Lest you be envious that I have a ticket for the Redskins’ playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, here’s some consolation. The dirty, little secret of having season tickets is that, in multiple ways, attending the games is a miserable experience.
I’m not talking about witnessing the Redskins’ recent string of losing seasons, now blessedly ended. I’m talking about what’s involved in actually going to the games.
The commute. The cost. The crowd.
I raise this now because many newbies have started thinking of joining us longtime faithful at FedEx Field, in response to the team’s sudden success.
Novices, beware. Before you trek to Landover, educate yourselves about what to expect. The benefits are genuine, but the price is substantial.
Here, for the uninitiated, are some highlights.
You start the day by inching along the Beltway, through the exit ramps, and into the parking lots to get to the stadium. It’s reminiscent of Tysons Corner or Rockville Pike at rush hour.
Or you can take Metro. It’s standing room only and the train drops you off a mile from the gates.
The long walk past acres of tailgaters surrounding the stadium provides a revealing first glimpse of your fellow fans. Many have been there for hours and already exhibit signs of what I will call RCAA, for Regrettable Consequences of Alcohol Abuse.
They sway. They shout. They sing (off key). If they see a fan wearing the opposing teams’ colors, they are prone to taunt, to insult, to use vulgarities.
If the opposing fan responds with similar hostility, then physical violence can ensue. At last week’s Cowboys game, I helped break up a fight. The guy I restrained was several inches taller and perhaps 50 pounds heavier. I was at no personal risk, however, given his severe impairment owing to RCAA. (Nobody was hurt.)
Then there are the long lines to enter the stadium. The body scan by a wand-bearing security guard. It’s supposedly for safety, but you can’t help suspect that the main purpose is to prevent you from sneaking in refreshments.
Once inside, a hamburger costs $10 and a single beer costs more than a six-pack purchased outside the stadium. The cost does not deter those swaying from continuing to imbibe until management cuts them off at the end of the third quarter.
Admittedly, less than half the crowd indulges to excess. But it’s a sizable minority, and public sentiment is on its side.
One of my most vivid memories from FedEx Field was gasping to see an inebriated, middle-aged man suddenly tumble down the steeply sloped stands over two rows of spectators. After landing in what looked like a painful fall, he stood up, faced the crowd behind him, and lifted his arms in celebration like an Olympic gymnast after a 9.8 vault.
The spectators cheered.
The beer intake contributes to a crude spectacle in the men’s room at halftime. We line up 10 deep — some unsteadily — facing a wide wall of urinals. The conversation is dominated by loud, offensively worded exclamations of disrespect for the opposing team, its players and fans.
Given all this, the obvious question is: Why do I go, along with up to 85,000 others?
In terms of convenience, comfort, viewing quality and price, it would make loads more sense to stay home. I see a lot more detail on my big-screen TV than I do from my upper-tier seat on the 40-yard line, which cost almost $900 for the season. (Premium, Club-level seats are going for $4,700 a season.)
The fact is that no material, cost-benefit analysis justifies my years of steady attendance at Redskins games. My devotion springs instead from some mix of emotional, psychological and spiritual needs.
Being part of the crowd gives me a chance to identify with a larger group, belong to a modern-day clan. When we win, psychologists say, this allows me to BIRG, or “bask in reflected glory.”
It offers an excuse to shed the restraints of polite behavior. I cheer, shout and moan unreservedly. Psychologists calls this “disinhibition.”
It provides rare relief of at least six-and-a-half hours — sometimes eight, depending on traffic — when I stop dwelling about personal troubles or my next column. Psychologists call this “escapism.”
Irrational, perhaps, but it works. I’m hardly alone, as proved by the Redskins’ and other teams’ profit margins.
I just wish I could enjoy such satisfactions without staring at tail lights for so long. Or worrying that a drunk might fall on me.
For previous Robert McCartney columns, go to washingtonpost.com/mccartney.