CONFESSIONS OF A REDSKIN FAN (LIVING IN DALLAS, TEXAS)

Maybe it’s the memory of those many winter Sundays by the radio, my father white-knuckled, holding his National Bohemian beer can, suffering in pain and disgust. Or maybe it’s a bit of guilt-at being an adopted Texan who’s never quite bought the whole Lone Star ball of wax. Maybe it’s that 1 don’t want to seem East-em and superior, or maybe 1 don’t want to get hurt. But I have a good deal of trouble telling even my closest friends that I am a rock-solid, hard-shell, fundamental Washington Redskins fan.

When I do, their reactions seldom vary. First there’s the pseudo-sympathetic “Oh . . .”as though I had bragged about being a leper. Then there is the stare to the floor, as though I had just vomited on their shoes. Even the most sophisticated betray their intolerance; even the most cosmo-politan have trouble hiding their distaste. Even those who claim not to like football are shocked by my alien allegiance, pronouncing me in the process the worst of the heathen crude. Liberals don’t understand my affection for George Allen. Conservatives don’t understand why I chose to be born in Washington. And no one, least of all me, understands why 1. as a resident of Dallas, Texas, haven’t the good grace just to keep my mouth shut.

Like my allies in the Nation’s capital, I was despendent for days after that dark, devious Cowboys comeback last December that snatched from my beloved Redskins their rightful play-off berth. I had been there at Texas Stadium, bellowing myself hoarse from the end-zone seats, as John Riggins ripped down the sidelines for what looked like the winning score. I had watched in horror as Joe Theismann tried to call for a time-out from beneath a bundle of linebackers. And I nodded my head in complete agreement when Rep. Walter Fauntroy called for a Congressional probe into how we were robbed. When he did, my Dallas colleagues began babbling self-right-eously about sore losers, crybabies, and such. To me, it sounded like good government. I said as much the following week at a tavern in my neighborhood. The guy sitting next to me poured beer in my lap.

Two weeks after the Great Depression. 1 was standing in a ticket line at the Cowboys’ offices on Central Expressway while the Cowboys were working out with the Los Angeles Rams at Texas Stadium. Like everyone else in Dallas, I had assumed that the Cowboys would be playing Tampa Bay for the championship the following week. But as I stood there in the darkness I heard the hundreds of radios in the line around me thunder Billy Waddy’s catch of a Vince Ferra-gamo pass. Waddy danced down the field untouched for the score that snuffed the Cowboys. And while the Ram defense was choking off the final Cowboy threat, the ticket-buyers began leaving the line, without their tickets, muttering bitterly as they walked to their cars. There were no tears, no pithy vows about next year, no sullen threats of suicide, or even homicide. It struck me in that moment that Cowboys fans don’t know how to lose any better than they know how to win.

In fact, there is something downright vacuous about Dallas fans. Compared to Washington and New York, or even Houston and Green Bay and Tampa Bay, Dallas fans are as dull as doormats. Football demands a zealous allegiance, usually-and preferably- from birth. Dallas football fans are better suited to a dance band. On any given Sunday, as they say, Highland Park Presbyterian Church will likely rock louder than Texas Stadium. Plays that would spark frenzy at RFK Stadium are met in Irving with polite applause. Games that are 10 points or even 20 points in the bag in Washington are savored by a full house until the final gun. In Dallas, the fans-winning or losing-greet the fourth quarter with an exit to the Winnebago, or to the back of the box for another run at the paté.

Maybe it’s that the Cowboys’ team colors look like they belong on a police car. Maybe it’s because the Cowboys open their games with Tommy Loy instead of the Redskin Band. Maybe it’s because the only booze consumed at Texas Stadium is behind Plexiglass. But somehow Dallas fans have managed to develop an obliviousness that’s positively antagonizing to a Yankee. Washington fans thrive on excitement, on the vicissitudes of the game. They carry with them a special joy that Dallas fans may never know. It is borne of conditioning by Murphy’s Law. And it amounts to an almost sensual certainty that no matter how a game may look at the moment, something is bound to go wrong.

In the Washington of my youth, we were conditioned to losing. Perhaps it was the presence of Congress, or deriving the city budget by legislative dole. But there was a certain character developed in the Washington fan, a certain tolerance of misfortune, an absorption of disaster as our sports teams piled up year after losing year. By contrast, the Dallas Cowboys fan is spoiled. While still in the process of manufacturing their history, the Cowboys are doing so by boring demands of substance over form, character over personality, winning over making a game. Dallas doesn’t know what it means to suffer, season upon season, embarrassment upon failure. With the Cowboys, there can be no long line of pot-bellied quarterbacks, eccentric owners, or bizarre coaching changes. Dallas is a sea of stability in a profession that feeds off glamour, mystery women, and an occasional DWI.

Not that Washington doesn’t have its dignified side. It has those beautifully useless white marble buildings dedicated to dead people and tourists. There is the thrill of seeing an occasional senator jogging down Connecticut Ave. N.W.. the sweat gathering around the little black and red nodules of his hair transplant. At the Smithsonian, there is the Great Blue Whale and the round brown stone platform the Aztecs used to burn up human hearts. But these have always been for cousins from Columbus. For better or worse (mostly worse), the Washington Senators and the Washington Redskins belonged to us.

Actually, in those days the Redskins belonged to George Preston Marshall. Marshall ran a laundry service in Washington. His company slogan was. “Long Live Linen.** Perhaps it was out of some sense of professional obligation that he endeavored for so long to keep his teams white. Washington Post sportswriter Shirley Povich routinely referred to the Redskins team colors as, “maroon, gold, and Caucasian.” Marshall had a habit of raising ticket prices, unannounced, on game days. That certainly endeared him to Redskins fans. He also liked to meddle in the day-to-day running of the team, which endeared him equally to the coaches and players.

In 1949. in an effort to “bring discipline” to the Redskins. Marshall hired a retired naval officer named Admiral John Whelchel as coach. When Whelchel tried to run the team, Marshall told the Admiral he expected discipline, not football. Whelchel was gone by November. In 1961. Marshall forced the entire team to take ballet lessons in the offseason, reasoning that it might teach them flexibility and coordination. That year, the Redskins were a flexible, well-coordinated I-12-1. The Cowboys, in only their second season, were 4-9-1.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Marshall had the reputation of paying his players poorly. He once ripped into Art Rooney for agreeing to pay All-American Byron “Whizzer” White $ 15.000 a year. This dedication to impecunity was reflected in the team line-up. Other teams in the Fifties had players with nicknames suited to Mafia leg-breakers. Baltimore had Alan “The Horse” Ameche. Detroit had Richard “Night Train” Lane. Washington had Ralph “Goog” Guglielmi. Joe “Scooter” Scudero. and “Little Dickie” James. This is not to mention Norbert Hecker. Casimir Witucki, and Eagle Day.

It was in those years that my father and I established our painful Sunday ritual. I would suit up in an ersatz football uniform: shoulder pads, soft leather helmet, thigh pads, and sneakers. My father would suit up with his slippers and beer. My mother had the good sense to stay out of the house. It was probably just as well that we would usually catch the game on the radio. What normally took place would have been too painful to watch.

Bob Wolfe and Jim Simpson were, in those days, the Redskins team announcers. They polished up their reportorial style by learning to lie about what was happening on the held. With subtly fashioned gimmicks, they kept our hopes high until the score was too lopsided to ignore. A Redskins back, say Gary Click or Dick Haley, would “slash his way” for a yard and a half against the Pittsburgh Stealers. Steeler back John Henry Johnson would be “held to six.” Together, my father and I would play out the afternoon in four quarters of hope, anxiety, pain, and-finally- resignation. My mother learned to hate football.

It’s not quite like that anymore. The Redskins win now, a lot more than they did in those days. Still, they haven’t lost their touch for losing the big ones in ways that can break hearts. The Black Sunday of last December was one such game. To that add a play-off loss to San Francisco and a loss in the Super Bowl, as well as a hundred other losses to Philadelphia. St. Louis, New York, and the like.

It is a humble and hungry legacy. And perhaps it is because of that you will hear a collective growl from your television set during this year’s Monday night opener from RFK. It is the hunger fueling the need for revenge. Redskins fans have been cut so much, they know the taste of their own blood. But they know when the time is right for something different to happen, and this year there is the smell of someone else’s plasma running through the DC. streets.

Like the rest of them. I find my teeth sharpening. I find myself stifling a howl at the moon. I am smelling blood in the shower. I yearn to feel the rocking of RFK Stadium. I yearn to see Danny White screaming pitifully into a thundering roar. Perhaps I’ll return to that neighborhood bar of my humiliation and roar along with them, even with beer in my lap.

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