Washington awoke with shredded vocal cords Monday.
Even so, the cause for all the hoarseness bore repeating at barbershops, bars and shopping malls, and via talk radio, telephone and tweets: The Washington Redskins were champions of the NFC East for the first time in 13 years.
And they hadn’t just pummeled their most reviled foe, the Dallas Cowboys, to clinch their National Football League playoff spot. There was a growing sense among the jubilant that the Redskins, in reclaiming a measure of their faded glory with the 28-18 victory, might just supplant the Cowboys as America’s team.
Credit the charisma of rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, clearly hampered by injury but wily enough to keep his offense moving, and the grit of rookie running back Alfred Morris, who steamrolled for 200 yards and three of Washington’s four rushing touchdowns.
Those who were in the stands at FedEx Field on a frigid, moonlit Sunday night recounted with pride the ear-splitting din of the crowd of 82,845 chanting “RGIII! RGIII!”
Those who had watched on TV reveled all the same in a triumph that stirred decades-old memories of days when the Redskins dominated the NFL, winning three Super Bowl titles between the 1982 and 1991 seasons.
Whatever strife Washington was going through back then, the city’s mood on Monday mornings was determined by what the Burgundy and Gold did Sunday at RFK Stadium, where football fans from all parts of the city huddled shoulder to shoulder and cheered as one.
“The Redskins were uplifting for the city,” said Nate Carter, 65, manager of Smokey’s Barbershop & Oldies on H Street NE. “Washington has always had a lot of folks who don’t come from Washington, and the Redskins brought a great sense of bonding between all cultures — whether white, black, Chinese or whatever. Everybody was part of the joy of the Redskins’ success.”
From Carter’s vantage point, that joy was back the moment he opened for business Monday at 8:30 a.m.
“Everybody has been talking about how proud they are of our quarterback and our running back and the whole team,” Carter said Monday. “I do believe that bonding is back.”
Malcolm Burnley, 22, an editorial fellow at Atlantic magazine, spoke of the six-month thrill-ride he has been on since moving from New York to Washington in June, watching sporting phenoms blossom.
“The city right now has so many young people who are coming in as transplanted sports fans,” Burnley said. “And having these charismatic players like Robert Griffin and Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg just wins you over as a new fan.”
Sunday’s game drew NBC’s highest-ever ratings for a prime-time, regular season NFL game. In the Washington market, it crushed all comers, with nearly seven of every 10 TV sets in use Sunday night tuned to the game, according to overnight Nielsen ratings.
According to online retailer Fanatics.com, the sale of officially licensed Redskins merchandise was up 267 percent this December over December 2011, tops among all NFL teams. And through the region on Monday, fans sported Redskins jerseys — Griffin’s No. 10 in particular — as a public proclamation of faith.
At St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Southeast Washington, the testifying began hours before Sunday’s 8:30 p.m. kickoff, when the choir and congregation burst into “Hail to the Redskins” just after Mass ended. That was about when Greg Horton of Strasburg fired up his pregame tailgate buffet of burgers and deer hot dogs in the FedEx Field parking lot. Horton had bought his pair of tickets on the 50-yard line, just four rows up, from a friend.
“I basically paid for his whole season tickets in one game,” said Horton, 47, brimming with pride, his 16-year-old daughter Kelsey in tow. “It’s just the biggest game in history!”
And at Velocity5 in Centreville, a popular gathering spot for Redskins fans, the scene went from standing room only at kickoff to “a madhouse,” according to bartender Dan Lee, 29.
“I hadn’t seen a scene like that since George Mason made it to the Final Four in 2006,” said Lee, a GMU graduate. “The Redskins haven’t been good for a while. So for them to beat the Cowboys and get in the playoffs, it was a shock.”
Six time zones to the east, in Nice, France, longtime Redskins fan Jonathan Scriven had set his alarm for 2:15 a.m. to rouse his 14-year-old son for kickoff. They watched ESPN America together, wrapped in blankets, next to their drooping Christmas tree.
“Throughout the game I kept trying to explain to Patrick that when I was his age, these kinds of games seemed to happen every year — sometimes with the Cowboys, sometimes with the Giants, sometimes with the Eagles,” Scriven wrote in an e-mail. “I’m not sure he understood.”
Back at FedEx Field, when the Redskins put the game away on Dallas quarterback Tony Romo’s third interception, ushers high-fived ticket-holders, rotund men gyrated in sync with Redskins cheerleaders and the deafening noise got even louder.
“I’ve been waiting for this my whole life,” shrieked Samantha Gordin, 23, who had yelled the entire game with her cousin, Dana, from seats that had been in her family for three generations. “RGIII has brought what the Redskins needed. And he has brought Redskins fans back to where we deserve.”
Peering down from Redskins owner Daniel Snyder’s box was former coach Joe Gibbs, architect of the team’s three Super Bowl titles, who was thrilled by both the team’s performance and the fun his own son, J.D., and four of his grandsons and their buddies were having as spectators, cheering from their seats in the stands below.
“Those little guys were high-fiving a bunch of fans around them, singing and doing the wave. I got the biggest kick out of it,” Gibbs said in a telephone interview Monday.
“I think that’s the greatest sports franchise in the world, with the greatest fans. Right now everybody is on a high. The coaching staff has done a great job with the offense. I think they’ve got a good chance to beat anybody right now.”
More on the Redskins
Insider: C. Griffin eligible to return