Showtime for the Faraway Faithful
Saturday, January 5, 2008
SEATTLE, Jan. 4 -- Loving the Redskins from 2,800 miles away is like any long-distance relationship for fans here in the other Washington: often lonely, occasionally thrilling and rarely content. When the team loses, there is no one to commiserate with. Wins, too, are usually celebrated solo. Friends urge you to move on and start over with someone else.
A weaker heart would be tempted. "I love my 'Skins," said J.D. Shoemaker, a Seattle resident who grew up in St. Mary's County. "There's nothing they could do to change that."
And lest there be any doubt that he means it: This season, Shoemaker had the team's logo tattooed on each of his arms. He's now saving up to get a tattoo of a black band with No. 21 and the initials "S.T." as an indelible tribute to Sean Taylor, the defensive star who was killed Nov. 27.
Shoemaker also has Redskins clocks, Redskins pencils, a Redskins leash for his dog -- even a Redskins fly swatter. The living room in his apartment is so decked out he doesn't call it that; he calls it the "Redskins room."
"I've been a diehard fan since I was a little kid," explained Shoemaker, 32, who moved to Seattle when he was 19. "It gives me a connection to home."
Shoemaker will be in the stands for today's first-round NFL playoff game at Qwest Field, a burgundy-and-gold interloper in a blue sea of Seahawks jerseys, and as much a visitor as his out-of-town team. For he and other D.C. area transplants who have relocated here, the Redskins are often more than just a football team. They're a tie to childhood and faraway family and, in an era of rootlessness and career mobility, an anchor. Although the team might not love you back -- as Drew Barrymore pointed out to Red Sox-crazed Jimmy Fallon in "Fever Pitch"--for many fans here, it is enough to simply love.
"The Redskins and my family go back 50 years," said Jeff Parks, 33, a technical writer living in Olympia, 60 miles south of Seattle. Parks's grandfather moved to the D.C. area to work for the Department of the Navy during World War II, and his father grew up in Chantilly. "They brought me up right as a Redskins fans. It's steeped in my blood."
Parks was 8 when his parents divorced and he moved with his father and grandparents from Centreville to Florida. "I remember on Sunday afternoons my grandfather would sit there with his headphones on, creeping through the AM dial ever so slowly, trying to find the Redskins anywhere. He would find them on some armed forces radio network out of New Orleans and listen through three layers of static."
Said Parks, "I can't think of the team without thinking of him."
At least modern long-distance Redskins worship is no longer such an ascetic affair. With satellite TV, real-time online game trackers and 24-hour sports chatter, the only thing usually lacking is company. Some Seattle-area Redskins fans have recently addressed this by creating a fan group through meetup.com, rallying the faithful at a local sports bar every Sunday in full regalia.
"Because I'm in a new city and away from my friends and family, it's a familiarity for me," said Kimberley Mertz, whose husband, Joe Mertz, started the group. She grew up in McLean, moved to Seattle in 2006 and now works for Amazon.com.
"It would be great to be in D.C. right now to feel the energy I'm sure everybody is feeling there," she said, sounding wistful.