Fervent Fans Wear Support on Their Sleeves

Patrick Thompson helps Carole Siegel of Potomac find a Santana Moss jersey for her daughter Erica at White Flint Mall. Erica is in a fantasy football league, and the wide receiver is on her team.
Patrick Thompson helps Carole Siegel of Potomac find a Santana Moss jersey for her daughter Erica at White Flint Mall. Erica is in a fantasy football league, and the wide receiver is on her team. (By Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post)
By Joe Holley
Saturday, January 14, 2006

Here's what you can say about Redskins fans: They're BIRGing with the best of them these days.

BIRGing is psychobabble for "basking in reflected glory," and it's what Redskins fans have been doing at least since the second victory over the Dallas Cowboys this season and intensely since the Redskins made the playoffs. Transforming the stands at FedEx Field into a dappled sea of burgundy and white, tailgating for hours, showing up at Redskins Park en masse to see the Redskins off to Seattle -- that's BIRGing big-time.

They used to be CORFing, "cutting off reflected failure." Here's CORFing: A fan psychology study has found that when hometown favorites win, they're "we." Lose, and they're "they."

Mary Ross, 53, a legal secretary from Olney, will tell you about CORFing. As her friend Sayana Ransome, 45, bought a long-sleeved Redskins T-shirt from a sidewalk vendor on K Street on Thursday afternoon -- the shirt read "The Second Coming of Joe Gibbs" -- Ross confessed that five years ago she had purchased a long, luxurious Redskins coat on QVC, a home shopping channel. The coat remained in a plastic bag in her closet until a couple of weeks ago.

"I was too ashamed to wear it," she said.

Now, with the Redskins on their playoff roll, the coat is out of the closet. Ross is no longer CORFing. She's BIRGing.

Shakti Regmi, 22, was BIRGing this week at the Redskins store at Westfield Shoppingtown Montgomery in Bethesda. A rabid fan, the University of Maryland student was looking for a Santana Moss jersey, but the store had sold out of his size.

"Santana Moss has done terrific this year," he said. "He's just my favorite player."

Not to mention that when Regmi and his roommates play Madden NFL 06, a computer simulation game, the star receiver invariably brings him victory.

Carole Siegel, 57, a Potomac math tutor, was also shopping for a Moss jersey, at White Flint Mall, and for a similar reason: Her daughter Erica, 30, is in a fantasy football league and has the Redskins' ace receiver on her team. "He got her a ton of points," Siegel said.

For the past couple of seasons, LaVar Arrington jerseys were by far the most popular, and at Redskins games they're probably still the most numerous among fans. (When a replica jersey costs $80 and up -- an authentic jersey goes for $289.99 -- fans tend not to shove it to the back of the drawer, even when their hero hits a rough patch.)

This season, jersey choices include linebacker Arrington, quarterbacks Mark Brunell and Patrick Ramsey, running back Clinton Portis, linebacker Marcus Washington and cornerback Shawn Springs. But it's Moss jerseys that are flying off the shelves at sporting goods stores, the store managers say.

Luise Levi, 46, a Rockville hairdresser, was at White Flint Mall buying a Redskins cap and a yellow tank top to wear at her favorite bar on Miami's South Beach during today's game. She's proud to be BIRGing far from home.

"This team is now playing together," she said, crediting head coach Gibbs. "They have a passion."

Don Loun, 65, a Vienna resident who passionately avoids shopping malls, broke down and visited White Flint Mall on Thursday to purchase Redskins T-shirts for his daughter, a 24-year-old graduate student in psychology at the University of Southern Mississippi.

"She loved Lavernius Coles," Loun said, speaking of the small and speedy former Redskins receiver now with the New York Jets. "She loved the way he gave up his body, and she likes Moss and Portis for the same reason."

Loun said he was impressed with "the way the guys believe in each other." As a former high school player, he likes to watch the play away from the ball. "A [Steve] Spurrier football team never had anybody blocking away from the ball. Now they're out there looking to hit somebody," he observed.

Loun, a former left-handed pitcher with the Washington Senators, didn't see much BIRGing during his baseball-playing days in the 1960s, mainly because there wasn't much Senators glory to reflect.

Most psychologists who study fan behavior agree that BIRGing is a positive pastime as long as fans keep their fanaticism in perspective. Obviously, the fan who roller-coasters from rage to rhapsody, depending on his team's fortunes, probably needs to reassess priorities. Otherwise, it's fairly harmless.

"We all want to be part of a community, and one of the easiest ways to do that is to affiliate with a sports team," said Rick Grieve, an associate professor of psychology at Western Kentucky University.

Grieve notes that finding a new community is vital for people who no longer live near extended families or who have moved away from where they grew up, which characterizes plenty of Washington area residents.

Extreme or otherwise, sports BIRGing often starts early. Wearing his Portis jersey, a Christmas present, Noah Granet, a dark-haired 4-year-old, was visiting the Montgomery mall Redskins store with his mother, Posie Granet, 30, a Kensington homemaker.

"Clinton Portis is definitely his favorite player," Granet said. "My husband is a big Redskins fan, and Noah idolizes his dad. They watch the games together on TV."

His sisters, Rose, 2, and Grace, 11 months, also do a little BIRGing when the Redskins are on TV -- although that could be because their father lets them drink root beer during the game.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company