On the evening of the College Football Playoff National Championship game, more than a dozen employees of Old Guard Graphics in Athens gathered to watch with more than a fan’s interest.
A University of Georgia victory over Alabama meant a fast-paced evening of printing nearly 10,000 T-shirts declaring the Bulldogs as National Champions. The anticipation of turning on the presses was growing as the game progressed.
But on the game’s last play, the Alabama Crimson Tide won.
“As it turned out, we just went on home for the evening,” recalled Haywood Thomas, owner of Old Guard Graphics, which had contracted with the sporting goods giant Nike to print the T-shirts for a Georgia victory.
“It would have been hard work, but we were looking forward to the challenge. We had all the guys there at 10 o’clock and watched the second half of the game,” Thomas said.
If UGA had won, they were prepared to print about 8,000 of the official locker room shirts, which would have been trucked out in the predawn hours to retail markets.
“We were slotted to print 7,766 shirts at a minimum, but they said they wanted us to print as many as possible,” he said.
Old Guard contracts with numerous business and organizations for T-shirts, so it is accustomed to producing thousands at a time.
“We do a lot of work with the King Center in Atlanta. We have a huge order to be done for MLK Day,” he said. For the last three years, the UGA Alumni Association has honored the company as one of the 100 fastest growing businesses in the country that is owned by a UGA graduate.
Thomas, a native of Virginia, as been in the T-shirt business for about 23 years, after he moved to Athens to attend UGA due to the city’s reputation as “a town based around music.” He studied drawing and painting at the university and took a job at a small print shop in town to learn graphics.
“In 2008, I decided to go out on my own in a one-man operation,” he said. “We’re now entering our 10th year. It’s gone from me printing T-shirts by hand — maybe 200 shirts a day if I was lucky — to printing a thousand shirts an hour with the automatic equipment and a full staff.”
His customers include various organizations at UGA to local bands such as Widespread Panic and the Drive By Truckers.
Thomas said he enjoyed the opportunity to work with Nike.
“The folks from Nike were pleased with the effort we put in and we’re looking forward to doing it again,” he said.
The UGA loss may have stopped the presses on Jan. 8, but this disappointment wasn’t unique for the owner of Old Guard.
“We had the same scenario through a different company for the Super Bowl last year for the Falcons,” he said. “We were watching the Falcons go into overtime and lose.”