Beneath a ticket window outside RFK Stadium, just past midnight, amid freezing wind, Garth Bucks lifted a blanket from his head and deliriously explained a football faith bordering on insanity.
Along with about 300 other frozen fans, Bucks was carrying on an all-night vigil for tickets to next week's National Football Conference championship game. Except he had been there since 1 p.m. -- three hours before the Redskins had secured a 21-17 victory over the Chicago Bears.
"I knew, I absolutely knew, the Redskins were going to beat the Bears, so I came out here when the game started, and started waiting for tickets," said Bucks, a 19-year-old Arlington resident, as others in the line that he started joked, bragged and snored.
"At first I felt stupid, because I thought the tickets would go on sale right after the game. But when I found out they wouldn't be available until noon, I thought, 'Well, you have to wait. You're first in line.' "
By midnight, the fans snaked about 100 yards outside the stadium, all hoping for some of the 2,000 tickets that go on sale at noon today. The ground, still dusted with snow, was cluttered with blankets, coats, picnic chairs and coffee cups. A few yards from the line, dozens of ticket-seekers huddled around two campfires.
"I haven't been to a game in 10 years, so this is my chance," said Steve Tart, a 24-year-old Arlington resident who arrived when the line already numbered 100 shivering people, a handful of whom arrived before the game ended. "It's going to be freezing out here all night, but a cold I could catch from doing this will last three days. Being able to see a Redskins championship game -- that memory will last forever."
Rabid as the fans were outside RFK, the stadium setting was tranquil compared with the scene outside Redskin Park in Herndon earlier in the night, where more than 1,000 fans gathered to greet the players as they returned from Dulles International Airport.
Hoping to get in their cars and drive home, the players instead encountered a charge of the freezing fan brigade. Down a dark road covered with piles of snow and hastily parked cars, hundreds of men, women and children shouted, slid, and sprinted after two buses carrying Redskins players.
Team members filed off the buses slowly, laughing and staring in disbelief at what was before their eyes. The fans -- sunk in snow, running against the wind, toting cameras -- had surrounded them in what quickly became a two-hour arctic pep rally.
"I'm real cold, but who cares?" said 22-year-old Darrin Smith of Clinton, who clutched a video camera and jogged in place to fight the frost. "After today's win, these guys deserve it. You got to let them know how you feel after a win like this, and you got to come all the way out here to really do it." Smith said he had filmed about 45 minutes of action since he arrived. "I got some pretty good close-ups, and I'm still waiting to get some more."
As Smith waited, dozens of fans crowded near the entrance to the Redskins office and sang a proud, but desperately off-key, version of the team's fight song, "Hail to the Redskins."
Head coach Joe Gibbs smiled and waved from a second-story window as fans waving fists or index fingers cheered his name and pleaded for quarterback Doug Williams and defensive lineman Dexter Manley to come outside and join the party. "He looks like the pope up there, waving like that," one man told another as he pointed to Gibbs.
Sniffling children seeking autographs stumbled across the snow with their parents, moving from one spot to the next outside the building. "I actually saw Coach Gibbs; he walked right next to me," one boy told his friend. The friend replied: "So what? He shook my hand."
Cameras flashed as running back George Rogers eased away from the crowd in a sleek sports car. Ray Winkel applauded, cheered and adjusted a plastic pig snout -- in tribute to the self-proclaimed "Hogs" of the Redskins offensive line -- strapped to his face.
"This is incredible," Winkel, 30, said. He and his wife, Tammy, arrived about 7:30 p.m., shortly before the two buses. Ray Winkel said he looked around and suddenly realized he had forgot his authentic Hog Snout at home.
"I thought, 'Oh God, I should have brought it," he said. "But some guy over there had a whole huge box of pig snouts and just threw it up in the air and told everyone to grab one."