CHESTERFIELD TOWNSHIP, MICH. - The Detroit Lions came a game away from winning their first division title in 23 years last season, but you wouldn't know it by the T-shirt on sale at one local department store.
T.J. Maxx in Chesterfield Township is selling what appears to be an officially licensed NFL T-shirt that proclaims the Lions "NFC North 2016 Division Champions."
The Lions led the NFC North for much of last year, but lost their final three games of the regular season, including a 31-24 defeat to the Green Bay Packers in Week 17 at Ford Field.
That loss cost the Lions the division — the Packers won the North for the fifth time in six years — and sent them on the road for a wildcard playoff game, where they lost to the Seattle Seahawks.
A T.J. Maxx spokesperson said by email the shirts, which were on sale for $4.99, found their way onto store shelves by mistake and the store will refund money to any customers who may have purchased the item.
About a half dozen of the T-shirts were available at the Chesterfield Township location over the weekend, on a wall with apparel for other local sports teams. Three other T.J. Maxx stores did not have the shirt in stock.
"As you know, it is a fairly common practice that vendors print team sports t-shirts in advance of an important game anticipating a winning outcome," Doreen Thompson, vice president of global communication for the TJX Companies, wrote in an e-mail. "In this instance, we believe that one of our vendors may have inadvertently included the Detroit Lions t-shirt in with other goods intended for our local area stores. We regret any inconvenience this may have caused and invite our TJ Maxx customers to contact customer service should they wish to return this item by calling 1-800-926-2699."
Companies licensed by the NFL to produce official merchandise sometimes pre-print T-shirts, hats and other memorabilia to commemorate significant accomplishments, but stock of erroneous shirts and other items are usually destroyed or donated and not available for sale domestically.
The Lions deferred comment on the shirts to the NFL, but acknowledged they had championship apparel ready had the team beat the Packers in Week 17 last year.
NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy said by email "non-winning apparel is generally shipped overseas to charitable organizations."
"A limited number of shirts are printed in advance for a variety of clubs," McCarthy wrote. "We’ve been in contact with the manufacturer to ensure these shirts are pulled."
Though the Lions did not have a direct hand in the production of the championship shirts, the team has had at least one similar incident in the past.
In 2013, the team's official calendar featured wide receiver Titus Young on the cover even though he was waived in February of that year. Cornerback Aaron Berry, defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, kicker Jason Hanson, running back Jahvid Best and safety Amari Spievey also were featured in the calendar but not on the team by the time the season opened.
The Lions, who are coming off a 9-7 season, hold their first practice of training camp Sunday. Rookies reported today, and the full team is due in town Saturday.
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Contact Dave Birkett: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.
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