1. At 7:45 AM yesterday morning, I found myself in a comfortable place--a few cars deep in line in front of the gates at FedEx Field. It was chilly, but it felt good. Drinking a pre-tailgate beer or two before heading in with the other fans puts me in the proper frame of mind for the day ahead. Without suggesting that Redskins fans were feeling cocky or overly confident, I will say that there seemed to be an air of positivity heading into the tilt with Carolina. Not even the parking lot attendants--who had a severe case of "lack of people to harass" at 7:45--could dampen the mood. Between then and 9:00 AM, the regulars who week in and week out start the party early, enjoyed great music, great company and great expectations. I have yet to experience an outcome at FedEx Field that can take that away from me.
2. On the inside of the gates, a beautiful day greeted the crowds. As is generally the case when we host the Panthers, there was a solid showing from the good people of Carolina. Maybe it's because many Panthers fans were once Redskins fans, or maybe it's because most of them are just really nice, but I have never really had much of a problem with that group. Our tailgate was as good as I could have hoped--great food, big crowd and perfect weather. Once again--in a story that has remained consistent for years--the burgundy and gold faithful made the absolute most of a day that was tailored for NFL football and the NFL football experience.
3. You got a good sense of what the temperature of this fanbase is/was in the parking lot yesterday. There were some folks that had come to yesterday's tailgate and game with the mindset that they were going to really get after it. My interpretation of this was that this game represented a real crossroads--potentially the last real crossroads--of the 2012 season. A win and we were still in this thing--a loss and we really were not. For many fans, this game was going to decide how they handled the remainder of the season. A win meant that the party kept going, while a loss likely meant that the remainder of the season would be comprised of a series of games of diminishing meaning. That we had once again reached this game in a season was sobering in and of itself. Few fanbases recognize the final opportunity to salvage a season better than the one in Washington.
4. I found my seat midway through the first quarter, due mostly to the deliberate extension of the tailgate. Without delving too much on individual plays, the game progressed in a manner that suggested it would be the usual close contest we have become familiar with over the years. The only thing that was going to cause me to leave early was if St. Megan went into labor, which thankfully did not happen. (Wish us luck! There will be an extra seat at the Meringolo Thanksgiving table this year. Perhaps the timely addition of this brand new fan will tilt the scales in our favor against Dallas.)
5. Even I can't dance through this weekly column without acknowledging the free fall our hearts and souls are in the midst of today. We know what 3-6 means, and it seems that Mike Shanahan does, too. His postgame comments were at least a little bit shocking, mostly because of the general tone and demeanor of the potential Hall of Fame coach. The man looked and sounded defeated, which only worked to empower all the "Fire Shanahan" callers that dominated the radio coverage on the drive home. I've listened to and dismissed the sentiment before, but as CJ and I crawled around the beltway back to Bethesda, the question of whether Shanny should be fired became a real one to debate, even if I fully believe he should and will return in 2013. With an on-the-job record of 14-27, Shanahan's tenure is undeniably...debatable.
6. Conventional wisdom suggests that the rookie quarterback gets Shanahan at least another year in this town. The turnstile approach to head coach hiring that Dan Snyder has foolishly employed in the past almost demands that he keep Shanny around for the duration of his contract. It would seem that the organization can apply pressure on him to change out some of his staff, but it remains to be seen if he is interested in doing that. What we do know is that the next two months will be full of second- and third-guessing of each and every decision made by Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan over the last three seasons. I will gladly engage in some of that, and will be inescapably entangled in the discussion surrounding the myriad of decisions this franchise will once again face in the wake of a disappointing campaign. Today though, I choose to reflect on a simpler time--the hour before the gates opened at FedEx Field. Everything was so right. Everything was as it should be. I know in my heart that no matter what occurs on the field, or in the offseason, or in our front office, there is nothing that will ever detract from this--it's the "happy place" that gets me through the season.
***For this week's Ten Yard Fight, please email me your best suggestion for one move that this franchise needs to make to turn the corner in 2013. There are many that need to be made--I will post a list of the best ten. Email your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.