"I don't know what it is about football games, but the treatment I see people dishing out to others is ridiculous."
Abhinav Agrawal, Charlottesville
In response to Abhinav Agrawal and those readers of Joe Holley's front-page story in Monday's Washington Post chronicling excessive drinking and rowdy behavior at Washington Redskins home games at FedEx Field, I will borrow a line from Captain Renault, the prefect of police in "Casablanca," when he feigns discovery of prevalent illegal gambling at the nightspot Rick's: "I am shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here."
To which, I withhold astonishment at Holley's reporting of boorish, barroom, backyard, bullying behavior that has become all too common at FedEx Field -- as well as other NFL stadiums -- over the past decade as the game has become too often secondary to a daylong orgy of booze and barbeque.
It all begins at 9 a.m., when the gates open to the parking lots at FedEx Field and the trucks, vans, SUVs begin arriving, tents go up, grills are lit, the beer and Bloody Marys start flowing and the partygoers in team jerseys spread out like teenage toughs defending their beach territory.
Oh, for the civility and charm of a NASCAR race.
By the time the party heads for the stadium, too many of the participants seem ready for a fight, or at least a nap at home, instead of a game between two professional football teams. Invariably, some fans in home jerseys square off with opposing fans, with ushers and occasionally police, trying to restore order. It isn't pretty.
"The longer people have to drink and socialize, the more problems we anticipate," Prince George's police Lt. Terence Sheppard told The Post's Holley. Bob Warren, a Redskins season ticket holder for 40 years, said the game experience has changed over the years, telling Holley: "It's not the same friendly atmosphere it used to be. . . . The rowdiness and the language is definitely different."
In addition to too much drinking, there are other reasons why many fans believe their experience at FedEx Field is less enjoyable than what they remember at RFK Stadium. For starters, FedEx Field, the NFL's largest venue with nearly 92,000 seats, is almost twice as large as RFK (53,000). That not only makes for longer days, traffic-wise, but also disruptes many longtime ticket holders, who had gotten used to seat locations, seat neighbors and stadium routes.
Of course, nothing stays the same, and the club-like feel of RFK on Redskins Sundays is history. The owner of the Redskins for the last six years, Daniel Snyder, has turned the club into the most profitable pro sports franchise in the United States. But some of the club's strategies and game presentation have to be questioned, including the pregame fireworks, semi-hysterical boosterism from the P.A. announcer and scoreboard and encouragement from management and Coach Joe Gibbs who believe the so-called "12th man" could be the difference between winning and losing.
That theory, of course, is debatable, and attempts to get the team's response to these criticisms were unsuccessful. How one behaves at a sporting event is an individual decision. In my out-of-date view, fans at FedEx Field today might show some respect to fellow fans, the game and franchise (Sammy Baugh played here, you know) and feel satisfied -- win or lose -- knowing their favorite team is coached by a Hall of Famer and is made up of players mostly of character with the ability to play at the highest level. If that's not enough, maybe you should stay home.
Mark Tuohey, chairman of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, spent the weekend in New York. He said he saw the play "Doubt" but quickly added in a Friday telephone interview he has "no doubt" that the city and Major League Baseball will come to an agreement on a lease for a new stadium along the Anacostia River by 2008 "over the next week." That, Tuohey said optimistically, will result in MLB finally selling the Nationals.
Tomorrow, the D.C. Council will hold a hearing on the rising costs of the stadium that should result in lots of posturing from the Usual Suspects while my friend at Channel 4, Tom Sherwood, will in his most dire tones have dopes like me believing the Nationals are headed for the contraction heap with the Florida Marlins, with Fenty & Co. bidding "good riddance."
"No big deal," Tuohey said. "A hearing is a hearing."
Nationals President Tony Tavares said, referring to the city's agreement with MLB last year: "A deal is a deal. This stadium could be something special, but I hope it doesn't get ugly Monday."
Meanwhile, the Marlins -- whose efforts to get a new stadium in downtown Miami apparently has ended in failure -- began dumping players, a la the pre-lockout Capitals, for the second time in their 13-year history despite winning two World Series.
"I still think Atlanta and Philadelphia are the teams to beat in our division," Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden said of the Mets adding first baseman Carlos Delgado from the Marlins last week.
Bowden, who did a good job for the Nationals last season, says the uncertain ownership situation here, stadium lease, or his pursuit of the GM job in Boston are no impediments to his working for the Nats.
"I work for the Nationals every day," Bowden said. "I've taken 10 hours from the Nats to interview with the Red Sox. We need another starting pitcher and to upgrade the center field position so we can play Brad Wilkerson elsewhere."
Meanwhile, the Red Sox, without a GM, acquired Josh Beckett from the Marlins and Jaromir Jagr from the Rangers.
Touching the Bases
* Redskins broadcaster Sam Huff, a Hall of Famer from his linebacking days with the New York Giants and Redskins, had his No. 75 retired at West Virginia on Thursday night. The 71-year-old Huff wore number 70 in the pros; he and Jerry West are the only Mountaineers to have their numbers retired.
* Tough luck award to the Good Counsel football team and its coach, Bob Milloy. The Falcons lost to DeMatha, 21-20, in the WCAC title game last Sunday, after losing to the Stags, 22-21, in the regular season and 30-29 in last year's title game. "Can't catch a break," Milloy said. But a nod to Bill McGregor's Stags, who won the close games, and Dunbar Coach Craig Jefferies for defeating Coolidge, 43-14, for its seventh Turkey Bowl triumph in eight years.
* Big night: Washington's Alex Ovechkin went up against Pittsburgh rookie Sidney Crosby last Tuesday. Crosby got the best of it and the Penguins won, 5-4, but these two super rookies are the real deal. One of them plays here.
* Played in a 34th Turkey Bowl in Bethesda on Thursday. I caught two balls for 30 yards, but would have caught more if the QB was any good and my teammates appreciated me more and game organizers would think to get Brett Favre after he retires because he'd make me better.
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