Waving Terrible Towels at FedEx, Steelers Fans Felt Right at Home

By George Solomon
Sunday, November 16, 2008

It's Dallas Week, of course, and the big question marks hanging over Landover -- besides Clinton Portis's left knee and Tony Romo's pinkie -- for tonight's game between the Redskins and Cowboys is how many fans in Dallas jerseys will infiltrate FedEx Field?

Redskins players and fans expressed shock at the thousands of Pittsburgh fans waving gold Terrible Towels at FedEx Field during the Nov. 3 game won by the Steelers, 23-6.

In 39 years of watching the Redskins play football in this area -- at RFK Stadium and since 1997 in Landover -- I'd never seen the team's field taken over by visiting fans as it was that night.

Every year, several thousand fans show up for the Dallas-Washington game in Cowboys regalia, having purchased tickets off the Internet or, in the old days, from classified ads and scalpers outside RFK Stadium, near the statue of George Preston Marshall.

Still, their presence was hardly noticeable, which is why late Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke could call his crowd "the best bloody fans" in football.

"It was unusual," Hall of Fame linebacker Sam Huff said of the bizarre scene two weeks ago. Huff, who came to the Redskins in 1964 in a trade from the New York Giants, has been a broadcaster and commentator since his retirement in 1969 and close observer of the Redskins scene for nearly 45 years.

"Those Terrible Towels and general rowdiness of the Steeler fans was something I'd rarely seen here," Huff said.

"In my day, women who went to pro football games wore fur coats. Now they wear football jerseys and wave towels. Who painted their faces like they do today? No one."

I asked one woman in a Steelers jersey on the Metro heading for the stadium that day if she was concerned about being hassled by Redskins fans. "Are you kidding?" she said. "Anyone hassles me, I'll slug 'em."

So much for small talk.

"Today's fans have no respect for anyone," Huff said. "They show up three or four hours before the game and start drinking in the parking lot. The last time I watched a game in the stands, I almost decked a guy in front of me because he kept waving a towel in my face. I asked him to stop, and he and his wife told me to back off. So I say, 'Wave that towel in my face one more time and I'm decking you.'

"He stopped waving the towel."

For Wizards, Win No. 1 a Relief

The Washington Wizards were eventually going to win a game this season. I thought. While their 0-5 start was no different than last year's first five games, this season's stumble out of the gate seemed more clumsy, what with Gilbert Arenas out for who knows how long and center Brendan Haywood likely gone for the season with a wrist injury.

So their 95-87 victory over Jerry Sloan's Utah Jazz on Wednesday night was a welcome relief for fans as well as owner Abe Pollin, 84, in his 44th year of running the team, and Coach Eddie Jordan.

Pollin -- battling a rare neurological disease, corticobasal degeneration -- paid a congratulatory postgame visit to the locker room. Afterward, Jordan told reporters the victory was a "relief." An understatement if there ever was one.

Pollin's affection for Antawn Jamison, 32, was one reason team president Ernie Grunfeld extended Jamison's contract by four years and $50 million. And the owner's appreciation of Arenas's talent and star appeal resulted in a new six-year, $111 million contract despite two left knee surgeries since 2007 and a third in September.

That's a lot of money for loyalty, which explains the way Pollin has always run his teams. How these offseason decisions by Pollin and Grunfeld affect the team remains to be seen. But Caron Butler, rookie JaVale McGee, Antonio Daniels, DeShawn Stevenson, Juan Dixon, Andray Blatche, Etan Thomas and the others are going to have to raise their games significantly if the Wizards are to make the playoffs for a fifth straight season.

Nationals' Free Agent Prospects

· Who knows if the Washington Nationals will make a play for high-priced free agents such as Manny Ramírez, Mark Teixeira, Ben Sheets, CC Sabathia, Adam Dunn or A.J. Burnett? But their acquisition of left-handed pitcher Scott Olsen and outfielder Josh Willingham from the Florida Marlins for second baseman Emilio Bonifacio and two prospects looks smart.

The addition of Willingham provides GM Jim Bowden the opportunity to possibly deal an outfielder from a cast that includes Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes, Austin Kearns and Wily Mo Peña.

If owner Ted Lerner and team president Stan Kasten give Bowden the green light to pursue major free agents, it will be interesting to see the outcome. The belief here is the brain trust will try to sign at least one big-name player, if only to provide a reason for fans to buy tickets after last season's 102 losses.

· How 'bout them Caps? Washington's hottest team has worked its way to the top of the Southeast Division with an exciting offense led by Alexander Semin (the NHL points leader as of Thursday) and Alex Ovechkin, who seems to have shaken his scoring slump. Brent Johnson has been excellent in goal, with José Theodore taking over in the last two periods Wednesday night after Johnson injured his hip. The Caps won that game, 5-1, in Carolina.

It's early, but Coach Bruce Boudreau displays the same steady hand he has shown since his promotion from Hershey last November.

Boudreau and Jim Zorn? Who knew?

· Among the nine honorees at next Saturday's 17th annual Sports Hall of Fame dinner of champions at the Greater Washington Jewish Community Center in Rockville will be statistician Marty Aronoff.

Aronoff, 69, has for the past 33 years been the right hand to many of the biggest names in television sportscasting, covering the most significant sports events in the country.

"I try to add to the broadcast with information that stands out," said Aronoff, who works "Monday Night Football," the NBA, college basketball, the World Series, Monday and Wednesday night baseball, and college football.

A D.C. native, Aronoff left his job for good with the National Bureau of Standards in 1975 to work part-time covering the Washington Bullets with Warner Wolf. He has been the chief statistician for the Bullets/Wizards for the past 30 years, to go along with his national television commitments. He has never looked back and considers working the same game on occasion with his late son, John, one of the "highlights" of his life. "The best part of the job is the people I work with," he said. "They are my family."

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