- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Flashing a warm smile, the little man sticks out his hand for a firm shake and offers his trademark greeting.

“Hello, friend,” 76-year-old Alan Poe says to a burly man with two little girls in tow. “Can I help you?”

The trio wanders into the Mezzanine 12 box at RFK Stadium an hour before the Washington Nationals would play the San Diego Padres.

Not totally sure whether he is in the right place, the father hands his tickets to Mr. Poe, an usher for the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission.

The 5-foot-5, 135-pound Mr. Poe, sporting a crisp pair of khaki slacks and a forest green polo issued by the sports commission, inspects the tickets through wire rim glasses, shaded by the bill of a khaki cap.

“Ah, OK,” Mr. Poe says, raising his bushy, white eyebrows. “Right this way.”

Mr. Poe leads the trio to the end of the box. Pulling out a white hand towel, he wipes each seat and proudly extends his hand.

“Enjoy the game. Hopefully, we’ll get a win today.”

Mr. Poe, a Warrenton, Va., resident, has performed the routine countless times in his 53 years as an usher at sporting events in the District.

Before he got his start, Mr. Poe always got a Redskins ticket or two from his brother-in-law, Bill Ray, who was an usher.

“I’m a real fan, you see,” Mr. Poe says, holding the burgundy and gold ribbon from which his usher’s identification hangs. “I’ve been a Washington Redskins fan since I was 12 years old.”

Then in 1953, Mr. Ray got Mr. Poe a job as an usher.

“A whole lot has changed since ‘53,” he says.

Mr. Poe used to earn $1 a game — quite the bargain in his eyes. Why pay $1.50 to watch a game as a fan, he figured, when he could get paid to watch every home game as an usher?

“After every game, we’d line up in the tunnel beneath the stands at Griffith Stadium, and old man Langley would sit there with a stack of dollar bills and pay us, one by one,” says Mr. Poe, who now makes $8.50 an hour ushering Nationals, Redskins and D.C. United games.

For his first eight years, Mr. Poe worked the south stands at the old baseball and football stadium — behind the Redskins’ bench. Fans sat in metal folding chairs. Every Sunday, the ushers would set up the chairs in their section and take strips of paper and a magic marker and number each seat.

But Washington’s football team wasn’t the only squad Mr. Poe supported.

He also followed the Washington Senators baseball team while growing up.

Somewhat of a sports addict, Mr. Poe even found a way to listen to the Senators’ games during the school day.

“I used to have study hall at Warrenton High School at 2:30 every afternoon,” Mr. Poe says, suppressing a laugh. “A friend of mine, Harold Hiner, had a ‘37 Ford that you could turn the switch for the radio, without turning on the engine. I’d sneak out during study hall and listen to the Senators until the end of study hall every day. No one ever found out and I never told Harold.”

On the weekends when he was in his teens, Mr. Poe often caught the Trailways bus on Warrenton’s Main Street, enduring a 90-minute ride into the District to watch the Senators.

Mr. Poe would have liked to usher Senators games, but his job as sports editor at the local paper — the Fauquier Democrat — and freelance duties for The Washington Post, The Washington Star and Richmond Times-Dispatch kept him from making the commitment to baseball.

In 53 years, Mr. Poe has missed just seven Redskins games. He generally works 70 percent of Nationals games and most D.C. United matches.

“My wife says, ‘I’m a sports widow,’ but she really doesn’t mind,” Mr. Poe says. “She’s into the games and into sports. She cheers for [Nationals’ closer Chad] Cordero.”

Mr. Poe doesn’t really have a favorite National. But he always rains down a steady flow of cheers, frustrations and coaching suggestions from his box.

Mr. Poe’s modern-day post at RFK — Mezzanine 10, 11 and 12, along the first base line — sits roughly 50 yards from the spot he manned, Mezzanine 20 and 21, for 36 years during Redskins games.

“A lot of memories in this stadium,” Mr. Poe says, snacking on a banana. “We came here in ‘61, and this was a beautiful, brand-new facility.

“I can still see Tony Dorsett running down that sideline and Darrell Green running him down from across the field. I can see Kenny Houston on that end, tackling [Walt] Garrison on fourth-and-goal to keep the Cowboys from winning. I see Darrell Green knocking down a pass to win a championship game against the Minnesota Vikings. Would have been a touchdown, and out of nowhere — swoop — he knocks it down.

“But most of all, I remember the friendships I created with the patrons.”

President Nixon, Robert F. Kennedy, Howard Cosell and Joe DiMaggio regularly sat in Mr. Poe’s section.

Mr. Poe always chatted with the “very open” DiMaggio and once asked whether the Yankees great minded signing an autograph. DiMaggio offered to sign whatever Mr. Poe wanted. The only paper Mr. Poe had on him was his usher’s card, so DiMaggio signed it. Mr. Poe still has the card.

“In my 36 years, I’ve seen fans’ kids grow up,” he says. “One family would come every Sunday and bring their son, a fellow named Terry Wallace. He was 8 years old. When I came back here for the first time last year, there was Terry, working as a cameraman. I still exchange Christmas cards with people who sat in my section.”

Mr. Poe likes working his three-row section at RFK better than the 19 rows he’s assigned at FedEx Field.

“Too big,” he said. “You can’t be as personal. Can’t give the fans the type of attention I like to give.”

Just minutes before the game, a couple enters and Mr. Poe’s eyes light up.

“How you doing, friend?” Mr. Poe says, shaking Bob Sharp’s hand. He hugged Mary Ann Sharp, then took the couple to their seats without looking at their tickets.

“He’s one of the best,” mezzanine supervisor Bill Shackleford says while watching Mr. Poe in action. “He’s very knowledgeable and very proactive. He remembers his patrons, which makes them feel welcome. You have to exceed their expectations. Instead of challenging them for a ticket, you want to see them coming, ‘Hey, how are you?’ and start moving to the seats before you get their tickets. Alan works three different crowds — Nats, United and the Redskins — and he’s great at that.”

Later, Mike Murphey enters the box with his wife, daughter, niece and 2-year-old grandson, Travis Ross.

“Hey, Mike! High-five, Travis,” Mr. Poe says, giving the Fairfax Station residents a big welcome.

Mr. Murphey and Mr. Poe quickly begin discussing the day’s matchup and the Nationals’ inconsistent play. Finally, they move down the box to their seats.

“He’s aces, he really is,” Mr. Murphey says. “He’s a super guy and knows a lot about baseball and the team. Me, I like to come in here and converse, talk baseball. Last year, I was in Mr. Washington’s section. Mr. Washington’s a great guy, but he wasn’t a baseball man. But Alan knows his baseball, and it just makes for a great experience. Like I said, aces.”

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