It looked bad. Here it was, 21/2 hours before game time on a warm and humid fall evening at FedEx Field, and in the parking lot, Philadelphia Eagles fans already were jawing at their Redskins counterparts.
A bunch of young men in white-and-green Eagles jerseys -- most of them beefy sorts -- were yelling across the hood of a new Camaro at two young men in Redskins jerseys who were parked two slots over.
It looked bad because these were Eagles fans, veritable poster children around the league for good fans gone bad.
As every NFL fan knows, Eagles fans once threw snowballs at Santa Claus.
It was an Eagles crazy who, during a game with the San Francisco 49ers in 1997, shot a flare gun into some empty seats while some 60 fights raged throughout the stadium. The unruliness prompted the City of Brotherly Love to set up "Eagles Court" at the now-demolished Veterans Stadium so authorities could arrest and convict unruly fans on the spot.
And it was the Eagles who were in town in 2002 for a nationally televised contest when a Prince George's County police officer used pepper spray to quell boozers, brawlers and boors in the stands. After the spray wafted over the Eagles' bench, NFL officials halted the game for eight minutes while Eagles players gagged, vomited and scampered in a panic from their bench area. Even now, it's not clear who started the trouble.
But back in the parking lot last night, what looked like a heated pregame argument turned out to be a spirited discussion among fans about Terrell Owens. The Eagles' prima donna receiver was suspended Saturday for comments critical of Eagles management and quarterback Donovan McNabb.
It was loud but friendly as Redskins fans Tony May and Mike Jones talked to members of the Geiges family -- Jon Geiges, his sons and their cousins -- who had driven down from the Philadelphia area in two vehicles for their only away game of the season.
"Philly's a rough town," the 46-year-old Geiges conceded as he sat on the tailgate of his pickup and talked to May and Jones. "It's a blue-collar town. We've got a lot rowdier fans."
His son, also named Jon Geiges, reminded his father of a home game a few years ago when the elder Geiges was wearing the garnet-and-gold jacket of the youth football team he coached. Despite his lifelong Eagles loyalties, he had to take off the jacket and brave the cold to keep from being drenched with beer and worse.
The younger Geiges pointed out that Philadelphia fans, like English soccer hooligans, take pride in their rowdiness. "Once the reputation started, everybody bought into it," he said.
Redskins fans would never be so boorish. Right?
Washington Post letter writers in recent years would beg to differ. "What a bunch of drunken, foul-mouthed, rude, faithless folks," a Vienna writer complained after a game in 2002. "Beer was spilled on us. Shoes kicked the backs of our chairs. There was screaming, two fights within 15 feet of us, and words my kids have never heard before (and I'm no angel)."
A fan from Arlington reported "fighting in an upper-floor bathroom, on an exit ramp and in the parking lot. As a parent who had taken three 14-year-old boys to the game, I felt I had to run a gantlet to get them safely out of FedEx Field."
Before last night's 17-10 Redskins victory, Lt. Terrence Sheppard, a spokesman for Prince George's County police, who have jurisdiction over FedEx Field and the grounds, wasn't worried so much about Philadelphia coming to town. He had two other concerns: one, that it was a division game and just happened to be with the Eagles, and two, that it was a late game, which gave fans more time to drink and socialize.
At halftime, Prince George's police were reporting that all was quiet, although one fan got tossed out of the stadium for flinging a beer bottle into the end zone after the Eagles scored their first touchdown. He was wearing a Redskins jersey.
"We don't have that many incidents here, maybe one a game," said Cpl. T. Gray of the Prince George's County Department of Corrections. Gray, who works out of the police substation in the bowels of the stadium, credited what he called "diplomatic work" on the part of his colleagues with helping curb problems before they escalated.
Several fans wearing the garnet and gold last night expressed a wish that some of the Eagles fans' passion, if not their boorishness, would rub off on Redskins fans.
"Redskins fans are very quiet. Too quiet," said Ashley Glempler, 21, a Towson, Md., dental assistant who has sold beer at FedEx Field for the past three seasons. "It's like a tennis match."
"You sit up in the stands here, and people are talking about their next lawyer deal," said Ron Graves, a Metro transit police officer.
Graves and three of his transit police buddies at the game -- two Redskins fans, two Eagles fans -- all agreed they missed the intimacy of RFK Stadium, which they said fostered a Redskins esprit de corps. "This place stinks," he said. "RFK had more personality."
True, said his friend Larry Lowe, comparing FedEx to Philadelphia sports venues. "But you don't have to fear for your life coming here."