He moved through the crowd slowly, because he wasn't exactly sure where his seats were. Occasionally he glanced down at his ticket stub, then looked up to compare it with the section numbers he was passing.

"This is a few experience for me," Ron McDole said. "I've never been to a football game before. Of course, I've never really been a football fan. I like baseball."

Once seated, he was perhaps the calmest person in his section. "Some of these folks really get violent up here, don't they?," he said, when things began to look bad for the Redskins.

Like most of the fans in RFK Stadium Sunday, he couldn't help but shake his head when the game was over. "Damn," he said. "I really thought they were going to win that one."

But they didn't, losing 29-27 to the Houston Oilers. McDole was disappointed, but probably took the defeat better than most fans.

"I'm divorced from it now," he said, sitting in the back row of Section 321 in the lower stand end zone. "I haven't been through training camp with the guys. I haven't been building for this since July. And I really don't know many of the guys, except for Diron (Talbert). I wish them well, but that's really all.

"Really, I'm not that much different than all these other people. Maybe I can tell what's going on better, sure. But if anything, I'm not as into it as they are because I've never been a Redskins fan. I've never really been a football fan. I just loved to play the game."

For 18 years, McDole played the game professionally in St. Louis, Buffalo and Washington. They called him "The Dancing Bear," because in spite of being 6 feet 3 and 265 pounds, somehow he found ways to block field goals, intercept passes and get across the field to make tackles men his size are not supposed to make.

But last winter, after eight seasons with the Redskins, as one of the most popular members of George Allen's Over the Hill Gang, he was put on waivers along with players like Billy Kilmer, Jake Scott and Chris Hanburger.

At 39, he did not look for another team -- a couple of teams were interested, he says -- and retired. McDole, his wife Paula and four children, live now in Winchester, Va., where he owns a factory that manufactures library furniture.

He looked the same Sunday as he did during his years with the Over the Hill Gang. The brown hair, longish and curling in the back, the slight paunch -- he weighs 255 and still plays paddleball to stay in shape -- and the ambling gait which so many football players take on after years of pounding.

"I guess the way to look at it is that I played about 10 years longer than I should have," he said with a smile. "I loved every minute of it. But now I don't miss it. I'm too busy to miss it."

Largely because he only missed one game with an injury during his career, McDole had never, before Sunday, entered a stadium for an NFL game without putting on a uniform.

"It feels a little funny, different certainly," he said. "For one thing, I can see what's going on from here. On the sidelines you can't see anything."

Even though he was not heavily into the game emotionally, McDole clearly was very interested. He talked almost nonstop throughout the game, trying to predict plays for both teams -- with frequent success -- analyzing mistakes and talking, in general, about the game of football.

His seven years under George Allen were apparent. "Emotion is the whole key to football," he said early in the game. Then later: "Mistakes decide games. You have to take advantage of opportunities.

Also: "Mental mistakes are what kill you. Young teams make mental mistakes, that's why they're always going to be erratic."

And finally, when the game seemed to turn because the Redskins lost 41 yards on a punt because of an extra man on the field: "You should never make a mistake on special teams like that. If George had been coaching someone would be getting his rear end chewed out right now. And he'd probably be fired tomorrow."

Throughout the game, even as McDole talked, a steady stream of fans paraded to his seat. Some wanted autographs, others wanted to shake his hand, many just wanted to say hello. But all said the same thing: "Wish you were still out there playing."

McDole took it all in stride, making small talk with the fans, thanking them for their good wishes and laughing at their jokes.

"Some guys get aggravated by that," he said. "But I always took it as a compliment. Signing autographs is part of the game, part of what you got paid for. Sometimes I'd get upset when people would crowd around me but, hey, it's part of the game. Personally, I don't think I'm any different or any better than anyone in this stadium and I don't really understand it completely. But basically, I like it."

McDole basically liked the way the Redskins played Sunday, taking the Oilers down to the wire before losing. But he admitted to feeling a bit strange at times.

"Sitting up here, it's funny, but I feel like I never played the game," he said. "I don't know why that is. I can't get any feel for what's going down on the bench from this far away. If I was down there I could probably tell you how the Redskins are going to do in the first quarter. It's something you have to feel."

McDole did not feel a part of the game Sunday. Never once did he call the Redskins "we," and although he stood and clapped occasionally for good plays, he never once yelled.

He did cry, "sonuvabitch," on the play when the Redskins had 12 men on the field and at times murmured "Come on guys do it now," on big defensive plays. But it was just a game for McDole, no longer a livelihood.

"It's all different now," he said. "I'll probably go out tonight with Diron and our wives just like after a game. That'll be the same. But I won't have the aches and pains. And I won't have the same feeling about winning or losing. That's all different.

"I woke up this morning, went to my office for a couple of hours, then drove in with my wife and Diron's wife. In the old days I would have driven in by 9:30 with Jake, Diron and Billy.

"Then I would have gone through all the pregame rituals and by the national anthem I'd be all nervous, wanting to get on the field and take that first lick. Today, I felt nothing. I'm just here like everyone else."

And when it was over, McDole was asked how he enjoyed the game.

"It was all right," he said. "I got into it a bit towards the end. I'm glad I came down here. Heck, I'll try anything once."