For a Night, Landover Becomes a Steel Town

By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 5, 2008

During the second quarter of Monday night's loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Washington Redskins center Casey Rabach told Jason Campbell they would have to use a silent snap count. Rabach estimated that the offense went on to use the silent snap count a half-dozen times over the course of the night. Why was it necessary?

"I couldn't [bleeping] hear him," Rabach said.

Excessive noise by opposing fans might not be unusual during a road game, but one Redskins player after another said he couldn't remember a similar moment at FedEx Field.

"Never," guard Randy Thomas said when asked about using a silent count at the team's home. "First for me."

Monday night, though, was not a typical home game. Steelers fans filled buses that streamed into the stadium's parking lots, set up giant banners and flags, waved their trademark Terrible Towels and left some Redskins players disoriented.

"I'm like, 'Are those yellow towels for us or for them?' " wide receiver Santana Moss said yesterday. "I really scratched my head about it, because I've never seen it done, especially at FedEx, to have someone come into our home and almost have more fans than we did."

"It was something we discussed on the sidelines," Thomas said. "Like, 'Damn, are we giving away free towels tonight or something?' . . . For a [visiting] team like that to be able to get a hold of tickets, I mean, how can you do that?"

Fans and ticket brokers offered several explanations. Thousands of western Pennsylvania transplants live in the D.C. area, and they had not had a chance to see their team play a regular season game in this market since 1988. This was also a manageable road trip for a fan base that is legendary for leaving home to support its team. "The best traveling fans in the country, by far," said Jeff Greenberg, the owner of Gaithersburg-based broker

Many Redskins season ticket holders have said they resell high-demand game tickets to help pay for the rest of their packages, which include mandatory preseason games. Others say they are most likely to avoid weekday night dates, when traffic can be abysmal both before and after the games.

More than 7,000 tickets were purchased on StubHub for the Redskins-Steelers game, the highest number for any NFL game this season, according to Sean Pate, a spokesman for the online ticket vendor. He said 9 percent of those buying tickets were from Pennsylvania. As of yesterday, around 3,000 tickets were available on StubHub for Washington's next home game, against the Dallas Cowboys on Nov. 16.

Pate said the Redskins are among six NFL teams that have a contractual agreement that promotes StubHub as the official site for fans to resell their tickets. The remaining 26 teams have a similar arrangement with Ticketmaster.

Redskins Coach Jim Zorn was asked at his news conference yesterday about the number of Steelers fans at Monday's game and said the Redskins also had a fervent fan base and noted that many of their fans had attended the team's game in Detroit against the Lions on Oct. 26.

Even though the Redskins annually lead the NFL in attendance and have announced sellouts for every game in FedEx Field history, players were left debating the proportion of Steelers fans in the stadium Monday night. Some guessed 40 percent. Others said 50, although two veteran ticket brokers estimated the number at closer to 15 or 20 percent.

"It sounded like 50-50 from the noise they were making," cornerback Fred Smoot said. "I'm disappointed. FedEx has never had that many other teams' fans. I don't know, it kind of shocked me when I seen all those Terrible Towels. I know Pittsburgh ain't but a couple miles away from here, but we've got to keep them out of our place. I'm not disappointed on the fans, but somebody let 'em in there. It wasn't me, and I know it wasn't [owner] Dan [Snyder], so somebody let 'em in there."

For as many players who remarked upon the incongruity of FedEx Field filled with twirling gold towels, none suggested it had a major impact on the game. Zorn said the team regularly uses silent snap counts in shotgun formations both at home and away, and that the Pittsburgh fans' noise didn't factor into the result.

Still, "I think that'd be highly unusual, and it would kind of tick me off," he said of the visiting influx. "I don't buy it if we're gonna use that as a reason for having a disruption, but if it's a statement of fact, yeah I think it's pretty unusual that a home team would have to have enough opponent crowd in the stands to have to use a silent count."

Players used words like "shocked" and "surprised" to describe their reaction, and Smoot suggested the faltering economy might be to blame.

"I mean, that's not the reputation or the expectation I had of the fans here, but who am I to begrudge somebody from making a profit by selling their tickets?" guard Pete Kendall said. "I'm playing for money, and they're watching, and it's their right to do what they want with their tickets."

Which didn't make the idea of resorting to a silent snap count at home any less strange.

"I'm sitting there saying, 'We're not away, why are we doing some of the things we're doing?' " Moss said. "But you know, that's why we play this game. You've got to be ready for whatever. And they showed us [Monday] night that they brung their whole Pittsburgh over here just to help them win that game."

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