The Redskins don’t figure to break any attendance records at the final two home games of another playoff-less season, but one die-hard fan is making an effort to ensure the crowds in Landover on Sunday against the Cardinals and on Christmas Eve against the Broncos are a little less dreary than they otherwise might be.
Ted Abela, better known as “Tailgate Ted,” plans to be at both games. Hours before kickoff Sunday, the 38-year-old will live up to his nickname in the FedEx Field parking lot, serving dozens, if not hundreds, of fans a carefully crafted, themed menu of Sonoran-style cuisine as the executive chef of the Hail BBQ Crew. Some of his tailgate guests will be regulars; others will be dropping in for the first time. The more the merrier, especially this time of year.
After a few friends recently mentioned they wouldn’t be able to use their tickets for the Redskins’ home finale against the Broncos, Abela contacted Craig Steichen of Operation Warrior Wishes, a charity organization that honors veterans for their service by hosting them for one-of-a-kind experiences at sporting events. Abela, who met Steichen on Thanksgiving, when Steichen brought Marine Cpl. Scott Smith and his family by the Hail BBQ tailgate before the Redskins-Giants game, wanted to know whether Operation Warrior Wishes could use any free tickets.
“You often hear that people want to go to the game, but they can’t afford to,” Abela said. “I told him these tickets are free, come on out, we’ll feed you, and have a good time.”
Steichen, who has been traveling around the country with Operation Warrior Wishes for the past six years and hosted his 3,421st hero at Thursday’s Colts-Broncos game in Indianapolis, happily accepted Abela’s generous offer. Steichen will be at the Browns game in Cleveland on Sunday, but he has already arranged for about a dozen veterans he has previously hosted at Redskins games to attend the next two games at FedEx Field. Steichen said Ted’s tailgate stacks up well against any he’s attended.
“It’s nice to know that they can tailgate with a guy like Ted,” Steichen said. “It’s a nice built-in part of the experience, rather than just saying, ‘Here are some tickets; go to the game.’ ”
Abela put out a call for ticket donations for wounded veterans Monday, and the response was overwhelming. At least one person replied to say he’d already donated his tickets to another charity. By Wednesday, Abela had more people offering to donate tickets than Steichen could guarantee would be used.
“I’ve asked the people who donated if they’re okay with a family in the area using them, or someone from the Ronald McDonald House using them that is not a veteran,” Abela said. “No one has said no; they just don’t want them to go to waste.”
Tailgate Ted and the Hail BBQ Crew have been giving back to the community all year. They organized ticket donations during the preseason, collected several thousand pounds worth of supplies for the Capital Area Food Bank, held a winter coat and blanket drive for the homeless and recently fed 45 families at a local Ronald McDonald House. On Thanksgiving, they served about 150 first responders who were required to work the game.
Abela has missed exactly one home game since he became a season-ticket holder in 2001: On Christmas Eve in 2011, he was in Florida with his then-girlfriend and now wife, Erika, when the 5-9 Redskins hosted the 2-12 Vikings. (It’s probably for the best that Abela didn’t insist upon being among the 68,000-plus fans who watched Toby Gerhart rush for 109 yards after Adrian Peterson left the game with an injury in a 33-26 Minnesota win.)
“I listened to the game on the radio while we were doing Christmas stuff, but trust me, it was painful,” Abela said.
Sunday’s game against the Cardinals will be the Redskins’ first at home with no chance of qualifying for the playoffs since 2014. That season, Washington closed its home slate with games against the Eagles and Cowboys, NFC East rivals who attracted pretty good crowds. The Cardinals have a less than 1 percent chance of making the playoffs, and the Broncos have already been eliminated. Tickets on the secondary market for the next two games start as low as $5, and there figure to be more empty seats than usual.
“Nobody wants to see an empty stadium, whether it’s Dan [Snyder] or Bruce [Allen], the players, or the other fans that are there,” Abela said. “So, if you can find a home for [your tickets], for someone that is deserving and would be a good ambassador, if you will, as a fan inside that stadium, then maybe look to them. There are tons of people out there that I’m sure would love it.”
Despite enduring nine losing seasons and celebrating only four playoff appearances over the past 16 years, Abela has no plans to give up his season tickets. He is worried that his extended Redskins family will continue to shrink, and he’s determined to make the most of this year’s final two home games.
“Obviously it’s December; it’s cold and nasty outside,” he said. “But I feel that as a Redskins fan, it is kind of somewhat on our shoulders to make sure there are another crop of Redskins fans behind us to fill those seats and that stadium. Remember how much fun it was when you went to your first game? Forget the traffic and all the stuff people complain about. Just remember how much fun it was when you got to go to your first one. That’s how someone will feel when they finally get a chance to go.”
The Redskins have their own ticket donation program, Redskins Replay, which benefits youth-focused nonprofit organizations. For fans in the giving spirit, the team will be collecting unwrapped gifts at Sunday’s game for the Marine Corps Toys for Tots Foundation. Collection bins will be outside the stadium. Unwrapped gifts may also be dropped off at any Redskins team store location.
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