It's easy to show the world you're a sports fan. Wear a team T-shirt or ball cap, drink from a souvenir cup and plaster bumper stickers on your car. You can even dress the kids up in pint-sized uniforms and cheerleading outfits and tie a sport bandanna around Fido's neck.
But your team spirit needn't stop there. Your home's entrance and front yard can cheer for the players all season long with outdoor decor and plants in color combinations that let the neighbors know your favorite team.
Retailers, mail-order companies and Internet shopping sites offer enough garden accessories, front door paraphernalia and holiday decorations to fill a football field. Add seasonal bedding plants from a local garden retailer - or go all out with foundation and perennial plants that bloom each fall - and you're sure to have a winning team tribute.
Julie Papalardo loves football, especially her alma mater's team: the University of South Florida Bulls. Every football season she creates several dozen college and pro custom wreaths using pennants, game souvenirs, feathers, beads and other decorative items. The one-of-a-kind team wreaths, which retail from $79 to $89, are sold at her Largo store, Julie's Cottage at Provence, and at Beach Papery and Gifts in St. Petersburg.
"I did it on a whim, and it just took off," she says of the first football wreath she created 20 years ago. "It's become a fun thing to do during football season."
University of Florida Gators wreaths have been big sellers for several years, says Papalardo, who also crafts wreaths for the Tampa Bay Bucs, Florida State Seminoles, the USF Bulls and any team requested by a customer. Add a brass or pewter door knocker with your team's athletic logo, and you'll be the No. 1 fan in the neighborhood.
Bedding plants and containers can show your team colors and boost your home's curb appeal. Gators fans have it easy: Blue plumbago and orange ixora shrubbery are in full bloom this month. Add orange-blooming plants, such as impatiens, snapdragons, celosia, geraniums, orange-toned marigolds and crossandra, and your yard will truly be Gator country. For even more fall-time blue color, there's perennial blue daze ground cover, blue pickerel weed, blue porterweed and blue salvia.
Chrysanthemums in crimson and yellow-gold shout "Go, Noles!" when placed in front porch containers or planted along the front walkway. Burgundy coleus, garnet and yellow lantana and yellow varieties of snapdragon, celosia, pansy, marigold, chrysanthemum and petunia are other good choices for FSU fans. Those same yellow varieties mixed with any dark green foliage will do the trick for USF Bulls fans.
There are plenty of red-blooming annuals for Bucs fans, including red impatiens, celosia, dianthus, petunia, salvia and geranium. Numerous landscape shrubs produce bright red flowers throughout the year, such as hibiscus, firecracker plant, jatropha and ixora. True black plants are harder to come by, but there are some deep maroon and chocolate-hued plants, among them ''Blackie'' sweet potato vine, Persian shield, purple fountain grass, ''Black Magic'' elephant ear and chocolate coleus.
Beyond the garden
There are bird baths, bird houses, stepping stones, outdoor bistro sets, door mats, wind chimes, garden gnomes, stained-glass signs, fountains, team flags and more that display team logos and colors (see shopping list at right). Short on cash? Spring for a few cans of spray paint in team colors for pots and garden items you already own.
What if your team goes all the way and makes it to the bowl games this winter? Holiday team wreaths, hologram lawn figures, Santas dressed in team jerseys and fiber optic displays not only celebrate the season, but shout "Go, team!" well into the new year!
Finding items to decorate your front yard in Tampa Bay Rays spirit is about as easy as getting tickets to the World Series games. Sure, there's a flag or two, a doorknocker and a doormat, but they're sold out, on back-order or picture the team's old Devil Rays logo.
If you want your front entryway to holler "Go, Rays!" you're going to have to get creative so you can festoon the place with Rays blues and the sunburst logo:
Plants: Go for the blues, including blue-hued perennial and annual salvias, blue daze ground cover, lisianthus, blue pickerel weed, blue porterweed and blue dogbane, a native wildflower. Add a touch of gold with lantana, marigold, chrysanthemum, pansy and snapdragon.
Pots: Dark cobalt-blue pots are winners. Or spray paint containers you already own.
Front door: Make your own wreath using blue and gold fabric, feathers, beads and other items. Add pom-pons, ticket stubs and other game paraphernalia you've collected. Or make a baseball wreath with children's plastic baseballs topped off with blue and gold ribbon. Start with a wreath form from the craft store and wire or hot-glue items to create a real original.
Outdoor flag: Make your own using fabric or a pillowcase with a Rays T-shirt sewn or glued on. Or simply roll a T-shirt over the flag pole, pin or stitch in place and hang. A heavy spray of fabric starch and a hot iron will do wonders.
Where to shop
University of Florida Gators: Visit www.gatorzone.com or call toll-free 1-877-GatorZone (1-877-428-6796) for outdoor decor, including foot-tall resin gnomes dressed in team colors ($19.95) and a 7-foot-tall inflatable mascot for the front lawn ($129.95).
Florida State Seminoles: You'll find a variety of outdoor flags, priced from $11.95 to $74.95 at fsu.teamfanshop.com or toll-free 1-866-919-6212.
University of South Florida Bulls: Wind chimes made from Bulls license plates are $29.99 from www.bullsheaven.com or toll-free 1-877-377-4327.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Even your mailbox gets into the spirit with a team logo mailbox cover ($16.95) and vinyl mailbox flag ($8.95) from www.buccaneers.com or toll-free 1-866-841-8398.
All teams: You'll find a huge selection of college and pro lawn and garden items, including outdoor holiday decor, at www.collegegear.com and www.footballfanatics.com. Visit Home Decorators Collection (www.homedecorators.com or toll-free 1-877-537-8539) for stained-glass oval yard signs with team logos ($149).
Is your house divided? Reach a compromise with a Gators and Seminoles "house divided" banner flag for $24.95 at www.footballfanatics.com or toll-free 1-877-827-8965.
Custom team wreaths are available locally at Julie's Cottage at Provence, 13128 Indian Rocks Road, Largo, (727) 517-8102, and at Beach Papery and Gifts, 553 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N, St. Petersburg, (727) 822-8951.