Billy Kilmer got his first taste of National Football League rowdy fans as a rookie with the San Francisco 49ers. They played in Chicago and had to walk through a tunnel and over some stands to reach the locker room at Wrigley Field.
The fans taunted and three things at the 49ers. On the way back from the locker room this cold day, veterans Leo Nomellini and Bob St. Clair retaliated. They carried out a bucket of ice water and tossed the contents on the hecklers.
Fans were a different breed 17 years ago when he was a rookie. Kilmer said. "They're not as loyal to the home team as they used to be. That's because of television. Now they can choose their favorites because of television exposure."
In a recent survey, Redskin players rated NFL fans by city. Not surprisingly, the unanimous choice for best fans was Washington. But some of the reasoning went deeper than hometown preference.
"The Washington fan most resembles the old-time fan," said Kilmer.
"The fans here become more knowledgeable because they'be been coming to games long enough to know what's going on the field," said wide receiver Charley Taylor, the NFL's all-time leading pass catcher. "That's because of the repeats. In most cities, you only have a third of the people coming back every week: in Washington, it's at least 75 per cent."
"Washington fans are more educated to their team," said place kicker Mark Moseley. "They hold on to their tickets. They've probably been going to the games since they were kneehigh to a grasshopper."
If the Redskins love their fans, they hate the fans in Buffalo. New England and New York just as much.
"New York's the worst because the fans are bleeps. You don't have to use bleeps," said guard Terry Hermeling.
The Redskins remember the day in 1972 when Larry Brown was drenched in beer and pelted with oranges while gaining 191 yards against the Giants.
New York always has been a bad spot, said Bobby Mitchell, who quit playing in 1969 and is now the Redskins' director of pro scouting.
"They just didn't treat you very nice," said Mitchell. "It didn't matter who you were, a superstar or an also-ran. I guess it was just a certain type of arrogance."
Buffalo sticks in Taylor's mind as having the most obnoxious fans. Safety Ken Houston calls Buffalo fans "the rudest toward our team."
Houston recalled that Buffalo fans unmercifully heckled Duane Thomas and threw things at the players.
"The people in Buffalo have a tendency to overdo it," Taylor said.
Tim Stokes, the starting left offensive tackle, still recalls his days with the Los Angeles Rams when he and teammates had to fight their way out of Foxboro Stadium following a loss to the New England Patriots.
"The most obnoxious fans are in New England," Stokes said. "They spit on us and threw stuff at us."
The least volatile fans patronize Los Angeles Coliseum, according to the Redskins. It seems a trend there, where many are also Dodger and Laker fans, to listen to accounts of those games on radio and remain fairly neutral toward the football players on the field.
But, to a great extent, most fans are the same anywhere, whether it be in Bloomington, Dallas, Pontiac or San Diego.
Coach George Allen says the simplest way to influence fans is to win.
"If you perform well, whether it's at home or on the road, the fans won't be a negative factor," said Allen. "In fact, if you perform well on the road, they'll boo the home team. And if you play bad at home, the fans become restless."
Allen, of course, had nothing but praise for the Washington fans.
"They are excellent. The standing ovations have been great, and it accounts for our home record," he said.