Coach Joe Gibbs saw dozens of fans at Redskins Park when he arrived around 5 a.m., and a line started to form around 6. By the time Gibbs addressed spectators at 3:20 p.m., the facility was a sea of burgundy-and-gold-clad spectators estimated at close to 20,000. Attendance at fan appreciation day yesterday dwarfed the surprising crowd of several thousand that filled Redskins Park last Saturday for Gibbs's first training camp practice in 12 years.
Yesterday, the numbers became so high that starting at 2:30 p.m., cars approaching the facility were turned away because the parking areas reached full capacity.
At 3:05 p.m., fans chanted "We Want Joe. We Want Joe," after being entertained by the Redskins Marching Band. When Gibbs obliged at 3:19 p.m., spectators roared in approval. As Gibbs started speaking, spectators interrupted, chanting: "We want Dallas. We want Dallas."
When the chant died down, a smiling Gibbs said, "We don't play them for a while." (Washington's third regular season game is against the Cowboys on Sept. 27, a Monday night game at FedEx Field.) Gibbs added, "That's going to be a real challenge for us."
Speaking to fans through a microphone, Gibbs warned that the two-hour practice wouldn't be "particularly exciting" because the Redskins were trying to simulate schemes expected from the Denver Broncos in tomorrow's game in Canton, Ohio. The teams kick off the NFL exhibition season in the Hall of Fame Game at 8 p.m. on ABC.
After warmups yesterday, spectators watched a 20-minute session by the special teams -- "We think we're going to have an excellent special-team group," Gibbs told fans -- 24 Denver-simulated plays against the Redskins defense and 24 plays against the offense.
"You guys have been great," Gibbs said in a three-minute speech. "For the last few weeks we've had tremendous crowds. Sometimes it's been burning hot. Thank goodness today, we've got a great day. The days out here you guys were 20 deep, and I looked out there and I was afraid we were going to lose some of the fans. We appreciate very much all your support.
"We know we have the best fans in the world."
Those fans boisterously cheered in approval.
However, the day didn't end without disappointment and frustration for several spectators. Some fans said that they didn't appreciate an almost three-hour lull in activity in the morning. A special teams walk-through was scheduled from 10 to 10:30 a.m., and an offense/defense walk-through from 11:30 to noon. But the second walk-through was replaced by a team meeting.
The Redskins cheerleaders had an autograph session and performances scheduled beginning at noon, but those activities didn't occur until after 1:30 p.m. When the crowd grew noticeably restless, linebacker LaVar Arrington came out for an impromptu speech. Right tackle Jon Jansen and wideout Darnerien McCants signed autographs.
"It was frustrating because I was here at four in the morning," said Tony Rojas, 15. "I was one of the first ones. The fans expected more, and the first appearance by any Redskins player was around 1."
The itinerary was posted in advance on www.redskins.com, the team's Web site, saying that parking lots and gates would open at 8 a.m. It listed the two walk-throughs, but said activities wouldn't start until noon. (The gates opened early partly to avoid spectators arriving at the same time.)
"We feel for the fans," Redskins spokeswoman Michelle Tessier said. "We really appreciate everyone coming out so early, and we hope they enjoyed themselves once things got going."
After the parking lots were filled, electronic signs along the highway a few miles from the training facility warned drivers that there was no longer room. Fans who didn't see the signs or ignored them were redirected to park elsewhere after arriving near the facility.
Shortly before the 3:30 practice, more than a thousands fans lined up on the artificial turf field to await an autograph session after the workout. After practice, the lull seemed like a distant memory as spectators interacted with Gibbs and his players for 45 minutes.
A Confirmed Interest
Gibbs confirmed the revelation Friday that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones consulted him about hiring a new coach following the 1997 season and felt out Gibbs about coaching Dallas. The two spoke after Barry Switzer departed and before Chan Gailey was hired. Jones never formally offered Gibbs the job but admitted being interested in Gibbs.
"When he called me, the best I remember about that, he was seeking advice. How a head coach relates to other people in the organization, what he looks for and all that," Gibbs said. "I don't think that could ever work. I don't think that [an offer] came around. I told him, 'Basically I get sick when I see blue.' "
Gibbs added: "I got great respect for him. I think he's a very bright guy."
Middle linebacker Mike Barrow, in street clothes, didn't practice yesterday after being pulled from Friday's morning session because of tendinitis in his left knee.
However, Arrington (bruised shin) and tailback Clinton Portis (groin pull), did practice after missing both sessions on Friday.
Portis intends to play against his former team tomorrow; Barrow isn't expected to play.