Seventy years ago this week, a five-year-old Gordon Slade Carroll attended one of his first Redskins-Eagles games at Griffith Stadium. That was Dec. 7, 1941.
That famous Pearl Harbor contest would be the most memorable Redskins game of Carroll’s youth, but it was just one of hundreds he would go on to attend, from Griffith Stadium to RFK to Jack Kent Cooke, during wartime and peacetime, in the sun and the rain and the snow, when the Redskins were awful and when they were Super Bowl champs, with his father and later with his only son, Bill.
The season tickets remained in the Carroll family for more than 70 years. Gordon Slade Carroll moved from the Eastern Shore to Charlotte in 1998, four years after his only son, Bill, had done the same. They began selling their two tickets to a family friend for most games, but would still drive north at least once a year to see the burgundy and gold in their own seats.
But the elder Carroll will turn 76 this month, and Bill has two young children of his own, and so they drove to FedEx Field on Sunday knowing it would be their last as season-ticket holders.
“I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet,” Bill told me this week. “I mean, seriously, that’s been part of my life for almost 45 years, and it’s been part of my dad’s life through three stadiums, [70 years]. The one constant in my life for many, many years has been that team.”
The tickets entered the family sometime in the late ‘30s or early ‘40s. Gordon Carroll’s father worked as an accountant at the Engineering and Research Corp. in Riverdale, where he became friends with several Redskins players, including fullback Andy Farkas. According to the family story, Farkas helped the Carrolls acquire season tickets.
There were originally five tickets, which became three, which became two: one for Gordon and one for young Bill, who started sitting in section 330 of RFK Stadium at the age of 3. Bill’s mother passed away when he was young, and the football team became a bond between him and his father.
“When you look up good dad in the dictionary, it has his picture, but we never had a lot of the same interests,” Bill Carroll told me. “Going to the football games was the greatest thing we had in common. Win or lose, it’s been a common denominator between us for years.”
Bill moved to North Carolina in 1994 for work and his dad followed, but they never became Panthers fans. The trip to FedEx eventually became less appealing for the usual reasons: the parking, the noise, the fact that the regulars stopped showing up, and were replaced by a rotating group often including fans of the wrong team.
The travel also became harder on his dad, who enjoys staying in North Carolina and watching games on a big screen at a restaurant or at home.
“I think we just decided that it’s enough, it’s time,” Carroll said.
So they drove north for one last game, spending almost the entire trip talking about 70 years of Redskins games. Gordon went through a lifetime of rosters and championship games and the players his father introduced him to.
“I mean, I can’t remember who was the quarterback three years ago, and he remembers all these minute details from 70 years ago,” Carroll said.
Then they watched the Jets game, hoping to go out with one last win, but instead seeing one last loss, with Gordon, overdressed as always, observing the action through his trademark binoculars.
“When the Jets scored and we knew it was over, I just put my arm around him and said it’s time to go,” Bill said. “We sort of walked out without saying a word, looked back, got in the car and drove off.”
They’ll still root for the team, of course, and might even go to the occasional game, but Sunday was the end of an era for the Carroll family. But they leave, Bill said, with their shared memories.
“It doesn’t matter who owns the Skins, it doesn’t matter what the uniforms look like, it doesn’t matter where the stadium is,” he told me. “Those great teams will always be the thing we remember, and the thing we hold onto.”