IT IS THE Tuesday morning after the Monday Night Mark Moseley mile-high-inches-wide miss against the Denver Broncos.
Less than nine hours ago, a man sits in a Dupont Circly apartment, watches as Moseley's potential game-tying kick sails off to the left, watches as the referee leans to get a better view before signaling "No good," watches Moseley rap his helmet with both hands, watches the numbed Redskins lying on the ground, too morose to move.
And the man screams.
Then he pounds his fist against the wall.
The man is me. Heavens to George Allen, I've become a Redskin fan.
It was not always so. In the winter of 1973, the sports editor of this newspaper called me into his office to tell me that I would be covering Washington's favorite football team. For most of the next seven years, the Redskins literally consumed my life.
I became an honorary citizen of Carlisle, Pa., the site of the Redskins training camp where I spent six to eight weeks of every summer between 1973 and 1978. I once figured out that the hours I had watched men practicing blocking and tackling were roughly equivalent to two years of my life. I also figured that I had spent the equivalent of three months' time just sitting outside George Allen's office, waiting for him to anoint me with an interview.
At dinner parties, my friends tried to steer the conversation away from football, but rarely succeeded. The ladies wanted to know if Billy Malinchak really was as cute as his pictures indicated (yes). The men wondered whether Larry Brown would play the next Sunday in spite of his injuries (he always played), whether Duane Thomas really wouldn't talk to reporters (he didn't until he got out of football; then he tried to sell me an insurance policy), whether Mike Thomas really was hurt (yes, well, maybe).
And always, the question was asked: "You really do root for the Redskins? You really are a fan, right?"
Oh, I certainly wasn't pulling for the Redskins to lose. I knew all the players on a first-name basis, ate many meals with them in training camp, occasionally had a beer or three with them in colorful, carefree Carlisle. I wanted them to do well, if only for a very selfish reason. When they won, they talked. They made my life easier. George Allen smiled. He'd only keep me waiting 30 minutes instead of the two hours after a loss (three hours if it was an overtime loss).
When the Redskins lost, Billy Kilmer pitched footballs at my head, and yes, they wobbled, too. Chris Hanburger growled louder (though, come to think of it, Chris Hanburger always growled, win or lose.) And George Allen became insufferable.
Allen really did believe all that hokum about losing is like dying. He also wanted to take everybody down with him, including the reporters covering his team. I will never forget one memorable press conference during the 1976 season. The Redskins had just lost to the Giants and were 6-4, seemingly out of the NFC East race.
Klaus Wagner, a local television reporter, kept hammering away at Allen in a day-after-game press conference, and Allen bristled with every question.Finally, the coach could stand it no longer. "The way you talk makes me think you're not a Redskin fan," Allen smoked.
The television golden throat dropped the ball. "Oh no, George, I really am," he stammered.
I winced. Heaven knows Allen always had tried to woo me. The first day I showed up at training camp, we met while walking to the dining hall. George put his arm around me, said he was really delighted to have me on the beat and hoped I'd accentuate the positive about his football team. Six weeks later, when The Post printed his final roster cuts before the coach announced them, Allen threatened to kick me out of Redskin Park.
Over the years, we had many other memorable moments, most of which continued to drive home the point that a Redskin fan I was not. Apparently, I was not alone.
So many times people told me they had trouble pulling for the Redskins just because George Allen was their coach. "He's taken the fun out of being a fan," often was the complaint.
The team was closeted 30 miles out of town. Most of the practices were closed to the public and the press and a dogged security man roamed the woods shooing away little children from watching practice through the wire fence. "If I hear this is the most important game of our lives one more time I'm going to throw up," a lawyer friend with season tickets on the 40 once told me. "It's not life and death. It's a football game."
When Jack Pardee arrived in 1978, much of that changed. I knew this was a different era when, one day in training camp, the coach came looking for me at the press house. I had requested an interview that afternoon, and Pardee had finished a meeting 10 minutes earlier. And so he came looking for me. I was on the phone. "Be with you in a minute, Jack," I said. He waited.
Maybe that's when this fan business really started. I must tell you that I have a special feeling for Jack Pardee. My first year on the Redskin beat was his first year as an assistant coach after a long and distinguished playing career. He was one of the few men in Allen's employ not afraid to give an honest answer, even if it meant telling me, as he once did, that someone was "the worst linebacker I've ever seen."
His first year as head coach, when Pardee's team won its first six games, then lost seven of its last eight, would be my last on the Redskin beat, at my request. I had seen one too many football practices, been called one too many names by Jake Scott, had one too many dirty jocks thrown at my head by Terry Hermeling. It was time to move on, and, I must confess, time to learn how to be a fan again.
Last year, I went to a few games, sat in the press box and kept my mouth shut. But this team -- a melange of over-the-hill veterans, Chatty Kathy Theismann at quarterback and a whole bunch of fresh-faced kids busting their guts to make the playoffs -- was so likeable, how could you keep from pulling for them?
I couldn't, and didn't.
The Dallas game made the metamorphosis complete. On that final day of the 1979 season, I knew my days as an objective observer were over. On that rollercoaster ride of a football game, I sweated, stomped and swore. There was much pacing, and even more profanity. The depression of that defeat even lingered for several days. I was hooked.
This past summer, I even bought a ticket to a preseason game, at $18 a pop, the true test of a fan's support. I had not watched a football game away from the comfy cocoon of the press box in more than eight years, and I was rather astounded at all the passionate people pulling for this team.
I still have a hard time standing up and singing "Hail to the Redskins," though I'm not ashamed to admit I was on my feet applauding nice work.
I also am not ashamed to admit this depressed feeling on a Tuesday morning after the Monday Night Moseley Miss. I have only one thing to say: