Earl Campbell was relaxing on his Coachman bus as it left his ranch in Tyler, Texas, a couple of weeks ago when he spotted an old friend on the BET network: his 1980 Houston Oilers number 34 baby-blue jersey. "It was the first time I ever saw somebody wearing one of those," says Campbell, now 48 and the owner of Austin-based Earl Campbell Meat Products Inc. "It was a rapper dancing on television. When he turned around, I saw CAMPBELL on the back. I was so excited."
So are throwback fans. Campbell's retro jersey was cited by several retailers as one of the hottest throwback items for the holiday season. Along with the skinny on Big Earl's number 34, here are a few other throwbacks expected to pop in 2004. They are available through the website www.mitchellandness.com, www.jersey-joe.com orwww.distantreplays.com.
EARL CAMPBELL'S NUMBER 34 HOUSTON OILERS 1980 BLUE JERSEY, $260
This Mitchell & Ness jersey recalls number 34 when Campbell (right) was at his plow-horse best. He had a career-high 373 carries and rushed for 1,934 yards and 13 touchdowns in 1980. Among fans who own it is rapper Fabolous, who wears it in his Into You video. "What makes the jersey hot is, the team doesn't exist anymore and its color combination," says Mike Harris, who runs the Total Sport chain.
WAYNE GRETZKY'S NUMBER 99 CAMPBELL CONFERENCE 1984 ALL-STAR GAME JERSEY, $350
The Great One was never greater than when he wore this orange jersey with CAMP-BELL stitched diagonally down the front and with white stars at the bottom. "Hockey is not popular in the inner city, but Wayne Gretzky transcends that," says M&N's Reuben Harley. "Everybody loves the number 99."
MARK GASTINEAU'S NUMBER 99 NEW YORK JETS 1984 GREEN JERSEY, $250
New to stores this month is M&N's tribute to the Jets' sack-dancing defensive end. ("Mullet not included," fans are warned on the Distant Replays website.) It includes a commemorative patch worn by most original AFL teams during the 1984 season. Gastineau's outlaw image should prove popular with throwback fans. " Mark Gastineau was Attila of the field," says Harley. "This will be a real hot seller."
BOB GIBSON'S NUMBER 45 ROCHESTER RED WINGS 1960 JERSEY, $160
The Russell Athletic Diamond Legends collection takes old school back to the minors: The line, scheduled for spring 2004, features 16 jerseys worn by alltime greats, including Yogi Berra (1946 Newark Bears number 8) and Johnny Bench (1967 Buffalo Bisons number 5).
DAVE (TIGER) WILLIAMS'S NUMBER 22 VANCOUVER CANUCKS 1982-83 HOME JERSEY, $300
"I compare it with the Nolan Ryan Astros jersey," says Harris of Total Sport. "It's ugly, but guys love it." The yellow jersey has a black and burnt-orange V section down the front, the Canucks' old logo on the shoulders and the number 22 in two-layer twill on the back and sleeves. Williams's 3,966 penalty minutes are not included.
MICHAEL IRVIN'S NUMBER 47 MIAMI 1987 HOME ORANGE JERSEY, $300
Irvin's visibility as an analyst for ESPN has increased demand for this heavy knit with forest green stripes and IRVIN on the back. Made by 29/34 Vintage Sportswear, it's perfect for the budding playmaker in your household.