The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Redskins fan angst spreads to clown costumes, bar funerals and Christmas displays

(By Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

These are the things that happen when the Redskins are careening toward a second straight disastrous record and their worst back-to-back campaigns since the 1960s.

* A group of ex-pat fans in London attempt to organize a mass demonstration of fans wearing clown costumes for Saturday’s home game.

* A lifelong Redskins fan prints “Dan Must Go” bumper stickers to give to his friends and sell to anyone who wants one.

* A D.C. sports bar run by D.C. sports fans plans a “Washington Wake” for Saturday afternoon, where free “Im-peach Snyder” shots will be given out after every Philadelphia touchdown.

* A lifelong Redskins fan and his sons create a Redskins-themed Christmas display outside their Silver Spring home, with one of the presents reading “New Owner.”

The state of Redskins Nation, in other words, is poor, and getting worse.

Let’s start with the clowns.

“The way we see it, the circus came to town, and we’re just trying to make the stands appropriately festive for that atmosphere,” said Teddy Kott, a 34-year old who was raised in Chevy Chase and now lives in London. “Look, people put paper bags on their heads. That seems infinitely less comfortable than just putting on a clown wig and a clown nose. You can’t even see what you’re protesting if you’ve got a paper bag on your head. This is fun, and it’s family friendly.”

Kott conceived of this idea with a pair of Redskins fans he met in London. (See their Facebook page here.) They were shocked at the sandwich-priced Redskins tickets they saw for the Buccaneers and Rams games, and figured this provided an opening for a fan statement. They would fund a ticket-buying operation before the Eagles game, with the stipulation that anyone who accepted a free ticket would agree to dress as a clown, to highlight the franchise’s mismanagement.

Of course, problems developed. Ticket prices for the Eagles game were far higher, likely due to Philly fans who want to watch their winning team. Plus, the trio’s friends — even friends who had initially agreed to participate — began expressing doubts. Fans, Kott said, are falling “into the abyss of apathy that I think we’re all staring into.”

“We can’t even give tickets away; the apathy is that terrible,” Kott told me. “A few people we thought we’d be able to get to go the game are saying yeah, we’re not going to waste our day.”

Still, Kott and friends have several commitments from adults, children and dogs who plan to dress as clowns, and they’re trying to recruit more via social media. They are still willing to fund a few tickets for available clowns, and they’d like other attendees to participate on their own, even drawing clown faces on paper bags if necessary. While a few dozen clown costumes might not change minds, Kott wants to prove that “despite all of this, the fans aren’t apathetic; they care enough to voice their opinions and to do so in a way that highlights the way the team has been run, because it’s embarrassing.”

Which brings me to Joe Marks, a 57-year old season ticket holder from Silver Spring. Like Kott, Marks is encountering apathy everywhere he turns. His typical pre-game tailgates used to attract 14 or 16 guys; those numbers have been halved, or worse. For the Rams game, he went by himself.

“I made a hamburger for one,” Marks told me, in the saddest tailgating story of all time. “I was like what the hell, I’m used to doing it.”

All his friends who have season tickets plan to cancel. His cousin — with whom he shares four seats — plans to bail. And so when Marks and his sons set up their massive Redskins-themed Christmas display — which includes a snowman in a Ladell Betts jersey — they included three large “presents”: Beat Philly, Beat Dallas, and New Owner. The stunt got traction when 106.7 The Fan’s Brian McNally spotted the house and posted a photograph on Twitter.

“It’s not so much that we suck, it’s that there’s no master plan,” Marks said. “It’s like we’re just waddling around. There’s no plan, no nothing. The joke we have is our best season is coming up in two weeks — the offseason.”

These feelings would resonate with Rick Neumann, a 62-year old from Bethesda who inherited season tickets from his father George, once the president of D.C.’s Touchdown Club. George Neumann had season tickets starting in 1961, when D.C. Stadium opened; his son finally gave them up in 2007, and hasn’t been to a game since witnessing a bloody fight during the 2012 playoffs.

This season, though, has brought new levels of indignity and shame.

“It’s become comedy,” Neumann told me. “It’s so sad, it’s so unwatchable, but you can’t take your eyes off them. I know that sounds trite and corny, but it’s exactly the way many of us old-timers feel. There are many many people — and these were the most loyal fans in sports, ever — who have had it.”

Neumann thus spent a couple hundred bucks printing up “Dan Must Go” bumper stickers, which he’s offering to friends and strangers. Anything he makes above cost, he’ll donate to Lionfish University, the non-profit dedicated to eradicating the invasive sea creatures that are destroying ocean reefs. No, there’s no hidden metaphor there.

“I don’t want to be piling on, but this is the time to pile on if we’re ever going to get anything done,” Neumann said. “I’ve come to the conclusion that you can change the coach, the players and possibly even the general manager, and the culture will not change without Dan Snyder owning up and saying I want to give fans some glimmer of hope for the future, and I’m going to sell the team.”

If I’m being honest, that seems an unlikely proposition. In the meantime, there’s always booze. Which brings us to the “Washington Wake” scheduled for Saturday afternoon at Lou’s City Bar in Columbia Heights. The bar is staffed by Redskins fans, and they’ve had D.C. pep rallies in the past: Redskins pre-game radio shows, Caps-themed shooters, and so on.

In recent weeks, though, the Sunday crowd has suffered as the team has devolved into farce. And when general manager Joe Capone and director of operations John Groth saw Saturday’s Eagles-Redskins game on the schedule, they figured they should try something different.

“We thought it was a good way to — I wouldn’t say celebrate the season — but look back in disgust, I suppose,” said Groth, another Redskins season ticket holder. “I hope the Eagles don’t score very much and that we win. But hope is running out.”

The bar is encouraging Redskins fans to wear black attire to Saturday’s event. Every Eagles touchdown will yield free “Im-peach Snyder” shots, which will be Fuzzy Navels. If the Eagles win, the bar won’t show the Redskins-Cowboys finale, out of respect for the fallen. Groth said he doesn’t think that would impact business much, because hardly any Redskins fans are showing up anyhow.

All of these efforts, of course, are led by Redskins fans, people who want the team to succeed, who don’t relish this season of misery. All of them would agree with Kott, who would rather not be organizing clown protests from London.

“The ideal scenario is the team turns it around and starts playing good football,” he said. “But given the drama, from the perspective of a fan, it’s hard to believe we’re going to see good football any time in the near future.”