Oscar Young arrived at RFK Stadium Monday afternoon, just before sunset. It was raining and not warm and the ticket office would not open for another 16 hours. But already there were 113 people camped under a concrete portico, fortifying themselves with a variety of antifreezes and chanting well-lubricated choruses of "We're No. 1."
"I'm not a fair-weather friend of the Redskins," said Young, explaining why a 49-year-old man with a bad back and a wife who thinks him "grossly unbalanced" would spend a wet night on a sidewalk to buy a maximum of two tickets to a game he could see at home for free.
"I've stuck with the Redskins since Otto Graham was coach and Ralph Guglielmi was quarterback. I've been with them in bad times, when they were playing too conservative and getting blown out. And I'm with them now that they're hot," said the biochemist. "We're going to the Super Bowl."
About 1,000 fans invited themselves to a slumber party outside RFK Stadium Monday night. The occasion was a Tuesday morning sale of about 2,400 tickets for Saturday's 12:30 p.m. playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings. Men and women and one 9-year-old girl, most of them outfitted in burgundy and gold, risked pneumonia for a chance to catch a little Redskins fever.
"I've been on the waiting list for season tickets to the Redskins for 10 years," said Mike Delbalzo, a 33-year-old unemployed airline pilot from Potomac. For 13 hours, Delbalzo sat in the middle of a crowd that was loud, rambunctious but remarkably friendly.
Delbalzo got his tickets, as did everyone who had spent the night. But when the last ticket was sold at 2 p.m., there were some latecomers who left disappointed, unable to buy tickets.
"This is strictly Woodstock on East Capitol Street," said 35-year-old Don Frost, who came to the stadium at 4 a.m., certain that there wouldn't be more than a few dozen fans foolish enough to precede him. He ended up in a line so far from the ticket window it would have been a two-zone fare by cab.
Brian LaValley was the first customer to set up camp at RFK. The 29-year-old substitute teacher from Oxon Hill arrived at the stadium Sunday at 10 p.m., 36 hours early. He was wearing a leather and lamb's wool, World War II Army Air Corps flight suit that belonged to his father. Security guards thought he was a refugee from a comic strip.
There were many tales of sacrifice told in the dark hours before dawn. Carpenters risked jobs to get a ticket. Husbands opened themselves to the ire of their wives. Paul Marcot destroyed a perfectly good relationship with his dentist.
"I told her I had tonsillitis," said the Springfield X-ray technician who works at George Washington University Hospital. "I'll never be able to go back now. I forgot I already had my tonsils taken out."
James Branch, a recently laid-off construction worker, was sacrificing his health and well-being for love. Because Branch works as a part-time vendor at the stadium, he will get to see Saturday's game free. He spent the night there to buy a ticket for his wife.
"She's a diehard Redskins fan," said Branch.
In the middle of the mob, three men admitted to being from Minnesota. Although the three Gallaudet College students are deaf, they traded good-natured taunts with the Redskins crowd by sign and suggestion. One of them, Andy Bonheyo, wrote in a reporter's notebook: "The Mighty Vikings Will Crush the Redskins."
Richard Begay brought a foam mattress, two down sleeping bags and his 9-year-old daughter, Audrey. Although he was born in Oklahoma, the full-blooded Navajo Indian said he has always been a Washington fan. "I guess I was attracted by their name."
John and Carolyn Harty easily won best-dressed honors. From their caps to their socks, they were a blaze of burgundy and gold. John Harty, a 35-year-old ironworker who was laid off just six weeks ago, said his grandfather played in the Redskins' band in 1937. John parked cars at RFK while in high school in the middle 1960s.
"We got in free and could sit anywhere we wanted," he remembered. "Back then, there were never more than 30,000 people at a game."
By 9 a.m., when the ticket windows opened, many in the crowd looked more than slightly overdone. Even LaValley, who had been interviewed twice on television for being first in line, said he wasn't sure if it was worth the wait.
"I don't know. I'm too tired. I know I won't be back next week."
But Branch, the romantic vendor, was smiling when he left with his tickets.
"I didn't sleep a wink," he said. "But my wife is worth it."