Matt Dyson hadn't been born when the Washington Redskins won three Super Bowls under Coach Joe Gibbs, but that didn't stop the 12-year-old yesterday from proudly donning the throwback No. 7 Joe Theismann jersey that he borrowed from his father.
"My dad told me everything about how [Theismann] was so great back in the day," said the Alexandria seventh-grader as he and his father, Craig, 41, searched for their seats at FedEx Field before the season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "I'm really excited to see what happens. I want them to win so I can experience what I haven't experienced yet."
The start of Gibbs's first season since returning to Washington after a dozen years as a North Carolina-based NASCAR owner was a time for a new generation to learn what older Washingtonians have known: that true Redskins tradition means winning, not losing; it means Super Bowls, not meaningless Decembers.
So out of the closets came the jerseys of a bygone era: No 44 John Riggins and No. 28 Darrell Green, No. 17 Doug Williams and No. 81 Art Monk, No. 72 Dexter Manley and No. 77 Darryl Grant -- Redskins fans wearing their emotions on their sleeves.
"Some people come up to me and say, 'Who's Grant?' I tell them it's Darryl Grant, and they're like, 'Oh, yeah, I remember him!' " said Richard Zdanis, 40, of Germantown, who was sporting the Grant jersey while entering the stadium with his wife, Soly, also 40.
Pointing at a tear under the right arm, Zdanis added: "My wife's mother tried to sew this, but I told her to stop because this is an authentic jersey and that rip came in an actual game."
The look, the smell, the feel of the old Redskins -- that's what the fans wanted yesterday.
They began arriving, an announced team record of 90,098 in all, more than an hour before the gates to FedEx Field opened at 11 a.m. -- two hours before kickoff. Traffic flow was relatively smooth, police and fans said. Although some fans reported long lines at the Landover Metro station, most said the shuttle buses were arriving promptly.
The team added more than 5,000 seats in the off-season, angering fans who purchased "limited view" seats and found during preseason games that pillars obscured areas of the playing field. Members of the Prince George's County Council want to revisit the steps that led to the county approving the additional seats, including whether the impact on parking and traffic was considered.
Vic Calder, 26, of Fairfax County and his buddy Dan Carraway, 27, who grew up in Springfield but lives in Atlanta, were among the first to arrive, about 8:15 a.m. Still enjoying their tailgate beers as game-time approached, Calder and Carraway, both wearing Riggins jerseys, expressed confidence that Gibbs would bring back the magic of old, even though he is now coaching in an era of multimillion-dollar contracts and free agency.
"I'm ready to go back to the '80s," Carraway said. "I think [Gibbs] can do it. He's a winner, and players will want to stay in Washington if we're winning."
At 12:56 p.m., the public-address announcer introduced the man the fans had been waiting for. "Here's Joe Gibbs and your Washington Redskins!" the announcer said, eliciting a huge roar that latecomers could hear well outside the stadium.
The roars kept coming -- for new star running back Clinton Portis's 64-yard touchdown run to open the scoring, for the 7-0 lead the Skins had after the first quarter, for the 10-3 halftime advantage.
"We look great! I feel the vibe in the stands," said Darryl Smith, 37, of Clinton at halftime. He was wearing a Doug Williams jersey. "I feel very confident. I'm already claiming a Super Bowl."
"We almost took a drive around RFK this morning just for old times," said his friend William Jefferson, 36, of Landover, referring to the team's old stadium.
In the third quarter, the crowd groaned when a fumble by Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell led to a Buccaneers touchdown to tie the game at 10. Suddenly, the Redskins looked eerily like the mistake-prone teams of more recent years.
But in the fourth quarter, an interception by Redskins linebacker Antonio Pierce led to a John Hall field goal. Washington had the lead again. The band began to play "Hail to the Redskins!"
The fans grew louder and, a few minutes later, after a key stop by the defense, louder still. Soon the game was over -- Redskins 16, Tampa Bay 10. Leaving the stadium, Jeff Dye, 34, of Washington said he was thrilled.
"They looked good, very impressive," he said. "They had some continuity about themselves that they haven't had in years."
Dye was wearing a Dexter Manley jersey, which he had bought recently. "I wanted to go old-school for this season," he said.
For one game at least, Coach Gibbs and the Redskins returned the favor.