- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 17, 2002

With the sun still high in the sky and six hours to go before the kickoff of Monday Night Football yesterday, the fans and the grills were already fired up as the tailgate party got under way in the parking lot of FedEx Field.

"I planned a vacation around this game," Redskins fan Lenny Sowell said of the second-week matchup against division rival Philadelphia Eagles. "If they lose, I'm going to be hurt."

Like other early bird tailgaters, the 37-year-old plumber from Fredericksburg, Va., drank and grilled red meat in preparation for the game. Although the menu was the same as for a Sunday afternoon game, Mr. Sowell said the atmosphere surrounding Monday Night Football was especially charged.

"We are the only thing on TV," he said. "What else is on baseball? Who wants to watch baseball?"

Still hours from game time, the scent of tailgate staples wafted across the parking lot: hot dogs, hamburgers, steaks, ribs, sausages, bratwurst and barbecued shrimp. Meanwhile, a group of Eagles fans extolled the virtues of the pork roll.

"It's an absolute necessity," said Robert Smith, 25, a Gaithersburg resident transplanted from Philadelphia who was wearing a foam hat shaped like a Philly cheese steak sub.

"Just all the salt and the fat that's in it,' Mr. Smith said of the pork roll's appeal. "I can't explain it. It is the breakfast meat of the gods."

Others had a more gourmet tailgate menu.

Brian Kannee had prepared a feast for about 50 people that included tuna kabobs in a spicy Hawaiian sauce and steak charrasco, a Nicaraguan-style marinated steak.

"We don't like to have just the hamburger and hot dog thing, but you have to have them," said Mr. Kannee, 39, who manages a tavern in Columbia, Md., and has held a regular tailgate party since the stadium opened.

"This is the best part of the game, to be honest," he said of the pre-game party.

Clif and Robin Thomasberg, a couple from Leesburg, Va., were eating shrimp cocktail and drinking microbrewery beer as they readied the grill and contemplated a Redskins victory.

"It's going to be a tough one," said Mr. Thomasberg, 41,acknowledging the two football seasons that have passed since the Redskins beat the Eagles at FedEx Field.

"We have to fix that," Mrs. Thomasberg said.

A few cars away, Johnathan Pendleton didn't want to bother with pre-game bravado.

"You've got some die-hards here. We don't care about speculation. We are just here to have fun," the 36-year-old chef said.

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