The first woman who saw my sign almost spoiled the entire bit.
So there I was, outside FedEx Field, offering to trade a candy bar for a Redskins ticket, hoping to demonstrate (in a mildly amusing fashion) just how low ticket demand was for Sunday’s Redskins-Cardinals game, because we could all use a bit of amusement in our lives about now. Haha. Ha. My initial plan was to trade lukewarm Papa John’s pizza for tickets, but I wasn’t in the mood to find lukewarm Papa John’s pizza at 10 a.m. on a Sunday, so on my way to FedEx Field I stopped at a CVS and bought four candy bars, plus a few less appealing snacks: Necco Wafers, a cheese stick, some raisin boxes and a box of Cheerios. I also grabbed some poster board, and when I got to FedEx Field, I created my beautiful sign: “Will Trade CANDY For a Ticket.”
This was about 11:30 a.m. I turned around, took perhaps a dozen steps, and then Nona Alexander said she would give me a ticket. But she didn’t want any candy.
“Only because I’m vegan,” she explained. “If it was vegan candy, I would say yes.”
Alexander’s daughter, a Patriots fan, had bailed on this meaningless game, so Alexander promised that her son would give me the unclaimed club-level ticket, which the family had purchased for $50. It was 11:31 a.m. And I still had a bag full of candy.
Within a few seconds, though, I unloaded a Snickers bar, receiving in return a standing-room-only ticket, which had cost Dale Armstrong about $10 on StubHub, including fees.
“Who wants to come to this game?” he asked, when I wondered why he had an extra. “We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for this joker,” he said, pointing to a friend who roots for the Cardinals.
I posted a quick Twitter update about my progress, and then heard someone calling out “Candy Man!” This was Steve Duke, a Richmond Redskins fan who had bought three obstructed-view lower-level tickets on Craigslist for $45. The seller threw in three extra tickets for free. Duke traded me one of them for a king-size Twix. And he wasn’t worried about the seat having an obstructed view.
“We’ll be 50-yard line, front row by the second quarter,” he joked.
A couple minutes later, I ran into the Faunce family from southern Maryland. They have lower-level season tickets, but some last-minute cancellations meant they also had extras. They thought maybe they’d sell ’em to scalpers, but they hadn’t seen a single scalper walk by.
“There’s no point in getting 8 or 10 bucks,” Henry Faunce IV said. “We pay eight grand a year for tickets and parking, and we can’t even sell a ticket for 20 bucks.”
So we consummated another deal: my last Snickers bar for one of their tickets in section 114, with a face value of $135.30. This felt like an uneven transaction. On the other hand, “I’m a Snickers guy,” patriarch Henry Faunce III said. “Love Snickers.”
Okay, I know some fans (and team employees) think this whole line of inquiry is stale, and maybe it is. Maybe you’d rather read another story about Anthony Lanier II’s breakout game, or about Washington’s nightmarish special teams, or about its quarterback. Maybe you think I should just write about the catch rule.
Meanwhile, the beloved genre of “empty-stadium pics” has recently been weaponized for political purposes, with some arguing that photographs of half-empty stadiums in December are evidence that fans are following the president’s lead and turning on the NFL. And at the same time, some defensive Redskins fans might argue that FedEx Field was surprisingly full and boisterous on Sunday, considering the stakes (none) and opponent (woof) and pregame hype (burp), and that there is no larger meaning here.
So you can pluck whatever moral you’d like out of my morning stroll through the parking lot. Honestly, my biggest takeaway was this: There might not be a better bargain in sports than a late-season NFL game in Landover between two out-of-it teams. The commute was glorious; I encountered more traffic on my way to “An American in Paris” at the Kennedy Center on Saturday night. The cell service was boisterous, presumably due to fewer customers. You had your pick of seats, at least in the upper level. People were friendly. The product was still professional football. And you could get in the door using only Necco Wafers and string cheese.
(I actually made that deal with Ryan Lugo and Tommy Herbert around 12:30 p.m., because I wanted to unload the rest of my snacks. They had bought nine standing-room tickets for about $85, and needed to use just eight. Supply met demand, and the demand was processed cheese. “I hate raisins,” Lugo said, when I tried to convince him to make it a three-for-one trade, but Herbert said he would take them.)
If it seems like I’m making fun of Redskins fans, that’s not the intent. They’ve been through so much over 25 years; that so many fans remain is nothing but a credit to their faith and loyalty. And if it seems like I’m making fun of the team, that’s sure not the intent, either. I like this team. Their long snapper came up with his own charity campaign to help school kids get clean clothes. Their defensive leader is a pescatarian. Their quarterback is a Lord of the Rings-loving nerd. Their coach remains endearingly unpretentious and open. After two straight blowouts, they offered a creditable performance Sunday that was ugly but effective, and then they said pleasing-sounding things.
“I’ve heard guys around the league say football’s not my life. Well, when I’m playing football right now, it is my life,” Junior Galette said. “The amount of hours, the time that you put in with football; you know, I’m around these guys more than my family. So yeah, it is my life, and I’m going to feed my family off this. God blessed us with this opportunity, so you’ve got to take advantage of it. Every game counts, and at the end of the season they go down and sit and watch their film and say hey, did this guy tank it or not? Is he really a guy that loves football? And I believe that most of the guys in here, if not all, love football.”
Across the locker room, Josh Norman told reporters how he had a surprise family get-together last week in honor of his 30th birthday. He enjoyed it.
“I apologize to my family, but this win means more to me than that. It does, man,” Norman said. “Who cares [if it had no playoff implications]? When you suit up and put your pads on, you step on that field, it doesn’t matter. You’re playing for pride, you’re playing for dignity, for character and honor, and you’ve got to have that in yourself, in your morals, in your core, to win. I don’t care if we’re one and 15 or friggin’ 12 and . Whatever. It don’t matter.”
It’s the only acceptable thing to say, and it’s a message that works only if the scoreboard cooperates, and on this day, it did. Meanwhile, I wound up trading my CVS snacks for a total of six tickets, including one from Davis DeFore, who was really more interested in The Washington Post mentioning his moving company, D1 Moving, than in the offer of a free Twix bar, which he also accepted.
Some of my trading partners, to be fair, sort of recognized me, and I can’t promise that didn’t improve my leverage. There were a lot of laughs, and a lot of stares, and a lot of complaints about my bringing raisins. And yes, just to make sure, I tried to use the $135.30 ticket to enter the stadium. It worked.
For all the laughs — and for all the fans insisting there’s nothing strange about non-existent demand for this game, in this month, between these teams — there’s still something a tiny bit sad about all of this. The Redskins and their fans constitute a sprawling family, one that used to be a bit larger and happier. It’s still sprawling. There is still happiness. But every couple years, a few distant cousins or nieces fall out of touch, and the happiness seems a bit less carefree.
After the game was over and the parking lots mostly cleared out, I stopped by one last tailgate. My hosts were Anthony Moye and Bill Phillips, season ticket holders both, who come for the tailgate as much as for the football.
“The thing that I hate is that we’re paying $350 per seat for season tickets, and then you see people getting tickets online for $25,” Phillips said, still innocent of my Necco Wafers stunt.
“And that’s the nature of the beast, I understand it, they can’t control that,” Moye said. “But at the same time, at least you can offer a better product. … Last week when the tickets were going for $30, $7 and so forth, the same week they sent me an email to extend my contract. So I’m like, are you kidding me?”
He has complained about things like this in the past; the team has responded by sending him a free jersey in a size that doesn’t fit.
There are so many things that led to this: the changing nature of sports fandom, the years of Redskins losing, Washington’s woeful stadium situation, larger frustrations with pro football, the very specific nature of this game. But your season ticket holders shouldn’t be willing to barter their $135.30 tickets for a candy bar.
Anyhow, when I got back to my car, I realized I hadn’t traded the box of Cheerios for anything. Luckily, there’s another game next week.
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