My family is a Washington Redskins family. We always have been.
In the trued clichéd but beautiful dynamic of sports, I remember many awkward conversations with my grandmother – where we couldn’t really find anything to talk about, so we made small talk until we finally landed on the current QB crisis of the Redskins (Jay Schroeder?). Then with amazing ease we were two friends chatting and laughing, sighing, shaking our heads and hoping THIS was the year they turned it around.
Years later, when my father and I went to games at RFK, we would always stop on every level as we walked to our seats – when my father and his dad went, they also had paused on each level. My grandfather had a bad heart, so he had to stop frequently to catch his breath. That’s what my Dad remembers from the games. A stop on every level with his Dad on the way to their seats. So when we went, we did the same. We’d stand there quietly for about 30-45 second. My Dad would hold my hand, stare at the field, breath deeply – then we’d walk up another level. Luckily we had cheap enough seats that this ritual got to be repeated several times before we arrived at our destination.
The first time we did this, I remember my father sitting down, me in his seat, him in his Dad’s, and then bursting into tears.
I had flown up from college, and we spent the day at the game – arriving in time for warm ups, and then watching the Redskins kick a field goal, as time expired, to beat the Houston Oilers (remember them?). Doug Williams was phenomenal, scrambling like we’d never seen a quarterback scramble before. We laughed and cheered all the way out with our fellow Skins fans . My dad bought me a pennant; it still hangs in my kitchen today.
Years later, as he was fighting Parkinsons, and it was clear that his time of being mobile was coming to a close, we tried to attend one more game. I flew down to my parent’s place in South Florida, and we got tickets to the Skins/Bucs. The night before we drove into Tampa, stayed at a hotel by the stadium, so he could rest, and got to the stadium real early the next morning.
At the time I don’t think I realized how nervous my father was about the game. He hadn’t had to be in a public, loud, crowded place in a few years. We got there hours early, so we could find our seats, eat, and get settled before people arrived.
While waiting, we played cards in the shade, talking about the Redskins – actually, since my father had been sick for several years, he hadn’t really followed the Redskins of the current day, so we talked about the older Redskin teams. We talked about how George Allen had put together a team of veterans, and former Rams players, in hopes of making one last run for a championship. Everyone really thought that was gonna be the year they turned it around.
We didn’t make it to kick-off.
It was sunny, and that’s not good when you have Parkinson’s. It was crowded, and hot. But mostly, his health was failing him – a few hours of card games was all he had in him. As the game was about to begin, my Dad leaned over and urgently said “I have to go”, so we did, no questions asked. He was asleep in the car before we pulled out of the parking lot. We were home a few hours later and he slept the rest of the day. Only then did I realize what a physical crucible it must have been to just go to the stadium and play cards. It must have taken everything he had.
I knew at that point that he would never travel again, at least to a large public place like this. And, for the most part, I was right.
One of the last phone calls we had was about the Redskins. I don’t know how we got on it – but we did, as we always did, and even though it was hard to understand my Dad on the phone, he was working really hard to get the message across. He was talking about his Dad and him going to a game, and how it really was an exciting development when Vince Lombardi came to coach. Man, they really thought that was gonna be the year they turned it around. He had a complicated relationship with his father, who didn’t talk much, but my Grandfather had always loved to talk about the Redskins – so that was how they connected.
I watch Redskins games alone now. Feels private, feels personal. Also, I pace too much and get too nervous for other people to be a part of it.
My dad would be thrilled with RG3. He’d remind him of Doug Williams, the way he could scramble and turn a dead play into plus yardage. They way he spreads hope. He’d make my Dad hopeful.
And honestly, really, with RG3, and now with Jay Gruden, I think this is the year we turn it around.