I bought a ticket for $10 to Sunday’s Redskins game. The negotiation lasted perhaps 15 seconds.
“Twenty,” the man said. “Nahhhh,” I countered.
“C’mon, $20,” he said. “Nah, I really want to pay $10,” I said.
The man handed me a ticket.
I don’t usually leave my home on Redskins Sundays, but I had an inkling this Sunday at FedEx Field would be different. Unforgettable. I kind of wanted to see what that looked and sounded like.
In the end, this is what it looked and sounded like. A man behind me booing every single play, no matter the result. A man in front of me telling his seat neighbors that he would see them next season; that he wouldn’t be returning for the final three home games. A small but loud group of fans chanting “We Want Colt” — they seemed to be in one lower-level end zone, and we could hear them at the 50-yard line in the 400-level. Random bursts of profanity, sad verbal blows that glanced off a disinterested world. Empty seats in every direction. And a cold drizzle as fans paraded toward the exits.
With about 10 minutes left, the Redskins honored the “Tostitos Crunch of the Game,” an honor bestowed on the game’s best defensive stop. It was something or other that Ryan Kerrigan did. In the first quarter.
With about six minutes left, one guy in my section went on a rant.
“They’re a terrible team,” he said, possibly to no one. “I mean, if Haslett has a job tomorrow….I don’t understand.”
With about two minutes left, a different fan — possibly the boo bird — shouted out “You suck, Redskins, you suck!”
“Fire Jim Haslett!” someone else growled.
But this mostly wasn’t anger. It was something different. Something sadder.
“It’s been the longest 22 years of my life,” a downcast Kelly Smith of Sterling told me after it was all over.
Kelly Smith, it’s worth noting, is 22 years old.
“I don’t want to be so negative,” she said, and she ticked off a couple of potential reasons for hope. But she wasn’t fooling herself.
“They suck,” she finally said. “They really do. I hate that I love them.”
I can't stop vining this guy booing https://t.co/b35jiiHHDh
— Dan Steinberg (@dcsportsbog) November 16, 2014
@dcsportsbog hope you got some good quotes. To me, the vibe was of apathy far more than anger, which is the worst testimony of all
— J.J. (@johnjosephmckay) November 17, 2014
The thing about that crowd reaction was that you could feel it coming, could feel it building for weeks. It wasn’t straight fire, not like the old Vinny Cerrato days. It was a lot of resignation, indifference, black humor. It was an expectation that awful things would happen, without any expectation that better times were on the way. It’s not that 2012 feels like a long time ago; it feels improbable, impossible, a dispatch from an alien galaxy.
After making my way past the vendors hawking $5 beers and $3 Jell-O shots outside the stadium, I bought my ticket around 12:45. Then I got caught up in a massive security backlog at the gate. The flyover, the National Anthem, the drunk guys yelling “Stranger Danger!!” at little kids, the loud jokes about certain anatomical parts — all this happened while we were waiting to get in.
I missed the opening kickoff, too, but arrived at a concourse television in time for Washington’s first play from scrimmage. It was an interception. There was literally no response from the hundreds of people around me. Not even a groan. Maybe they didn’t notice. Maybe they didn’t care.
Then I set off for the 400-level, past the sign-up table for Redskins premium tickets, past the sign-up table for the Redskins military appreciation club, past the sign-up table for the Redskins women’s club, past the sign-up table for the Redskins Visa card. Before I even made it to the ramp, I saw the guys in the Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito Dolphins jerseys.
“We’re good friends now,” Johnny Pickett, a.k.a. Incognito, told me.
“We squashed the beef,” Bill Samson, a.k.a. Martin, added.
“We’re here to show everybody it’s about friendship,” Pickett said. “The NFL isn’t a bad league. Do something wrong, you deserve a second chance.”
But we couldn’t really finish the interview, because then came the guys in the “Hail to the Racists” and “RG3 has Ebola” T-shirts.
“We just don’t like the Redskins,” explained Shawn C., a Steelers fan, in the Ebola shirt.
“I hate Schneider because he’s a racist,” said Sean B., a 49ers fan.
I don’t know. What do you ask? What do you say? They had the T-shirts made themselves. Why?
“We hate the Redskins that much,” Shawn C. said.
Sure, there are people in novelty get-ups at every sporting event in the world. But this felt emblematic somehow — thousands staying at home, hundreds unable to get into the game on time, hundreds more oblivious to the start of a disastrous day, and four non-fans roaming the concourse, belly-flopping over the boundaries of good taste, for no particular reason other than dislike for the home team.
By now it was about 1:20, and the fans were still bunched at the gates. Once upstairs, I had my pick of seats, in any section I approached. Sure, the crowd filled in by the second quarter. But I visited about eight different sections over the course of the game, and each time, I nabbed an aisle seat within moments of my arrival. It felt like the bad old Caps days at Verizon Center, where your seat number might as well have been a Sanskrit proverb. Just sit wherever you want. Who’s going to object?
It was the sort of game filled with random profanity; one guy emerged with a Johnny Rockets chicken meal, saw the Redskins immediately give up a touchdown, and belted out a single, anguished curse.
It was also the sort of game filled with cynicism; “Nice read Robert, good read buddy!” someone shouted out when Griffin gave the ball to Alfred Morris for a one-yard gain on an option play. “Throw the ball!!!!! It’s so simple!!!!!!” someone else called out after a sack.
Near the end of the first half I bought a 16 oz. Bud Light for $9.50 — with tip, it cost
the same as more than my ticket — and listened to people argue that the game wasn’t over.
“We’ve still got a chance, we’ve still got a chance,” someone called out. “They’re the worst team in the league. We’ve still got a chance.”
But as the Buccaneers poured on the points in the second half, that all changed. After one touchdown, a guy in my row pushed past me and headed for the exit before Tampa Bay could even line up for the extra point. After another, hundreds bounced up and departed, a gray cloud of shame and regret descending on those of us who remained. This is what the end zones looked like with three minutes left.
With two minutes remaining, a cold rain began to fall. “Give us a touchdown, something to leave on,” one sad soul cried. “We want Rex Grossman!” someone else called out. “The only yards we gain are on penalties,” someone quipped. “Hand it off, take a [bleeping] knee,” a man yelled, as the Redskins mounted one last unsightly drive toward nowhere.
“The Redskins would like to thank the best fans in the NFL,” the PA announcer said at the final whistle, after the boos subsided. Then he reminded everyone to listen to Redskins Radio on the way home, and also to go rock out at one of the post-game parties held in some sponsored nook of the stadium. I joined the people walking out.
“It’s very frustrating,” Danny Glazer of Rockville said. “They don’t seem to be going at all in the right direction.”
“I would say verging on hopelessness,” Todd Glazer added.
“Dejected, disgusted,” said Donald Coleman of Clinton.
“Awful: just one word,” said Kevin Hiller of Baltimore.
“Do you print expletives?” asked Susan Weldon.
“That game sucked,” said Scott Beck of Arlington.
Sure, there were some who were sunnier. One fan, Jake Jacobs of Richmond, told me he’ll never boo his team. “I cheer for them no matter what, I’m gonna root for them no matter what,” he said.
He sees this all as growing pains, as the forgettable beginning of what will become a Jay Gruden success story. But even Jacobs understands some of the angst.
“I know Redskins fans, a lot of them have run out of patience,” he said. “I understand that. Sooner or later, you wonder is it ever gonna happen?”
Around 4:45, I headed toward Metro. Go-go played in the parking lot. Someone started shooting off fireworks. A few kids tossed footballs. I saw one drunk lady fall over so hard her glasses fell off. I saw a moving car with a gentleman vomiting out of the back seat. After a glorious NFL win, such moments probably don’t register. On Sunday, though, they felt of a piece with everything that had gone before: the cursing, the Ebola T-shirt, the empty seats, the boos. It was bread and circuses, but the bread was moldy and the circus clowns had run away.
As I headed past the last bank of port-a-potties on the stadium access road, a group of about seven guys stopped me. Some were German, some were from the Caribbean, some were from New York. I didn’t exactly get the full story, nor did I understand why they wanted me to take their photo in front of a bank of port-a-potties.
But they asked me to take their photo, and so I did. I gave them the old 1-2-3 count, and then one of the guys shouted out a toast.
“To bad football!” he said.