman Trophy winners: Cam Newton of Auburn and Mark Ingram of Alabama.

Retailers across the nation have been reeling since the economic downturn in 2008, but at home things have not been as bad for two reasons: Auburn and Alabama football.

In December 2009, the Alabama Crimson Tide captured the SEC Championship with a dominating win over Florida, thus clinching a berth to the BCS National Championship, while running back Mark Ingram also captured the school’s first Heisman Trophy.

In January 2010, the Tide eclipsed the dream season with a national championship victory over the Texas Longhorns.

During December and January, and the months that followed, retailers in the state dealing with Alabama merchandise and memorabilia saw some of the highest sales figures in history.

But for retailers like Bama Fever/Team Fever and Hibbett Sports, what followed could have only happened in a dream.

In October 2010, Auburn emerged as the No. 1 team in the initial BCS rankings, although the Tigers would switch places with No. 2 Oregon the following week.

The Tigers kept the momentum going in November with a dramatic win over Alabama in Tuscaloosa, thus regaining the top BCS spot, before pummeling South Carolina for the school’s second SEC title in seven years and a berth to the national title game.

The following week Auburn quarterback Cam Newton captured the school’s third Heisman, and the rest is retail history.

“The past year has been completely chaotic,” said Rachael Meckl, Bama Fever/Team Fever Huntsville store manager. “It’s completely flip-flopped from last year. It’s been very beneficial for us.”

While Meckl said Auburn’s run to title has not produced as much sales as Alabama’s run in 2009, the combination of the two has been monumental.

“We didn’t do nearly as well as we did last year, but on our Auburn side the walls are bare,” Meckl said.

And even though the Tigers have taken the upper hand in the series, while the Tide has taken a back seat, Meckl said the store is still seeing the fruits of Alabama’s labor last season.

“The Alabama fan base is just a little different,” Meckl said. “Their fans are true to their team no matter what. You can see Alabama fans wearing their shirts even if they’re in dead last.”

Wes Seaton, the assistant coach manager at the Hibbett Sports in Madison, also said this year’s Auburn sales have lagged behind Alabama’s last season, but the two together have been outstanding.

“We almost did what we did last year (in sales),” Seaton said. “It’s been close.”

Seaton said Alabama sales did drop off once the Tide lost its first game to South Carolina, while Auburn’s skyrocketed as it appeared Newton was the front-runner for the Heisman.

“There’s definitely been more AU sales this season, but that’s the way it should be,” Seaton said. “Anything with Cam Newton has been huge.”

But just because sales have been good doesn’t mean it’s over.

With the possibility of the Tigers winning the national title game Jan. 10, sales are looking to climb even more with championship gear.

If the Tigers win Monday, Hibbett in Madison will be open until 1 a.m. or later.

Both Hibbett and Bama Fever/Team Fever will open at regular time on Tuesday morning.

Both stores have already received the gear that the Tigers will wear on the field after the game if they win, and the hats and shirts will be on sale at the two stores.

But what if the Tigers lose?

The pre-printed gear will be returned and the manufacturers will ship the clothing to third-world countries.

“All in all, it’s been the best year we could have asked for,” Meckl said.

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