- The Washington Times - Monday, September 4, 2000

Just like the rest of the 80,257 in attendance, except for a few lonely Carolina Panthers fans, the occupants of Section 203 went home happy on a loud, festive, sticky Sunday at FedEx Field.
"It was a good day," said Peter Connolly, one of the more demonstrative rooters, after the Redskins had opened their 2000 season with a 20-17 victory over the Panthers. "A win is a win."
The crowd erupted early and often, saving its biggest cheer for prime free-agent acquisition Deion Sanders, then topping that moments later when 18-year veteran Darrell Green, relegated to non-starting cornerback status because of Sanders, was introduced with the starting defense.
The noise continued when the Redskins took the opening kickoff and marched 79 yards for a touchdown. It ceased abruptly when Michael Bates ran the kickoff back for a score. It stayed quiet throughout a humdrum second quarter but picked up again in the second half as a smothering defense led by end Bruce Smith and the power running of Stephen Davis sealed the Redskins' win.
"There was a lot of electricity in the air," offensive tackle Chris Samuels said after his first NFL game.
Some Redskins fans already have booked passage to Tampa, Fla., site of Super Bowl XXXV in January. But Connolly, who lives in Bethesda, Md., and whose family has owned season tickets since the Redskins played in Griffith Stadium more than 40 years ago, isn't ready to call his travel agent.
"I think we'll win the [NFC East] division and go deep into the playoffs," he said. "If we get to the Super Bowl, great, but I don't expect it, and I don't demand it as a fan."
One reason, he said, is the play of the special teams. Following Bates' return, Connolly directed his ire at LeCharls McDaniel, the Redskins' special teams coach.
In the second half, Bates ripped off another long kickoff return, prompting Connolly to experience a near-apoplectic fit.
"McDaniel, McDaniel," he screamed, silencing himself only when the play was brought back by a penalty, at which point Connolly crossed himself.
"If we want to go to the Super Bowl, we have to take care of a little business," he said.
Connolly, though, clearly is in the minority. Most Redskins fans, not to mention owner Dan Snyder, are talking title.
Before the game, at a tailgating table where Gloria Gomez's van was parked in a choice spot about as close to the stadium as you can get, the consensus was the same. Miss Gomez, from Oxon Hill, Md., wrote in the autograph book of her friend, Barbara Johnson, "9/3. First game toward a championship."
And what did Johnson think? "Super Bowl all the way," she said. But perhaps she's prejudiced. Her son, Joe, played wide receiver for the Redskins from 1989 through 1991 and was a member of the team that beat Buffalo in Super Bowl XXVI in Minneapolis.
Another of Gomez's friends, Ann Taylor, was more precise.
"Fourteen and two and the Super Bowl," she said of this season. "I'm gonna give up two [games]. We're gonna lose to Tennessee and Jacksonville."
Ann was excited about the opening game and also about her recent marriage to Gerald Taylor, who, along with Jerry Faison, rounded out the tailgating group. This year she moved up in the world, trading in her pair of $40 season tickets for two priced at $175 apiece.
"Plus parking," she said. "It's highway robbery."
Then why do it?
"It's the Redskins," she replied. "I love 'em."
Tailgating everywhere has been elevated to a culinary as well as cultural experience, and Redskins fans were doing their part. The Gomez gang chowed down on fried chicken, potato salad, baked beans and fresh fruit, plus several varieties of beverages. But this was relatively simple fare. Because of the threat of rain, they left the grill home. Usually, steak and lobster are on the menu.
Nearby stood a brave soul, Sandy Simpson, a sophomore at Robinson High School in Annandale, Va., who was wearing a Panthers jersey. She likes the colors, she explained. "And I like the name "Biakabutuka," she said, referring to Tim, the Carolina running back.
The pregame parking lot was an amalgam of smells mostly of cooked meats and sights. One was Rootie, an 18-month-old, 700-pound hog transported by his owner, Danny Garber of Woodbridge, Va., as a symbol of the Redskins' Hogs offensive line of yore. This is the third Rootie, and Garber wants to make him part of the scene inside the stadium.
"Cleveland has the Dawg Pound," Garber said. "Why can't we have a Hog Pen?"
A notable human sight was "Relvis," a gentleman garbed in a burgundy jumpsuit with a flowing cape, and rings on eight fingers. He also had an entourage and a somewhat unique sense of humor.
"Carolina is going to be treated like a bunch of hound dogs," Relvis said.
"Mr. Danny [Snyder] and [Redskins coach] Norv [Turner] have got this team all shook up."
And then there was this: "The rest of the NFL is saying to the Redskins, 'Don't be cruel,' but that ain't gonna happen," he said, before entering the building.

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