When Bank of America Corp. paid $35 billion for MBNA Corp. five years ago, one of the crown jewels in the Wilmington-based credit card giant was its exclusive relationship with the 32 teams of the National Football League, whose rabid Eagles and Giants and Redskins fans eagerly signed up for - and borrowed billions on - bright NFL MBNA Visas or MasterCards.

Yesterday rival Barclaycard US said in a modest statement that it's taking over the NFL relationship. Bank of America, preoccupied with its Merrill Lynch acquisition, has been losing piles of money from bad loans as its card business shrinks. Around Wilmington, BofA card employment has slipped from over 10,000 to around 6,000, as medical practices and "For Lease" signs sprout in former MBNA office buildings.

Barclaycard, by contrast, is growing - it now employs over 1,600 in a string of eclectic downtown Wilmington and suburban offices - and it can thank, in part, BofA: The executive who announced the Barclaycard-NFL deal is Scott Young, General Manager for Partnerships, and formerly MBNA Executive Vice President for business development.

In his statement, NFL Media Sponsorship boss Keith Turner praised Barclaycard's "customized approach," which used to be what MBNA used to pride itself on with its "affinity partners" like NFL. BofA (whose card arm also does business as FIA) remains the card issuer of choice for the National Education Association and many other national membership groups.