Finding a skeptic inside a sports bar isn’t an easy thing to do. The fanatical nature of such places almost precludes it, but a man who identifies himself as Gray-eyed Tony sat at the bar inside The Players Lounge on Sunday afternoon and boasted he isn’t sure yet about the star quality of Robert Griffin III.
“And that’s not just because I’m a Cowboys fan,” said Tony, a part-time bartender at the bar and restaurant, while chewing on a toothpick and wearing a Tony Dorsett jersey. “That’s just football. You can’t say he’s going to be the man just because of one game.”
After a week when RGIII was named the league’s Offensive Player of the Week and billed by football guru John Madden as the best player in the NFL, Redskins fans around the region were understandably giddy.
But at The Players Lounge, where Redskins fans from Southeast Washington come every week during football season to revel in the weekly trials and tribulations of their team, fans rode an emotional roller coaster as they watched the rookie fall short for the first time this season. And they had to hear it from the naysayers, who all week have told ’Skins fans to ease off the high expectations for young Griffin. The rookie threw his first interception and failed to convert on some opportunities that could have won or tied the game in the last part of the fourth quarter.
Indeed, Sunday wasn’t just one game, but the second game of what many fans hope will be the start of a legendary career. So each success and failure takes on larger-than-life significance. Sunday, Griffin had mixed results. He threw for 206 yards and a touchdown and ran for two more scores, but didn’t display the same magic he did the week before against the Saints.
“You tried to do too much,” Terry Spears of Northwest D.C. said softly after Griffin threw the interception. It seemed like he was rebuking the big-screen television as if he were talking to Griffin face-to-face.
It was an entertaining game that featured four lead changes, and the action inside The Players Lounge reflected its intensity. Redskins fans shot verbal barbs at Cowboys fans, who often make the bar their go-to destination on Sundays as well.
When Griffin was sacked late in the first quarter and Gray-eyed Tony teased that the rookie sensation wasn’t yet ready for the rigors of the NFL, Players Lounge manager Angela Thompson-Hines called out his “want-to-be throwback Cowboys jersey”and threatened that she’d make him watch the rest of the game in a back room away from everyone else if he didn’t cut out the trash talk.
“I can’t get no breaks up in here,” Gray-eyed Tony said with a laugh. “They threw me out twice last week.”
The Players Lounge, otherwise known as Georgena’s, is in the 2700 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard SE. It’s a cheery spot in a hardscrabble section of Congress Heights that has been around for nearly 40 years. The regulars traffic in secrets — nearly everyone who spoke about Griffin for this story used an alias instead of his or her full name. But they are as open as the beer tap when it comes to hurling playful insults at one another. The 25 people huddled inside the bar talked like a family. No matter how often Redskins and Cowboys fans told each other where to go when they disagreed on calls, everyone was able to laugh together and no one seemed to take offense.
Tracey Butler screamed at the television when the Redskins led 14-3 at the end of the first quarter. But the bartender’s face turned somber as she watched the final seconds of the Redskins loss tick off. After the final horn sounded, she played “Hail to the Redskins” over the speaker system, turning a positive eye toward the Redskins’ home opener against the Cincinnati Bengals next Sunday.
“Win or lose, we still party,” Butler said with a smile. “The Redskins, we need something to hold onto. Some kind of hope.”
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