- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 22, 2004

In another example of how the return of coach Joe Gibbs has energized the Washington Redskins’ fan base, more than 44,000 people have signed up to attend tomorrow’s draft party at FedEx Field, where Gibbs is scheduled to address the crowd.

The team encourages, but doesn’t require, fans to sign up on its Web site, redskins.com, to attend the free party. Signing up allows team officials to estimate how many people to accommodate.

This year’s surge in interest has led club officials to alter the party format used the past four years. After previously holding festivities in the club section of FedEx Field, the Redskins are opening up the playing field to accommodate the anticipated crowd.

“I think [the interest] says a lot about our community and Redskins fans,” Gibbs said yesterday. “It’s exciting for me. If you coach football or play football, I always say, you want to be someplace where football’s important. Certainly it is here.”

Team spokesman Karl Swanson said the highest turnout for a previous draft party was 19,000 in April 2000, when Washington selected linebacker LaVar Arrington and offensive tackle Chris Samuels with the draft’s second and third overall picks.

The Redskins, besides opening the field to the public for the first time for a football-related event, will allow fans to take pictures with the team’s three Super Bowl trophies, all won during Gibbs’ first tenure (1981 to 1992).

Gibbs tentatively is scheduled to arrive at FedEx Field between 2:30 and 3p.m. He will be ferried in a helicopter from Redskin Park, the team’s headquarters, on the other side of town. Assistant head coach for offense Joe Bugel and assistant head coach for defense Gregg Williams are slated to accompany him.

The current schedule is based on Washington making the draft’s fifth overall selection at approximately 1:15p.m. If the Redskins trade back, their top pick would come about 15 minutes later for each slot they retreat.

Parking is free for the draft party, which is scheduled from 11a.m. to 6:30p.m.

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