- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 6, 2004

We have great fans, the best in the NFL. The roar at FedEx Field can be heard all the way back here at Redskin Park in the rolling hillsides of Virginia.

To me, the deafening crowd noise on a crucial third-down play is more satisfying than the sound of the final bell I used to hear every day at 2:40 p.m. at Glenbard West High School in Illinois.

I still get a kick out of “The Funky Four” every time they come onto the field, and I couldn’t play a game here in Washington without the “Hogettes” in the stands.

Fans are what make the game great. They make it exciting. Think of taking a biology test. You could probably pull out at least a B-plus if you had 90,000 people cheering you on.

My point behind all of this is simple: NFL players love fans because all of us are fans too.

I’m a sports guy. I’ll watch anything if I have the time. I’m even a fan of some of our own players and guys I’ve played with in the past.

When we’re finished making our defensive adjustments on the sideline during a game, I’m always checking out the big screen to see what Clinton Portis does next. Some of the things he does on a football field leave me in absolute disbelief, uttering words like “unreal” and “unbelievable.” It’s a pleasure to watch the guy with the ball in his hands, as I’m sure it is to the FedEx faithful.

My time in Green Bay showed me how fun it was to watch Brett Favre play. The guy plays the game the way a 12-year-old would in his own backyard. He never ceased to amaze me with some of the tricks he pulled out of his hat throughout a game.

I remember one time when he threw the ball, on a straight line, 60 yards downfield. One of my teammates leaned over to me and said, “Did that really just happen?” I couldn’t say much of anything except, “I’ve never seen that before in my life.” Yes, I was a huge fan that day.

I’ll be honest, beyond playing at the professional level, most of my memories are from the games I went to as a fan, pouring my heart out for my team. The first NFL game I went to, in 1985, Walter Payton ran for 100 yards and I couldn’t feel my toes. My dad made sure I was prepared, dressing me up like the kid in “A Christmas Story.” It was like I was being shipped off to Siberia for the weekend instead of watching Jim McMahon throw touchdowns.

It’s funny how sports bring so many memories back, almost the same way an old song rattles around in your head. I sat in my living room last October as the Cubs threw away the NLCS, looking like a kid who had just lost his dog. (I’d write something about this year’s Cubs team, but The Washington Times doesn’t give me enough space for a proper rant, so let’s just move back to the NFL.)

I love “Monday Night Football.” If we aren’t about to play one of the two teams (like the Ravens this week), I’ll watch the game the same way you do. I want to see touchdowns, big hits and interceptions just as much as the next guy.

The same can be said of Saturday nights, when we’re all sitting in our hotel rooms preparing to play the next day. I’ll tell you this: College football is a big deal in our locker room. I may get into this at a later time, but who doesn’t cheer for the underdog every Saturday?

Fans are fans. I don’t know how many years my NFL career will last, but when it’s all said and done, I assure you I’ll be watching the NFL with my friends back home at O’Malley’s in Chicago.

Until then, hopefully we can give you all something to cheer about every Sunday.

Ask Matt

Q: How long does it take to feel comfortable in a new system? I could see how it might take five to eight games to become real comfortable and a full season or two before it becomes second nature.

A: The way the NFL offseason is now, with spring workouts, minicamps, training camp, plus four (or in our case, five) preseason games, by the time season starts, any team should be expected to be ready to run a new system. The teams that make the least amount of mistakes are the ones that become great teams. It doesn’t matter if you have a new system or an old one.

Q: What’s the best locker room prank you either played on a teammate or had played on you?

A: When I was a rookie with the Rams in 2000, I was getting ready to go out to practice. I grabbed my helmet and discovered it had been completely wrapped in tape. When I finally tore it open, it was filled to the brim with all manner of food from the players’ buffet. I thought about saving it for an after-practice snack, but then I realized I had no idea where some of that food had been. I managed to clean the helmet out as best as I could, but needless to say, practice wasn’t very pleasant that day.

Staff writer Mark Zuckerman collaborates with Redskins safety Matt Bowen on this column. It appears every Wednesday. If you have any questions for Matt, e-mail them to bowenc[email protected]aol.com.

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