They leaned against the retaining fence at one of FedEx Field’s highest points, sipping the last of the birthday beer.
Michael Fleck turned 30 on Friday, and two months ago, it seemed like a fine plan to bring two dozen of his friends to the stadium, tip a few, and maybe even witness a Washington Redskins victory. Maybe.
“I thought I could get a cheap ticket,” Fleck said toward the end of the third quarter of Sunday’s loss to the St. Louis Rams. “Seemed like a good idea.”
The plan was the plan, and his friends were happy to go wherever he wanted to go. Early in the season, Fleck began monitoring prices for standing-room-only tickets, the cheapest way to come to the party and stay for the show. He was paying for his friends’ admission, and so at $28 apiece, he waited.
Then Kirk Cousins took over as the team’s starting quarterback, promptly failed miserably and was benched, and prices plummeted. About a month ago, Fleck pulled the trigger: $13 for 25 tickets, he said, and the time, date and location of the party was set; only the result remained mostly unknown. He didn’t mind that, an hour before the game, prices had been slashed even more: StubHub listed standing-room seats for as low as $4.97 each.
The group watched Sunday as the Redskins lost again, shut out by the seven-loss Rams, Fleck insisting that he stopped tying his emotions to the team’s success long ago. And so he drank and laughed and said goodbye to friends who couldn’t take it anymore and left early.
“Half the people here don’t give a (rip) about who wins,” said Fleck, who still winced when Rams place-kicker Greg Zuerlein finally made a field goal in the third quarter, when rookie running back Tre Mason stretched for a first down, when Washington couldn’t get out of its own way yet again.
“Oh, God,” Fleck said, shaking his head.
This is the attitude around FedEx Field these days, when wins are an unlikely dream, when you must be happy enough to spend an autumn Sunday in the sun, have a few laughs, and go home with a story to tell.
Where Fleck was sitting, even the cheap seats were mostly empty. His group had space to spread out, only a smattering of the bleachers occupied. The team announced that 71,120 fans had paid to attend Sunday’s contest, but it was clear that most of those must’ve found better plans. A few standing-room ticket holders had been upgraded to seats on the club level, issued a “Relocation pass” and making the upper deck look even more deserted.
The afternoon started promising enough, fans pushing through the turnstiles smiling amid what must be the last of the hope on their minds. Employees handed out white rally flags in case there was something worth waving about, and no one seemed to catch the symbolism that the team was asking its fans to wave a white flag.
The Redskins, by the way, are now 3-10 and appear to have a starting quarterback in Colt McCoy who no one but Coach Jay Gruden believes is a viable NFL starter, along with another one in Robert Griffin III who didn’t get a chance after the crowd chanted “RGIII! RGIII!” during a McCoy-led drive that ended with an interception. Griffin’s chance didn’t come until after McCoy suffered a neck injury late in the loss.
This is a team that must be chuckled at to be appropriately enjoyed, a weekly dramedy that includes gossip, backbiting, twists and turns, and a few hilarious moments that make it worth paying attention to. “We have to be playing for draft picks at this point,” Fleck said, and when the Rams attempted — and converted — a fake extra point, the birthday boy shrugged and laughed.
He was determined to have a good time, so what else could he do? “I knew it wasn’t going to be much better” than last year, Fleck said, referring to Washington’s 3-13 record in 2013.
As the third quarter ended and, after another Rams touchdown, the stadium began emptying, Fleck looked toward the cloudless blue sky and said he remained pleased with his decision to host his party here. “I’m just happy it’s a nice day,” he said.