Jose Ramos waited 20 years for his name to make it to the top of the waiting list for Redskins season tickets in 1987.
"It was worth the wait," said Ramos, now 62. That was the season Darrell Green's last-second, fourth-down hit at the goal line secured the Washington Redskins' 17-10 win over the Minnesota Vikings -- and the NFC championship.
"I think [in Green] you're seeing the last of the career players," said Ramos, of Fredericksburg. "He's the last player to be faithful to the team regardless of money."
It was a common refrain at FedEx Field yesterday: how Green's retirement so clearly signifies the end of a time when loyalty and durability could make a career truly memorable.
In the transient world that has become professional sports, most of today's players and coaches roam the league in search of top dollar, and even stadiums come and go. The only constants left are faithful followers like Ramos. They are now the true institutional memory for a team with few remaining links to the earliest days of its 70-year history.
As Clarence Morris, 70, climbed the steps in front of Gate D, he said the end of the Green era felt "like a flash" in his long relationship with the Redskins franchise. Green's last lope to the sidelines was just the latest reminder that Morris had outlasted them all: Sonny Jurgensen and Joe Theismann, John Riggins and Art Monk, George Allen and Joe Gibbs, Jack Kent Cooke. Even old Griffith Stadium out on Georgia Avenue, and the great Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium -- where the stands would shake when the crowd jumped -- played a role and then left the scene. But not him.
"In fact," said the D.C. resident, "this is the first season I've missed more than two games since 1959. Rain, snow, win, lose, I've been coming and will keep on coming."
Those who crossed the acres of parking lots outside FedEx Field yesterday to watch the Redskins play the Dallas Cowboys said they were still thrilled by the prospect of watching proud rivals battle for nothing more than bragging rights.
"I've always supported two teams," said Charles E. Pitts, 70. "One is the Redskins, and the other is whomever was playing the Cowboys."
Pitts dates his affection for the Redskins to 1965, when his job on the Southern Pacific railroad took him from the Midwest to Norfolk. It takes Pitts more than three hours to get to Redskins games from his home in Chesapeake, Va., but like a true fan, he doesn't mind adversity.
He still recalls flying to Los Angeles in January 1973 to watch the Redskins play the undefeated Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VII. His team lost, 14-7.
"It was a long, long trip back," he said.
There is no end to stories about the hardships endured in the name of team loyalty. Kathy Madaleno of Bethesda remembers the day the toilets at RFK leaked, and how the unfortunate position of her seats, just below the upper-level overhang, put her in the path of the foul-smelling runoff as it poured down in sheets.
If there was a Hall of Fame for fans based on longevity, Madaleno, 58, said her family might win a spot by virtue of its season-ticket history. Their four seats, she said, were passed down by an uncle who held them since 1939.
It might explain why Steve Silts didn't get his season tickets until he turned 30, even though he put in his order when he was 12.
Silts, now 48, said the tickets were worth the wait. He recalled watching Green tear rib cartilage as he leapt for an interception against the Chicago Bears in 1988. "I'd never seen anything like it," he said. "The guy jumped out of his rib cage to make the play."
It's hard to say exactly what it is that draws the fans to come back, year after year.
Based on the Redskins' recent performance, the draw is clearly more than just winning, laughed Dick Anckner, 63, an Arlington resident who has missed no more than a handful of home games since 1957.
Maybe it's the brutality, he said, recalling the famous moment when Theismann broke his leg. They dragged him off on a stretcher, right past Anckner's seat.
"I'll never forget the look on his face," Anckner said.
Or maybe it's the drama, said Richard Madaleno Sr., 60, Kathy Madaleno's husband, recalling the 1973 game in which strong safety Ken Houston wrestled the Cowboys' Walt Garrison to the ground six inches from the goal line with 24 seconds on the clock to preserve the team's 14-7 victory.
"As the players stood up, you could hear a pin drop," Madaleno said. "And then, everyone went berserk."
Maybe it's just the collegiality of a Sunday afternoon tailgate, said Betsy Koontz, 59, of Kensington, who has been coming to the games since she was a student at George Washington University 40 years ago.
She remembers the 9-7 loss to the New York Giants in 2000 that led Redskins owner Dan Snyder to send Coach Norv Turner packing.
"The Giants fans felt so bad for us, they started buying us beers," she said. "That was really something."
As Koontz, sitting in a lawn chair before yesterday's game, reflected on the memory, it dawned on her how different it will be when she returns for the first game next season, a date that's already on her calendar.
"It's a little unsettling," she said, "what with Darrell being gone. There have been a lot of comings and goings, but he's always been there."
Then again, though, so has she.