- While some lament the meaningless nature of preseason games (with good reason), August still manages to offer priceless opportunities to NFL players and fans alike. I seized upon one of those gifts on Saturday by taking my son to his first professional football game at FedEx Field. It is a memory that I don’t think either of us will ever forget, unblemished by the quality of the on-field product and untainted by the kind of shenanigans that so frequently accompany regular season affairs. If that isn’t Sixpack-worthy, I am not sure anything is.
- Without getting sacrilegious, football—and all of our passionate, biased tendencies therein—is handed down to us by those who came before us, in some ways very similar to how many of us inherit our faith (and now a firm steering away from religion). The point is we grow up in houses or towns that love their teams. Some would say I “never had a chance to be anything but a Redskins fan” because of the house in which I grew up. I would suggest instead that I “wouldn’t have chosen any other team” because if the Redskins were good enough for my father and grandfather, they were damn sure good enough for me. Of course, it made it fun that when I was a very young kid, the Redskins were winning Super Bowls, but Cleveland Browns fans come by their fandom the same way I describe above. Rooting for the Redskins on Sundays is one of the first things I remember understanding about my dad (Motown and the Redskins...two of the core prongs of my upbringing). It wasn’t that he placed some kind of an unhealthy premium on the performance of a football team on television; rather, when it came to our extended family, our neighbors and friends, the Redskins were the proverbial “tie that binds.” In other words, I did not choose to be a Redskins fan because they were good (as many of you reading this also did not). I became a Redskins fan because loving football is something I did together with my dad, my entire family and neighborhood.
- I have heard plenty of Redskins fans over Dan Snyder’s tenure say that they would consider letting their kid choose a different team to pull for than our home team. While I sort of get the sentiment, I have never once considered that any of my kids would wear a non-burgundy and gold jersey. This is why I told my son that our first order of business when we got to the stadium was to don the colors. I bought him his first real jersey—a burgundy Kirk Cousins jersey (there were other options, but #8 felt like the right call). With him in his fresh Cousins gear and me in a throwback Sean Taylor jersey, we made our way to our seats in a rather empty stadium. Preseason games are great environments for young kids to cut their teeth at an NFL venue, as the drunken fervor and mass humanity at regular season affairs can be stressful for a parent with a grade-school aged child in tow. (I do see people bringing their babies to these games, which elicits from me equal parts respect and fear.) The very simple act of “suiting up” at the stadium—removing the shirt you wore to the field and replacing it with a gameday jersey—is something I wanted for my son to experience. The indoctrination was underway!
- I can’t remember the last time I made my way into the stadium 30 minutes before kickoff (that is important tailgating time), but I wanted to make sure my son saw the anthem and player introductions. As a kid, I remember that first glimpse of the field I could see from the concourse. The grass looked so green. The team colors looked so crisp. There’s so much to take in and so much to set up. I wanted to explain where to watch to see down and distance, because unlike on TV, you have to move your head around considerably at the stadium to get your essential real-time info. I wanted to make sure he knew what the down markers meant (the X-stick that marks where the drive begins and the O-sticks that serve as first down distance markers). Beer vendors, opposing team fans, the Redskins marching band, the Ring of Honor, the cheerleaders, kickers warming up, the coin toss and literally hundreds of other things we just seem to know...there was so much to lay out and kids are desperate to understand and love it all. From explaining that the man in the orange gloves helps coordinate TV timeouts to pointing out the raising and lowering of the goal post nets, the Q & A went on endlessly and I loved it. Hell, even Aaron Rodgers’ hurry-up move that cost us a penalty in the first quarter offered an awesome opportunity to explain both why he is so great and why it is actually so hard to scheme and execute in the greatest league in professional sports. When the announcement came for the t-shirt toss, the cheerleaders came running onto the field and began gyrating to house music, thoroughly confusing my son, who noticed that both teams were preparing to huddle before the next play (it was a commercial). Without thinking, I blurted out something to the effect of, “Because the First Ladies of Football need a reason to dance.” He then asked me if what they were doing was “appropriate”—a field-level camera was basically shooting an upskirt video of one cheerleader being shown on the jumbotron. I laughed and then repeated something my grandfather would say when the television would cut to the cheerleaders: “That’s football.” I explained to him that the Redskinettes (as they used to be called) are some of the greatest Redskins fans there are, and told him the story of my neighbor growing up that was a Redskinette and who hosted the best game-watch party there ever was.
- Most of you know that I used to be a soft pretzel vendor at RFK when I was in high school. It was the only way I could be at the game each week...the only way I could be part of RFK Stadium and Redskins football. That fact never seemed to mean as much before I told my son about it. I had never heard those words from the standpoint of a 10-year old boy, hearing that his pop worked his ass off hauling pretzels to the cheap seats just to be able to hear the crowd and see a play or two. My son got to see where I sat for ten years as a FedEx season ticket-holder, and the part of the field where I shot post-game video for Comcast Sportsnet last year with JP Finlay, but neither of those was as special as when I pointed to the very last row at the top of the nose-bleed section and recounted how my father had taken me to a cold and rainy Sunday night game at FedEx about 20 years ago. I included the part about the Redskins sweatshirt he bought me that I still have and left out the part about the puntfest that ended in a 7-7 tie against the New York Giants. My son was getting it.
- Of course, what happened on the field mattered to us. I wanted to make sure my son understood how big Terrelle Pryor actually is. I wanted him to know why I was BESIDE myself that Josh Doctson was playing. I explained the bow-and-arrow move by Josh Norman before the game and made sure he understood that #24 is possibly the best player on our squad. I pointed out Fabian Moreau and told him I thought it was cool that him and I would be watching him in a Redskins jersey for a very long time together. (Don’t worry Kevin—I didn’t mention once that Trent Williams should line up at guard.) We high-fived each other when our guys made plays, and we were sportsmanlike to the Green Bay fans around us when their team made plays. When the Redskins scored, we sang. I know preseason gets a bad rap, and I know that rap is beyond well-deserved. I hope they change the format as soon as possible and I am confident that whatever that change is will make things better. It was made VERY clear to my son that no team really wins or loses a preseason game. That said, I know I am joined by countless parents and guardians out there who consider themselves winners for being able to pass on their love for this game. The training is far from complete, but if we do it right, our sons and daughters aren’t choosing a team to root for as much as they are choosing a shared experience with the people in their lives they care about most. On behalf of those of us conducting this training, I offer this message to the NFL, Dan Snyder and the Redskins: You’re welcome.
Looks Like Someone Has a Sixpack of the Mondays
Preseason NFL games might be lacking in pageantry, but there is no grander tradition than your first time to an NFL stadium to see the Redskins suit up.