NOW THAT the Redskins have nailed down a playoff game, listen carefully for the a cappella chorus of 25,000 voices.
You know them: They're the long suffering fans on the season ticket waiting list. The blues they're singing in the saloons and on the subway isn't exactly "Hail to the Redskins."
The sound is more like a cacophony of complaints -- a familiar one that perennially simmers just below the surface all year, then explodes like a time bomb at the end of every season. The song is that the real fan doesn't stand a chance of getting inside RFK Stadium for a regular season or playoff game unless he or she can masquerade as a Redskinette, or has the means to buy the franchise from Jack Kent Cooke. Word's out that Teddy Roosevelt is now 120th on the waiting list.
A little leverage never hurts. But I got season tickets without even a good word from the head beer salesman. In 1969 I wrote to the Redskins asking to be placed in line. I figured that a yet unborn progeny might be the ultimate beneficiary by the year 2200. I was astounded, therefore, when barely three years later the tickets arrived.
So, if you're a Redskins fan who's given up hope for season seats, maybe you should sit down for a moment -- while we show you what you've been missing.
Before departure for our one last RFK blast, we'll fill a thermos with broth, or a heartier substitute, and drive off to battle the traffic. Once at the stadium lot, gird yourself for a mile-long obstacle course designed for Marine Corps recruits. You're swept along in the rush toward the gates between vendors hawking everything from peanuts to programs. Getting to our seats is like a journey to the center of the earth. We enter a secret door at pillar 45, descend into the bowels of the stadium, slosh through rooms that are surely part of the Luray Caverns, and claw our way to the surface wherever there is daylight.
Once the game starts, we'll spend the next three hours trying to figure out what is happening down on the field. Next time remember to bring the binoculars, a radio and John Madden with his electronic board.
RFK is a cozy little place. Our seats are the 12th and 13th in from the aisle, which virtually imprisons us the entire game. I once got the nerve to worm my way out for a breather, saying "excuse me" 12 times to 12 fans, but on the way back I spilled hot chocolate on the guy in seat 6, and he poked me in the eye.
Occasionally during the afternoon, your senses may be staggered by a strange, smoky-sweet aroma. And don your earmuffs, because a thousand flasks will wet a thousand raucous throats for every degree the temperature drops.
Now, it's halftime, and while the viewers at home sip egg nog and stoke the fire, you'll be in line for twenty minutes at the restroom.
The second half is as exciting as the first -- you can tell by the cheering at the far end of the field. I swear I've never seen the Redskins score a touchdown: A fat guy in front of me always leaps up at the exact moment we score.
Nevertheless, it's been a thriller. But when the final gun sounds, we face a new trauma -- finding the car. Provided we haven't been decked by exhaust fumes, we'll eventually stumble on it, start the motor. And wait. On one occasion, we decided to avoid the driving and take a chartered bus. The ride to the stadium was like a moving tailgate party -- the fizz of beer cans cracking open, corned beef-on-bagel-sandwiches, lots of singing.
After the game ended, we strolled out of RFK, relishing the win and congratulating ourselves on our wisdom. The sight of the bus lot caused us to recoil in horror. In the gathering dusk, 200 buses -- engines racing -- sat before us like restless elephants poised to stampede. About 10,000 frantic fans were scurrying like rats in and out of the buses searching for their ride home. The operative lesson: the buses leave exactly 10 minutes after the final gun. Our taxi fare was $26.50.
Exhausted and shaken but home at last, we're confronted at the door with questions. For instance, "Dad, who caught the winning pass from Schroeder in overtime?"
"I really don't know," I reply through clenched teeth. "We were at the game."
At moments like that, and especially after a Redskin loss, my impulse is to give away the tickets forever. But time is the greatest of healers, sometimes taking only one week. And, the next game, we set out for RFK once again like intrepid sailors to a distant shore.
I've never understood the behavioral patterns of football fans. So after the Super Bowl, I'll talk with my analyst. But then he's been begging me for tickets for years.
John Glaros caught the flu at the Dallas game and probably will be unable to attend any home playoff games.