The first fan arrived outside FedEx Field at 8 p.m. Monday. Larry Williams, a salaried promoter for WPGC-FM, passed out station bumper stickers and signed up ticket hopefuls on a clipboard like free agents at training camp.

Right behind him was Graham Eddy, 27, a University of Virginia law student on break and ready for anything. "I love camping out," he said. "I camped out for 'Star Wars' at the Uptown. I camp out at Ticketmaster all the time for concerts."

A bit farther down, software technician Robert Bradeen bided his time playing computer games on his laptop. "I got a little flextime," explained Bradeen, 25, who sat on the curb, 11th in line and a long way from the start of general admission ticket sales at 7 this morning.

On the sidewalk nearby, season ticket holders who had first dibs were briskly snapping up seats for the Redskins' first-round NFC playoff game Saturday against the Detroit Lions. A couple of hours later, however, the tables had turned.

Williams, Eddy and Bradeen, along with 33 other diehard fans, lolled in relative luxury in cushy club-level chairs and couches inside the stadium, ushered there by Redskins management, who took pity on them.

The first to queue up for the first-come, first-served general admission seats were invited to spend the night, their places in line secured, as they sipped free sodas, munched on $1 hot dogs and took in the Sugar Bowl on a big-screen television.

Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder "wants them to be comfortable and out of the weather," said Senior Vice President Michael R. Dillow. "We don't want people being cold and everything." He said more fans would be brought in as they arrived.

The chances of someone in the general public securing a playoff ticket might have seemed as unlikely as the Redskins' chances of making the playoffs this year, their first appearance since 1993. After all, season ticket holders lay claim to all of the seats in the stadium, which holds more than 80,000. But based on sales since tickets became available to season ticket holders in early December, the team reserved 5,000 seats, mostly in the upper deck, for other fans.

Among the earliest to arrive at the stadium was David Hazel, 45, of Forestville, a truck driver who stood eighth in line as he talked on a cellular phone to his mother, Alice Scott, who lives in Columbia. "Yes, Mom, I don't have any tickets for you yet," he said. "Bring me a sleeping blanket, some food, sodas, some cups, maybe, fruit juice, peanut butter and jelly, a loaf of bread."

He interrupted his mother to take a call from his son. "Hey, you better come over here," he urged. "The line is getting thick."

Before their reprieve from the elements, the "Redskins 36" mugged for television cameras, basking in their newfound celebrity status as fan underdogs. "Over here, the haves," gestured Channel 4 reporter Pat Collins toward the orderly season ticket holders in line. "Over here," he said, pointing to the parking lot crew, "the have-nots."

But not for long. Shortly before 1 p.m., Snyder turned their game around. Dillow delivered the news in the parking lot before heading downtown to a 5 p.m. Redskins rally at Union Station, attended by 2,000 boisterous fans.

One by one, Todd Boyan, stadium director of operations, affixed a blue plastic wristband to those in line. Should people leave the stadium, they were told, they would lose their place in line. Each person received a T-shirt that said "1999 NFC Eastern Division Champions--Washington Redskins."

At 2 p.m., fans entered the stadium and trekked up the still escalator to the club level, lugging sleeping bags, snacks and a lot of pride. Never mind that most were fated to watch the playoffs from the lowly heights of the nosebleed section.

"We are the first fans," exulted Irving Millard, 43, of Palmer Park. "This is history, for real."

Staff writer Cindy Loose contributed to this report.

CAPTION: Cornerback Darrell Green gets the fans going at the rally. The Redskins will meet the Detroit Lions in the first round of the NFC playoffs on Saturday.

CAPTION: Aidene and Nadine Smith, twins who live in Arlington, cheer during a rally for the Redskins at Union Station attended by 2,000 fans.

CAPTION: Right guard Tre Johnson responds to the cheers at the Redskins rally at Union Station.