T-shirt sends new Steelers message

Lissa Brennan is co-creator of what she considers "the best Steelers T-shirt ever. EVER!!!"

She and friend Dan Rugh -- owner of CommonWealth Press on the South Side -- have combined the Warhol-esque style of the Obama "Hope" posters with the dashing good looks of Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin into one great T-shirt.

The black shirt, which is hand silk-screened in white and gold ink, features Coach Tomlin's face, complete with his familiar sideline headset, above the phrase, "Yes We Can!"

As the Steelers march toward the playoffs, the president-elect's campaign motto also is a most suitable Steeler Nation battle cry.

"The Obama posters' design is so iconic and immediately recognizable, and I loved them and I also love Mike Tomlin," said Ms. Brennan, 38, of the South Side. "We have the sexiest coach in the NFL. You don't want a shirt with Bill Belichick on it."

She selected Coach Tomlin for the T-shirt, but believes other team members would have worked as well.

"You could have put any one of those boys' faces on the shirt and people would want it," said Ms. Brennan, an actress, director, occasional stagehand and all-round theater-loving gal. "Put Farrior on it, put Troy. Oh, my God. They're all beautiful."

She came up with the idea for the shirt about three weeks ago as a personal fundraiser, of sorts. She needed money to try to resurrect her Dog & Pony Show Theater Company and for the Goodman Furnace Pressure Valve Memorial Fund. (Yes, she needed a new $650 valve for her furnace.)

Independent of Ms. Brennan, Mr. Rugh already had been working on a Tomlin T-shirt idea that would be a play on the Obama "Hope" T-shirts when she approached him to design her idea.

"She came in and was really selling the idea 'Yes We Can,' " he said.

He tweaked his design, drawn from three or four different pictures of the Steelers coach, to fit her words.

Ms. Brennan originally had 75 T-shirts made, bought them from Mr. Rugh, and she sold them to friends and family via an e-mail she sent out at the beginning of the month.

Now that they're taking the idea public, they've agreed to share profits from all future sales.

She says even if there weren't a market for the T-shirts, she would have had one made up just for herself. And while making money was the initial impetus for the T-shirt, she says she really just wanted to see people walking around with Mike Tomlin on their chests.

"He's a great, great coach and a great fit for Pittsburgh and we are going to the Super Bowl this year," she said. "We had one for the thumb and now we're going to be two-fisted."

Ms. Brennan grew up in Shadyside in the 1970s but didn't become a rabid Steelers fan until she moved to North Carolina in 1998.

"I was so homesick and I missed Pittsburgh so much, that I started watching Steelers football games, just because they had shots of the city," she said. "From that I've become a football fanatic. I'll watch anything. I'll watch high school football."

Coach Tomlin had no comment on the T-shirt yesterday, Steelers spokesman Dave Lockett said.

Nonetheless, Ms. Brennan hopes that news of the T-shirt makes its way to folks at Heinz Field.

"Maybe if enough people [wear] these, Hines Ward will see someone with one on and think, 'Who could have come up with such a brilliant idea? I must find her!' " she wrote to friends and family in her e-mail. "I can dream."

The T-shirts, sizes youth medium to adult 5X, are $15 and available at CommonWealth Press, 1931 E. Carson St., or www.compressmerch.com.

L.A. Johnson can be reached at ljohnson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3903. First Published December 16, 2008 5:00 AM


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