By Dan Steinberg
Monday, July 21, 2008
The six young men arrived outside Redskins Park around 5:30 a.m. The gates wouldn't open for another hour, so they staked out their spot on the median on Loudoun County Parkway and started preparing breakfast. And what, you're wondering, is the best breakfast to eat in the middle of a steamy stretch of suburban asphalt just after dawn? Hamburgers, hot dogs and cheddar brats, of course.
"Cereal is for sissies," proclaimed 19-year-old Greg Namrow, to wide approval.
"I feel pretty awful right now," his friend, Alex Kolt, pointed out.
This was the fifth year these Northern Virginians decided to celebrate training camp's arrival with a pre-practice tailgate. This was the first year, however, that the Redskins decided to begin their open-to-the-public preseason workouts at 8:30 in the morning. Which meant the wakeup call was before 5, the departure time was at 5:15, and the $150 worth of groceries began churning in sleepless and heat-addled stomachs around 6. The six tailgaters on that still-darkened road had combined to log 3 hours 10 minutes of sleep Saturday night.
"That's probably not healthy," said Kolt, who prepares an annual PowerPoint presentation outlining their training camp tailgating plans.
But this was the day that football returned to Ashburn, and plenty of people were making sacrifices. For example, the members of the Dead Tree Crew, the fan group whose exploits were explored on HBO's Real Sports last year, were doing beer bongs before 7:30.
"My hobby is tailgating," said Adam Gibson, one of the group's leaders. "The Redskins are the only thing I get to flex my talent on, my talent for tailgating."
"The return of football, to me, means the return of life," said Chris Ferrarese, another DTC leader. "It means I'm born again, baby."
"Oh, it means everything to us," agreed Jason Elliott, who came from Charles Town, W.Va., in a car equipped with a radio-controlled "Hail to the Redskins" soundtrack and burgundy and gold fuzzy dice.
"I don't know why it means it, it's just football," added his friend, 34-year-old Dusty Hogbin. "I don't know how to explain that. C'mon, brother. It's training camp. Look around."
Elliott was similarly enthused about the start of camp.
"I was up at 4 in the morning, waiting to come down; my stomach's hurting right now," he said. "I'm nervous. I'm ready."
Some players said they sympathized with these parking lot crazies who lined up in cars outside the facility to claim the best viewing outpost. (First car: Doug Luper of Alexandria, 5:40 a.m.)
"I feel like that," Fred Smoot said. "This last month is what they call The Dead Season. There's no basketball, it's basically, like, soccer and just baseball. America can't live off soccer and baseball, I'm sorry. . . . [Football's] just a fabric of life you can't take away. It's a part of the American way."
The 6 a.m. tailgaters agreed. The only music played at their tailgate was the 2007 collection of Redskins beats created by WPGC's Chris Paul. The only topic of conversation was Redskins football. Robbie Shiver won the consumption prize, with three hot dogs and three hamburgers already in his gut by the time he entered the grounds just after 7. I asked how he felt.
"I mean, okay right now," he said. "Usually it catches up to me a little later."
The tailgaters knew their early-morning arrival was thanks to new coach Jim Zorn, and while they would prefer the gates be open to the public for an afternoon session, they were willing to make a Saturday night shopping trip and have a predawn wake-up call for such a momentous day. "We're not thrilled with it, but it's a good experience," Kolt said.
"Brings out the true fans," Andrew Pacala said.
"You do what you've got to do," Shiver said.
"We might camp out next year," Kolt added.
"We're definitely camping next year," Pacala agreed.
"We need to buy Redskins tents, though," Mitch Namrow concluded.