Tickets to this Sunday's NFC championship game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Washington Redskins were not a product of power, influence or inheritance yesterday. All you had to do was stand in line. For about 4 1/2 hours. In the cold. With a bunch of Redskins fanatics.
They started digging in outside the Redskins' box office at RFK Stadium as early as 12:30 Sunday afternoon. Yes, the first person to purchase tickets yesterday at noon -- John Shepherd, 19, of Arlington -- said he had planted himself under the ticket windows just in time to watch the opening kickoff of the Redskins' 21-17 NFC semifinal playoff victory over the Chicago Bears on his portable television.
At about the same time Sunday, Butch Phenicie of Beltsville also was settling in for the opening kickoff. At Soldier Field. Thus, his arrival at RFK was delayed until 11 o'clock yesterday morning -- hey, even when you have four friends helping you with the driving, Beltsville to Chicago and back takes time. But, at 3:30 yesterday afternoon, he, too, walked away with two tickets.
About 1,000 people yesterday bought the maximum two tickets to this Sunday's game. Most of those who did so paid $35 or $40 per ticket and will be sitting next to someone they know. Some will be sitting in front of their television sets, with an extra $120-$130 in their pockets. All were the beneficiaries of season-ticket holders who chose not to exercise their option to purchase the same number of tickets they had for the regular season.
The Redskins announced yesterday that any season-ticket holders who ordered, and paid for, playoff tickets before the Dec. 17 deadline and have not received their tickets in the mail can call the team's ticket office at 546-2222 to make arrangements to pick up their tickets.
Others interested in obtaining tickets can contact a local ticket broker -- although, a Redskins spokesman said last night that selling tickets for a price greater than face value is illegal.
Several brokers had representatives out in full force yesterday. One did its business the easy way, sending an employee to pick up the 200 tickets to which it was entitled through season-ticket ownership. The unaccompanied employee asked for, and received, a manila envelope in which he quickly stashed the booty, face-valued at "about 12 grand," he said.
Others did business the old-fashioned way, forming -- in full view of police -- a welcoming line of $100 bills and sales pitches customers could not avoid after leaving the ticket windows. (One of these gentlemen departed yesterday afternoon with a fist full of tickets he said he expected to sell for "25 to 50 bucks more than what I paid for them.")
Overall, the crowd was orderly. There were no major incidents, police said. However, opinions about whether it all had been worth it seemed divided -- depending on what time you joined the line.
"Absolutely," said Jeff Russell, a lawyer from Silver Spring, who said he was a veteran of three public sales of Redskins playoff tickets and arrived at 11 a.m. "This is the fourth time I've done this and I'm four for four."
"It was a nightmare," said Everett Higgins, a Northwest Washington resident, who said he had been waiting since 1 a.m. "Never again."