As Kareisa Hidy and Kristen Estocsin walked up from the Landover Metro to FedEx Field on Monday night for the Redskins’ preseason game against the Steelers, a stadium employee approached and handed them two clear Ziploc bags.
He didn’t say what the bags were for, and it wasn’t until the two friends reached the security checkpoint that they realized they were supposed to serve as makeshift purses, the only acceptable way to bring personal belongings inside the stadium under the NFL’s new policy put in place after the Boston Marathon bombings in April.
They reluctantly stuffed house keys, wallets, sunglasses cases, cell phones and tickets into the plastic bags. But where were they supposed to store their actual purses? They didn’t have a car; they had Metroed from work downtown. A security guard pointed to the trash can.
Hidy, 24, was annoyed. “I had been on the Washington Redskins website that day at work, trying to find out the best logistical way to get to the stadium, and nowhere on their website did I see anything about the bag policy,” she said. In hindsight, she remembered hearing about the possibility of tighter security at games, but that had been months ago.
That same scene replayed across the stadium entrances Monday as furious fans threw bags in the trash, husbands and boyfriends trudged back to cars to store their wives’ and girlfriends’ purses, and others gave in but griped about the embarrassment of having to put their personal belongings — including feminine products and medications — on display.
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Callie McGee had been warned about the policy by her boyfriend, so she only carried the bare essentials: phone, cash, ID and credit card.
But that produced another issue. “My phone fell out of my pocket several times when jumping out of my seat after a great play,” McGee said.
Steve Solomon and his fiancee were walking up from the parking lot when another couple warned them about the bag policy. They found it strange that they hadn’t heard about it.
“For those who drove to the stadium, there were zero signs of the new restriction policy of what you could bring into the game,” he said. “There were equal people walking back to their cars as there were people entering the stadium, minutes before game time.”
Frustrated fans were advised at the gates that, for future games, they could purchase league-approved plastic bags on NFL.com, which feature team logos and range from $9.95 to $19.95. Somewhat perplexing, though, is that there are also several non-league approved purses for sale in the NFL.com store. Like this one, which is clear but too big. Or this one, which is very small but not quite small enough. Or this one seen below, which is made out of a sweatshirt, costs $49.95 and is described as a way to “Carry your ultimate Wizards bragging rights wherever you go with this über-stylish hoodie tote.” (It appears the Wizards sell the same bag.)
As kickoff approached, Hidy and Estocsin were scrambling for a better solution than tossing out their perfectly good purses.
“One guy pulled a trash can out from against the wall, and said that some woman had already left her shopping bag there,” Hidy said. “So it actually did look really sketchy.”
Desperate, Hidy tried just about everything: folding up her bag and tucking it under her jacket, stuffing it in the little crevices of a concrete barrier in the parking lot, even putting it under the tire of one of the satellite TV trucks, but nothing sufficiently concealed the bag, and ultimately, the idea of people scattering bags throughout the parking lot was unsettling.
“Given what happened in Boston, a bag left somewhere is actually, to me, more alarming than bringing an empty bag into a stadium,” Hidy said. “So I didn’t feel comfortable in general putting my bag in a bush, even if it was empty, and somebody seeing it.”
It turned out to be the right move, as she was soon told by another stadium worker that security would be coming through to comb the area and remove all the stray bags.
“Our options all seemed to be ending up in the trash,” Hidy laughed.
Defeated, they found a recently-emptied trash can in a smaller lot. There was nothing but a cardboard box inside, so they put their purses inside the box, flipped it over and hoped they would still be there after the game.
“And then I just was just like, ‘This is crazy,’” Hidy said. “Is there anybody we can find that can just hold our purses for us?”
The problem, though, was that Hidy and Estocsin are Steelers fans, and they were wearing Steelers jerseys and carrying Terrible Towels.
They eventually approached some friendly-looking older women in Redskins gear who were walking into the stadium and asked if they’d mind putting the purses in their car.
“I explained that because of high security, we weren’t allowed to bring our bags in, and it’s either that or they stay in the trash can,” Hidy said. “And [one of the women] was like, “That sounds terrible.’” She ran to put the bags in her car, then gave Hidy her number so they could meet up later.
Hidy then realized that, this being a meaningless preseason game, there was a chance the women might end up leaving early.
“So I asked her, ‘Are you going to be here the whole game?’ and she said yeah, and sort of shook her jersey, and said, ‘I’m here with a player.’”
The jersey was No. 63, and it turns out the woman, Jill Lee, was the longtime former neighbor of Redskins center and former Centreville High standout Will Montgomery. The friend she was with was Montgomery’s mom, Rose.
Though frustrated by the series of events, Hidy was relieved to be able to see the game without throwing away her purse.
“I think it’s the fact that there was not a good enough effort to inform the public that this is our new bag policy,” Hidy said. “And the people who are taking public transportation, who don’t know about this, is there something we could put in place to offset this? I’m just thankful that there was someone nice enough to hold my bag. And especially a rival fan at that.”
As they parted ways, Hidy said Lee called out, “I hope this makes you think differently of Redskins fans.”
“I told her, some of them,” Hidy laughed.
More on the NFL bag policy: