The word fan, as in the sense of someone who roots as opposed to something that cools, is short for the word fanatic.
Webster’s says that fanatic is derived from the Latin fanaticus “inspired by a deity or frenzied.” The dictionary defines the modern term as “marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion.”
Obviously, there are plenty of Redskins fans who suffer from this condition. Five figures worth of them are expected to jam the roads leading to Redskins Park for hours tomorrow morning for the annual Fan Appreciation Day all to watch a less-than-robust practice in serious heat, collect a few autographs, and hear general manager Bruce Allen connect this year’s team with the glory days under his late father and fellow Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs.
What makes these people fanatics instead of mere fans is that they’re still crazy about the Redskins even though it’s going on 21 years since the franchise’s last Super Bowl berth and victory, seven years since the last postseason triumph, and five years since the last playoff appearance.
Since Washington last reigned supreme over the NFL, 12 other franchises – including its NFC East rivals Dallas and the New York Giants – have captured the Lombardi Trophy. Another 10 – including NFC East rival Philadelphia — have played for it. That’s 22 of 31 teams – including Carolina which didn’t even exist in January 1992 — that have reached the intervening Super Bowls.
Since the Redskins last won in postseason in the wild card round in 2005, 19 other franchises have done so. And since the Redskins last made the playoffs in 2007, only Buffalo, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Oakland and St. Louis have joined them in spending every January watching football on television.
Only the Bills, Browns and Rams can match the Redskins in recording three straight losing seasons and four consecutive years out of the playoffs. To make matters worse, only St. Louis won fewer games (10) from 2009-11 than Washington’s 15.
And yet, the Redskins – despite some of the league’s highest prices for tickets, parking and concessions — hold the top 10 spots in NFL history in season attendance, ranging from 661, 970 in 2001 to 711,471 in 2007, that last playoff year.
The Redskins ranked a mere fifth in attendance with 587,354 last season, trailing: the Giants and New York Jets, who share easily the nation’s largest market; the Cowboys, who play in the NFL’s largest stadium; and Green Bay, whose fans are fanatical for the area’s only pro franchise, one that was the defending Super Bowl champion in 2011.
That fall to fifth in attendance happened not because tickets were becoming all too easy to obtain and because Redskins owner Dan Snyder had some seats removed from FedEx Field in order to construct party decks similar to the ones that his buddy Jerry Jones boasts at Cowboys Stadium.
Presumably many of the fanatics heading to Ashburn today are among the season ticket-holders whose dollars, if not their fannies, allow the Redskins to brag that their games have been sold out dating to 1966 (not counting premium seats).
As a former fan and someone who has been paid to cover the team for 21 seasons, let me give those of you who are tempted to spoil a Saturday with so many possibilities by sitting in traffic for hours just to watch your heroes (?) practice: Don’t.
Yes, that’s Don’t with a capital D. Do yourself a favor. Go enjoy your Saturday. Leave work early Monday, Tuesday or the following Monday or Tuesday for the 3 PM practice on one of those days. It will be way, way less crowded. You can still get autographs. All you’ll miss is Allen’s paean to the glory days and the headaches that come with being part of the official Fan Appreciation Day.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin