- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Washington Redskins did not have an official team mascot, but Zema Williams was the closest thing to it.

Williams, better known as Chief Zee, died in his sleep on Monday night, according to reports. A mainstay at Redskins home games since 1978, Chief Zee wore a faux headdress and red jacket.

“The Washington Redskins will always appreciate Zema Williams’ unique passion and dedication to our football team and his fellow Washington Redskins‘ fans,” the team said in a statement.

According to the Twitter account of “Tailgate Ted”, another well-known Redskins fan who was friends with Williams, a vigil at Redskins Park was held Tuesday evening.

Redskins defensive end Chris Baker also posted a picture of Chief Zee on his Instagram account with the following caption: “Sad day RIP to a day @Redskins fan Chief Zee your presence will be missed #HTTR4LIFE #HAIL.”

Widely recognized as the Redskins‘ greatest superfan, former Washington mayor Marion Barry declared November 7, 1985 “Chief Zee Day.” Williams also received a key to Fairfax County.

In April, Williams was in jeopardy of being evicted from his apartment. Fans pledged their support by donating more than $10,000 to a GoFundMe account.

Williams wasn’t always welcomed when following the team on the road. According to a Washington City Paper feature in 2002, Chief Zee was assaulted by Philadelphia Eagles fans in 1983. Attending a game at Veterans Stadium, which was demolished in 2004, “the assailants also grabbed the feathers off [Williams’] head and threw them to the grandstands below. Veterans Stadium security guards came to Chief Zee’s rescue, throwing his attackers out,” Dave McKenna wrote. When leaving the stadium, Williams was beat up by four attackers during his walk to the parking lot, according to McKenna.

Williams’ attire, which portrayed him as an American Indian on occasion replete with small hatchet, was at times tied to the debate around the Redskins nickname.

NFL Films productions included Williams in videos about the Redskins‘ glory years in the 1980s, when he memorably said, “Crank up that Diesel” in support of running back John Riggins. Williams later made appearance in ads for Eastern Motors.

The cause of Williams’ death is unknown, but the 75-year-old’s health was declining in recent years. When it became too difficult for Williams to walk, Redskins owner Dan Snyder purchased a scooter for the team’s biggest, who was often seen riding on the sidelines at FedEx Field before games.

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