Bobby Pearl swung his 41-foot RV into Lot D73 just outside of FedEx Field early Sunday morning and pulled it into a parking space.
He spent the next few hours carefully unraveling extension cords, unfolding tables and setting out gas-powered portable stoves, a ritual he has done before almost every Redskins home game for the past seven years in preparation for tailgating.
“It’s like having your own private box,” Pearl said. “And it’s a camaraderie thing. Getting into the area where everything’s going on adds to the excitement.”
But this was no ordinary Sunday. It was the homecoming for Robert Griffin III, as the rookie sensation started his first regular season game at FedEx Field. Although the quarterback’s appearance wasn’t at the center of Pearl’s excitement — the retired Prince George’s County police officer is such a diehard Redskins fans that he would’ve been grilling anyway — it contributed to the buzz where he set up camp. Griffin’s name was on the lips of all the tailgaiters as they got the day started.
“RGIII’s just fresh. He’s like a new bicycle,” said Jake Prater of Accokeek, who was smoking a cigar. “The Redskins never had that before. Whatever it takes for the team to get motivated, that’s what he does. We always have a chance with this guy.”
Scores of RVs and buses piled into the area, and tailgaters played beanbag toss and shuttlecock golf. Some fans wore costumes and plastic pig noses. Others drank beer and margaritas and picked food off the grill while listening to a live, four-member funk band.
“You don’t get this in there,” said Tony Watkins while pointing to FedEx Field. “We boil them over here and grill them over there. And when they [the Redskins] lose, we get so drunk we don’t give a hell.”
Pearl, 53, and about 25 of his longtime friends gathered on four rented parking spaces and watched the Redskins fall to the Cincinnati Bengals, 38-31, on two large flatscreen televisions. If they were going to be forced to watch their team lose for the second week in a row, they’d rather do it not from the confines of tight seats inside the stadium, but from the comfort of lounge chairs set up in the stadium’s shadow.
Beyond the rookie quarterback, the Redskins really didn’t produce much excitement. RGIII was a rare bright spot on a team that managed an anemic 68 yards of total offense in the first half and whose defense surrendered more than 30 points for the third straight game.
Even though Griffin got knocked around in the first half, he lifted the tailgaters’ spirits all day. Everyone who solemnly got up from their seat at halftime and buried their faces in a plate of food again became engrossed in the game in the third quarter. They believed that, behind their rookie quarterback, the Redskins would pull out the victory.
“It’s a brand new day now, a completely different game,” Prater said when Washington pulled to within seven: 24-17.
Griffin’s “got to make something happen, said LaTonya Davis of Brandywine: “If not the whole team’s going to collapse. It’s a lot of pressure on him, we know, but all eyes are on him. He’s supposed to be the hero.”
About seven minutes later, when Griffin threw a short touchdown pass to Santana Moss to tie the game at 24, almost everyone jumped up. One tailgater repeatedly honked the horn on Watkins’s 40-foot RV in celebration.
“You can’t tell me it’s not a completely different game,” Prater said. “The first half, he [Griffin] was running for his life.”
But as soon as the tailgaters felt hopeful for a comeback victory, it was ripped from them. The Redskins defense surrendered two more touchdowns to the Bengals, both on explosive pass plays within four minutes of each other.
Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton threw for 328 yards and three touchdowns, one of the best games of his career.
“We know the offense can score. The defense has to do their part,” Anibal Watkins of Silver Spring had said moments before the Bengals scored a touchdown on their first offensive play of the game. “It’s a must-win game. There’s a whole lot riding on RGIII.”
Added Watkins: “We ain’t got no defense. No parts of a defense.”