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Far Away, Super Bowl’s Losers Will Be Champs.

MIAMI, Feb. 3 — In some parts of the world, the Seattle Seahawks are the reigning Super Bowl champions, the Buffalo Bills are the last great football dynasty and Tom Brady is some frustrated quarterback from New England who can never win it all.

So say the T-shirts and the caps worn in Niger, Uganda and Sierra Leone.

The Super Bowl will end about 10 p.m. Sunday, and by 10:01 every player on the winning team — along with coaches, executives, family members and ball boys — could be outfitted in colorful T-shirts and caps proclaiming them champions.

The other set of championship gear — the 288 T-shirts and caps made for the team that did not win — will be hidden behind a locked door at Dolphin Stadium. By order of the National Football League, those items are never to appear on television or on eBay. They are never even to be seen on American soil.

They will be shipped Monday morning to a warehouse in Sewickley, Pa., near Pittsburgh, where they will become property of World Vision, a relief organization that will package the clothing in wooden boxes and send it to a developing nation, usually in Africa.

This way, the N.F.L. can help one of its charities and avoid traumatizing one of its teams.

“Where these items go, the people don’t have electricity or running water,” said Jeff Fields, a corporate relations officer for World Vision. “They wouldn’t know who won the Super Bowl. They wouldn’t even know about football.”

The gear is flown, along with school and medical supplies, into a major city. It is then driven to one of the villages where World Vision staff members work. They distribute the shirts and caps at a community center, about two per family.

Beth Colleton, the N.F.L.’s director for community ventures, worked for a month at a World Vision service area in Ethiopia. One day, she saw a boy in the village wearing a Green Bay Packers 1998 Super Bowl champions T-shirt.

Ms. Colleton might have been the only person in the village to do a double take. The Denver Broncos were the 1998 Super Bowl champions.

After she returned home, she watched a documentary about Romanian orphans. One of them was wearing a Buffalo Bills Super Bowl champions T-shirt. “I almost fell out of my chair,” she said.

The Bills, losers of four consecutive Super Bowls in the 1990s, at least have a following in Romania. Some of their Super Bowl champions T-shirts were relegated to a trash heap in Tampa, Fla.

In the final seconds of the 1991 Super Bowl at Tampa Stadium, Buffalo place-kicker Scott Norwood lined up for a potential 47-yard game-winning field goal against the Giants. Eddie White, a Reebok vice president, ran onto the field with an armful of Bills championship shirts.

He had to position himself to get a shirt to Buffalo’s best players after the field goal was converted. But Norwood’s kick drifted right, and Mr. White did a 180-degree turn, sprinting from the field and tossing the shirts in the closest trash bin.

He talked about such moments as if he were a coach deconstructing a memorable fourth-down play. “We need to have a game plan just like the teams do,” he said.

Ten days ago, Reebok printed 288 championship T-shirts and caps each for the Indianapolis Colts and for the Chicago Bears, participants in this year’s Super Bowl. The gear was driven by van to Dolphin Stadium on Monday and presented to the N.F.L.

“Don’t worry,” Mr. White said. “It’s protected as well as Elizabeth Taylor’s diamonds.”

He is referring, of course, to $20 T-shirts and $30 caps. But to players and coaches, these are cotton-and-polyester trophies, the first of many tangible rewards they receive upon winning the Super Bowl.

When Green Bay beat New England in the 1997 Super Bowl, and the defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur saw his shirt and cap for the first time, he started to cry. “I’ve waited my whole life for that shirt and that hat,” he said.

Distribution is a science. Twelve employees from Reebok and the N.F.L. huddle midway through the fourth quarter and handicap the game. If the score is lopsided, they stalk the sideline of the winning team, keeping the boxes out of sight.

But if the game is close, half the group goes to one side and half goes to the other. Each employee is assigned a star player to outfit. If the Colts win, for instance, someone immediately has to get a shirt and cap to quarterback Peyton Manning. If the Bears win, someone has to find linebacker Brian Urlacher.

This can be a difficult job, dodging joyous 300-pound linemen. But the advertising potential is priceless. Once the scoreboard clock hits 00:00, clothing manufacturers around the country start churning out championship merchandise. If Manning is seen wearing a T-shirt Sunday night, it will be flying off shelves in Indianapolis by Monday.

For the past 20 years, the shirts and caps have become as much a part of championship games as the coaches’ Gatorade showers. At the end of the World Series, the N.B.A. finals and the Final Four, all the winners get to celebrate in fresh threads.

The losers, meanwhile, trudge back to their locker room in sweaty jerseys. Major League Baseball destroys the clothing that was made for its runners-up. The N.B.A. donates it to an overseas charity. And the N.F.L. sends it to a place far away.

There, and only there, the losers get to be winners.By LEE JENKINS

   
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