- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 6, 2013

In a town known for partisan bickering and political infighting, the Washington Redskins long have been one of the few things that could unify forces as powerfully opposed as Republicans and Democrats.

But a two-decade spell of mediocrity tested even the most fiercely loyal fans, who said Sunday that the team’s midseason resurgence this year is a welcome return to the days when Washington was known for something other than dysfunction.

Though the wild-card round game ended with a disappointing 24-14 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, Washington football fans were excited and elated that the team had given them a season to celebrate and a playoff game to anticipate.

Before the game,the parking lot at FedEx Field was a teeming sea of burgundy and gold, as Redskins fans poured in to get an early start on the game against the Seahawks, the first home playoff game in 13 years.

Among them was Vicki Miller, 61, a Richmond resident whose family has had season tickets for 75 years.

“My aunts and uncles bought three tickets when they moved here from Iowa,” Ms. Miller said, her white-blonde hair and movie-star sunglasses offsetting her burgundy jersey. “It was the first thing they did. I feel very blessed to get to inherit them.”

Now the owner of five coveted seats, Ms. Miller said that, despite uneven performances on the field from year to year, her faith and dedication to the Redskins haven’t wavered in the 35 years she has been coming regularly to games and that she never would part with her tickets — even if it at times it was tempting.

“My uncle wanted to do that, when it was like a 0-9 season, then they won the 10th game,” Ms. Miller said. “He said, ‘OK, we’ll keep them for next year.’”

The Redskins, who won three Super Bowls in a 10-year span, have given fans little to cheer about in recent seasons, with a carousel of coaches and quarterbacks. Since its last Super Bowl victory in 1992, the team had 11 losing seasons and three playoff appearances until this year.

Cheryl Hickox, 48, of Annapolis, said she acquired two season tickets in 1997 and that she hasn’t given a thought to giving up her seats.

“The past three years have been so upsetting, but you do not give those tickets up,” she said, referring to three consecutive years in which the team finished last in the NFC East.

The Redskins boast a streak of consecutive sellouts that dates back to 1968, but getting tickets in recent years has been relatively easy. Actual attendance has flagged and season-ticket holders have made their seats available to buyers and brokers so that division rivals and visiting teams with large national followings have been well-represented at Redskins home games.

Despite the excitement around the acquisition of Robert Griffin III, the Heisman Trophy winning quarterback who had an impressive rookie year and emerged as a team leader and local celebrity, a sluggish 3-6 start this year suggested another forgettable season. But the team’s seven-game winning streak to close the regular season and a playoff berth restored the faith of many long-suffering fans and instilled hope for the future.

The excitement was evident both inside and outside the stadium in Landover on Sunday.

Standing amid the many tailgaters’ folding tables weighted down with burgers, hot dogs, chili and chips, Cecil Starkey, 64, said he waited nearly 30 years to get season tickets. In a moment of candor, he confessed that after the past few seasons, he was ready to give up his two seats.

“The players they had were just leaving to go someplace else, and last year didn’t meet my expectations,” the Burke resident said.

“Thank God I kept them,” he said.

As he manned the bloody mary station at his small tailgate party, Fairfax resident Vince Curtis, 45, said that as a lifelong fan and 15-year ticketholder, he had “seen it all” when it came to the Redskins.

“I remember seeing Sonny Jurgensen, Joe Theismann — and George Allen brought a different culture,” Mr. Curtis said.

Asked whether he ever thought about giving up his tickets during the team’s leaner years, Mr. Curtis scoffed, as did his friend and fellow tailgater, Bayard Kennedy, 68, of Falls Church.

“If you’re a fan, you’re a fan,” Mr. Kennedy said. “Whether it’s a good streak or a bad streak, you’re still a fan.”

Ernie Pappas, 75, of Springfield, who has held his season tickets since 1971, saw the Redskins play in two Super Bowls.

“I’ve seen a lot of football,” Mr. Pappas said. “I’ve been through trials and tribulations with the Redskins.”

For more than 65 years, John O’Bannon has been cheering on the Redskins — whether at FedEx Field, RFK Stadium or Griffith Stadium. When his family bought their first season tickets in 1945, the price for a lower box seat was $2.50.

On Sunday, as he ate steaming soup from a black bowl, the 74-year-old said he was excited about the changing face of professional football and the impact it had on his beloved team.

“The game is so competitive nowadays,” Mr. O’Bannon said. “It’s a new era where everybody is trying to get younger, quicker, faster players. You can see that with the Redskins and with [Griffin]. I think it’s exciting to see where the game is going.”

Making her way around a rowdy game of cornhole, Arlington resident Michelle Robinson, 50, said she has been a fan of the Redskins from the time she learned about football and wore Larry Brown’s No. 43 jersey.

“I got on the waiting list [for tickets] around 1982,” Ms. Robinson said, her earrings in the shape of Redskins football helmets, twinkling against her hair. “I saw them go through triumphant years and tough years. But I’m never giving them up. I’m not a fair-weather fan.”

The 15-season ticketholder said she appreciated the football players who came to the field “playing for pride,” and she would return the favor in the years to come.

“A season like this is a reminder that you should always stand with your team,” Ms. Robinson said. “Because you never know what next season will bring.”