Cheers boomed inside the Grand Slam Sports Bar in downtown Washington on Sunday after the Redskins stretched their second-quarter lead over the New Orleans Saints to 17-7. But Jimmy Padgett wasn’t among the rabid fans yelling. An old school Redskins fan, who on this day was repping a Doug Williams number 17 jersey, Padgett kept his cheers centered around the team’s new wunderkind, Robert Griffin III.
Sunday was a day to honor a new generation of black quarterback leading the burgundy and gold.
“I remember when black quarterbacks weren’t allowed to be starters [in the NFL] because of racial overtones, said Padgett, 66, who grew
up a ‘Skins fan and has lived in the city most of his life. “It was uncommon to put blacks in a ‘thinking man’s position.’ But slowly but surely, money always wins out.”
So, he added:“I had to rep Doug today,” said Padgett, “and I just feel proud to wear this jersey on a day where RG3 is starting for the Redskins.”
There were times during the Redskins’ 40-32 victory that Padgett joined in the exuberance inside Grand Slam, the go-to place for hundreds of black football fans in the Washington area. Like his fellow Redskins fans, he not only got a chance to witness Griffin play more like a poised veteran than a wide-eyed rookie, he was able to heckle Saints fans, who also make the bar a popular spot to watch their team. When Griffin flicked an 88-yard touchdown pass to receiver Pierre Garcon late in the first quarter to give Washington a 10-7 lead, Trina McQueen of Upper Marlboro yelled a sarcastic “Who dat?!” to Saints fans across the room.
Indeed, it’s almost impossible to step inside the Grand Slam, where Padgett watched nearly every Redskins game last year, and not get swept up in the festive vibe that makes it one of the District’s hidden gems. Colorful sports murals are splashed onto the walls in between signed photographs of popular local athletes. Twenty-four television screens broadcast every NFL game on the schedule. Kanye West’s “Mercy” and other base-heavy tunes reverberate over the speaker system during commercial breaks.
Despite being tucked inside a swanky hotel where rooms go for as much as $359 per night, Grand Slam caters to a folksy crowd. On Sunday, nearly 300 customers wore jerseys and t-shirts representing their favorite teams, some of whom stood in line since 9:30 am to get the best seats. They danced in their seats and in the aisles when the DJ played Chuck Brown’s “Bustin’ Loose” during halftime and EU’s “Da Butt” after the game was over.
But for Padgett, who has spent his entire life in D.C. except for the five years he spent deployed in military service, there was a larger meaning to the game Sunday. He ticked off the short list of black quarterbacks to ever play for the Redskins and said Griffin will not only prove to be the latest, but also the greatest.
“How are you going to shut blacks out in the long term?” he said. ”Impossible.”
Richard Myles has been rooting for the Redskins all of his life. The 57-year-old D.C. native and CEO and chairman of the Minor Football League was one of many fans who, sensing victory, stood and clapped when Griffin picked up 12 yards on a late fourth-quarter scramble.
“It’s been a long time since we had a successful black quarterback,” Myles said. “But I wouldn’t say [Griffin] represents Chocolate City because it’s not that anymore. We call it the DMV now. The gentrification is there. We’re all unified.”
Redskins fans were united in disbelief late in the game, holding their collective breath when the Saints pulled to within 33-25 with about two minutes to play. It was a familiar, sinking feeling, watching the Redskins weaken late.
But when Washington managed to hang on for the win—Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw a Hail Mary pass into the end zone that was intercepted by Redskins safety Reed Doughty—fans inside the Grand Slam exploded, expressing more relief in their cheers than the confidence that had filled their voices just 10 minutes earlier.
If Padgett was nervous down the stretch, he wasn’t telling.
“Game over with,” Padgett bellowed. “Game was over with when we showed up.
“I’m talking trash all week long. I’m blowing Facebook up.”
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