For the Pseudo Redskins' opening day, Frank Cooley wore his burgundy tux and a gold ruffled shirt. This was his 50th anniversary as a Redskins season ticket holder and, strike or not, he was in Hog Heaven.

At halftime yesterday, while the regular players picketed outside RFK Stadium and thousands of fans stayed home, five waiters in pink bow ties served up three cases of champagne for 216 folks in section 230 -- Cooley's way of sharing his love for football.

"I've been through it all," Cooley, a 64-year-old carpet store owner from Manassas, said as police tried to clear the mass of people pressing toward the sparkling glasses of Andre.

"This strike is nothing. I can't remember the players' names anymore anyway."

With 27,728 fans inside -- about half the capacity -- and 17,035 no-shows, the stadium seemed eerily empty to those used to a 21-year string of sellouts.

Grumpy scalpers found themselves giving tickets away for face value.

There were hardly any lines for beer. Parking was a cinch.

And for once, you really couldn't tell the players without a scorecard.

But for those who filed past about 2,000 chanting and sign-waving union members to reach the stadium gates, going to this game, which the Redskins won 28-21, meant making a statement -- about loyalty, politics, seizing opportunity and being an American.

Loyalty: "I've been coming 25 years and nothing's going to stop me," said Lou

Mickelson of Woodbridge, presiding over his usual pregame parking lot barbecue.

"Anybody who thumbs his nose at $200,000 a year, I have no sympathy for. I work for years to make that kind of money."

It took some courage for many to walk past the thick clot of union supporters who demonstrated outside RFK, chanting, "Real fans don't watch scabs!" and "We've got the players, you've got the scabs!" Issues in the strike include free agency and benefits for the players.

Every game since 1957, preseason included, A.P. and May Haverty of Greenville, N.C., have made the 528-mile, 10-hour, round-trip drive.

"Good or bad, we come," A.P. Haverty said. "Not going to let a bunch of rich players stop me. This is nothing: I remember when we cheered if the Redskins got one first down."

Politics: "I'm a Democrat and I don't believe in union-busting," said Todd Asti of Reston. "But this union is busting the people. If they get what they want, you'll see, ticket prices will go up and the people will be hurt."

Seizing opportunity: "Hey, it's a lot easier to get tickets now," said Robert Belman, a Fredericksburg, Va., real estate salesman who picked up a couple of tickets from friends who did not care to see the replacement team.

"Without a strike, we wouldn't be here. Football's football. It doesn't matter who's playing."

Sprinkled throughout the stadium, and especially in the upper deck, dads explained the action to youngsters, boys and girls who without a strike might have waited years to see a live pro game.

"The players look the same," said Greg Stevens, a 9-year-old from Alexandria. Greg was unimpressed by the pickets: "Those guys scream too much."

Being an American: Vinny Gabriele, a 25-year-old Navy enlisted man attending his first NFL game, stood immediately across from chanting pickets and shouted his support -- for the owners.

"Let me tell you, I don't believe in this," he said. "I'm out there protecting people and I make $11,000 a year and I'm not striking, I'm working for my country. Sure, somebody making $10,000 or $20,000 has to fight for their rights, but these are rich guys. The American thing to do is for them to play football. Or else the owners have to do like Reagan when he got a substitute team for the air traffic controllers."

Enterprising fans could sit anywhere. Many of the empty seats were in the best sections.

"These are the people who can't afford to be seen crossing lines," one usher said.

Once the game got under way, the fans saw some problems -- there was plenty of grumbling about clumsy plays and anonymous players -- but when the Redskins began their second possession with a 73-yard punt return, Haywood Smith jumped up.

"They want to play some football!" he shouted. "Them guys are hungry."

When the cheers subsided, Smith, a substitute concession worker, said he was still on the regular players' side, even if the replacements could pull off some exciting plays.

Hours earlier, two men stood outside the stadium gates waving their wads of tickets.

Tickets that normally snared $75 to $150 each were going to $20, $25, $50 at best.

"The phones didn't ring all week," said one of the men, who said he runs a Northern Virginia ticket company.

"Now the people are coming out, but they're ignorant. They think they're going to walk up to the ticket booth and get something on the 50 {yard line}. The people with the good seats kept them. The only thing left is singles."

He turned to a group of arriving fans: "Do you want to sit by yourself? Don't be stupid. I've got pairs."

The pitch did not work. The man was undaunted.

"Hey, what else do you need?" he called after them. "I got a Charlie Daniels concert for tonight, fifth row center."

Despite much shouting and a few fans who tossed beer onto pickets from a stadium balcony, the crowd remained good-natured.

D.C. police reported five arrests for disorderly conduct and one for vending without a permit -- only about half the usual number for a home game.

Before the game, an Orange Line Metro conductor announced to passengers one station from the stadium, "Due to the cancellation of the game, this train will not stop at Stadium Armory." Just a touch of Metro humor.

Inside the stadium, most of the regular ushers took their places in front of rows of empty seats.

While many vendors were making their first appearances, replacing regular workers who were out in sympathy with the players, the ushers generally chose to work.

There was not much to do.

"This is way low, really slow," said Lenny Gulbierz at section 207. Many of his regular customers did not show up or gave away their tickets.

A few VIPs did make it to owner Jack Kent Cooke's box: CBS News correspondent Lesley Stahl and her husband, writer Aaron Latham, retired Washington Post sports editor Shirley Povich and his wife Ethel, Sen. Paul S. Trible Jr. (R-Va.), and magazine publisher Bill Regardie.

"Lots of new faces here today," usher Gulbierz said.

Among them was Mark Barton, who brought his son to RFK to get some autographs from picketing players.

Once there, they decided to go inside, a decision that pained the 10-year member of the Teamsters.

"We've never been able to get tickets," Barton said.

"I feel a little guilty about meeting the players and getting their autographs and then going to the game, but we can't get tickets."

A few sections away, David Saffelle of Arlington spent the game wearing a sign saying that "Real Fans Don't Give Up Their Tickets for Any Reason."

"We pay the players' salaries, and they should think a little more of us," he said. By the second half, Saffelle had found himself some new favorite players.

"If they're wearing the burgundy and gold, I'm happy," he rasped.

"And I lost my voice from shouting, so this must be real football."

Staff writers Victoria Dawson and Carlos Sanchez contributed to this report.