1. The NCAA Tournament is a great distraction from what has become the never-ending NFL season. Offseason, preseason, regular season, postseason...the NFL runs its calendar the way a Vegas casino runs its floor. They have figured out how to keep you captive around the clock. Instead of pumping up the oxygen content and putting mirrors everywhere like casinos do, the NFL has taken its league calendar and stretched it out to fill the real calendar. I half expect Roger Goodell to start pushing to add at least one month to the real calendar, so he can stretch the draft out to a 30-day marathon. Genius? Yes, but at what point does it just seem like greed? I wonder how far past the obvious greedy point we would merrily skip along? My guess is we would be skipping for a very, very long time. Not as long as Kevin skips every day to and from the doggy hairdresser he takes his labradoodle to, but still pretty far.
2. As you know, whenever I visit a new town, I try and figure out a way to meet up with Redskins fans for a night. I found myself in Portland, Oregon this past weekend, visiting a high school buddy. My friend, being from D.C., is a huge Redskins fan, and he has found himself a nice group of like-minded individuals on the other side of the world there. I do think it is awesome how far away you can find sizable pockets of Washington Redskins fans. We tend to think of our own sports town as a place where people from other cities end up, without recognizing how frequently the opposite occurs.
3. On Friday evening, we walked to a neighborhood dive bar called Yur's. It is owned and operated by one of the 80 Greatest Redskins, Terry Hermeling. Hermeling was an offensive tackle throughout the 70's and though he is not carrying the same amount of weight he once did, his height surely had to make him one of the biggest players on the field. The bar is exactly what you want a great sports bar to be: no windows, lots of televisions, extremely tasty (and cheap) bar food and a nice long bar to pony up to for a long sit. Some people don't appreciate the darkness of a bar like this. I am not one of those people. Especially when on vacation, once inside a bar I transition to "bar time," where "beer-thirty" and "a quarter 'till my next beer" are the only real important times to note. One of the consequences of this philosophy is that you end up staying at such bars for inordinate lengths of real, actual time. Such was the case on Friday night, when we entered Yur's thinking we would just say hi to Terry, pay our respects to a random straggler or two in Redskins gear and move on. Almost six hours after we arrived, I disembarked from my bar stool and re-entered the real world. It would have been silly to expect a HUGE turnout, but I can honestly say that I was super-impressed with the turnout. I counted about 20 people there for the Hogs Haven event. Think about that for a moment--we're talking about a town that is close to 3,000 miles away from Washington, D.C. From the sounds of it, another dozen or so fans were either out of town or had plans they couldn't break. Despite missing out on a few of the regulars (Yur's is the bar where they all meet to watch Redskins games during the season), I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the people that did attend. About half of the group there that night had never been to Yur's, but all had made plans to re-attend for future events and games.
4. When you are on the opposite side of the country, and/or you are in a bar a long way from your own local watering hole, there is something comforting and even uplifting about seeing people walk into a bar decked out in Redskins attire. Every single person who attended was rocking at least one article of burgundy and gold apparel. Terry was holding court with us as well as the other regulars, and he was showing off a recent gift he had received: a framed action shot of Terry working hard to keep the pocket clean for Billy Kilmer, autographed by Kilmer. Except for the awesome local beers on tap, and that unmistakable small-town flavor that bars in towns like Portland have by the bucket load, Yur's could have been located in downtown D.C., or Bethesda, or Arlington last Friday night and nobody would have thought it odd.
5. We have not had a ton of events over the last few years, but one phenomenon happens time and time again when we do. A number of couples came in on Friday night, with both male and female equally decked out in Redskins gear. In every case, the dude was the diehard fan, and the significant other was a supporter of his leanings. This happens when we do local events as well, though not to the same extent as when we are farther away. Some conclusions:
- Redskins fans--in general--do a solid job picking out good, strong-minded mates who love and support the passions of their significant others. (Kurt, don't get me started on what you did. Not today.)
- When a couple gets together and the man is a Redskins fan, the woman is more likely to change her affiliation or at least the tenacity of her affiliation to other teams. On Friday, one wife was fully decked out in Redskins gear even though she claimed that the Redskins were her second favorite team. (Kurt, please...I can't get upset right now.)
- On the other hand, the above does not seem to work both ways. Female Redskins fans are VERY unlikely to change their team affiliation to accommodate a man who roots for some other team. This is a scientific finding, y'all, so please try and respect it as such.
- For the first 30-45 minutes of the evening, there were a few random pockets of Redskins fans around the bar. We all knew why we were there, but the lack of familiarity with each other caused some initial shyness. In each case, it was the wives and girlfriends who got different groups engaged and talking. It felt like when you move into a new neighborhood and you introduce your five-year old kid to the other five-year olds playing outside. After three seconds of intro, we would be off and running on Redskins stories, and the wife/girlfriend would stand there with a look of satisfaction and approval. Later, she would invariably accuse me of monopolizing her husband's time with Hogs Haven, but you could tell that she was genuinely happy to share in her husband's happiness at being surrounded by fellow Redskins fans.
- Redskins fans--both male and female--have superb taste in soul mates.
The rest of my memories from Friday night resemble black-and-white Charlie Chaplin silent movie reels. You know...that player piano soundtrack as a guy walks into a bar and mouths a question to the bartender, and then a black screen pops up with the text that reads, "Excuse me sir, but I was wondering if I might trouble you for one of your finest barley and hop beverages? I rarely--if ever--touch the stuff, but after a long day of helping needy children learn to read, I have a real hankering for the taste of carbonation and yeast."
6. To finish off the experience of Portland, the sports town, my buddy Mike and I found our way to The Bitter End, a bar that sits directly across the street from Providence Park, the home of the Portland Timbers. No disrespect to the Trailblazers, but it seemed that the Timbers really are the darlings of the town. The Timbers were taking on the Colorado Rapids, in Colorado, so Portland fans all made their way to the bars on Saturday afternoon to root their team on. As impressive as the turnout and dedication at The Bitter End was (the Thai wings and the deluxe BLT make the cross country flight there worthwhile...no comment on what those exact same two things do to your return flight), I was most impressed the day/night earlier, when it seemed like everyone was asking, "So...what are you doing for the Timbers game tomorrow?" On a day when the NCAA Tournament was in full swing, I counted nine or ten televisions tuned to the Timbers game and only two smaller side televisions set to the tourney. Nobody was worried about their brackets while the Timbers were on. Coming off of a 2013 season where they earned the top playoff seed in the West before succumbing to Real Salt Lake in the conference finals, the crowd was rather deflated following the loss on Saturday to Colorado. I would have rather seen a win for these folks, but I have to say...I felt way more comfortable experiencing a gut-wrenching loss to a conference rival with this group. I can't quite put my finger on it, but something about leaving that bar with a bunch of disgusted fans lamenting coaching decisions and lousy officiating made me feel...at home.