What do you do when the St. Louis Cardinals, in those great uniforms with the best record in Major League Baseball, are playing the Nationals at RFK Stadium and six miles or so up the road in Landover the Redskins are hosting the Steelers at FedEx Field?
Greg Watson knew what to do. He went to both games.
Ran into him as he was leaving the Morgan Boulevard station Friday night on Metro's Blue Line at the start of the second half, walking toward the huge spaceship-like football stadium. He was with several friends and they'd just seen the Nats defeat the Cardinals, 4-1, before 37,885 fans to keep pace with their National League wild-card playoff rivals.
Now Watson and the guys were headed for the lights, sounds and action of an NFL preseason game involving a Joe Gibbs team as desperate for a victory as the banged-up gang of gritty characters down the road.
For sure, the contrast in moods at both stadiums was significant. "Look at that," marveled Jerry Walter, a lifelong Washingtonian, former Senators fan and the Nats' clubhouse assistant. He was pointing at fans filing into the stadium on a perfect summer night, Albert Pujols hitting towering shots over the fence in batting practice, Cards Manager Tony La Russa holding court. It's almost September, and a Washington baseball team was in the playoff hunt. "Can you believe this, after all these years, they're really here and we're looking at what we're looking at? I can't," Walter said, barely able to remain in his own skin.
Nats General Manager Jim Bowden, trying to stitch together a team for Manager Frank Robinson over the last month, also surveyed the scene, called the area's response to the team "phenomenal" -- adding with a sense of satisfaction, "We're still in it." Nats fans Lynnette Spira and Ava Fuller said they also go to Redskins games, but on this night, Spira said, it was baseball. "I grew up with the Senators at Griffith Stadium and tonight I'm here."
In Landover, the tone was more serious: Steelers fans pumped for a run at the Super Bowl, Redskins fans in game faces that suggested a victory by the home team was a necessity after two dismal preseason losses and expecting a respectable performance from quarterback Patrick Ramsey. Redskins fans got their wish, a 17-10 victory, with Ramsey -- overcoming a bad interception resulting in Pittsburgh's only touchdown -- passing for 141 yards and completing 12 of 19, including with a late second-quarter touchdown pass to Chris Cooley. Mark Brunell directed the winning drive in the third quarter, but Ramsey's job appears safe, for now.
Steve Guss, a Redskins season ticket holder since 1948, observed, "I didn't like that interception, but it's preseason." Added Ronnie Green of Adelphi, "It's better than last week, but you've got to score more than 20 points occasionally."
The fun for me was the buzz from the crowd of 73,987 generated by LaVar's return to action late in the first half. When he put on his helmet, you heard a murmur; when he stepped on the field it was a roar that kept getting louder until he whacked someone in a Steelers jersey. LaVar is a star. I like stars. I hope he's happy.
Jamey Carroll plays all the infield positions for the Nats, gets clutch hits and understands the Redskins' enormous appeal here. "They told me when the Redskins started up, we'd be nonexistent," Carroll said. "But we're not. We're in the middle of a playoff race and the Cardinals are in town."
A Rivalry Reborn
The distance between the University of Maryland in College Park and the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis is about 30 miles, which makes Saturday night's football game at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium between the Terrapins and Midshipmen a neighborhood competition worth our attention.
We know it took 40 years for the suits who run the athletic departments of these fine institutions to come to the realization that a few boys misbehaving badly more than 40 years ago should not forever impede the resumption of a football rivalry that began in 1897.
It should be noted that since that time, Maryland and Navy have met 19 times, with Navy winning 14 of the games. Most of the games ended peacefully, with the exception being the "Fishman gone wild" affair in '64, which seemed to get administrators on both sides of Route 50 believing if they ever played a football game again the movie "Gangs of New York" would be tame in comparison. The teams did play in 1965, but have not met since.
"I got together with [Maryland Athletic Director] Debbie Yow and we both viewed this as a great opportunity to bury the hatchet," said Navy Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk.
I wondered what hatchet Gladchuk was talking about, before remembering grown-ups who run sports for young men see hatchets when the young men who play the games do not.
That said, give Gladchuk and Yow credit for making the game, because, as Gladchuk said: "It makes sense. We envisioned a lot of fan interest in the game, a full house and television. All that has happened."
Yow was more direct, saying "Our fans wanted the game."
Maryland's coach, Ralph Friedgen, was a freshman in College Park in 1965, the last time the teams played. "This is good for the state," he said. "It could be a great rivalry and a tremendous experience for both teams."
Navy's successful fourth-year coach, Paul Johnson, was less enthusiastic than Friedgen about the resumption of the series. "Our rivals are Army and Air Force," he said. "Playing Maryland is a challenge and hopefully it will be an exciting game."
We know who is keeping his emotions in check for this game, don't we?
Pepper Rodgers, retired Redskins' vice president of football operations and former head coach at Kansas, Georgia Tech and UCLA, says of his three UCLA games against crosstown rival Southern California: "They were wonderful games; both teams played their games in the same stadium, had brothers playing against brothers. One time, in 1973, we played USC for the city, conference and national championships. We lost, and it was my fault. I started the wrong fullback."
On future Navy-Maryland football games, Gladchuk said: "I'm a positive thinker. We'll let this game play out and evaluate."
Yow said, "We'll talk" about future games.
And Friedgen promised, "We'll be on our best behavior," giving hope to small children, Maryland State Police and for Jerry Fishman, 61, retired in Boca: absolution.
Touching the Bases
* MLB President Robert A. DuPuy said this week he hopes to name an owner for the Nats by Labor Day, choosing among eight bidders, with an asking price of more than $400 million. By Labor Day?
* Virginia Tech football coach Frank Beamer to get a new contract at $2 million a year? Virginia's Al Groh at $1.7 million. Ralph at $1.5 million from U-Md. That's a lot of money, more than they pay adjunct journalism professors.
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