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  1. Life & Culture

How a superstitious St. Petersburg artist designs Super Bowl merch

Matt Shapiro waits until the final score before he creates.
Matt Shapiro wearing a Tampa Bay Raptors shirt that he created for his apparel company, 1771 Designs.
Matt Shapiro wearing a Tampa Bay Raptors shirt that he created for his apparel company, 1771 Designs. [ Courtesy of Matt Shapiro ]
Published Jan. 29, 2021

Moments after it was clear the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were going to the Super Bowl, the team was sporting T-shirts and hats declaring them NFC champions with the Super Bowl 55 logo.

Some fans immediately had merch too, since Dick’s Sporting Goods prepared for the win.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans shop for Buccaneers clothing apparel at Dick's Sporting Goods at Westshore Plaza in Tampa, Florida on Monday, January 25, 2021.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans shop for Buccaneers clothing apparel at Dick's Sporting Goods at Westshore Plaza in Tampa, Florida on Monday, January 25, 2021. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]

But for St. Petersburg artist and superstitious sports fanatic Matt Shapiro, making such celebratory gear ahead of time is out of the question.

“I will never make a design until the final whistle blows,” he said. “I will think about designs, but I won’t put pen to paper until it’s for sure a victory.”

Shapiro, 31, makes cheeky apparel and sells it on his online business, 1771 Designs, when he’s not working at his family’s fine craft gallery, Shapiro’s Gallery in St. Petersburg.

He explained that it’s common for designers to have celebratory team apparel ready to go, but said he can’t have that “on his shoulders.”

“I don’t want to be the reason the team loses. Because it will be all my fault, 100 percent,” he joked. “I would jinx it.”

He learned his lesson on jumping the gun a few years ago when the Tampa Bay Rays were beating the Houston Astros. He made a design that read, “Houston, We Have a Problem.” And then Houston came back and defeated the Rays.

Since then, Shapiro waits until the game is over, then often works into the night designing, a beer in one hand and listening to music like the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.

With two weeks between the playoffs and the Super Bowl, Shapiro wasn’t feeling quite as pressured to get designs out. But he managed to create his first design created one day after the NFC Championship.

He said that when he was watching the Bucs-Packers playoff game he was “filled with emotions.”

“I joked that it had been 19 years since I was this invested in playoff football,” he said. “I was so glad I was able to drink this time.”

The shirt depicts a pirate ship floating on top of a football that reads TB on one end and KC on the other, signifying the Bucs and the Kansas City Chiefs. It is a play off of Gasparilla and the pirate invasion.

Matt Shapiro designed this Super Bowl 55 design in less than 24 hours of knowing which teams were headed to the big game.
Matt Shapiro designed this Super Bowl 55 design in less than 24 hours of knowing which teams were headed to the big game. [ Courtesy of Matt Shapiro ]

A few weeks ago, when he knew the Bucs made it to the playoffs, he came up with a pirate ship flying the Bucs flag. It reads, “Siege the Playoffs.”

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1771 Designs' Siege the Playoffs T-shirt comes in white, red and creamsicle.
1771 Designs' Siege the Playoffs T-shirt comes in white, red and creamsicle. [ Courtesy of Matt Shapiro ]

He also made a unique retro design celebrating Super Bowl 55 in Tampa, with the pirate ship in front of the city skyline. Originally, he said the ship wasn’t a Bucs reference, although now it is.

Matt Shapiro made this design celebrating Super Bowl 55 in Tampa Bay.
Matt Shapiro made this design celebrating Super Bowl 55 in Tampa Bay. [ Courtesy of Matt Shapiro ]

“I don’t want to have just another shirt out there that says Super Bowl 55,” he said. “I want to add humor and be a little different.”

Shapiro has plenty of Bucs designs in a section of his website called Diehard TB Fan Apparel.

The "Ahoy, Me Buccos" T-shirt is available through 1771 Designs.
The "Ahoy, Me Buccos" T-shirt is available through 1771 Designs. [ Courtesy of Matt Shapiro ]

His process starts with photographs that he edits in Photoshop, then prints out and presses onto the apparel. Each shirt is made to order and he only makes what sells. This gives him the ability to make spur-of-the moment designs. He seized on the moment from the Bucs-Saints playoff game when the ref left Tom Brady’s high five hanging.

He also has to consider the NFL’s strict rules on copyright infringement.

“It’s a fine line you have to walk between stealing trademarks and copyright with getting the message across that it’s my take on the sporting event,” he said. “I don’t want to steal anyone’s design. I pull inspiration, but I want it to be my piece of art or my vision.”

Shapiro said he’s had a positive response to the designs. Sometimes people suggest ideas or reach out after a game to ask if a particular play would make it onto a T-shirt.

Having been born in St. Petersburg, Shapiro is a huge fan of all Tampa Bay sports. A room in his house is dedicated to sports memorabilia, including every newspaper article of the Rays opening day since 1998.

He said he’s taking advantage of sports “exploding” in Tampa Bay and sees the irony of teams’ success during a pandemic when hardly any fans can watch them in person.

“That’s just Tampa Bay’s luck,” he said.