Crazed Fans See Red(skins)

January 04, 1991|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON — A girl shown in a picture about Redskins fans in yesterday's Today section was identified incorrectly. Her name is Natalie Taylor.

The Sun regrets the error.

Washington--Ask a serious Redskins fan how the team should fare in the NFL playoffs that begin this weekend and you probably won't get a straight answer. In this winter of quarterback discontent, that might be too painful.

But you will get an honest appraisal, such as this:

"Sure wish they were playing at RFK!"

When the Redskins play at RFK Stadium, they play better. A lot better. And they owe much of that home-field advantage -- which averages 3 points a game -- to legions of exuberant, dedicated fans whose ardor has become legendary in sports circles.


"Redskin fans are the most loyal fans in the world," says Morris Siegel, a veteran sports columnist, who now writes for the Washington Times among other publications, and is a regular on the Redskins pre-game broadcast on WMAL-AM.

"We're crazy," says Russ Harvey, a sports bar manager and one of the faithful. "We'd put our jobs on the line to go to a Redskins game. We'd sell our wives to go to a game -- or at least rent them. Die-hard fans will do anything to go see a game."

So colorful and enthusiastic is the sell-out crowd that fills RFK for each home game that NFL commentator John Madden recently told Parade magazine, "The best scene [in football] is Washington, RFK Stadium, the Redskins. You get in there . . . and they're playing that great fight song, 'Hail to the Redskins,' and the whole place kind of rocks. From October on, that's just a great scene!"

Washington Redskins games have been sold out since 1966 -- there hasn't been a public sale of tickets since -- and today there is a slowly moving waiting list for season tickets of more than 40,000 people, each requesting an average of three seats. Many of those hopefuls have been on the list for decades.

"I've known divorce settlements to be held up over who gets the season tickets," says Mr. Siegel. "They've also been left in wills."

But you don't have to actually attend a game to be a fanatical fan. In fact, with tickets to the stadium's

seats so elusive, most people don't get to go. Account executive Smiti Kumar and about 20 of her friends, for instance, rotate homes for weekly Redskins-watching parties.

Some Washington natives say they've heard collective cheers and expletives pouring out of home after home while walking down residential streets on game day. "You can hear moans, curses, calls for beer," says D.C. architect Jack McKean, a second generation Redskins fan, "and mild muffles of 'Oh s---!' all up and down the street."

And non-fans report that on game days, the shopping malls arless busy and the roads have less traffic. If you're a museum hound, that's the time to go, they say.

Some believe the Redskins arouse such fanaticism because the team is the only thing in Washington that nearly everyone agrees upon, the only thing that cuts across political and social lines, the only thing that binds a city where many people come from someplace else.

"In 1973, when the Redskins went to their first Super Bowl game, it was one of the greatest unification devices in the history of Washington," says Mr. Siegel. It hardly mattered that the team lost.

Not that winning their first Super Bowl in 1983 slipped by quietly. "The biggest celebration in Washington was not the end of World War II, but when the Redskins won the Super Bowl," says Evening Sun columnist Jules Witcover, a long-time season ticket holder. "In Georgetown, it was like New Year's Eve in Times Square."

Still others suggest that, because the city boasts no major college football team, the Redskins -- with their marching band, fight song and cheerleaders -- fill that void as well, and thus command more than the usual attention and adoration.

Whatever the appeal, Redskins fans are said to be like no others --if only because of the rare mix of people found in the nation's capital: From Cabinet members and congressmen to the Hogettes, a cheering squad of men clad in dresses and pig snouts; from Vice President Dan Quayle to Natalie Taylor, an 11-year-old who lost her first tooth while watching a Redskins game on TV and has been hooked ever since.

And then, of course, there are those in The Box -- the hand-picked celebrities, such as CBS White House correspondent Lesley Stahl, columnist George F. Will or playwright Larry L. King, who sit with team owner Jack Kent Cooke and his latest wife (No. 4), Marlene Ramallo Chalmers Cooke, in his sky box.

"As soon as people get adjusted in their seats, they pick up their binoculars to see who's up in Jack Kent Cooke's box," says Mr. Siegel, who's sat in the exalted territory himself. "This is now a big social event in Washington. It used to be just a football game. Now, you're nothing in Washington unless you go to a Redskins game."

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