My name is Ken...
...and I am a Redskins season-ticket holder. It's been ten years since my last home game away from FedEx.
(Applause...very quiet, measured applause.)
Listen, going to FedEx on Sundays for the last decade has helped to define the fan I consider myself to be. I wouldn't trade in the experience for anything...wait, I paid WHAT for that experience? Holy crap...HOLY CRAP!
If you would have told me 10 years ago that it was going to cost me a small fortune to bear witness to one of the most craptastic decades of professional football the nation's capital has ever seen, I may have wavered a bit, but my 23-year old sensibilities would have quickly taken over. After all, most of my decisions back then were predicated on the notion that "I could get hit by a bus tomorrow." Ironically, this philosophy did not lead me to the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro, the capitals of Eastern Europe, or the outback of Australia. It did, however, propel me to find out how many days in a row I could get blindingly drunk without getting fired from my job. So I dutifully stroked those checks to the Redskins, not realizing that if I was struck and killed by a bus, the Redskins would probably still sue me (cheap shot, I know.)
In the last 10 years, I have grown and developed as a fan in ways that I don't think would have happened away from FedEx Field. Kevin and I began our burgeoning online empire as little more than a sounding board for each other in the parking lot and at the game. I started out the decade as an unabashed Snyder apologist. If you were looking for a fight, all you had to do was tell me that Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith, and Mark Carrier were bad signings. Let's just say my purity was stolen from me early in the decade. Today, you would be hard-pressed to hear words of praise for Snyder come out of my mouth. In ten years at FedEx Field I have been made keenly aware of the business aspect of running the Redskins. We, as a fanbase, have been carefully leveraged by Snyder to milk every possible dime out of us. While Snyder has admirably dumped his money into the product on the field, the real cost to us has been an Age of Lost Innocence. We have been hit over the head with the marketing and commercialization of our gameday experience. And yet, I am still unprepared to call the last decade a waste.
So I overpaid for the experience. So what? I contend that few people have gotten the kind of return on their money that I have in the last decade (the recent economic downturn really helps my argument here by the way.) What I have gained just through my time in the parking lot at FedEx Field is priceless. In today's "Ten Yard Fight", I will try and give you a flavor of some of those memories from the parking lot and at FedEx Field in the last ten years. Over the last few seasons, I have looked forward to games for little more than the tailgating. And that is not to downplay the excitement over individual games in big spots. Instead, I think I am underlining both the importance and wonder of the tailgate, and how that has shaped my Redskins experience. A lot has gone down in ten years...and so much of it is tied to my life in the parking lot at FedEx Field.
Ten Yard Fight: 10 Chances To Make One Good Point
1) Game #1: Washington Redskins vs Carolina Panthers (September 3, 2000) - The first game of my ten year run was a warm Sunday 1 o'clock game. The previous evening had been spent in New Jersey--just outside of NYC--at a surprise birthday party for my girlfriend's brother. Attendance was mandatory, but I informed Megan (my girlfriend at the time...now my wife) that I would have to be back in town by 8 AM for the game. This required me waking up between 3 and 4 AM to hit the bricks and drive home. Her brothers relished the opportunity to give me shots and load me with booze to try and derail my plans. Suffice to say, when the alarm went off at 3 AM, I had slept for little more than an hour or two and I felt like I wanted to vomit. I got in my car and found the nearest gas station where I bought what was thankfully the strongest cup of coffee I have ever purchased. With caffeine racing through my body, and the prospect of a full day of football in front of me, I floated down the New Jersey turnpike in record time. I had already figured that I would be in no shape to drive home later that day so I dropped my car off and took the Metro in to meet up with some friends in the parking lot. I had no grill, no tent, no cooler, no "tailgate box" filled with all the necessities of tailgating. I had no truck conducive to packing these things and I had no "spot" to call my own in the parking lot. In short, I was as fresh and raw as they came. My only mission that day was to make it to the game and somehow make it home. We won 20-17 behind Stephen Davis and Brad Johnson. My buddy and I found the club level after-party andwent crazy. I will never forget turning around from the bar in the club level that night and seeing it empty. I was so confused, and then I looked at the time...it was almost 8 o'clock. I ran over to the window and saw a deserted parking lot. The bus back to the Metro (at that time the closest one was either Landover or Addison Road I think) was long gone. I remember wondering how I was going to get home. Answer: a very expensive cab ride. Lesson learned.
2) No Beer??!?!!? (September 2002) - "Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it." These words hold special meaning for me. It was year two of my run at FedEx and by this time I had figured out how to transport a tent, a grill and a cooler in my Ford Contour. It was like watching me unpack a clown car when I pulled in. I was able to get so much in there it was unbelievable. One Saturday night before an early season game, I failed in a major way. The beer that was destined for the parking lot the next day became the beer we drank that night. "We'll just buy beer at the store next to the Food Lion (now a Shopper's.)" Famous last words. When my buddy and I pulled up to the beer store and saw it closed, I freaked out. Surely they sell beer outside a football stadium on game day? Nope...not in P.G. County. I pulled into my parking spot with zero beers. Now, my father parked in a far away lot over by what is now the Jericho church. He walked over to our tailgate hauling food and snacks for the tailgate...no beer because I said I would bring the beer. I remember him telling me, "I'll just bring a 12-pack or something to contribute." My response: "Dad, it will just weigh you down on your walk over...I'll have plenty of beer." So he brought zero beers. Word spread among the groups surrounding us that we had goofed bigtime. As it was still early in the tailgate, the lot was pretty empty. I had the unfortunate ability to watch my dad huff it over to our tailgate from a long ways away. As he got closer, the sun bounced off the sweat on his forehead and blinded me, amplifying the shame that was already consuming me. Friends, let me tell you this: I stayed out of trouble for the most part growing up. I got decent grades, was moderately successful in a few sports and had good friends that also stayed out of a lot of trouble. My dad had little occasion to lament the day I was born. However, the look on his face that morning when I told him I had no beers is one I will never forget. It was out of a movie. At first he assumed I was joking. Once it became clear I was not joking, things went bad. Looking back on that day, I wonder what my dad would have preferred to hear upon arrival from his far away parking spot:
Option 1) "Dad, I have no beers."
Option 2) "Dad, I'm gay. Here's a beer."
Thankfully, the older, more seasoned tailgaters around us helped my dad drown out his anger with some precious cold beers. The words, "Gotta beer, Ken?" will forever haunt me though. To this day, we have a standing rule in the Meringolo home: No less than 6 beers at any time will be found in my refrigerator...just in case my dad stops by.
3) Hurricane Isabel (September 2003) - I had beer. But thanks to Hurricane Isabel, there was no way to keep it cold. The storm battered the Maryland/Virginia/D.C. region, knocking out power in the whole region for up to a week or longer in some places. You couldn't buy ice anywere. There were water problems and the lack of power on top of that made preparing for a tailgate extremely tough. I had to step up somehow and beat the system. I drove around the beltway for hours looking for a store that sold ice. I stopped at bars and restaurants...nothing. The day of the tailgate I had food and beer but no ice. And it was still too warm to go without ice. So I pulled off one of the greatest moves in my tailgating history. I went to the Shopper's Food Warehouse in College Park and made my way to the frozen food section. I figured, what better way to replace a bag of ice than with a bag of frozen vegetables? GENIUS! Hell, I might even save money. I loaded up my basket with an ungodly quantity of frozen corn. My thought process was that the bags of frozen corn would be the most flexible in the cooler to fit in and amongst the beer. When I got to the checkout, I could not use the Express Line for 20 Items or less. I had too many bags. So I pulled into the shortest line available, which was disturbingly long already for a Sunday morning--people were just getting out of their homes after the storm and re-stocking, so it was a zoo. As is my custom, I loaded the conveyer belt and proceeded to read the magazine with the hottest girl on the cover. After a while, I began to hear the beeps from the cash register that belonged to my haul of frozen corn. I put the magazine away and pushed my cart to the end of the line, but something caught my eye. My total was already over 80 dollars?? What the hell? The checkout lady was barely over halfway done and my bill was creeping toward $100! "STOP!" I yelled, "I am just buying frozen corn here. What gives?" Everyone around me stared. People were already wondering what the hell I was doing with that much frozen corn to begin with. Bringing more attention to this act seemed like a bizarre move. I was in shock. I looked back at the line behind me. I looked over at other lines. There was no time to change strategies now. The final bill came to somewhere around $125...of nothing but frozen corn. In my zeal to bowl over the tailgate with my frozen vegetable prowess, I had unwittingly filled my cart with the most expensive, imported, luxurious brand of frozen corn ever grown and sold in America. I paid the bill and proceeded to FedEx field. I was the only guy around with a cooler full of cold beer. I was heralded as a hero. The story should end here...oh how I wish the story ended there. So I am left with a cooler full of frozen corn...what could happen? Well, let's just say that while I am a hero to those precious few who enjoyed an ice cold beer that day, on the home front I had developed a bit of a reputation for not exactly getting things done right away. Fast-forward to a month later. My wife (the aforementioned Saint Megan) comes home from work and tells me that her car smells awful. She thinks something might have died in it. Instead, what had actually happened was that I had "stored" the cooler in her car without taking the frozen corn out. The smell was awful...and the seal of the cooler had not been opened in a month. What hit my nostrils that day when I opened the lid was demonic. I should have thrown the cooler away right then. I wish I had thrown the cooler away right then. Instead, I brought the cooler into our apartment, and tried to clean it in our tub in our unventilated bathroom. Of course, the cooler was thrown away anyway, and our bathroom was impossible to breathe in for a week. Damn you Hurricane Isabel!!!!
4) I built a Beirut table in the parking lot (September 2004) - It was the college football Kickoff Classic and my buddy who transported the Beirut table in a truck was unavailable. So I decided to build one in the parking lot. I bought 2 pieces of plywood and a bunch of 2x4's (and nails and a hammer and a saw...since I owned none of these things.) It was August...at noon...on the asphault. I was sweating through my clothes just after unloading the materials. As I sawed and hammered and nailed that day, the sheer lunacy of the project was never lost on me. I felt like a complete ass. Who embarks on carpentry projects at a tailgate? Then the table was finished. Jeez...it looked like Homer Simpson had built it...while drunk...and blind. But it worked! It worked to perfection. We played Beirut on that table before and after the game and then did the humane thing and abandoned it in the parking lot after the game.
5) This time, I was coming from a wedding in Connecticut - Ten years of home games is bound to run into family and friend obligations that could prevent you from making a game, right? A college friend got married on a Saturday night in Connecticut...NORTHERN Connecticut. The next day was not just a home game, but a home game against Dallas. I informed my wife that I could make the wedding and the game. Factoring in drive time, I figured if I left the reception by 10 PM, I could make it to DC with enough time to maybe grab an hour or two of sleep in front of the gates before they let us in. The best part about this story is that a friend who was also at the wedding decided at the last second to come with me and leave his wife with mine so they could drive home together. The result: we made it as far as Baltimore by about 6 AM. We slept for an hour and drove down to FedEx. Driving through the night helped us to avoid what turned out to be debilitating traffic on I-95 South the next day. Our hungover wives spent the entire day fighting bumper-to-bumper traffic while we tailgated and watched the Skins triumph over the Cowgirls. They stopped no less than 3 times so that one of them could vomit on the shoulder. Thank you FedEx.
6) Mike Wiggins Invitational (two years running now) - One week last season, we were approached by an overzealous parking lot manager who decided to give us some grief about the size and shape of our tailgate. He quickly discovered we were pretty easygoing but that we were in no way going to go down without a fight: after all, we had been told no less than 2-3 times by other parking lot employees completely different interpretations of the rules. It all ended amiably and the guy has even stopped by since to check us out and chat us up. At the beginning of the season, we pick one night game, and we get everyone there early and hold a thrilling Beirut tourney. The winning team gets their names engraved on a trophy that bears the name of that overzealous parking lot manager: Mike Wiggins.
7) Clark W. Griswald Lights Display (new to this year)- Saint Megan's Christmas present this year was a generator. Why is she a Saint with a capital 'S'? Think about what she has endured over the last decade: as my girlfriend, she once drove from her home in Alexandria to mine in Bethesda after a game to drive me and my buddy to his car in College Park because I was too drunk to do it (even though my buddy and I drove past College Park on the beltway on our way home from the very same game); prior to our marriage, she sat in stunned silence as I purchased an SUV that had absolutely zero use outside of Redskins home games (I lived 3 blocks from both my office and the Metro) but she did not get mad; she lets me keep my Redskins Christmas cards out all year long even though I like to change them up and personalize them to myself with notes from players, coaches, etc. (last year, I included a note from Dan Snyder that read, "Ken, I may own the team, but you own our hearts...Yours in Christ, Dan Snyder"); a cooler with fermented frozen corn; I am going to stop now because you get the point. Yet she still thinks of the tailgate first...and gets us a generator. So I got a ton of Christmas lights and strung them up for the Monday Night game against the Giants (with all that power/electricity, I figured we should use it.) It was awesome. Clark Griswald would have been proud.
8) David Donovan Early Bird Special (last week) - As we usually do, we pulled up to the gates with time to spare. It was just before 3 PM and we were parked near the front of the line by the Jericho Church. Opposite the Jericho compound are lots that are open earlier. We walked over to this lot and set up the Beirut table to get an hour's worth of work in before they opened the gates. All of a sudden people were honking their horns and revving their engines. Was it possible? Kevin and I engaged in a crazy fire drill to get back to our car in enough time to be included in that initial wave of cars they let in early. It was amazing. We were parked in our spot at 3 PM for an 8:30 kickoff. Merry Christmas David Donovan! Coincidentally, this led to the following exchange later in the tailgate:
Kris (fellow tailgater, who glances at his watch): "Holy Shit!"
Me: "Don't worry, we can miss the kickoff. We have time. We'll start breaking down now and make it in for the 2nd quarter."
Kris: "No, dude, it's not even 6 o'clock."
Me (realizing how drunk I already am with two and a half hours of tailgate remaining): "This is going to end badly."
9) The Losses- Monday Night loss (2000) to the Titans when Samari Rolle ran an INT back for a touchdown with no time left in the first half; St. Louis Rams loss when Pete Kendall coughed up a fumble that led to a touchdown with no time left in the first half; Suisham missing a 23-yarder to seal up win over Saints; two timeouts against Buffalo; Brian Westbrook eating us up 2 years ago in the second half for a loss to the Iggles; overtime loss to the Vikings in 2006 home opener against Brad Johnson; the loss to Kansas City this year; Sean Taylor...
10) The Wins- Sean Taylor running back a blocked field goal against the Cowgirls to set up Nick Novak's game-winner; last year's wins over the Cards and the Saints...both great games; Todd Collins leading us back against the Bears on one of the coldest games I have ever attended (two seasons ago on a Thursday night); Lavar leading us to our first win under Marty against the Panthers; Joe Gibbs' return...
There you have it. While it seems exhaustive, as most lists go, I will think of 5 things that should have been included within 24 hours. Hope you enjoy it.
****Thanks especially to the crew that we tailgate with--by far the best tailgate I have ever been a part of and one of the main reasons I continue to come to games. The best tailgating is done in the F lot, hands down. Say what you will about DTC, or some of our other F lot friends, but everyone in that lot gets after it hard and everyone is there in full support of the greatest team in the world...YOUR Washington Redskins.