- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 2, 2004

As Joe Gibbs discovered Sunday, FedEx Field isn’t nearly as home-sweet-homey as dear old RFK Stadium was. There’s a whole new dynamic at work there, one he’s only beginning to butt his head against. And things could get worse before they get better.

The chants of “Ram-sey! Ram-sey!” that filled the air during the loss to Green Bay were something Coach Joe never heard in his first tour of duty. Oh, there was the occasional expression of dissent from the stands, but it was usually isolated and inconsequential — nothing like the loud, almost angry outbursts that assaulted his ears over the weekend.

It’s a totally different crowd now, a totally different scene. FedEx is a cavernous coliseum of 92,000 seats, not a quaint bandbox of 55,000. That means there are 37,000 more fans that Gibbs has to satisfy — another whole stadium practically. And they’re not the same diehards who used to troop to RFK each Sunday, season after season, to root, root, root for the Redskins. They’re folks who came a lot later to the party … and find themselves thinking, more and more: I spent 20 years on the waiting list for THIS?

It’s not just that, though. It’s also the money they’re shelling out. They’re paying the second-highest ticket prices in the NFL for an inferior product, for a team that has made the playoffs only once since ‘92. Jack Kent Cooke charged top dollar too, of course, but at least his clubs won — sometimes the whole shebang.

And it’s not just the tickets that are expensive. Everything’s expensive — parking, concessions, Redskins paraphernalia. Worse, all game long you’re bombarded, visually and auditorially, with one not-so-subliminal message: buy, buy, buy.

Yup, the whole stadium atmosphere has changed. It’s not just about football anymore. It’s about grabbing the customer by the ankles, turning him upside down and shaking until his pockets are empty.

Loyalty only runs so deep when a team takes advantage of fans like that, when the owner charges admission to training camp one year, attempts to renegotiate club seat contracts another and is currently trying to keep fans from walking to games (thereby avoiding his exorbitant parking fees). After nearly half a season of crummy quarterbacking by Mark Brunell, is it any wonder that some of Redskins Nation are mad as hell and not particularly inclined to take it anymore?

Perhaps Gibbs missed this development, was too busy watching his racecars go ‘round and ‘round to notice what was going on with his old team (and to a lesser extent, throughout the entire league). Let’s face it, the whole world has become less civil since 1992. Talk radio has gotten uglier and uglier. On TV, cable especially, discussion shows have degenerated into shouting matches. And Joe Sixpack, going with the flow, has never exercised his First Amendment rights more — what’s the word? — heavy-handedly.

But how can Coach Joe expect the fans to exercise patience, to show restraint, when the owner rarely has himself? Dan Snyder has spent the last five years firing coaches, going through quarterbacks like cheap cigars and thumbing his nose at the salary cap. Should anyone be surprised that Redskins rooters have begun to mirror his behavior (or misbehavior, as it were)?

If Joe Gibbs weren’t Joe Gibbs, Hall of Fame coach, two things would likely be happening right now:

1. His boss would be pressuring him to bench Brunell and start Patrick Ramsey, the People’s Choice.

2. If Gibbs didn’t submit — and the offense continued to average 14 points a game — there’s a chance he’d be fired and replaced by an interim coach … perhaps Pepper Rodgers.

And the merry-go-round would start spinning again.

It’s not your father’s NFL — and they’re certainly not your father’s Redskins. You have first-round draft picks, extravagantly paid, DUI-ing themselves out of important games. You have fans demanding, with the vociferousness of Vietnam protesters, a “regime change” at quarterback. And you have an old coach trying to make sense of this strange new world, so different from the one he used to know.

“I told the guys, ‘I’ve never been through something like this,’” he said after the loss to the Packers. “‘I’ve been 0-5, but this is every bit as tough.’”

Is it ever.

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